New Vanderbilt head football coach Clark Lea doesn’t want to appeal to nostalgia during SEC media days. In fact, he doesn’t want to think about the past at all, even though the Nashville-native finished his playing days at Vandy in 2004.
To Lea, nothing about the Commodores’ lackluster past matters moving forward. All that matters now is turning the program into legitimate SEC contenders. The days of disappointment and empty stadiums are over.
“In this first iteration of Vanderbilt football, what we affectionately call it in our building is Team One,” Lea said. “The overwhelming majority of players were recruited to a program that no longer exists.”
Every incoming Vanderbilt head coach has to take questions about the team’s history of losing; the team’s annual ineptitude just can’t be overlooked. In many ways, Vanderbilt University seems to prefer distancing itself from athletics, and the fallout has been severe over the years. I have many private thoughts about Vanderbilt as a whole, including what I believe to be a desire from school administrators to disavow themselves from Nashville and the South altogether. But complaining does me no good, and neither will it do Lea’s new team any good, even if the observations are warranted. The liberal arts university prefers to do things their way, and ultimately, the only way to legitimize athletics will be to win regardless of situation. Like the Indians in Major League, Vandy athletes just have to band together and win the whole effing thing. Or at least a game here and there. Coach Lea seems to understand this and is taking the right steps toward galvanizing his team against any and all outside excuses for mediocrity.
“For me, it’s seizing the opportunity we have to build something different to give this program a chance to be at its potential,” Lea said. “I didn’t return home to have a homecoming. Honestly, I thought that your opening remark was going to be a statement to my whatever I have, four catches for 27 yards in my career, whatever it was. … We don’t apologize for being Vanderbilt. It’s not – I mean, our expectation is to win. Hey, look, everything takes time to build to its potential, but smart people figure things out. So we’re going to grip the bat and take our swing for the fences, and we’re very proud of what we represent, and we’re proud of what we’re going to sustain over time at Vanderbilt.”
Lea, himself, took a big swing by leaving his defensive coordinator role at Notre Dame and coming to Vanderbilt—oft considered one of the toughest gigs in all of Power Five football. He’ll be walking into an administration that is apathetic, a fanbase that has trouble filling up its own small stadium, and a locker room that has won three games in two seasons. But he grew up in Nashville and knows exactly what he’s dealing with, so maybe his tenure will finally be the one that not only takes the ‘Dores into flashes of brilliance, but sustains it for a while.