Lea announced the promotion Wednesday. Howell replaces Jason Minter who left for the same job at Michigan.
“Nick brings a wealth of experience in the role of defensive coordinator, but more importantly, he is skilled at building an environment to drive the style of defense we want to see at Vanderbilt,” Lea said in a statement.
Lea originally hired Howell in January to coach defensive backs. Howell spent the past six seasons as defensive coordinator at Virginia. The Cavaliers had four bowl bids during Howell’s tenure, including the Orange Bowl.
Howell worked nine seasons at BYU going from a defensive intern to defensive coordinator with eight bowl games in that span. He started his coaching career in Utah at three high schools.
Vanderbilt begins spring practice March 16.