As Coach Clark sets his sights on coaching at the FBS level at UAB, some still resent the fact the coach spent only a single season at his alma mater, although it’s being made easier to cope with as the John Grass era rolls in.
I had the opportunity to meet coach Clark personally in January of 2013 just after he was hired in December. While I didn’t spend hours on end around him over the next year as his players did, I know many of those players would tell you similar things as I would of how great a person he is.
Clark’s departure was somewhat rocky after coming unexpectedly and then forcing fans and players to endure a five day period of almost total silence.
But once the announcement was made, many of those who knew him best, like his players, had very few bad things to say and most wished him well at his next school. It was only a year that coach Clark was JSU’s head coach, but his impact will be felt for a much longer time.
After an offseason that led to more excitement around the JSU football team than had come in a long time, it was finally football season and time for the season opener at Alabama State. I decided to put aside my press credentials and watch Clark’s debut from the stands to get the real experience of the new era of Gamecock football. However, I didn’t know that would be the game that a rainstorm came through causing more than an hour of game delay. Still, after squeaking out a close and thrilling victory it was needless to say I was pretty excited about what the future could hold… and I was pretty wet.
ASU wasn’t the only close call as Clark willed his Gamecocks to a double overtime win over rival North Alabama and an overtime win over FBS Georgia State in the Georgia Dome.
Fans may not have been happier than when Clark led JSU past EKU, a nemesis as of late for JSU, in a 68-10 beatdown.
Clark led JSU to its first ever division I playoff victory, after going 0-3 in their previous three playoff appearances, when the Gamecocks ran over rival Samford in the first round 55-14.
As the team came together and those injured mid-season slowly worked back into the rotation, it seemed JSU was only getting stronger each week despite playing their toughest games of the season. In the second round, JSU handedly beat McNeese State 31-10.
Then it was time for the long trek out to Washington to face EWU in the quarterfinals. If you haven’t been to the Pacific Northeast in mid-December let me tell you the chill in the air is slightly different than you’ll find here in Alabama.
The Gamecocks fought the elements and a challenging team that just escaped with a win after a series of injuries limited JSU’s abilities.
Clark was poised to reload and try again next season when UAB came calling late last week.
And while the argument for some may be that Clark owed his alma mater, who took a chance young coach and gave him his first shot at being a college head coach, it could be argued that Clark gave JSU everything it could have asked for.
It was only a year, but in that year JSU won double digit games for the first time since the 1992 Div. II title team, they made the deepest run in FCS playoffs in school history and along the way set 49 school records, 13 conference records and three NCAA records.
Most importantly, JSU is ready to compete year in and year out now for championships.
Clark preached family while he was at JSU, and in the end he made a decision that he felt was best for his own personal family. In the process he made sure JSU was taken care of as he departed.
Coach Clark didn’t abandon Jacksonville State, and if there was anything an average fan should want to say to him, including myself who got to cover his entire tenure from my Sports Editor post, it should be, “Thank You.”