During his time as defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, Clark Lea was known for his no-nonsense approach to the game.
Speaking at his first SEC Media Days as Vanderbilt football coach, Lea gave off the same vibe as spoke to reporters about his plan for turning around the football program and changing the national perception of the Commodores.
“This isn't the first [program] that is facing a rebuild or a restructuring,” Lea said. “The challenge of holding people to different standards and expectations in the same spaces that they occupied before is real. Everything they confront needs to be different, and we can't be afraid to be drastically different.
“…I think my knowledge of what Vanderbilt is, what Vanderbilt could be certainly helped in setting a course for the change that needed to happen, but I didn't really know what the need was until I stepped in front of my team for the first time.”
Since taking over for Derek Mason in mid-January, Lea’s biggest challenge has been piecing together a roster from the players who stayed after Mason left and a recruiting class that wasn’t his.
Several high-profile players transferred from Vanderbilt, leaving Lea to restock the cupboard at several premium positions. Fueled by the intense pride of being a Vanderbilt alum, Lea seems resolute in taking back the state of Tennessee, and that starts with recruiting.
“It's a fertile ground, and we have to do a great job of being first in our backyard,” Lea said. “Look, not everybody is going to be a fit for us, and that is what it is, but we need to make sure the guys that are looking for a place like Vanderbilt, again, a place where there are no compromises to be made, that I want to achieve at a high level on the field. I want this to be a football decision for recruits, and it will be because we'll have the best developmental program in the country.”
Lea has already overhauled the secondary and added three linebackers and three edge rushers – three of the positions hit hardest by transfers. His first recruiting class currently ranks No. 28 in the country and ninth in the SEC, which features CPA linebacker Langston Patterson and McCallie defensive back Kenzy Paul.
“Those guys that exist in our backyard, both in middle Tennessee, and obviously, the eastern part of the state and western Tennessee, which has always had strength,” Lea added. “Those guys that are out there need to know that Vanderbilt is coming after them, and we're excited to build a program that they'll be proud to stay home and be a part of.”
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