Everybody is happy, it seems. But if circumstances were different and perhaps a persuasive voice hadn’t been heard in a key meeting, the coach who’ll be calling the shots on North Alabama’s sideline Saturday at JSU Stadium might be the guy coaching the Gamecocks in the game instead.
Wallace was very much in the mix at crunch time when JSU administrators were trying to decide on their successor to Jack Crowe. They ultimately chose Bill Clark, who has become a popular hire with the masses, but it was a close call among Clark, West Alabama head coach Will Hall, Mississippi State offensive coordinator Les Koenning and Wallace.
“Bobby and I have known each other for a long time,” JSU athletics director Warren Koegel said. “He’s certainly a guy who understood what Jacksonville State’s all about, has been in this state for many, many years.
“Everybody I talked to in person was (a serious candidate). We were real serious about making sure we got the right fit for us. Bobby was certainly a guy we wanted to talk to … and we talked about it.”
The context of Wallace’s initial conversation with JSU was to recommend Hall, a former quarterback at UNA and his offensive coordinator at West Alabama. But as the process extended, the question was raised about the Hall of Fame coach’s own interest in the job.
Wallace won three national championships during his first stint at UNA and took his teams to the playoffs six times. He also got West Alabama in the playoffs shortly after returning from an eight-year run at Temple. He returned to UNA in 2012, after a one-year retirement, and guided a freshman-laden team to a 5-5 record.
His name was gaining traction in the JSU search until, sources involved in the process confirmed, a member of the committee wondered if Wallace’s hiring wouldn’t be more of what the Gamecocks just had in Crowe, and wouldn’t it be more prudent to go in a newer, younger direction.
Clark was announced as the Gamecocks’ head coach in December.
Although media reports had Wallace as a leading candidate, Koegel said the job was never offered to him.
“Probably, if it weren’t for my relationship with Moose (Koegel) or the fact I was trying to recommend Will, I probably wouldn’t have been involved,” Wallace said. “It didn’t work out; that’s fine. I’m as happy as I could be here.
“I definitely did recommend Will Hall, and there’s no doubt in my mind he’d have been a great choice. Les Koenning is a good friend of mine and would’ve been a good choice, too. In the end, they went with a guy from there who grew up locally, and that was a good choice, too.”
Gamecocks receivers coach Cornelius Williams was in the same position at UNA last year. He said he “didn’t have a clue” Wallace was involved in the JSU coaching search, but it didn’t take long for the buzz to start, once word got out.
“It was maybe early December they were talking about him being in the mix for the job, and everybody up there was kind of scrambling like, what’s going on?” Williams recalled. “He never mentioned anything about it. He just said he knew a bunch of people here, but that was about it.”
So now Wallace will bring a team to town looking to beat the team that almost hired him.
The Lions (1-0) have what Wallace calls “kind of a mature” football team - 18 positions are manned by seniors -- but he said they need to play much better than they did in their 42-7, season-opening win over Miles to have any shot at repeating the upset they pulled on the Gamecocks with a different coaching staff in 2003.
UNA had 12 penalties against Miles, fumbled twice and missed three field goals.
“We played sloppy,” Wallace said. “We haven’t scrimmaged at all, which I hope attributed to some of that. We’ve got to play better, more disciplined than we played Thursday night to have a chance with them.
“We have a lot of talent that overcame a lot of mistakes. I’d have to give the players an A and me an F in that one.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.