Clark Lea is a former Syracuse linebackers coach under the Scott Shafer staff. Since being let go from SU, Lea found a home with the ACC rival Wake Forest Demon Deacons. He is currently the linebackers coach there.
With the matchup between the Orange and Demon Deacons approaching on Saturday, CuseNation.com was able to catch up with coach Lea to discuss a variety of topics.
Q: When you think back about your time at Syracuse, what do you remember from that experience and what did you learn about yourself as a coach?
Clark Lea: "I had a chance to work with a great guy and great defensive coach in Scott Shafer. I carry with me today many lessons. Both schematic lessons, fundamental football lessons, and also teaching lessons that I learned from him. Just always appreciated my time there and my development there getting to work for coach.
"On a personal level, Syracuse is a special place to me. My second child was born there. I sent my son to preschool there. His first days of school were at Syracuse. We really grew as a family. Just really enjoyed our time there and made a home there. Fond memories in that respect. And certainly with the players too.
"Guys we recruited, guys that were already a part of that program that we formed relationships with and I stay in touch with to this day. That will always be meaningful. Took a lot from my time there. A lot of growth on a personal level. A lot of growth on a personal level. Certainly look back fondly on my time there."
Q: Will it be strange facing a team you coached for with players you helped recruit and develop. And will that familiarity help you on Saturday?
Clark Lea: "I don't think my familiarity will help necessarily. We're dealing with young men here who are growing and developing. What I coached even as recently as a year ago, has grown and developed and changed and addressed shortcomings, firmed up their strengths. That part of it is really minimal.
"From the standpoint of is it weird or uncomfortable, it's really kind of a neat experience to be honest. Because we worked so hard together and spent so much time together. Starting with the recruiting process and then, obviously, when we're shoulder to shoulder working. At some point whether it's during your time there or once their careers are done at a university, you're kind of letting those guys go and watching them grow from afar.
"For me going into this week, having a chance to watch them on tape a little bit, having the chance to reflect on where they were and how far they've come. Seeing Parris, Zaire and JT on the field together, thinking about the recruiting vision having that be part of the long-term with those guys playing together. It's really kind of a neat experience.
"In that respect, not so much weird, but it's kind of cool."
Q: How did you end up at Wake Forest?
Clark Lea: "Coaching is all about who you know and who you've worked with and worked for. I was fortunate coming out of my time at UCLA to spend a year at Bowling Green before going to Syracuse. Worked with coach Clawson and coach Elko, the defensive coordinator. That relationship was really what led to me landing on my feet here.
"When you come off a situation where the staff is let go and you're all kind of free agents looking for work, there's a lot of uncertainty. I feel very blessed that these guys believed enough in me to bring me on board. Have a chance to stay in this league, which I think is just a phenomenal league. A competitive league.
"One that, as a coach, you have to be on your toes week by week. The opponents are tough, the coaches are good, and it's a lot of fun that way."
Q: How has the transition been to Wake Forest? Do you think you guys have turned a corner with the 4-1 start?
Clark Lea: "It's hard to, in-season, have that long-term scope. We're really in a week to week focus here. Coming off of a loss where we didn't play well enough and reset our focus on the next week and be a little bit better this Saturday. I know it's a little bit of coach speed, but it's the honest to God truth.
"I think what we'll do is we'll keep our heads down this season and keep churning away. Just try to find little advantages and small wins here and there. Then maybe on the back end reflect back and project forward where things are and where we want things to be. Continually resetting that bullseye to where we're trying to elevate the program.
"Certainly proud of the players and the way that they respond. We've found a way to win games in tough situations. I think a lot of times that's what it comes down to. Just trying to find a way to win. Everyone's good. Everyone can beat you. Just trying to put the guys in position to make plays to help you win."
Q: How do you prepare for the up-tempo offense Syracuse is bringing with them this week?
Clark Lea: "The up-tempo offense is the most challenging thing to simulate and to prepare for because it attacks you in your weakest place and that's your mind. You look up-tempo offenses and all the chunk plays given up, it's not always the design as it is the defenders body failing him.
"Sliding off of a tackle or not being lined up in the proper position because he's transitioning from the previous play. You do the best you can to simulate the tempo in practice. Early in the game, we're going to have to get our cleats in the ground and get a feel for it. Because I don't know if you can ever truly simulate what it's going to be like."
Q: Are you able to keep in touch with former members of the Scott Shafer staff?
Clark Lea: "I stay in touch with pretty much every one of the coaches. We talk on a weekly to semi-weekly basis either on the phone or through text. You form relationships in this business and go through experiences, good and bad, and those don't ever leave you. Those are special relationships and ones that will continue for a long time.
"Coach (Shafer) has been phenomenal about reaching out after the game. Congratulating or giving me a pep talk if that's needed. Whatever the case, he's always there. He's doing great and I think he's enjoying watching his son play. I'm sure, as good of a coach as he is and as much as it's in his veins, that we will see him back at it before too long.
"I know right now he's enjoying being with his family and having some time."