Welcome to Day 2, Bill Clark.
Welcome to the work of rebuilding UAB football after your bosses essentially self-imposed a “death penalty”, scattered your players then said, um, oops.
Welcome back to work, six months after Ray Watts blew up everything you built up in a year on the job.
“Bill Clark is our football coach,” Watts declared at Monday’s news conference to announce the pending return of UAB football, as early as 2016.
That must be good to hear … again.
Or is it?
Life isn’t fair, but Clark knows something about that. The Calhoun County native spent years labeled a “high school coach” only to prove he’s a collegiate winner, once he finally got the chance.
One year at Jacksonville State, and the Gamecocks had their best year in Division I, including their only two playoff victories.
One year at UAB, and the Blazers went 6-6 and achieved bowl eligibility for the first time in 10 years.
Now, Clark must prove himself all over again, but likely without the instant reward. That’s all a nice memory, considering what he must face in his second go-round as UAB’s coach.
Clark now must play the role of a modern-day Jack Lengyel. Like the coach who led Marshall’s football restart after a tragic plane crash wiped that program out in 1970, Clark must accept what Lengyel and his staff reluctantly accepted.
Clark must accept what no coach wants to accept, and he must sell it to the donors who have pledged to finance UAB’s football restart. For the immediate future, it’s (gulp, grumble) not about winning.
It’s about playing, and with what players?
So many of Clark’s former Blazers found new football homes. Clay Central grad Jamari Staples, a promising wide receiver, transferred to Louisville. Anniston grad Rodarius Houston, also a receiver, will finish out at Tennessee-Martin.
Others wound up at places like Georgia and Oklahoma State.
Assuming UAB plays again as soon as 2016, Clark will have the chance to sign one recruiting class plus what he can scrounge from transfers, walk-ons and former players who didn’t find new suitors. Who knows how long it will take for UAB to fill its maximum allowable 85 scholarships?
To do it sooner, the Blazers will need NCAA help.
Marshall persuaded the NCAA to waive then-existing rules against varsity eligibility for freshmen, but acting Marshall president Donald Dedmon pled his case was after a plane crash that killed 37 players, eight coaches and 25 boosters. Imagine Watts, who nixed then revived UAB’s program in a six-month span, pleading with the NCAA for a waiver so Clark can back-count recruits to 2015 and sign a massive initial class.
If UAB got such a waiver, then Clark still must recruit players to what looks like an unstable situation. He’ll do the same to lure a staff.
At best, he can sell a program that has almost no chance to win soon.
Meanwhile, the Blazers plan to continue playing in Conference USA. It’s no Power 5, but league teams played in five bowls last season.
The good news?
Well, the best news is that Clark has a chance to show he can restart a college program, not just rebuild one. It hardly seems fair, when he’s done all that most coaches have to do … show he can run one.
But then Clark has learned a lot about just how unfair life can be over the last six months.