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Recordings: Search committee hoped Bill Clark would save UAB football

UAB Bill Clark

The committee tasked with hiring UAB's latest - and, ultimately, final - head coach consisted of athletics director Brian Mackin, senior associate AD Shannon Ealy, consultant Bill Carr and former Blazer Izell Reese. By now we know that the four hired then-Jacksonville State head coach Bill Clark in hopes that he would save the program, and by now we know that he could not.

Unbeknownst to others in the group, Reese recorded the conversations - just in case. Little did he know what waited 11 months in the future. Reese provided his recordings to AL.com columnist Kevin Scarbinsky, who published them on Monday.

The committee interviewed Bethune-Cookman head coach Brian Jenkins, Cincinnati offensive coordinator Eddie Gran, Atlanta Falcons assistant Chris Scelfo, former Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe, South Alabama head coach Joey Jones and Clark from Jan. 16-18. Clark's hiring was announced Jan. 22.

A few notes of interest

It appears Jones came into the process as the favorite:

Mackin: I would be kinda going against my gut if I were to go to Joey (Jones), which was my lead guy coming in for all the right reasons. I felt like he could come in, but I was thinking five years, he could build the community up, help us facility-wise. ...

Ealy: I say, Brian, I think the two things that ... the positive is just (Jones') connections to the community, fund-raising potential, that kind of stuff, and then the dynamic with the (UA) board (of trustees), in other words, his relationship. What do you think? Would that work?

Mackin: Well, I knew (Jones) was very close to Paul Bryant. So Paul Jr. is probably a fan of his. But Paul Jr. does nothing for me. We've just got to tolerate him. No coach is going to make him change his position on UAB football. But (Jones') community involvement. He's respected in the state. He's built programs from the ground up. We're not a ground-up program, but he could build it from where it is now. Been a high school coach. Been a college coach. Proved himself from that standpoint. He's a winner. Bill (Clark) doesn't have the college wins. One year as a (college) head coach. He does bring all the energy and passion to the table. ...

Mackin was a big fan of strength coach Zac Woodfin:

Mackin: I trust Zac Woodfin. That's what I do. He loves (Clark). In fact, he's gonna leave the Green Bay Packers to come work for him. That's a testament. That's a big reference for me, personally. Zac's one of my favorites.

In retrospect, Clark's first red flag was that anything longer than a three-year contract was not on the table, though it was never quite explained why.

Mackin: We've got to go and say, "OK, Bill's come out of this thing as our No. 1 choice." I have to have (Watts') words of why a three-year contract. ... Because normally you would go, "He's our man. President, I recommend it's a five-year deal. We think we're gonna offer no more than this. OK? I'm gonna call Dr. Witt, the chancellor. I'll call Paul (Bryant Jr.) I'll call Fess (St. John). This is what we think is going to happen. We're going to offer him the job. Are you OK with that?" They say, "Yes," then you call the candidate and offer the job. I'm a little different now where I'm going to get with Ray (Watts), get his schtick on the three-year deal. ...

Ealy: Three (years) is non-negotiable, right?

Mackin: We mentioned four yesterday and Ray just said, "I don't know if I can give you any more than three." ... (Clark) has been offered $300,000 by Jacksonville State in a two-year contract extension. So he's got five years at $300,000. We're going to have to be creative here and maybe that's the negotiating part when we get Bill in front of the president. My opinion would be to bring him in tomorrow night to the Woodward House, (home of the UAB president). When Dr. Watts gets in, it's 5, 5:30. At 7, (Clark) is at the Woodward House, and we're up there talking with our president. Bill, I guess I'm kinda thinking out loud now, I'll get him on speakerphone, Dr. Watts, and present Bill (Clark) and give the parameters of where we are -- about the $400,000 buyout, he's at ($300,000) now, I think we're going to have to be in the 4 range, 425, 450, if you're going to go three years, that's going to be the fluid thing.

(Clark eventually signed a three-year, $500,000 contract.)

Everyone in the room was aware of the urgency to turn the program around and the importance of the hire.

Mackin: (Former UAB defensive end) Bryan Thomas already said, you know what you could do, he said, I want to be on a board of directors, a former player board of directors. Get BT. Get (former UAB receiver) Roddy (White). Get you. Get your people and say, If this is important to you, and Bryan Thomas and Roddy - you might want to give the lead gift - but we have to show that there's people that care about this program and we're going to step up because we're facing it right now. This is about as close to a shut down ...

Ealy: Three years from now, we'll be toasting in champagne glasses.

Mackin: If we can get Bill Clark, I like my chances.

Reese: I do, too.

Mackin: I like 'em.

Ealy: Let's be positive. Let's knock down hurdles. Let's go git 'er done.

Ultimately, only the men in the room when Clark was hired - and Reese was not one of them - know how forthcoming UAB brass was with Clark about the shaky ground Blazer football stood on.

Clark led UAB to a 6-6 mark this fall, reaching bowl eligibility for just the second time in the program's short history, but the program was officially cancelled on Dec. 2.