Although there has been no confirmation from either school, there has been intense speculation about whether Clark will accept the job to succeed Garrick McGee as the Blazers’ head coach after only one season at JSU.
JSU president Bill Meehan said this morning the school has had no official contact regarding Clark’s acceptance of the job, but expressed his appreciation for the effort the coach has given to the Gamecocks.
“We wish him the best and are grateful for his time at JSU. It was just not long enough,” Meehan said. “He is a JSU grad and we are proud of his success and appreciate the success he brought to the Gamecocks.”
Clark was hired to succeed Jack Crowe at JSU 13 months ago and in his first season as a college head coach led the Gamecocks to an 11-4 season that set several school, conference and national records and ended in the FCS quarterfinals.
Jim Coxwell, chairman of the JSU board of trustees athletics committee, said he had no further knowledge of Clark taking the UAB job.
While he was concerned about the situation, he was particularly concerned for the players.
“What I’m concerned about is my kids, our players,” he said. “I don’t want them to feel like that they’re left here without anybody who cares, because I care — a lot — and I’m going to see that they’re taken care of and see they get what they need.
“We’ve got some boys who did an outstanding job this year. The coach didn’t do the job, the boys, the team that played, they’re the ones who should be patted on the back for a great job.”
A coaching change might also impact the players soon to become Gamecocks.
National Signing Day is three weeks away. The Gamecocks already have 13 commitments for what they project to be a strong signing class, including several of the 2- and 3-star variety according to various recruiting services.
At least three — Ashville linebacker E.J. Moss, Walker linebacker Austin Mansell and Mill Creek (Ga.) defensive back Michael Leonard — said they didn’t believe the current uncertainty would affect their decision to sign with the Gamecocks.
It might, however, depending on the number of assistants Clark would take to any new position. Moss said he hadn’t received a reply from a text message he sent to JSU offensive coordinator John Grass since the Clark rumors began gaining traction.
“You could be stepping out on a good deal,” said Moss, a 3-star rated prospect by Rivals.com. “When Coach Clark came in (those recruits) didn’t know how good he was going to be. The next coach might be better, just as good.
“I was thinking about that just last night. What if it’s a guy like (Alabama) Coach (Nick) Saban or something like that. You never know.”
Mansell, who will take his official JSU visit this weekend, said his commitment to the Gamecocks was rooted in the big picture.
“I imagine they’ll have this all figured out by then,” he said. “I don’t see myself changing. If coach does leave, they’ll have somebody lined up for the job.
“For me, it’s not alternating my decision. I’m looking at a place I can spend four years not just (for) the coaches, because things can happen.”
Coxwell said he considered Clark an ACC- or SEC-caliber coach from the time they first met, and thought he would be at the school several years before making that jump.
JSU trustees have discussed ways of enhancing Clark’s compensation to keep him around. The UAB job is expected to pay nearly three times Clark’s current $175,000-a-year salary.
“If he is gone, we wish him the best,” Coxwell said. “He’s one of the best things that’s happened to Jacksonville State. I don’t want to lose him.”
Messages left for Clark, his Washington, D.C.-based agent, JSU athletics director Warren Koegel, UAB officials and other trustees of both schools today were not immediately returned.
Clark, a Calhoun County native, interviewed for the UAB job in Atlanta on Friday. He was defensive coordinator for five years at South Alabama prior to taking the Jax State job and developed a nationally recognized program at Prattville High School prior to that.
If there is a coaching change forthcoming at JSU, policymakers promise it will be quick, thorough and with an eye to continued success.
“I can assure everyone we’ll be on top of this,” Coxwell said. “We will not miss a beat. We’re shooting for a national title next year.”
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @almusky_star.