Joe Medley: JSU change hits home as Clark ushers in preseason practice
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
Aug 01, 2013 | 2149 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jacksonville State coach Bill Clark at the Gamecocks' media day. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
Jacksonville State coach Bill Clark at the Gamecocks' media day. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
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JACKSONVILE -- Change for Jacksonville State football has been underway for months, but the change hit home Thursday.

It was Aug. 1, and there sat a new coach, Bill Clark, talking to reports during the Gamecocks’ preseason media day.

Think about it. It’s been since 2000 that JSU fans saw a new face at the public event that signals the beginning of football practice and the onset of a season.

The last time JSU fans waited that long or longer, a guy named Jim Blevins sat in Don Salls’ old chair in 1965.

Well, technically, that’s the last time it felt this long. Salls had that year break in the middle of his 18 seasons. His longest stretch as JSU’s coach without a break was 11 seasons, one fewer than Bill Burgess.

Crowe emceed media day for 13 straight years before the school fired him this past December.

While Crowe’s ouster before the end of his contract was a surprise, many JSU fans were ready for change. There was a sense that the program had gone as far is it could under Crowe.

He won 87 games, second most in school history behind Salls’ 95, and led JSU to its only conference titles in Division I with two plus a share of another one. He also had a few missing rings, and there was the matter of no Football Championship Subdivision playoff victories.

When enough disappointment mixes in with success, fans grow tired of the same face, voice and tune.

Enter a new-but-refreshingly-familiar face and voice with Clark, a JSU alum with a new tune about a frenetic, spread offense.

“Hopefully, the neat thing or the great thing about what we do offensively, we’ve got a way to get everybody the ball. … We’re trying to make them defend the width of the field,” he said Thursday.

Enter Clark’s new tune with a stress on “multiple” defense and fundamentals first. He’s a defensive coach, and that alone appeals to fans that have seen defensive collapses cost the Gamecocks OVC titles in recent years.

While we’re at it, enter Clark’s talk about “well-choreographed” practices where no one is allowed to stand and feel disengaged, least of all the head coach.

“He’s more involved,” said former Anniston High star running back Troymaine Pope, whose role has expanded to include work at slot receiver.

Of course, a new face and voice can grow old quickly with disappointment on the field. Clark’s new tune has yet to be tested against players whose scholarships and uniforms come from another school.

JSU, a team that was often picked to win or finish at least second in the Ohio Valley Conference under Crowe, was picked fourth this year. The Gamecocks lost both playing quarterbacks, after all, and they no longer have the dean of OVC coaches.

There’s something to being a known commodity.

Then again, there’s something to being a new commodity in a place where people were ready for one. That much came across in the months since Clark’s hiring, as he has spoken to support groups.

“Our goal is to win the conference, period,” Clark said. “But I think they’ve been more focused on the change … just what are we teaching? What are we going to be like? What are we going to look like?”

On the day when players reported and a new coach ushered in fall practice, it hit home just how different things look.

Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, jmedley@annistonstar.com. On Twitter @jmedley_star.

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