Ole Miss athletic director has already talked about how the coaching search is going to ramp up now that we are in the month of November, and I expect things to move even quicker when the Rebels get their COI answer sometime later this month. Hell, he even told Davis Potter of the Oxford Eagle that he was “ready to strike.” But, the plans might have been derailed a bit when Florida relieved Jim McElwain of his duties last weekend.
Now, a few of the candidates Ole Miss were almost certainly going to contact about taking over the football program will now also be hearing from the Gators. And let’s be real, that is a much better job. But, maybe that wouldn’t be the worst thing. Maybe there is a candidate that is flying somewhat under the radar. Maybe there is a coach that no one is talking about.
Well, we are talking about that certain someone now.
Bill Clark is a name that everyone should already know and if you don’t, now you do. The 49-year old head coach at UAB a.k.a. The King of Dragons has done wonders with a Blazers program, taking them to a 6-6 campaign and third place finish in Conference USA during his first year. He did all this only to be rewarded by having his program CANCELED after the president conducted an in-depth inspection of the athletic budget and revenue and deemed it necessary in order to save money.
But, Clark didn’t bail and look for a gig somewhere else, he held his ground and now his Blazers back on the football field and sitting at 5-3 and 3-2 in C-USA after a huge road thrashing of Southern Miss.
All this a mere three years after the program was shoved into a damn broom closet. This dude needs a look from Ross Bjork and then some. Here’s why.
He is a proven winner with plenty of experience.
Clark got his start in 1990 in the state of Alabama, his home state, at Piedmont High School. That assistant gig was followed up by stints as a defensive coordinator at Tuscaloosa County, Coffee, and Dothan before he really made his mark at Prattville High School. The 6A school outside of Montgomery went toe-to-toe with Hoover High School at the height of their MTV Two-A-Days fame and won back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007.
During his time as head coach of the lions, his teams went 106-11, won those two titles, and carved up the aforementioned Hoover Bucs defenses led by none other than Alabama’s defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. He is known around the Yellowhammer State as a no nonsense coach who is a defensive wizard who is willing to adapt to the shifting landscape of college football.
He was the matriarch of taking the Prattville offense from the West Coast, I-formation run-heavy style to the spread that engineered those two titles and got his name out there. Following his final season at Prattville, Bill was named the Alabama High School Athletic Association Coach of the Year and the Schutt Southeast Regional Coach of the Year. All he did before heading to a college post win 30 straight games and finish No. 2 in USA Today's national high school poll in 2007.
Once he left the high school ranks, he was hired as South Alabama’s first ever defensive coordinator and help a defense finish 7-0 in its inaugural season in the Football Championship Subdivision in 2009. He followed that up in 2010 with a feisty defense that allowed 13 points and 254.6 yards per game en route to a 10-0 record. Then, his defense finished second in the Sun Belt Conference in total defense in 2012 in their first full season of competition in the Group Five league.
After this impressive showing at his first stop in college, our good friends at Jacksonville State (hey, Houston, you miserable idiot) hired him as their head coach. The King of Dragons led the Gamecocks to their first three playoff victories in school history, 49 school records, 13 OVC records, three NCAA records, and 11 wins.
He is the Blazer Savior.
In 2014, he left Jacksonville, Ala. for Birmingham to take over a UAB program that were 8-28 in the three years before his arrival. During his first year at the helm, the Blazers saw a school record 15(!) players earn all-conference honors and a special teams player make the Walter Camp First Team All-American team. Clark guided the Blazers to bowl eligibility for the first time in years, and was named the C-USA Coach of the Year. Despite all this promising success, UAB’s president canceled the program to save money.
Instead of leaving, Clark flashed another fine quality that he has that all coaches need: loyalty. Not only from him, but from boosters. Clark’s loyalty to the program has been reimbursed by the athletic department, trustees, donors, and even Magic City. Since 2015, the first year the school didn’t have football, they were able to raise over $43 million to reinstate not only football, but two other sports. Hell, he even assisted in generating a budget that was capable of building a $22.5 million state-of-the-art operations center for his program.
The man is not only a wizard on the field, turning around a 2-10 program into a 6-6 team in just one year, but he earns and demands respect from his peers, superiors, and fans. And after what Ole Miss has gone through for the past five months, it would be a breath of daggum fresh air.
He ain’t no slouch on the recruiting trail.
Everyone knows that you win with players in the Southeastern Conference. Clark has proven that he can do that and then some. Before returning to the field this season, he signed the No. 2 class in Conference USA. The same conference that has Frank Wilson in it. Let me repeat that, HE SIGNED THE NUMBER TWO CLASS AFTER NOT FIELDING A TEAM FOR THREE YEARS. It was ranked 71st in the country. That’s just silly, y’all.
That class had three former Ole Miss targets in it: Clifton Garrett (4-star linebacker who originally signed with LSU), Brandon Hill (3-star offensive lineman who originally signed with Alabama), and D.J. Law (3-star running back who originally signed with Utah and earned temporary celebrity status on Last Chance U season one at EMCC). He also signed former four-star running back and U.S. Army All-American Greg Bryant.
Clark wasn’t done, he followed that up by going toe-to-toe with Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss to secure the signing of three-star linebacker Thomas Johnston. So not only is he showing the ability to go and get top names from former big name programs, but he is also able to convince kids to turn down Power 5 offers to come play for him in B-Ham. This season, his recruiting class isn’t ranked particularly high, but he has verbal pledges from kids from Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana, Kansas, Florida, and Alabama.
Now, the heat will be turned up big-time if he were to take the Ole Miss gig. He will be recruiting against the likes of Alabama, Auburn, and LSU instead of Marshall, FAU, and Louisiana Tech. But, the potential is certainly there. It would be certainly interesting to see what he could possibly do with Power 5 resources and a bigger product to pitch to.
Did I mention he can coach some defense?
In UAB’s first year back in action, Clark’s defense is currently ranked 52nd in the country in S&P+ rankings. There are only 51 teams better than a program that has been dormant since 2014. Let that sink in, fam. The Blazers are top 50 in defense success rate, havoc, front seven havoc, and defensive back havoc. Pretty good if you ask me.
Here are their other notable ranks:
- 16th in red zone defense
- 17th in fourth down defense
- 27th in pass efficiency defense
- 31st in tackles for loss
- 40th in passing yards allowed
- 41st in third down defense
- 42nd in total defense
- 64th in rush defense
- 65th in first down defense
- 66th in scoring defense
All of this on a team that did not play football in 2015 or 2016. The numbers aren’t as sexy as Frank Wilson’s, but if he is given the keys to a SEC program with SEC money and resources, his ceiling could potentially go from an 8-footer in a modest home in the ‘burbs to a damn 20-footer in a bougie cal-de-sac surrounded by one-percenters .
They field a pretty good offense, too.
The Blazers sport a modest 72nd ranking in the S&P+ rankings but they are 23rd in third down conversion, 31st in rush offense (205.9 yards per game), and 43rd in red zone offense. They are churning out 394.8 yards per game and 5.5 yards per play. His running back, Spencer Brown, is second in the league in rushing, his quarterback, D.J. Ederly, sports an impressive touchdown-to-interception ratio (9 TDs, 2 INTs).
The Blazers offense, although not super flashy, is impressive nationally when it comes to the unique S&P+ rankings. They are 58th in success rate, 30th in adjusted run rate, and 25th in adjusted pace. Despite nothing flashy, the Dragons get shit done on offense and are doing it all with somewhat of a makeshift roster after taking a sabbatical from football.
Don’t get me wrong, the Scott Frosts and the Matt Campbells and the Mike Norvells of the world would be great. Those would be out of the park home run hires for Ross Bjork. But, with Florida now open and Tennessee almost surely to follow, the list will get shorter. Then, you toss in the potential that Arkansas, Auburn, Mississippi State, and Texas A&M could all be on the market and Ross is going to have to explore all options, even the ones no one’s talking about.
In Bjork’s interview with Potter, he mentioned that he wants someone with “good interpersonal skills and a top-notch recruiter, particularly when it comes to Mississippi... a coach that already has strong relationships with the state’s high school coaches or can build them quickly... (that) would be ideal.”
With that said, Clark’s situation is quite similar to Frank Wilson’s at UTSA. They are both going to have to really finish strong to be a legitimate candidate. And as I’ve mentioned before, it’s not exactly the best look for the Rebs to hire a 7-5 Conference USA coach, and that’s no disrespect to Clark, Wilson, or the conference, that’s just the nature of the beast.
But, if he wins out and finishes with nine wins, which would include W’s over the aforementioned Wilson and the Florida Gators in Gainesville, it would be time for Bjork to send out a raven to get Mr. Clark’s attention.