The Clark Lea era is officially underway.
Vanderbilt’s first-year head football coach held his first official practice on Wednesday, and in a subsequent press conference he expressed lots of enthusiasm—but no complacency.
“Obviously, I had a lot of fun today. That doesn’t mean it always went well,” the former Vanderbilt fullback said with a smile, “But it went. And it’s a great first step for us moving forward.”
Though the environment may have posed some challenges in his first practice—weather conditions forced the Commodores to move inside and Vanderbilt’s signature touchdown horn sounded when it wasn’t supposed to—Lea said he learned from the experience. As a former position coach and coordinator, his first practice as a head coach provided a change-of-pace.
“I knew this would be different. I knew it would feel different for me. I think when you’re responsible for a unit or position group, you have such a narrow focus when you take the practice field. There are very specific things you want to accomplish,” he said. “For me, this is about taking a really broad look at the program; how the program functions [and] how it transitions.”
Part of the transition from the previous coaching staff to Lea’s includes a familiar theme among Commodore programs. When the Vanderbilt football team took the practice field on Wednesday, they wore black or white shirts with “Vanderbilt” printed on the front, and their last name on the back. No student-athletes sported a Star V logo or uniform number.
The empty uniform is something head baseball coach Tim Corbin has used in early-season practices for years. Much like Corbin, Lea said the players must earn the privilege to wear them.
“We’re going to earn everything in this program,” he said. “Until we understand that we rent those [uniform] numbers, we don’t own them, until we’re ready to work within them, to leave them better for the next person to wear them—that’ll come. I don’t want to put a timeline on it.”
Similar to the uniform numbers, Lea believes the Star V is something that the players must earn. Not only is it a privilege, but he said it’s a representation of the program.
“No one is allowed to assign the value of being a part of this program except for those within it. No one can tell us what it means to be a Vanderbilt football player… We define that by what we’re willing to invest in this program and what we’ll sacrifice for this program,” he said. “We want to strengthen the Star V in everything that we do.”
The players will have to earn their uniforms. And while Lea seemed happy to be back on the practice field, he understood that they have a long way to go before they earn that right.
“This is the first practice that this team has had. Now, we’ve had training together, and I thought there was positive carryover from our training to the practice field, but it wasn’t perfect,” he said. “Meaning, I felt this team Saturday evening trained at a really, really high level. I don’t think we started [Wednesday’s] practice with an energy level that reflected that training.”