ComebackTown is published by David Sher to begin a discussion on a more prosperous Birmingham.
Today’s guest blogger is UAB Football coach Bill Clark. If you’d like to be a guest blogger, please click here.
How special was #theReturn, our first season back as a football team at UAB in 2017? Everything we did was beyond my expectations.
In my wildest dreams, I thought if we won six games it would be a miracle. We won eight, the most victories in our Football Bowl Subdivision history. I said if we can somehow get bowl-eligible, it would really be a miracle. We went to the Bahamas Bowl, just the second bowl trip in our young history.
We led Conference USA in attendance by a long shot. Our guys had the second-highest GPA in the conference. Everything top to bottom last year was a miracle.
I’ve told everyone that last year is the year you’ll talk to your kids and grandkids about someday. But last year is behind us. We’ll celebrate it later. We had to lay down a good foundation and establish our expectations, and we did that. Now we’re all ready to take the next step.
What’s different about this year? I saw it in January. We actually have returning players. I had never really had returning players as a college head coach. Last year was new. In 2014, I was new here at UAB. In 2013, I was new to Jacksonville State as the head coach there. I really had not had a returning team as a head coach since back at Prattville High School in 2007.
It’s a great thing right now for guys just to know our expectations.
Always in January, I bring the coaches together, and we have a little mini-getaway. It started then. We said, with a bunch of guys coming back, let’s take the next step. Last year we had so many new guys from all over the country. Now these guys have been together. Now they feel like they’re UAB guys, Birmingham guys, as opposed to California, Texas and New York guys, all the places we went to bring them in from. I’ve seen it out of the players and the coaches as well.
The bowl game has been a great motivator for us, losing to Ohio University the way we did. We were just so happy to be there vs. a team who felt like they had underachieved. Anytime you feel satisfied, it’s not a good thing. It’s human nature. It’s easy to rest on our laurels. That’s why they call it average. Creating that mindset in our guys of wanting more is what we’re looking for.
Sometimes the worst thing that could happen turns out to be the best thing. It’s like our program being taken away after the 2014 season. The very worst thing — that I would never want to go through again because it was like a death — turned into a great thing in #theReturn. I’m hoping that’s what the bowl game did for us because the second after that was over, I felt like this bad taste is going to make us better moving forward.
If I’m talking to our players, I’m talking about the now. If I’m talking to recruits, I’m talking about the new stadium. That is their future. Where before the local kids especially questioned the commitment to football, now they see Legacy Pavilion and the Football Operations Center, they know about the stadium, they know about UAB, they know we’re the No. 1-ranked young university in the United States. That stadium is a huge factor in where we’re headed, but this year is always the most important year. You never want to go backwards.
This year, there is no sneaking up on anybody. Now they’re coming for you. I just want our players to know these other folks are going to be ready for you. But we’ve got a lot of guys back. There’s team ownership, player ownership, assistant coach ownership. That’s what I’m seeing now. It’s like raising your children. It’s a daily task, but now we’re seeing the guys step forward. They’re doing the encouraging. They’re doing the pushing. If we can get that, we’ve got something.
I want for the people at this university and in this community who have worked their tails off for us, who believed in you and invested in you, I want to do well for them. That’s why last year was so special. So many people stepped up for us. Some of them weren’t UAB people at the time, but they believed in Birmingham. They’re UAB people now. It was good to reward them for their hard work.
I knew Birmingham was a great city. I’ve lived all around it. I’m a big believer in Alabama. Getting here, I learned what a gem Birmingham is. I don’t think people really know how good our people are and what a blessing it is to be here. It’s amazing the thank-yous I get from the grocery store to the drive-through to the airport. From every walk of life.
I would go immediately back to our team and share that story. That’s the kind of thing I want our kids to feel. These people did fight for you. They did believe in you. They didn’t give up on you. They gave their own personal money just so we could be here. I think our guys need to be appreciative to the people in our community.
So yes, we did all these great things last year, but we’re not satisfied. I want people to know I’m never satisfied. Being great isn’t a cuss word. We talk to our players about being great people, great students, great citizens, great husbands and great dads, but we also want to win. We’ve got to put in the time and the effort and have the resources, but we’re going to expect to win.
Bill Clark enters his third season as UAB head football coach after leading the Blazers to a program-record eight victories in their triumphant return to the playing field in 2017. For his efforts, he was named CBS National Coach of the Year and Conference USA Coach of the Year. He is 14-11 overall at UAB and has led the Blazers to bowl eligibility in each of his first two years.
David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
Invite David to speak to your group about a better Birmingham. firstname.lastname@example.org