Denise Skwarcan | September 13, 2018
Looking from the outside in, some may have wondered whether or not Clark Lea was the right man for the job when Irish head coach Brian Kelly tabbed him to replace departing defensive coordinator Mike Elko back in January. After all, Lea would be a first-time coordinator at one of the most visible programs in the country.
But it made good football sense.
What Kelly saw from inside the program made it a natural progression. There would be stability and continuity. Lea had spent a season at both Bowling Green (2012) and Wake Forest (2016) with Elko before the pair again reconnected at Notre Dame for the 2017 season. Despite Lea being Notre Dame's fourth defensive coordinator in three years, the defense wouldn't be learning a new system. Rather it would be building on what Lea's predecessor had started.
Plus, Lea had an immediate impact on defense during his first season in South Bend in '17. In charge of the linebacker corps, Lea coached four players – Drue Tranquill, Te'von Coney Green Martini and Nyles Morgan – who each accounted for at least 75 tackles, a first in program history.
The bonus is that Lea brought with him a plethora of intangible experiences, both academically and athletically, that potentially give him a big leg up when relating to recruits and players. And it was at Vanderbilt — Notre Dame's opponent this weekend — where a lot of Lea's experiences culminated.
"I'm forever grateful for that decision to transfer (to Vanderbilt) because that one decision probably changed the trajectory of my life," said Lea who spent a year at Birmingham-Southern and a year at Belmont before settling in at Vanderbilt in 2002. "I wasn't thinking about it that succinctly at the time, but in reflection I needed to get to a place that I thought was the best possible launching point for me into the rest of my life. That was Vanderbilt."
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