NASHVILLE, Tenn. — New Vanderbilt linebacker coach Nick Lezynski admits he once thought he had a good grasp on coaching football.
Then he met Clark Lea.
“As a young coach, it’s funny, you learn one thing and think, ‘Oh this is the only way to go. This is the system. I know everything,’ ” Lezynski said. “Then you learn something new and you’re like, ‘OK I really didn’t know that much.’ Then when I got to coach Lea I was like, ‘Wow, I really did not know anything.’ ”
Lezynski and Lea share the distinction of being former college football walk-ons-turned-coaches. The two first became acquainted in 2018 when Lezynski joined the Notre Dame staff as a graduate assistant then and started to coach alongside Lea, the defensive coordinator of the Fighting Irish at the time.
For the next four seasons in South Bend, Indiana, Lezynski honed his craft as a defensive coach and eventually became a senior defensive analyst. In January, in the Fiesta Bowl, Lezynski served as the program’s interim special teams coordinator.
One month later he was headed to Nashville to become a Commodore.
“Everything that I learned from (Lea) over the course of our time at Notre Dame, both football-wise and off the field, him as a leader, seeing him in a head coaching role and being a part of that is awesome because all those things he talked about at Notre Dame are kind of coming to fruition here from a full program standpoint. It’s been really cool to be a part of that,” Lezynski said. “When I first came to Notre Dame and first met coach Lea, one of the things that always impressed me was his ability to lead and his ability to communicate. I think that seeing that on a program-wide level is just really cool to be a part of it. He is what I was looking for as I was coming up in the coaching ranks, somebody that was truly was a master teacher slash loves the players. Does it for the right reasons and loves the players and it’s hard to find that some times in this profession.
“Being able to look up to him and see him as an example and kind of absorb all that and be a part of that is really cool. Now coming here and kind of doubling down on it has been a really good experience.”
As Vandy’s linebackers coach, Lezynski’s responsibilities are greater than any of his previous stops as a coaching assistant from the last decade. He’s in charge of a Vanderbilt position group expected to be the strength of the team’s defense.
Starters Ethan Barr and Anfernee Orji are back for the 2022 season. The program added former Clemson standout Kane Patterson and has talented playmakers Michael Mincey, Errington Truesdell and Daniel Martin providing depth.
“All the linebackers have been doing really, really well. I’m really happy about them,” Vandy veteran safety Maxwell Worship said. “I’m really happy to see the young guys coming along, along with the older guys, I feel like like there’s no real drop-off no matter who is in. When I’m playing with them I have confidence in every single linebacker on the team. It’s exciting to see going into the fall.”
Said Patterson: “I think the scheme here is awesome. I think it allows the linebackers to shoot gaps and make plays in the backfield.”
Lezynski referenced Spiderman when speaking of his linebackers – a constant refrain throughout spring practice has been that with great power comes great responsibility. He has tried to drive home the point that his linebackers need to continue to strengthen their chemistry and their leadership in order to take the Vandy defense to the next level.
The former Notre Dame cornerback wants his linebackers to be able to coach themselves and be able to run the system even when one of their position coach isn’t present. And Lea trusts that his former, “right-hand man,” at Notre Dame is the perfect coach to help to make one of Vanderbilt’s best units even better.
“I’ve watched him recruit, I’ve watched him coach, I know how he builds relationships,” Lea said. “He’s exactly what Vanderbilt football needs.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.