Vanderbilt has a new football coach in Clark Lea, and now the Southeastern Conference school that so long has lagged behind its peers in terms of athletics facilities has announced an unprecedented campaign for upgraded facilities.
Vanderbilt leaders on Monday revealed a new $300 million campaign, Vanderbilt United, that will include a new football indoor practice facility, new football operations center, upgrades to Vanderbilt Stadium and other facilities improvements, most notably for the men's and women's basketball programs.
“I would say that, I don't know that I would call it a change, for me between being interim (athletics director) and being appointed, I've been in this seat about 13 months and have felt this is the direction we were going,” said Candice Lee, Vanderbilt's athletics director. “I feel like in the last year, we've been moving towards that.
“If there has been a change, I think people have seen that we are serious and it starts at the top.”
Lee and Daniel Diermeier, Vanderbilt's chancellor, shared in a Zoom call that the school already has raised $200 million of the $300 million targeted for the project. Included in that sum is a lead gift of $10 million from John Ingram, one of the school's longstanding top benefactors and a Board of Trust member.
Vanderbilt pledged $100 million from its own coffers, solicited $90 million in what it called anonymous pledges and Ingram's anchoring gift.
Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin immediately following the 2021 football season. Vanderbilt selected Populous as the chief architect for project.
“As I said before, we'e doing this,” Diermeier said. “We don't have to wait in order to get to a particular point. We got the point and so we're moving forward.”
The new football operations center will house enhanced locker rooms, coaches' offices, team and positional meeting rooms and a training area, among other enhancements, Vanderbilt announced.
The indoor practice facility will be a full-size football practice space “adjacent to the outdoor practice fields.”
It's the first significant investment into the football practice space since Vanderbilt launched an indoor project in 2012, and the project also will include enhancements to Vanderbilt Stadium – which has not been significantly upgraded in decades.
The new stadium features, according to Diermeier and Lee, will include premium seating, hospitality space, upgraded concession offers and other unspecified changes.
Hired away from Notre Dame, where he had burnished a reputation as among the nation's top defensive coordinators and assistant coaches, Lea received a multi-year deal to return to his alma mater as its head coach.
Lea's hiring and his talks with the school, per sources, both showcased Vanderbilt's renewed commitment to athletics – and particularly its football program that for decades has only mustered fleeting success.
Per sources, Lea was given a multi-year contract that paid him closer to the middle of the pack among head coaches in the well-compensated Southeastern Conference, and, more importantly, Lea received assurances during the interview process that Vanderbilt had committed resources to athletics as evidenced by the Vanderbilt United announcement.
Vanderbilt's basketball programs also are targeted to get major enhancements as part of the Vanderbilt United campaign. Both the women's and men's teams will have their own practice courts, as well as the new basketball operations center housing a dedicated weight room, locker rooms and offices.
Though Vanderbilt officials did not specify what improvements might come to Tim Corbin's top-ranked Commodores baseball program, they did said the campaign would include upgrades for baseball. Sources told FootballScoop that Vanderbilt “would like to add more seats at The Hawk (Hawkins Field, home of Commodores baseball).”