Vanderbilt University did not play a football game last week, but it has moved forward in its search for the program's next football coach.
First-year Commodores athletics director Candice Story Lee announced Nov. 29 that school had dismissed head coach Derek Mason amidst a winless season and a 3-17 mark since the start of the 2019 season.
Multiple sources told FootballScoop.com that Vanderbilt's vacancy has drawn significant interest from both the collegiate and professional levels, with former NFL head coaches Jeff Fisher and Bill O'Brien said to have expressed their interest in the job.
Vanderbilt has retained Parker Executive Search to coordinate its efforts to find its next head coach, and the school has begun the interview process.
Per sources with direct knowledge, Vanderbilt on Sunday interviewed Notre Dame defensive coordinator and former Commodores player Clark Lea for its opening. The school also has already discussed the opening and made plans to discuss the vacancy with Coastal Carolina's Jamey Chadwell, Charlotte's Will Healy and Army's Jeff Monken. Alabama running backs coach Charles Huff and a list of others have expressed interest in the job, sources told FootballScoop.com.
Buffalo coach Lance Leipold is another name to monitor who is believed to have interest in the vacancy, per sources. Leipold has Buffalo undefeated amidst this shortened season, and the Bulls have clinched a berth in the Mid-American Conference Championship on Dec. 18. A six-time national champion coach atop Wisconsin-Whitewater, including three-straight from 2009-11, at the NCAA D-III level, Leipold has guided Buffalo to a 25-9 mark in its last 34 games, including multiple berths in the MAC title bout and the school's first-ever bowl win last season against Healy's Charlotte squad.
Multiple sources on Tuesday told FootballScoop.com that it would be premature to indicate that Vanderbilt already had zeroed in on a single candidate. Certainly, Chadwell is firmly in the mix but Vanderbilt already “had interest in” Monken a few weeks ago, sources said. Monken's unique triple-option offense has been a success throughout his coaching stops, but he's also indicated a willingness to tailor his system to best fit his personnel.
An assistant coach at an SEC rival of Vanderbilt's said this week, “Can you imagine that system at Vanderbilt? What a nightmare. Nick Saban would be glad to only have to play Vanderbilt every few years.”
Notre Dame's Lea, architect of an Irish defense that has allowed 17 points per game and ranked second nationally in third-down stops, is considered a top candidate for the Broyles Award that is given annually to college football's top assistant coach. The cerebral Lea, who has deep ties to the Mid-State Region in Tennessee and is beloved as a Vanderbilt alum, is considered in coaching circles as an absolute head coach on the rise. Said one prominent SEC assistant to FootballScoop, “Vanderbilt just needs to hire Clark Lea and get the damn thing done. He's a perfect fit there.”
Chadwell's the head coach on the list with the most current success. His Chanticleers are the Cinderella toast of college football with a perfect 10-0 ledger that now includes last weekend's wild win against previously unbeaten BYU. Chadwell's a keen offensive mind with a well-developed, strong-armed quarterback. His defensive coordinator, Chad Staggs, also has elicited interest at the Power-5 level for his work with Coastal's defense. The unit held BYU to just 17 points – its lowest total of the season and just the second time this year the Cougars failed to score more than 40 points.
Quick update: two additional names mentioned enough to FootballScoop to at least be passed along here include Air Force's Troy Calhoun and Louisiana Tech's Skip Holtz. There is an important Holt-Vanderbilt connection: Vanderbilt Deputy Athletic Director Tommy McClelland, seen as a rising commodity in college athletics administration, worked previously with Holtz at Louisiana Tech.
A source connected to the search told FootballScoop Vanderbilt is far more interested in making the right hire, than in making a quick decision.
As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest coaching news.