Lea puts faith in Stangel as director of football operations

Posted at 8:57 AM, Apr 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-19 09:57:13-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Clark Lea considers Tim Corbin a good friend, and would love nothing more than to emulate the Vanderbilt baseball program’s success on the football field at Vanderbilt. After being introduced as Vanderbilt’s new football coach in December, one of Lea’s first moves was to hire Casey Stangel, a former staff member in the baseball program under Corbin, as his Director of Football Operations.

The move turned heads in football circles. Stangel, who had no previous experience in football, became the first female Director of Football Operations in the SEC.

“I’m just honored that Coach Lea would trust me,” Stangel said. “It doesn’t make me nervous. It doesn’t really make me feel anything other than just this insane desire to help Vanderbilt football be the best it can be.”

It may have been a historic decision, but Lea didn’t think twice about making it because of the job he knew Stangel could do.”

“That Director of Football Operations role is a huge, huge responsibility,” Lea said. “And I have just total confidence in her. There’s no one else I’d want in that role.”

Stangel joins the football program after three seasons as the Internal Operations Coordinator for Vanderbilt baseball. During that time, she served as second in command on the operations staff to longtime Corbin staffer Brooks Webb, handling team travel, camps, clinics and events.

She was there in 2019 when the Vandy Boys captured the College World Series title by beating Michigan in the finals.

“I just love everything about Casey,” Corbin said. “Because she attacked days like you would want someone to do that you work with. She just had a high care level for everything that she did.”

But it was a chance meeting earlier that season that ultimately changed the course of Stangel’s professional career. That’s when Lea, following his first season as the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, returned to his alma mater looking for fresh ideas to recharge after a grueling season.

Lea wanted to observe what made Corbin’s baseball program so successful. But when a phone call ran long, Corbin asked Stangel to show Lea around Hawkins Field and the baseball facility. A request he now jokes was stupid because it cost him a valuable staffer.

Stangel answered every question she could for the inquisitive young coach during the tour, and the brief interaction left a positive impression with her future boss.

“She was patient in answering my questions about the program and about the coach, and some of the things he does on the field and in the classroom,” Lea said. “I mean, I can ask a lot of questions, so she was very patient, very knowledgeable and, clearly, was just someone who just had total ownership in the program.”

Stangel was impressed as well. She saw similarities between Lea and Corbin, from each man’s competitiveness to the importance they put on relationships and the core principles they believe make up a winning program.

And as fate would have it, Stangel periodically would come across the business card Lea left behind that day, prompting the occasional message. A funny coincidence in her mind until the day Vanderbilt parted ways with Derek Mason last fall, putting in motion the dominos that brought Lea and Stangel together.

“That guy’s card, like I couldn’t lose it,” Stangel said with a smile. “I kept putting it places and it would pop back up, and I’m like, ‘oh, Clark Lea, I feel like I should reach back out to him. I don’t know why, there’s no angle, but he’s just a good dude.’ And so when he came to Vanderbilt it kind of felt like, ‘oh, maybe there was a reason for this.’”

A former standout softball player that helped Washington reach the Women’s College World Series, Stangel says her decision to leave the baseball program was the hardest thing she’s ever done. But any fear she had of telling Corbin, whom she considers a mentor, were squashed when he gave her his blessing to take the next step in her career with Lea.

“I wouldn’t have left Vanderbilt baseball, in my eyes, for any other football program,” Stangel said. “It was a Clark Lea decision. Like, ‘okay, I’m going to tie myself to this guy.’”

Stangel has made her presence felt immediately in the football facility. As one of the very first hires, she got down to work even before Lea was able to break away from Notre Dame and begin his work on West End.

While her new boss prepared to coach in the College Football Playoff, Stangel oversaw the beginning stages of the renovation of the football complex.

“She became like a one-man wrecking crew,” Lea said. “She got me thinking about things that, to be honest, as I was preparing for Alabama I just had no way of anticipating. Things like how we wanted the offices aligned, what do we want the workout gear to look like. Things that were so far off my radar that we needed to make decisions about. She immediately inserted herself as being such a valuable contributor to our operation. She’s been just an incredible gift to our program.”

For those in the Vanderbilt baseball program, Stangel’s immediate contributions to the football team are no surprise. She’s proven herself with a championship program once before.

And now she looks forward to helping Lea build another winner on the football field at Vanderbilt.

“For so many reasons, he’s going to be successful to me,” Stangel said. “He cares about Vanderbilt. He’s put the right people in place. He’s holding these guys to a high standard and supporting them as they work to reach it. Yeah, for a million reasons I really believe in what he’s doing and how he’s doing it.”