NOTRE DAME, Ind. – University of Notre Dame linebackers coach Clark Lea has been promoted to defensive coordinator/linebackers.
“I cannot express how grateful I am to Father Jenkins, Jack Swarbrick and Brian Kelly for their confidence in my ability to take on this new role,” said Lea. “I am indebted to them, and to the student-athletes that I have been blessed to work with over the past year — without their commitment and belief in me, I realize that none of this would be possible. Notre Dame represents everything I want to be a part of in my career as an educator, and I am deeply humbled to be able to continue my work here.”
“Clark has quickly established himself as a rising star in the coaching profession,” said Brian Kelly, Dick Corbett Head Football Coach at the University of Notre Dame. “He immediately commands the respect of those around him, whether that be in a meeting room, on a practice field or in a prospective student-athlete’s living room. Clark has demonstrated an ability to motivate, lead, teach and mentor through a positive teaching environment, while also developing the necessary traits of excellence in our players. Clark has an incredible football knowledge, a keen understanding of personnel and a fierce work ethic, which leaves no doubt in my mind that we’ll maintain the defensive standard necessary to win at the highest level.”
Lea made an immediate impact with the Irish in his first season in 2017. He coached a linebacker unit that included four players (Te’von Coney, Drue Tranquill, Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini) who registered at least 75 tackles–a first in school history.
Coney, in particular, exploded onto the scene under Lea’s tutelage. Despite starting just seven games in 2017, Coney led Notre Dame in tackles (116), tackles for loss (13.5) and finished second on the Irish in sacks (3.0). Coney recorded a career-best 17 tackles (one shy of the bowl-game school record) in the 21-17 victory over LSU in the 2018 Overton Citrus Bowl.
Tranquil, in his first season at linebacker after converting from safety, totaled 85 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, three fumble recoveries, four passes defended, one interception and one forced fumble. Morgan and Martini registered 92 and 75 stops, respectively, and Morgan collected 7.0 tackles for loss.
Lea previously served as an assistant coach at Bowling Green, Syracuse, Wake Forest and UCLA.
Over his 12-year career, Lea has mentored one All-American (Akeem Ayers, UCLA) and 10 all-conference selections. In 2010, Ayers earned second-team honors from Walter Camp and Phil Steele, as well as third-team accolades from the Associated Press. Ayers, selected in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans, was a finalist for the 2010 Dick Butkus Award, which is given annually to the nation’s top linebacker.
Lea came to Notre Dame following a one-year stint as linebackers coach at Wake Forest. In 2016, the Demon Deacons’ defense ranked in the top 20 of the Football Bowl Subdivision in fumbles recovered (third), turnovers forced (10th), sacks (12th), defensive TDs (17th), red-zone defense (17th) and scoring defense (20th).
Wake Forest was one of four schools in the FBS to rank in the top 20 in turnovers forced, sacks and scoring defense in 2016. The other three schools–Alabama, Clemson and Washington–qualified for the College Football Playoff.
Lea was instrumental in the development of Demon Deacon linebacker Marquel Lee, who not only earned all-ACC second-team honors in 2016, but was also selected to take part in the 2017 East-West Shrine Game. Lee was the only FBS linebacker to post at least 100 tackles, 20 TFLs and 7.5 sacks in 2016. In fact, only one other linebacker in the country met at least two of those three figures.
Lee led the Demon Deacons in tackles in 2016 with a career-best 105 while also recording a team-leading 20.0 tackles for loss. He also paced Wake Forest in forced fumbles (three) and quarterback hurries (four), and ranked second in sacks with 7.5.
Prior to Wake Forest, Lea spent three seasons as the linebackers coach at Syracuse (2013-15). He developed the Orange’s Zaire Franklin into an all ACC-caliber linebacker. In 2015, as a sophomore captain (the fourth sophomore captain in school history and first since 1945), Franklin led the Orange in tackles (81) and was second on the squad in tackles for loss (11). The 2014 Orange defense held nine of its 12 opponents to less than its season average for total offense and was one of four FBS teams to surrender fewer than 10 rushing touchdowns (nine). Alabama (five), TCU (nine) and Ole Miss (nine) were the others. In 2013, Syracuse ranked nationally in multiple categories, including third-down defense (15th), rush defense (24th), sacks (18th) and tackles for loss (18th).
Lea worked in 2012 at Bowling Green to assemble a unit that ranked sixth in the country in total defense (296.6) and 10th in scoring defense (16.7). The Falcons held the opposition to under 100 yards rushing in nine contests. Bowling Green also ranked fourth in the nation in third-down defense, allowing a first down just 28.1 percent of the time. The Falcons’ fourth-down defense was just as good, finishing fifth in the country at 26.3 percent. They would end the season ranked 11th in sacks (38), 12th in rushing defense (106.5), 13th in pass defense (190.1) and fifth in first downs allowed (15.1).
Lea was a finalist for Linebackers Coach of the Year by FootballScoop.com in 2012.
Lea is a 2004 graduate of Vanderbilt University with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He earned three letters in football and was a two-time All-SEC Academic Team pick. In 2005, Lea was a finalist for the John Wooden Cup and the recipient of the H. Boyd McWhorter Scholar-Athlete Award. He also earned his master’s degree in political science from Vanderbilt in 2007.
Following his graduation from Vanderbilt, Lea became a graduate assistant coach at UCLA in 2006 before moving to South Dakota State for two seasons (2007-08).
Lea began his college career at Birmingham-Southern College where he was a member of the baseball team that captured the NAIA World Series title in 2001. He lettered in baseball at Belmont in 2002 before transferring to Vanderbilt.
Lea and his wife Allison, have three children: Clark III, Mara and Jack.