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Leading an Evolution

Coach Bill Clark Challenges the Blazers

By Cary EstesPhoto by Steve Wood

Among the items on display in the office of new UAB head football coach Bill Clark is a quote given to him by his father, longtime Alabama high-school coach Ragan Clark, who had received it from his own father: “What a man learns after he thinks he knows it all is what counts.”

Bill Clark says the quote sums up his attitude throughout his nearly 25-year coaching career. “We never arrive. We’re constantly trying to get better,” he says. “That’s the thing we’re trying to teach our guys. Keep learning. Keep evolving. Keep getting better.”

Clark’s arrival at UAB earlier this year has brought a fresh air of optimism to the team. Several players say the new coach quickly won them over with his straightforward approach to the game and to life in general.

“He talks with us personally. That’s helping to build the trust,” says senior tight end Kennard Backman. “He says he’s going to do something, and he does it. He’s hard on us at times, but then he loves us like a son the next time. It’s really easy to play for somebody like him.”

Growing Up on the Sidelines

Connecting with athletes comes naturally for Clark, who has been doing it most of his life. At the age of five, he would accompany his father to the high-school field house “just to be around the players and watch them work out,” he says. “I loved everything about it—the strategy, the coaches, the players. I knew I wanted to do this. There was never a doubt.”

Any chance Clark had of a college playing career ended with a back injury. So after graduating from Jacksonville State University in 1990, Clark joined his father’s staff at Piedmont High School as the offensive line coach. He spent nearly a decade at various schools learning the coaching profession before taking over at Prattville High School in 1999. Over the next nine years, Clark led his team to a 107-11 record and two Class 6A state championships.

But coaching on the college level had always intrigued Clark. In 2008, he became an assistant for the University of South Alabama’s football program. He then spent last season as head coach at Jacksonville State, earning an 11-4 record, before coming to UAB.

Ready to Impress

Clark says he is well aware of issues facing the UAB football program in terms of improving facilities and strengthening the fan base. But none of that concerns him as he prepares the Blazers for each game, he insists. “You have to remember, I’m a guy who has mowed grass and fixed sprinkler heads” as a high school coach, Clark says. “I want to be a great steward of what we have at UAB. So we’re going to take the resources that we have and impress you with that. Then we can say, ‘O.K., what else can we do?’”

Clark is employing an up-tempo, no-huddle, spread offense this season, while working to improve defense. “I’m not going to put a number on how many games we’ll win, but we’re going to be better,” he says. “We’re building something here. We want these players to know that we care enough about them to try to make them the very best they can be, which is also what a good father does. He might not always tell you what you want to hear, but you know he cares enough about you that he always has your best interest at heart.

“It won’t be easy, but that challenge is one reason I came here. I want to have players who are great people, and I want to win games and give people a great reason to be a UAB fan.”

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