Brian Kelly promised new defensive coordinator Mike Elko that he would get to pick his own staff.
On Thursday he did, at least officially, when Notre Dame unveiled Clark Lea as its next linebackers coach, following Elko from Wake Forest to South Bend to fill the same position. Lea, who’s also coached linebackers at Syracuse, Bowling Green and UCLA, replaces Mike Elston in that position.
“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” Kelly said in a statement. “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.”
Elston, who will remain on staff as defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator, replaces Keith Gilmore, who has not been retained by Kelly after two seasons, little pass rush and solid recruiting success. Gilmore was key to the Irish landing Daelin Hayes, Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara a year ago, with all three freshmen playing on the defensive line last season.
Yet, Notre Dame’s pass rush was historically bad that same season as the Irish finished with just 14 sacks on the season and only three coming from the defensive line. By contrast, Clemson finished the year with 49 sacks and Alabama led the nation with 54.
As for Lea, his two seasons under Elko were also the best for Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator. Their one season together at Bowling Green was 2012 when the Falcons finished 10th in scoring defense (16.8 points per game), 14th in yards per carry (3.35 ypc) and ninth in sacks (38).
From there, Lea moved to Syracuse for three seasons before returning to Wake Forest last fall, the best of Elko’s four-year run in Winston-Salem. In the Demon Deacons only winning season under head coach Dave Clawson, Wake Forest finished 23rd in scoring defense (22.2 points per game), 30th in yards per carry (3.82 ypc) and 12th in sacks (41).
“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said. “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.”
Lea is a 2004 graduate of Vanderbilt and native of Nashville, Tenn.