Jacksonville State nearly pulled off one of the biggest upsets in college football history last weekend, falling to Auburn 27-20 in overtime. John Grass is now the man steering the ship at JSU, but much of his current success has been made possible by a man that clearly knows what he is doing.
Everywhere he has gone, Bill Clark has proven that he knows how to coach football and manage a program.
Dig a little deeper into his background, and it becomes evident that the massive turnaround experienced by the UAB football program in 2014 should not have been unexpected. Clark has produced immediate results at every stop.
Start at Prattville High School in Alabama. Clark took over a program in 1999 that plateaued in the previous two seasons, posting 6-6 and 5-6 records. In his first season, Clark led the Lions to a 7-3 record. In year two, a 9-2 mark. Prattville began simply dominating in 2001, sweeping the regular season and advancing to the third round of the playoffs. The Lions advanced to the semifinals in 2002, finishing with a 12-2 record.
The third game of the 2002 season began a streak of 56 (!) consecutive regular season victories for Prattville. In 2003, Clark's defense pitched seven shutouts and only allowed 50 points the entire season (19 of those in its final game).
Clark led Prattville to the Class 6A state championship game in 2004, 2006, 2007, and 2008, winning the final three of those. His last two seasons saw him lead the Lions to back-to-back 15-0 seasons, and he finished with a 107-11 overall mark at the school.
Following his departure, Prattville maintained enough momentum to advance to the state championship once again in 2009, and won it in 2011. Safe to say Clark had a small hand in putting together the building blocks to make that possible.
Clark elected to join the upstart South Alabama football program in 2008 as the defensive coordinator, under the direction of head coach Joey Jones. In the Jaguars' first season of play in 2009, Clark's defense was stout, allowing just 5.9 points per game in seven games, all victories.
The defense was sharp again in 2010, a 10-0 season for South Alabama. The defensive unit allowed just 13 points per game and held opponents to 254 yards per contest. But as the Jags moved into the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), the competition stiffened, yielding some growing pains for the young program in the following years.
Jack Crowe led Jacksonville State for 13 years, with some successes. Crowe's Gamecocks topped out at nine wins twice - in 2004 and 2010 - in his tenure, but he was released from his contract at the conclusion of the 2012 season.
Soon thereafter, Clark's alma mater came calling. In his lone season with JSU, Clark steered his team all the way to Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) quarterfinals and an overall 11-4 record. The 11 wins were the most for the program in over 20 years and the two playoff victories to advance to the quarterfinal round were the first two FCS playoff wins in program history.
Following the one season at Jacksonville State, Clark saw an opportunity to build something great at UAB. And he did just that.
Clark picked up the pieces of a program in shambles from the previous coaching regime (ahem, Garrick McGee). The Blazers had won a total of five games in the two seasons prior to his arrival. With virtually the same roster, Clark took a largely noncompetitive team and led them to an unexpected 6-6 record and bowl eligibility.
Everyone knows what happened next, with the slashing of the football team and the beginning of the #FreeUAB movement.
Jacksonville State went on to win ten games last season after Clark's departure under Grass, who was the offensive coordinator there in 2013. The Gamecocks swept through the Ohio Valley Conference unbeaten, but fell in the second round of the FCS playoffs.
This year, Jacksonville State started off with a big win over Chattanooga before the near-miss at Auburn. Say what you will about Auburn's performance in that game, but it is evident that Clark built something special at JSU, just like at his other stops.
Could this be what the University of Alabama system trustees are afraid of? That Bill Clark may have turned UAB into the next Boise State? Is this why they seem to be doing everything within their power to prevent UAB football from coming back?
The answers to these questions may never be known, but one thing is certain: Bill Clark can flat-out coach.
Another thing is also highly likely: Bill Clark could lead UAB football to unprecedented heights if given the chance.
But will he be allowed to?