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Vanderbilt Dawg Review: Trashy Season Brings Multiple Changes in Nastyville

Early Season Success

Following a 2022 season in which the black and gold footballers fell just one game short of post-season play, expectations were elevated heading into 2023. Many associated with the program felt the squad had the makings of a team that could challenge for play in a bowl game. Following wins over Hawaii and Alabama A & M to start the season by scores of 35-28 and 43-17, the Commodores were off to a good start. With new construction happening everywhere you look on campus and a 2-0 record, the vibes on West End were as good as they had been in quite some time.

The Wheels Fall Off

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Photo Credit: Cody Slovensky via CFD

The play on the field resembled an eleven-car pile-up after the positive start. Beginning with a date at Wake Forest, Vanderbilt football, proceeded to lose ten consecutive games to close out the 2023 season. In that stretch, Clark Lea's squad never got closer than sixteen points, the lone exception being a road game at UNLV, in which they lost by three after building a 17-0 first-quarter lead. Multiple fans have pointed to 2023 as possibly being the worst version of Vanderbilt football in history. The team was so bad that even a sixteen-point loss was 'viewed as a success'.

The Reset Begins

With a team that finishes the season at 2-10 and on a ten-game losing streak, there has to be a roster flip, as well as changes within the coaching staff. Before the team's final game against in-state rival Tennessee, athletics director Candace Storey Lee stated that Clark Lea would be the head coach in 2024 but noted that changes must be made. Beginning on Sunday, November 26, players began announcing their intentions to enter the transfer portal. Back-up quarterback Ken Seals was among the first. Since that time, there have been twelve players from the 2023 squad to announce that they were portal-bound, though the vast majority of those are grad transfers. In other words, these are players who have already earned their degree from Vanderbilt University and are moving on to graduate studies and intend to do so elsewhere. Starting quarterback AJ Swann and former starting running back Patrick Smith, who had been passed in the rotation by a true freshman, both have also indicated they intend to transfer. In short, the roster flip has begun.


When a Power-5 athletics director states publicly that changes need to be made while telling the nation that the head coach will be retained, it is easily inferred that staff changes are coming. The first of these changes came on Monday evening, November 27, when it was announced that Strength and Conditioning Coordinator Brandon Hourigan had been dismissed. The need to get bigger, stronger, and faster was far more pressing than enduring any further time devoted to soft tissue injuries.

Next in line on Wednesday, November 29, offensive coordinator Joey Lynch was terminated. The Lynch offense was abysmal in 2023, only scoring 22.8 points per game, ranking 13th in the SEC and dead last in total offensive yards. Next, defensive coordinator Nick Howell was demoted and will move into the role of defensive backs coach. Dan Jackson, who held that role previously, will now move into an off-the-field analyst role. As for the two coordinator roles, head coach Clark Lea will assume the defensive coordinator position and launch a nationwide search for an offensive coordinator. In a statement made earlier this evening, Lea stated "We had a season where our results and performance fell short of expectations. When that is the case, changes are necessary. My background as a defensive coordinator will allow me to best serve our team by taking on that responsibility. I would also like to thank Joey for his three years of dedication to our program. I wish him all the best in the future."

Will It Work at Vanderbilt?

It is far too early to answer questions about if these changes will work. What we can do is look to the past and try to learn from our mistakes and not repeat them. Vanderbilt University has tried this approach before with the head coach performing double duty as a coordinator and it did not end well. It is also safe to believe that there will be more changes to the staff coming. Other possibilities of movement include the offensive line, where the Commodores were horrid in 2023. One must reiterate that Clark Lea must score on a Hail Mary with these changes. Failure in 2024, would probably not be in his best interest, at this point.


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