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Clark Lea Named Notre Dame Linebackers Coach

Jan. 12, 2017

NOTRE DAME, Indiana – Clark Lea, previously an assistant coach at Bowling Green, Syracuse, Wake Forest and UCLA, has been named linebackers coach for the University of Notre Dame.

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” said Lea. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach (Mike) Elko’s defensive system — having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”

Over his 11-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, drafted 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 comes to Notre Dame following a one-year stint as linebackers coach at Wake Forest, alongside new Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko. 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 this season 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 with Elko 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 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 undergraduate matriculation from Vanderbilt, Lea became a graduate assistant 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 two children, Clark III and Mara.

The Lea File
Hometown Nashville, Tennessee
College Vanderbilt (B.A., Political Science, 2004; M.A., Political Science 2007)
Wife Allison
Children Clark III and Mara
Playing Experience
2001 Birmingham-Southern Baseball
2002 Belmont Baseball
2002-04 Vanderbilt Fullback
Coaching Career
2006 UCLA Graduate Assistant (Defense)
2007 South Dakota State Linebackers
2008 South Dakota State Recruiting Coordinator/Linebackers
2009 UCLA Graduate Assistant (Linebackers)
2010 UCLA Linebackers
2011 UCLA Linebackers
2012 Bowling Green Linebackers
2013 Syracuse Linebackers
2014 Syracuse Linebackers
2015 Syracuse Linebackers
2016 Wake Forest Linebackers
Bowls Coached
2006 Emerald Bowl
2009 Eagle Bank Bowl
2011 Fight Hunger Bowl
2012 Military Bowl
2013 Texas Bowl
2016 Military Bowl

Michael Bertsch, director of football media relations at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2006. An Akron, Ohio, native, he graduated from Walsh University (Ohio) in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in communications and also received his master’s degree in health and physical education with an emphasis in sports administration from Marshall University in 2001.

— ND —