Lea Adds Four to Defensive Staff

Nick Lezynski, Dan Jackson, Josh Smith and Robert Armand join Vanderbilt

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Vanderbilt football head coach Clark Lea announced Monday the addition of four staff members as Nick Lezynski and Dan Jackson join the program as assistant coaches, with Lezynski instructing linebackers and Jackson mentoring defensive backs. Former Commodore student-athlete Josh Smith and Robert Armand will serve in defensive quality control roles.

Lea will be reuniting with Lezynski after the pair was on the same coaching staff at Notre Dame.

“I worked closely with Nick for three years at Notre Dame,” Lea said of Lezynski. “I saw first-hand his ability to recruit, retain and develop a linebacker unit. Nick is one of the young stars in this profession. His positive attitude, relationship building and passion for development will be felt throughout our entire program.”

Lezynski, considered one of college football’s rising stars, joins the Vanderbilt staff following four seasons at Notre Dame, most recently as senior defensive analyst. He began his stint in South Bend as a defensive graduate assistant, including three seasons at Notre Dame working for a defensive staff coordinated by Lea.

After transitioning to senior defensive analyst for 2021, Lezynski was the interim special teams coordinator for the Fiesta Bowl to cap the season. During his four years at his alma mater, the Fighting Irish twice reached the College Football Playoff, received a Fiesta Bowl bid and won the Camping World Bowl while amassing a 44-7 record. Notre Dame finished among the nation’s top-15 scoring defense all four seasons.

Prior to Notre Dame, Lezynski made coaching stops at Holy Cross, Lafayette and Connecticut. The Easton, Pennsylvania, native played cornerback for the Irish from 2007-11. He graduated from Notre Dame in 2011 with a degree in marketing.

In Jackson, Lea adds a coach who has been around successful programs his entire career.

“Dan is a coach I have observed from afar for quite some time now,” Lea said. “In his career, he has earned opportunities through hard work and a commitment to doing things the right way. His coaching philosophy is built on a foundation of deep, meaningful relationships and our student-athletes will feel this investment immediately, both on and off the field. Dan’s experience in helping change the culture at Northern Illinois and his impact on that program’s journey to a MAC championship last season will be of great benefit here at Vanderbilt.”

Jackson brings a wealth of experience to the Vanderbilt staff, having helped Northern Illinois to the 2021 Mid-American Conference title following an eight-year stint at South Dakota State that saw the Jackrabbits reach the FCS playoffs each season.

Jackson joined Northern Illinois in 2020 and helped engineer one of the nation’s best turnarounds in 2021. The Huskies were winless in six games during the 2020 campaign, but went 9-5 in 2021, winning the MAC West Division, MAC championship and an invitation to the Cure Bowl.

Prior to his stint in DeKalb, Illinois, Jackson spent eight seasons at FCS powerhouse South Dakota State. His debut secondary in 2012 allowed just nine passing touchdowns while intercepting 13 passes. The next season, South Dakota State was second in FCS with 22 interceptions. Jackson was elevated to defensive backs coach and recruiting coordinator in 2014 and assistant head coach and special teams coordinator in 2019. His 2019 special teams ranked among the top 25 in FCS in five categories and led the subdivision in punt return defense.

Jackson began his coaching career at the high school level as the offensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Burke High School in his native Omaha, Nebraska. He played linebacker for South Dakota State from 2003-05 before graduating from Nebraska-Omaha and earning a master’s degree from South Dakota State.

The Commodores also add a pair of quality control staff members to the defense, including former Vandy linebacker Josh Smith.

“Josh and Robert will be excellent additions to our defensive staff and we’re especially thrilled to welcome Josh back home to Vanderbilt,” Lea said. “I’m happy to be adding Nick, Dan, Josh and Robert to our staff and look forward to our coaches building a tough defense in the SEC.”

Smith, a native of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, graduated from Vanderbilt in 2019 with a degree in environmental sociology. The linebacker was a two-time SEC Academic Honor Roll selection while totaling 92 tackles in his Commodore career, including 14.0 for loss and six sacks. Vandy reached a pair of bowl games in Smith’s time, playing in the 2016 Independence Bowl and the 2018 Texas Bowl. He signed with the Tennessee Titans as an undrafted free agent.

Armand joins Lea’s staff in a defensive quality control role, focusing on defensive backs. He moves to Nashville following three seasons at Bowling Green, initially as defensive and special teams quality control and later as a defensive graduate assistant. The Miami native graduated from Stetson in 2019 with a degree in finance and holds a master’s degree in business administration from Bowling Green. As a defensive back for the Hatters, Armand was a two-time Pioneer Football League Academic Honor Roll selection. He made his coaching debut in quality control at Stetson in the spring of 2019.

Vandy is slated to open spring practice for the 2022 campaign March 16, culminating in the annual Black and Gold Spring Game on April 16. The spring game will begin at 1 p.m. CT at Vanderbilt Stadium.

Lea begins his second season as head coach at his alma mater on Aug. 27 when the Commodores travel to Hawai’i before the home opener on Sept. 3 versus Elon. Season tickets are on sale now.