The former Jacksonville State football coach was introduced Wednesday as UAB’s head football coach in the Green & Gold Room inside Bartow Arena.
With so much red in the closet, wife Jennifer had to buy her husband a dark green tie to wear to his initial Blazers news conference. Clark said he has a gold tie, but he had worn it the last three times he met with UAB officials and thought they had seen it enough.
“Yes, I am working on the wardrobe right now,” he said. “The thing we are selling is our program. That’s a daily message we have to get out there.
“I love Jacksonville State. I don’t know how much that message was out ‘til we got there. We’ve got to sell our message. I’ve got to get some more (green) in the wardrobe, for sure.”
Outside of the color of the room, Wednesday’s introduction was virtually the same news conference Clark presided over at JSU 13 months earlier. The room was filled with his family, university administrators and supporters and, way in the back, the group of assistant coaches that will soon become his staff.
UAB athletics director Brian Mackin joked the new coach had more people at his introductory news conference than he had at his. Another supporter cracked he hadn’t seen that many people at some Blazers games.
That’s may be the biggest task Clark faces – changing perceptions of a program entrenched in mediocrity.
The Blazers went 5-19 in former coach Garrick McGee’s two-year tenure, haven’t won more than five games in a season since 2004 and have seen waning attendance in an aging off-campus stadium.
Given the struggles, Mackin was looking for someone “who could do more with less … to know who UAB is now and where he wants to take it.”
He called Clark, 45, a “godsend” for the program.
Clark was only at JSU one season – his first as a college head coach – but led the Gamecocks to an 11-4 record, a spot in the FCS quarterfinals and a top 10 final ranking. Mackin was particularly impressed with what Clark did at Prattville High, taking a program mired in the high weeds upon his arrival to national prominence. Mackin has expectations of the coach bringing that model to UAB.
Clark called the task ahead “daunting,” but heads into it confidently based on some undisclosed assurances he said he received during the interview process.
“I want to be part of doing something special,” he said. “One thing everybody here needs to know: For me to leave my alma mater, to leave a good situation that I had, I had to see some great things here and that’s what we see. We see the potential for great things. We’re doing some things immediately and we’re going to have some long-term goals that are going to happen. I wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t that commitment.”
Clark agreed that in some ways, the task is similar to what he stepped into at JSU. There, he took over a program that at the time didn’t have an established quarterback and a defense that ranked in the 100s nationally on its level and built it into what many believe is a contender for the FCS national title. Even he often joked about his sanity in taking such a job.
But what the Gamecocks did have that UAB does not is a string of winning seasons and a postseason berth as recently as 2010.
Just as he did 13 months ago in Jacksonville, Clark told the UAB crowd his plan was to build the program through a family approach. It was about winning now through a training regimen sure to shock some players, winning the state in recruiting with the same see-them-all approach that brought JSU several high-level prospects, and creating excitement throughout the community.
Also in the room were the nine JSU assistant coaches who are expected to become part of Clark’s UAB coaching staff – defensive coordinator Duwan Walker, recruiting coordinator Jody Wright, offensive line coach Mike Bennefield, inside linebackers coach Chuck Dunn, defensive line coach David Reeves, outside linebackers coach Daric Riley, cornerbacks coach Blake Shrader, receivers coach Cornelius Williams and operations director Tyler Cook.
They were all headed into their first team meeting shortly after the news conference concluded.
Offensive coordinator John Grass was announced as the Gamecocks head coach within hours of Clark’s resignation becoming official. His introductory news conference is today at 5 p.m. Running backs coach Jimmy Ogle and several of the graduate assistants are expected to remain with JSU and immediately help them get through two big visitation recruiting weekends.
You knew if Clark waited long enough, somebody was going to help ease his green wardrobe shortfall.
After the formal portion of the news conference Mackin handed him a Blazers ball cap, which Clark quickly fit onto his head and wore for the rest of the day.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.