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Clark Lea promoted to Notre Dame defensive coordinator

NOTRE DAME, Ind. - After less than a week since Mike Elko's departure, Notre Dame football has filled its vacant defensive coordinator position, and the Irish didn't have to look far.

Clark Lea has been tabbed as the next leader of the Notre Dame defense, following his first season in South Bend.

The program made it official Tuesday evening, with a statement from head coach Brian Kelly.

“Clark has quickly established himself as a rising star in the coaching profession,” said Kelly. “He immediately commands the respect of those around him, whether that be in a meeting room, on a practice field or in a prospective student-athlete’s living room. Clark has demonstrated an ability to motivate, lead, teach and mentor through a positive teaching environment, while also developing the necessary traits of excellence in our players. Clark has an incredible football knowledge, a keen understanding of personnel and a fierce work ethic, which leaves no doubt in my mind that we’ll maintain the defensive standard necessary to win at the highest level.”

Lea arrived on campus in the offseason between 2016 and 2017, and served as linebackers coach.

His impact was shown through the production of that group, which became the first linebacker unit in Irish history to boast four players with at least 75 tackles.

“I cannot express how grateful I am to Father Jenkins, Jack Swarbrick and Brian Kelly for their confidence in my ability to take on this new role,” said Lea in the program release. “I am indebted to them, and to the student-athletes that I have been blessed to work with over the past year — without their commitment and belief in me, I realize that none of this would be possible. Notre Dame represents everything I want to be a part of in my career as an educator, and I am deeply humbled to be able to continue my work here.”

Before his time at Notre Dame began, Lea spent time as the linebackers coach at UCLA, Bowling Green, Syracuse, and one season at Wake Forest. From there, he followed Mike Elko to South Bend. Elko took the defensive coordinator position at Texas A&M last week.

While Lea appears to be a popular selection among players, longtime assistant Mike Elston was thought by many to be a candidate. Though Elston was not named defensive coordinator, he did receive a new title on Tuesday.

Elston, who previously served as assistant head coach and defensive line coach, will now hold the position of associate head coach and defensive line coach.

“I love the University of Notre Dame," said Elston. "My family and I are blessed to be a part of this University. I want to thank Jack Swarbrick and Brian Kelly for this opportunity that continues my growth as a coach and offers a greater leadership role in the program. I’m very excited to stay with the defensive line and help them develop to their fullest potential-- both on and off the field.”

Kelly added that Elston's new title was a result of his steadiness and importance to the program.

“Mike has been instrumental to the success of Notre Dame football,” said Kelly. “His commitment and passion for this program and University are second to none. In many ways, Mike can best be described as the backbone of our coaching staff. He’s tutored All-Americans at every position group in his tenure at Notre Dame, including linebacker, defensive line and placekicker. Mike’s also been a vital resource in recruiting -- leading the efforts of that office for two years. He’s, without a doubt, a future head coach and we’re very, very fortunate to have him on our staff.”

Elston also previously served as recruiting coordinator and linebackers coach in 2015 and 2016.

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