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Vanderbilt AD Locked In!

Updated: Nov 3, 2023



Via Hector Alejandro (Flickr)

The timeline is May 21, 2020, and Vanderbilt University has been embroiled in turmoil. It all started on November 19, 2018, when the man known as “The Godfather of SEC ADs”, David Williams, announced his retirement.


Following this announcement, Vanderbilt made a stunning move to hire a former G-League executive, Malcolm Turner, as the Williams replacement. Often criticized, many wondered if this might signal the end of VU athletics simply because they had opportunities to hire others and make a REAL commitment to athletics.


On February 4, 2020, Turner announced his resignation. This resignation followed reports of tension between Turner and the Vanderbilt brass that stemmed largely from Mr. Turner spending large amounts of money that created “deficits on top of deficits” with not much to show for it. Now, you can usher in the name of Candace Storey Lee. Mrs. Lee started her Vanderbilt athletics administration career in 2002, serving as an academic counselor and compliance director.


In 2004, she was named as the senior woman administrator, a role she held until 2020. Also in 2016, she had risen to the level of deputy athletic director under Williams.


One can say that Mrs. Lee is a perfect fit for this position. She was a team captain as a women’s basketball player at Vanderbilt, had been selected 5 times to the SEC Academic Honor Roll, and was a key figure on the 2002 Vanderbilt women’s basketball team, which had won the SEC Tournament Championship.


What is not mentioned yet is that our beloved AD is also a three (Yes, you read that right, 3) time graduate of Vanderbilt University. Originally graduating in 2000 with a bachelor of science degree in human and organizational development, she also earned her master’s degree in counseling in 2002 as well as her doctorate of higher education in 2012.


While many fans had doubts about Lee being the change that has been so sorely needed in Nashville, she has proven beyond any question she is most definitely up to the challenge.


Many viewed her as part of the past problems that have existed for as long as 90-100 years, which has been a total lack of investment in athletics at the SEC school. Her work in the role of athletics director since that day in May 2020 has been anything but that.


In her time as the first black woman to lead a Southeastern Conference athletic department, Vanderbilt has seen a tremendous amount of investment. From personal touches within the day-to-day activities to major facilities announcements, Lee has been the answer, without question.


From placing yellow roses in the seat of her former boss at a ballgame on the day he passed on to the afterlife, to overseeing the Vandy United campaign to invest in the future of Vanderbilt athletics, Mrs. Lee has been a superstar.


Beyond her duties as AD, Lee also serves on the Southeastern Conference on Racial Equity and Social Justice, and on the executive committee of the Black Athletic Directors Alliance.


She has also served on the NCAA Women’s Basketball Rules Committee and as chair of the NCAA Division 1 Women’s Lacrosse Committee and SEC Senior Woman Administrators.


Lee has been very busy and has been recognized as the 2022 Athletic Director of the Year at the Black Student Athlete Summit. In 2019, she was named a “Power Player” by the Sports Business Journal. In 2018 she was added to the “NEXT UP” class by Adidas.


Since Lee began her career at Vanderbilt, the Commodores have won national championships in baseball (two), bowling (2), and women’s tennis. Along her career path, Vanderbilt has won more than 20 SEC championships and conference tournament titles in such sports as baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, bowling, women’s cross country, men’s and women’s golf, women’s lacrosse, and women’s soccer.


In football, the Commodores broke a 26-year drought of no bowl games in 2008 and have gone on to play in six such games. For the athletic year 2020-21, Vanderbilt, for the sixth straight year, had the highest graduation rate of all SEC schools, at 97%, and for the 16th straight year had a program-wide GPA exceeding 3.0.


To say the very least, she has been very successful when compared to past Vanderbilt administrators. To date, one of the biggest successes on her part has been the launch of Vandy United. Vandy United is a commitment to spend $300 million on athletic upgrades to facilities such as a new indoor practice facility for football, a brand-new basketball operations center, a brand-new football operations center, as well as upgrades to Hawkins Field and other facilities on campus.


She has a unique ability to be able to convince the individuals behind the money to spend on athletics. It does, of course, help to have a new Chancellor to back her up in Daniel Diermeier, who has supported her by putting the money where his mouth has been. For Vanderbilt to re-sign AD Candace Storey Lee to a 5-year term is a huge win for Vanderbilt athletics. Her success as a student-athlete gives her a unique understanding of what it takes to win at Vanderbilt.

The launching of spending ventures in support of student-athletes has had a profound effect and will now continue to do so moving forward. It also signifies that Vanderbilt is committed to fixing what has long hindered the school athletically, that being a lack of investment.


With Lee at the helm, student-athletes can now rest assured that they have an AD on their side, willing to do what it takes to win, not just now, but for the long term.


Candace is married to Sean Lee, the executive director of the Smyrna, Tn housing authority. They have one adult son, Andrew.

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