A Commodore Coming Home

Friends, peers excited for Clark Lea's new opportunity

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Clark Lea has never stopped being a Commodore. Now, nearly 15 years after leaving Vanderbilt with two degrees, the former Vandy fullback will use his vast experiences to lead the black and gold as the University’s new head football coach.

VUCommodores.com reached out to those who know Clark best and who have witness his growth on a personal and professional level. From his time as a student-athlete on West End to a defensive coordinator at one of the top football program’s in the country, Lea has made impactful impressions from Los Angeles to South Bend and all places in between.

Here’s a collection of comments from an impressive list of those who are more than excited to see Lea take Vanderbilt football to new heights:


Hunter Hillenmeyer, former Vanderbilt linebacker and Montgomery Bell Academy graduate — “I’m so excited to see Clark take the helm for Vandy. He is one of us. He is also by far the most-qualified person to lead Vanderbilt who won’t look at this opportunity as a stepping stone to some other job. I’ve known Clark since we were kids, had the privilege of being his teammate in both high school and college and have seen him work so hard and sacrifice a tremendous amount to get to where he is now. If Clark gets the University support that has convinced him to come lead Vanderbilt over many other great jobs he could have taken, then I wholeheartedly believe he can turn the program around in a way that celebrates the unique gifts Vandy has to offer student-athletes.”

Dave Clawson, Wake Forest head football coach — “I have known Clark since 2012 and he served on my staff at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark is an extremely intelligent, thorough, and mature football coach. He is ready to take on this responsibility. Vanderbilt made an outstanding hire.”

Brandt Snedeker, former Vanderbilt golfer and Montgomery Bell Academy graduate — “I’ve known Clark for a long time and been following his career closely as a former MBA and Vandy graduate myself. I am so excited to see him come back to Vanderbilt and lead our football program. He will bring determination and a commitment to build a culture of winning in the toughest conference in the country. Welcome home Clark!”

Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame Vice President and James E. Rohr Director of Athletics — “We are incredibly happy for Clark (Lea) to be able to return to his hometown and alma mater to continue to be a positive influence on young student-athletes. Clark exemplifies the notion of an educator-coach and Notre Dame will be forever grateful for the impact he had on the student-athletes he taught. Clark’s drive, commitment to teaching and ability to connect with everyone he meets will be on full display at Vanderbilt. We wish Clark, his wife Allison, and their children, Clark III, Mara and Jack, nothing but the best as they move on to Nashville.”

Norval McKenzie, former Vanderbilt running back and Louisville running backs coach — “I’m elated that Clark Lea has been named head coach at Vanderbilt University. As a teammate, he exemplified all the characteristics of a natural born leader. Time and time again he has demonstrated success as a coach at the highest ranks of college football. This is a home run hire for my alma mater. I’m excited for him and his family!”

Justin Geisinger, former Vanderbilt offensive lineman and head football coach at Pope John Paul II — “It is to no surprise that Clark has come full circle back home to begin a journey leading a program that we all believe in. Clark’s overachieving, blue-collar work ethic paired with his cerebral and thought-driven approach is the perfect fit. He is the same guy with whoever his audience is. Genuine, caring and passionate – he has always been about fostering relationships. He understands what it takes to succeed as a student-athlete at Vanderbilt. While our success did not show in our win-loss record during our playing careers there, I believe there was a core unit of guys with Clark who never relented and refused to give in. He has mapped his coaching journey all the way to the top alongside coach (Brian) Kelly. He has built a top national program at a high-academic institution and now combines being a local Nashville guy and a multi-level Vanderbilt student-athlete graduate with being one of the top football coaches in the country – what more could you ask for? It is a great day for Vanderbilt football and the entire university.”

Ingle Martin, former Florida and Furman quarterback, Montgomery Bell Academy graduate and head football coach at Chris Presbyterian Academy — “Clark is without question the best man to lead the Vanderbilt program. Not only is he one of the best football minds in the country, he also is one of the most well-respected men in coaching. Add all of that to a deep love and belief in what Vanderbilt has to offer and I think there is no better person to led those young men down on West End Avenue.”

James Franklin, Penn State head football coach —“This is a tremendous hire by Candice Storey Lee and a great opportunity for Clark to return to his alma mater and hometown. I have so much respect for Clark, his accomplishments as a coach and how he conducts his business. He is extremely bright, thoughtful and deeply cares about Vanderbilt. We have so many wonderful memories of our time at Vanderbilt. The Nashville community is still a very special place for my family and me. I know this community will rally around Clark and the Vanderbilt football team.”

Bobby Johnson, former Vanderbilt head football coach — “A lot of these adjectives get overused, but as a player, Clark was popular and had an exceptional work ethic, doing whatever was needed every day to make himself, his teammates and the team better. His drive, energy, intelligence and leadership skills make him the perfect head coaching choice for Vanderbilt. The Vanderbilt football fans should be thrilled to welcome home this Commodore.”

Tony Dungy, former NFL head coach — “I am excited for Clark Lea and for Vanderbilt University. Clark is one of the most talented young coaches I have seen but, more importantly, he has a passion to develop his players as men as well as football players. I believe he will be very successful doing both at Vanderbilt.”

Mike Tirico, NBC Sports — “In over 25 years of covering college football Clark Lea is one of the best coordinators I have been around. His intelligence and football acumen are only surpassed by his leadership and exemplary personal skills. The way people gravitate to Clark shows in how his defenses play and how all who come in contact with him are inspired. He is a perfect fit for Vanderbilt and I’m thrilled to see him heading back home.”

Tim Corbin, Vanderbilt head baseball coach — “We, Vanderbilt, are very fortunate to have found the right window of time to hire a person who inherently complements the mission of the university. I am very happy for Candice, Chancellor Diermeier and Vanderbilt University that they were able to build a process that would produce this outcome. Furthermore, I am extremely happy for the current and future players as they will be guided by an adult who will challenge them in every facet of their collegiate life with extreme care. Clark is principled in the components of a football program that matter He is a tremendous teacher who models the behaviors of a consistent and genuine leader. He is unique because he is truly himself. He will develop a successful program because he acts with dignity, communicates with clarity, teaches with care and is mentally organized.”

Rick Neuheisel, CBS college football analyst —I’m so excited for Clark Lea and for Vanderbilt University. Clark’s love for his alma mater will serve him well as he goes out to attract the best and brightest to Nashville. He won’t have to sell them on Vandy, he’ll get to share it with them. Clark is absolutely ready for this challenge. He possesses all the qualities necessary for success. He is a great communicator. He is a great tactician. He has great organizational skills, a tireless work ethic and, most importantly, a passion for the game that is contagious. I look forward to watching the Commodores for years to come.”

Brian Kelly, Notre Dame head football coach — “Clark Lea has been an instrumental part of our success the last three years here at Notre Dame and he will be able to bring that same energy and relationship-driven philosophy to his alma mater. I look forward to watching Clark build a successful program and wish him only the best in the future.”


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