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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Defense Thrilled for Clark Lea & Embracing Final Stretch

December 17, 2020

Winning an ACC Championship against No. 3 Clemson isn’t an easy task. 

Winning an ACC Championship with defensive coordinator Clark Lea accepting the Vanderbilt head coaching job is another tall task. 

Notre Dame's players didn't hold any grudges against Lea and didn’t seem distracted as he announced to the team his new gig early this week. In fact, it was a celebration. 

"When we found out, we were super excited," stated captain Daelin Hayes. "Our whole team was super excited for Coach. We embraced that opportunity for him." 

All-American safety Kyle Hamilton echoed Hayes as he felt it was only fitting Lea took the opportunity to return home.

"Everybody, including the offense who was in the team meeting when he announced it to the team, was super happy for him," said Hamilton. "He's a Nashville guy. He played there and it's kind of like a perfect storm. It only makes sense."

For some teams, Lea's news could be a distraction, but it seems like Notre Dame's defense took the news in stride.

"Like anything, our brotherhood, the investment we have in our brotherhood comes from our coaches," explained Hayes. "If anybody is as invested in these next few weeks, it's Coach Lea. He's put so much time and effort into this and given so much into this. 

"We're excited for him, but we're setting that aside and getting ready for this three-game stretch to finish the season the right way."

In fact, Hamilton had even forgotten Lea was Vanderbilt's head coach because nothing had changed as the Irish prepare for Clemson. 

"We all had our little moment and we're all happy for him, but it doesn't take away the fact he's still our defensive coordinator," stated Hamilton. "He told us he's going to be our DC until the end of the year. His focus hasn't been taken away at all. 

"I even just got reminded he was the head coach at Vanderbilt today. I had kind of forgot. It's obvious he's still focused on Notre Dame and winning a championship here."  

It's clear Lea has built trust within the Notre Dame defense and that's why Hamilton feels he'll have success as a head coach. 

"I think Coach Lea is the definition of a players coach," Hamilton said. "He's kind of like your dad away from home, honestly. He's there for you emotionally like no other coach I've ever been around. Whatever you need, whenever you need it, whatever time in the building or at home, he's always available for you. His door is always open for you to come in to express any anger, happiness and he's open to that. 

"I feel like as a player, that really helped me be comfortable being around the coaches. He's great at creating an environment and culture where everyone cares about each other. I think he's going to do really well at Vanderbilt." 

Hayes has been around Lea since he arrived in 2017 and feels his rise has centered around building and maintaining the program's culture. 
"He's a players coach," said Hayes. "You talk about you're building a winning culture and that trust you have to have from your players. You have to know they care and that they're willing to go the extra mile for you. That's something Coach Lea has done for us day in and day out, whether it be having 1-on-1 meetings, doing sprinting in our pursuit drills with us and making it fun and a real family atmosphere. It really gives guys a chance to buy in and trust what he's staying and trust he cares about you off the field. 

"I think him bringing that culture to Vanderbilt will only strengthen that program." 

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