It’s been an undeniably weird year for the UAB football program.
Bill Clark, the man who was the head coach of the program since 2014 and helped resurrect the program after a two-season shutdown, retired in June to focus on his health. Clark cited severe back issues that required spinal fusion surgery over the summer.
Bryant Vincent, who had been Clark’s offensive coordinator for the majority of those years, was named the interim head coach for the season.
Ultimately, UAB struggled to play winning football consistently this season. This was true despite running back DeWayne McBride having the best individual season in school history. In 11 games, McBride led the entire nation in total rushing yards (1,713) and rushing yards per game (155.7), while ranking second nationally in rushing touchdowns (19). McBride announced on December 22nd that he would forego his senior season to declare for the NFL Draft.
The Blazers finished the regular season with a 6-6 record, including a 4-4 mark in league play during their final year in Conference USA. UAB will be a member of the American Athletic Conference in 2023.
On November 29, UAB football players released a letter the team had penned to UAB president Ray Watts stating their concern with the coaching search and their desire to keep Vincent on as as head coach. Despite that, UAB announced Trent Dilfer as the head coach on December 1.
To finish the year, UAB ended things on a high note with a four-point victory in the Bahamas Bowl over Miami (OH). Fittingly, it marked UAB’s fiftieth win since the program returned in 2017. The Blazers made an impressive goal line stand as time expired to secure the victory. Dilfer was on hand to support the team, but did not coach in the game.
“What you saw out there today is really what this program stands for, what this team stands for,” Vincent said of the Blazers’ performance in the bowl game. “The culture, the foundation that’s been set years ago. What I mean by that is we come out and we get off to a good start, we jump up 10-0. The momentum swings, they made some plays. We’re up 10-6 at half, another momentum swing and adversity hits. We respond, they respond, and then it comes down to the wire.”
So, what’s next for the Blazers and their former interim head coach?
We know that former NFL quarterback and Elite 11 coach Dilfer will take on the program’s permanent head coach responsibilities as they head into the American. On New Year’s Day, Vincent was officially announced as the new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at New Mexico. New Mexico had the worst offense in the Mountain West in terms of scoring and total yardage in 2022 under former OC Derek Warehime and interim OC Heath Ridenour.
“I’m thrilled to have someone with the caliber and experience of Coach Vincent joining our staff,” said New Mexico head coach Danny Gonzales. “To step into the interim role as head coach last year at UAB and led the team to a win in the Bahamas Bowl is a credit to how well prepared he is, and how well prepared his team at UAB was.”
“The character and perseverance of this team, I’ll never forget it. I never will,” Vincent remarked after the Bahamas Bowl. “I could not be more proud than this moment. With everything these guys have been through, to finish it the way we did is pretty special.”
One thing that will be interesting to note over the course of the next several weeks will be the amount of talent that will be staying, going, or coming in Birmingham. There have been minimal transfer portal additions from UAB as of New Year’s Day. Freshman receiver Iverson Hooks entered back in December and tight ends Mike York and Maleak Bryant have been in the portal since last November. Sophomore cornerback Antwan Massie entered in August.
“It was quite a day for UAB football,” Dilfer said on early signing day. “I don’t want to talk in hyperbolizes, but I can’t imagine there has ever been this big of a signing class this early on, because it hasn’t been around for that long. I think we are putting together the best class that this school has ever seen. We have addressed both immediate issues to create competition at key positions, but mainly keeping a bigger eye on building a foundation that is an absolute stone with the freshman class.”
UAB’s 2023 recruiting class was scored as a 121.73 by 247 Sports, which ranks lower than nine other 2023 AAC schools, including Rice, UTSA, and Florida Atlantic.
As Dilfer continues to make Birmingham his new home, time will tell if he can keep UAB on the right track and meet the lofty goals he has already set for himself in a state that includes two SEC schools, a South Alabama team that Kane Wommack is having success rebuilding, and a Troy program that just won 11 games under Jon Sumrall.
“We’re looking for the best players in Alabama,” Dilfer said on early signing day. “If they go to the University of Alabama, that’s awesome. But we’re going to be the next best option.”
In 2023, UAB has non-conference dates with Georgia, Georgia Southern, Louisiana, and North Carolina A&T in addition to playing their first league schedule in the American Conference.