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Because of Bill Clark and Mark Ingram college football's 1st potential '23 opening is a great one

UAB has a state-of-the-art new home, is headed to a new conference and fans who care

The last Friday in June, the first official one of the summer, was not supposed to trigger yet another earlier-than-ever start to the college football coaching carousel.

In the morning hours after the conclusion of the NBA’s annual summer talent-collection bonanza, otherwise known as the draft, college football was tilted with news of one well-regarded coach’s impending exit and therefore the first “Help Wanted” sign for the 2023 coaching cycle.

The end of Bill Clark’s remarkable career atop the UAB Blazers program and of more than 30 years coaching in the state of Alabama is imminent; Clark’s hanging up his ball cap and whistle August 1 due to health concerns, most notably an ailing back.

His career is to be celebrated.

In the football-rich South, in the city that had hosted countless ‘Iron Bowls’ and myriad ‘Third Saturday in October’ showdowns, UAB electively killed its football program after Clark’s first season in 2014, a watershed 6-6 campaign.

Clark, who announced the upcoming end to his career Friday via statement on Twitter, helped navigate the Blazers’ Lazarus project; he has helmed the program to its 43 wins since the Blazers had fire breathed back into their dragon before the 2017 campaign.

Heady stuff. The end of an era. Not remotely the end of UAB football.

What Clark’s impending move also does for athletics director Mark Ingram & Co. is open up a pressure-free calendar for the search – for a job certain to be coveted both because of Clark’s sustained success and Ingram’s top-down unprecedented commitment to the program.

Maybe it’s interim skipper Bryant Vincent, the school’s record-setting offensive architect, if the Blazers sustain their ongoing bowl success and continue marching with momentum toward American Athletic Conference membership July 1, 2023.

Or, perhaps, it’s a wide-open process that taps into Ingram’s considerable network and hiring acumen both he and his staff have displayed, hoops coach Andy Kennedy and baseball skipper Casey Dunn perhaps exhibits A & B.

All Kennedy has done is win 49 games, a Conference-USA title and advance to the NCAA Tournament Round of 64 in his first two seasons. Last month, Dunn’s baseball team just finished a 13-win improvement from 2021, a campaign including two wins against eventual Super Regional host and then-No. 4 Southern Miss, not to mention a win against in-state behemoth Alabama.

And, hey, at least those team teams, as well as Auburn, all met on the diamond – unlike their glaring gridiron absences.

The thing is, UAB is a good job. That’s plenty testament to Clark and his stewardship of the program through its record-setting stretch of sustained success.

Still, this opening salvo of the ’23 cycle is also a great job because Ingram – himself a former team member at the University of Tennessee – is still the boss.

The guy walking around events, handing out UAB gear to those Alabama and Auburn fans who nonetheless continue to carve a little space in the cheering cabinets for the Blazers, as an everyday everyman Blazers ambassador.

A former Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee assistant athletics director who recalls the downtown Birmingham meeting responsible for the program’s upscale new home, Protective Field, which is just months removed from its completion on the heels of a $200 million construction project.

“It's the nicest college football stadium in the country, it's that good,” Ingram told FootballScoop last fall, days before the stadium’s Oct. 2 public debut. “I've worked in the SEC twice, the Big 12 (before Missouri had moved to the SEC), the Big East, the American and Conference USA.

“It's by far the nicest stadium I've ever been to in the college game. I'm not counting people who play college football at an NFL stadium. I'm talking college venues for college programs. I think it's the nicest. It's definitely in that conversation.”

It’s fairly routine these days for Birmingham, Alabama, to populate those oft-intangible “best places to live” lists. Property remains affordable, UAB is the state’s largest employer and sports, well, they matter a whole lot in that region.

“This is going to be a great situation for some candidate,” a college athletics official told FootballScoop.

That’s testament to Clark’s success on the field, Ingram’s off of it.

It’s a closing chapter in UAB football. But the book on the Blazers is one worth continuing to read.