It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally bias and logic line up perfectly.
So on Tuesday when I received my Football Writers Association of America ballot for the 2017 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award, I voted for UAB’s Bill Clark.
And it was an easy decision.
Yes, I’m a UAB grad.
Yes, every Saturday during this college football season the only game I had a rooting interest in was the one involving the Blazers.
Yes, a big green flag with a dragon on it waves in front of my house throughout the scholastic year – a sign of my support for my alma mater in all sports.
Go ahead and accuse me of being a UAB fan because I am one.
But here’s the thing … voting for Clark shows no bias at all. In fact, it’s the logical choice.
I don’t know if he’ll win the FWAA honor, but he should – and he’s going to get a lot of votes from a lot of people who never gave UAB football a passing thought before it became impossible to ignore.
This is a team that heads to the Bahamas Bowl with an 8-4 record, despite not playing for two full seasons. That’s almost unbelievable.
Well, when school president Ray Watts coldly and cruelly shut the program down after a 6-6 campaign in 2014 (Clark’s first year at the helm), UAB football was quickly gutted.
Many of the players who helped the Blazers recover from the nightmarish regimes of Neil Callaway and Garrick McGee scattered to other schools (you’re welcome, South Alabama), and there was certainly no reason for Clark to hang around.
He could’ve cut and run after the ax fell and been an immediate success almost anywhere else, probably as a highly paid Power 5 assistant. Who knows, he might have even landed at a place with a trustworthy president and a board of trustees that wanted to help instead of hurt.
But a lot of hell-raising, cash-raising fans and big money Birmingham business leaders helped prompt Clark – a man of faith – to take a leap of faith and stay.
And when, against all odds, Blazer football was reinstated, Clark was ready to get to work.
And soon he was standing in front of a handful of holdovers and hopefuls, young men who were already special because they committed to being part of something special.
But let’s be realistic. Taking two years off in the Football Bowl Subdivision is not a recipe for success. Just ask SMU how long it takes to recover from the death penalty.
So 2017 was much more than a rebuilding project, it was a hard reboot. And talking as a fan, if UAB had finished 1-11 or 2-10, I wouldn’t have been at all discouraged.
I said the before the season started I’d be thrilled with a 4-8 record because that was the worksheet that seemed most realistic.
Clark thought otherwise.
He knew otherwise.
He convinced the kids that they were far better than even their biggest supporters believed, and before long they were proving everybody wrong.
These guys had absolutely no business whatsoever registering eight victories, yet they did. And while they didn’t win a division title or play for any kind of championship, no team in the country rose from nothing to something like the Blazers did.
And no coach in the country did a better job than Clark.
Sure, there are plenty of solid coach of the year nominees.
Lane Kiffin showed he was more than just an epic Tweeter when he turned a 3-9 Florida Atlantic team into the 10-3 Conference USA champions.
Army’s Jeff Monken has led the Black Knights to eight wins heading into this weekend’s showdown with Navy.
Scott Frost – right before he was named the new head coach at Nebraska – guided Central Florida to a 12-0 mark and will coach the Knights against Auburn in the Peach Bowl. A win there and UCF will finish as the only team in the FBS with a perfect record.
Lincoln Riley has Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff in his first season; Kirby Smart has Georgia in the CFP in his second; Fresno State’s Jeff Tedford transformed his Bulldogs from a toothless team to one with both bark and bite; and reigning national championship boss Dabo Swinney continues to build a dynasty at Clemson.
All of these coaches have done remarkable jobs.
Only one, however, brought a program back to life.
So if you want to accuse me of voting for Clark as my choice for coach of the year because I’m biased, I’ll offer no defense.
But if you don’t think he’s the logical choice, maybe you’re dealing with some biases of your own.