EXCLUSIVE: Clark Lea on his promotion

I just got off the phone with new UCLA linebackers coach Clark Lea, who was promoted from his grad assistant position to fill the vacancy left by Carnell Lake. Lea coached the linebackers last season as Chuck Bullough moved up to the defensive coordinator position, and the two worked together as well in 2006, when Lea was a GA for DeWayne Walker.

Lea was linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator at South Dakota State in 2007 and 2008 and previously served as a football intern at UCLA and as a GA at Vanderbilt, where he played from 2002-04. Lea is a young (28), fiery guy, and he played a big role in the recruitment of several top linebackers, including Aramide Olaniyan and Eric Kendricks.

Check out the interview after the jump…

How did the process move so fast?“First of all, this is my second tour of duty here – along the way I’ve built some great relationships here and really found a home here at UCLA. I’m very comfortable with the university and staff. The second thing is, when I came back a year ago to work for Chuck Bullough, I knew exactly what he was about. He taught me the trade when I was coming up younger. For all intents and purposes, I was coaching the position for a year now. From Coach Neuheisel’s perspective, it just lends itself to a seamless transition. It’s going to be easy. I know this system in and out. I was in with Coach Walker in 2006 and the tweaks since then, I’ve been here for. I’m just really fortunate and I work for a great guy – it’s humbling he would choose to promote me.”

Obviously the lifeblood of a program is recruiting; are you going to be assigned a specific area? Will your Vanderbilt ties help in the South?“I will definitely have an area in California and as a younger coach and as a guy who kind of prides myself on building relationships, I’m actually really, really excited. That’s probably the biggest change for me. I was recruiting coordinator at South Dakota State and I take pride in great relationships. As far as long-distance recruiting, we do a lot of that based off spot. We go to where the top players are. Certainly with my ties in the southeast, I’d imagine I’ll be involved. With a guy like Aramide Olaniyan, I had a big hand in that and did everything except go see him. I told Coach Neuheisel, you can use me in any way you see fit. If he wants me to go to Alaska, I’ll go to Alaska.”

Last year’s unit was very experienced, this year’s is not-“I made the comment last year that Chuck Bullough hired me and gave me the easiest job in the country. He had Reggie and Boz (Kyle Bosworth) so trained up that it was just a matter of not screwing it up. The thing we get now is a lot of healthy competition for those jobs. The thing maybe we lacked a little of last year was that element of personal competition. That certainly will not be lacking this year. This is going to be a great spring for us, and it’s going to be a great spring because we are going to compete.”

Which players will you rely on?“I do have some guys like Steve Sloan who’ve been on the battlefield before. I’m going to lean on his leadership. Akeem Ayers who’s growing up and improving. Very pleased with the progress he’s made. Sean Westgate who’s a true junior and who’s done some big things on special teams is eager to get his shot and mix it up. Above all else, we are going to compete for this thing.”

Why is that competition important?“When you have positional competition, you are ultimately competitive from top to bottom. To get guys in who are going to push the guys ahead of them. Our selling point to recruits is, ‘Hey , we’re going to bring you in to compete with the older guys, and then the next year, we’ll bring someone in to compete with you.’ The mindset is you can never take a position for granted. You can’t just sit back and assume that everything you’re doing is going to get you that position. You have to go out and beat someone out for it. In life, when someone’s chasing you, you run a little faster.”

How about this new class, which features several highly rated guys?“I’ve had a chance to talk to a number of those guys today and they’re excited to know I’m going to be here with them and watch them develop in their career. The thing we did this winter in terms of recruiting this position is we found guys who are not only great players, but fantastic people. They are guys who are going to rise to the occasion. Each of those guys came and signed on the dotted line with the idea that, ‘I’m going to come to UCLA and I’m going to make that program great.’ There’s a lot of progress that needs to be made. With every success there’s going to be some failure. Time will tell – but these guys are great kids, they’re great players and I’m going to push them day in and day out.”

One of UCLA’s biggest, if not the biggest, weakness last season was tackling. How can you address that?“It’s a defensive philosophy that tackling is perhaps the most important thing we do. We talk about mental toughness and physical toughness, but at the end of the day, you can’t be a great defense unless you tackle. That’s a mindset we share throughout the defensive staff room. All the great linebackers are great tacklers. We teach it technically and drill it every day. To get your body in the right position, to have great points of leverage – those are things we’re going to do every day. But we also want to punish. We want to finish plays and be known as a physical defense. That’s a mantra of our unit – we are going to out-physical the opponent and play tough and play hard. That’s where I come from.”

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  • Anonymous

    good stuff

  • Anonymous

    Tim Hundley cant coach DBs. Great for the LBs, sucks for hte DBs.

  • Anonymous

    This guy not only sounds fired up but he is very articulate and well-spoken. No wonder- he has a Masters from Vanderbilt. Pretty good to not only be a fiery coach but also have the brains to add to that.

  • Johnny Angel

    Sounds good, now looking for results.

  • Anonymous

    did anybody believe that our backers did a great job last season? seems like the guy had a tryout last season and didn’t do so well.

  • BruinFaithful

    I’m sorry, but this is HORRIBLE. SUC has NFL coaches at EVERY position and the best we can get is a freaken GA? PLEASE!!!!

  • silverlake bruin

    but does a Masters from Vandy really stand up to the bachelors in leisure management from Fresno State Lame Kitten has?

  • Anonymous

    yeah, but lane has parlayed his bachelor’s into extensive post-grad work with hostesses. how do you like him now? huh? sc knows how to shine!

  • GoLea

    he earned it, quit whining and give the man a chance. For all we know he’s the next Urban Meyer.

  • Mario DiLeo

    Sounds like BruinFaithful isn’t so faithful if he/she doesn’t trust Coach Neuheisel’s decision to make this move on his staff. It’s not about the NFL, it’s about choosing the best and the brightest…

  • BruinFaithful

    Mario DiLeo:

    BruinFaithful is very faithful and he trusts CRN’s decision. However, he doesn’t believe CRN would make the same decision if he were given millions more to spend on his staff, i.e. maybe the decision was based more on budget than anything else? Do you disagree?

    Ummmmm, usually NFL coaches are the best and the brightest, that’s why they are in the NFL.

    Who do you think a recruit would rather play for? A GA or an NFL coach?

    GoLea:

    We did give him a chance. Were you not paying attention? He coached the LB’s last season. Did you see how they played?

    Yeah, and I’m the next Brad Pitt.

  • john wilkes booth

    This is too confusing for me. Do you guys like Clark Lea or not? You ain’t speaking English. You are messing with my brain here. I’m confused. Should I go after Lea or not? Don’t speak in metaphors.

  • BRUINBEATCH

    I agree with BruinFaithful this decision is all budget based!All I know is if we are not spending the money on football Pauley better be f n amazing!We can NOT keep settling.

  • Flexmonk

    You mean we couldn’t find any of the “best and the brightest” from the NFL to jump to college as a position coach?!…Lea seems like a hungry young coach and good recruiter.

  • theuclan

    Nice read Jon…

  • Stussy55

    SC had rocky seto as DC who was only 2 years removed from being a GA

  • Voice of Reality

    You haterade drinkers beating up on Mr. Lea and whinning about his inexperience compared to his NFL counterpart over at SC: read it and weep:

    “Joe Barry, 39, was the linebackers coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2009 (#27 rated in Total Defense).

    Before that, he was the defensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions for 2 seasons (2007 rated #32 and 08 rated #32 in Total Defense), serving under head coach Rod Marinelli, his father-in-law (nepotism), and working on the same staff as his father, Mike Barry, (more nepotism) who handled the Lions’ offensive line.”

    Give me a break — Joe Barry (Carroll) has never gotten a job on his own.

    At least Mr. Lea has worked his way into his position.

  • Coach Thom

    It’s been my experience that NFL-experienced coaches don’t always fit the mix that’s required of college coaches/assistants. They are used to working with professionals, more men than boys, and often can’t communicate to college players…they don’t see things the way a college kid sees them. ‘What we have here is a failure to communicate.’ I believe the instalment of Coach Clark was a great move by Coach Rick. The kids like Coach Clark and will respond positively to his coaching techniques. No need to run to the NFL for most coaching positions IMO.

  • http://www.motorlife.com Dave

    Didn’t anyone read the article?
    “You can’t just sit back and assume that everything you’re doing is going to get you that position. You have to go out and beat someone out for it. In life, when someone’s chasing you, you run a little faster.”

    There is no question that Clark is going to make those under him better football players, and better people. I’ve spoken to Clark and it is not just talk..he is fired up, smart, and driven. I’d bet on those qualities over a tired retread anyday. This move has renewed my confidence in CRN.