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  • Writer's pictureKevin Scarbinsky

Raise the bar again? Not likely but don't bet against Bill Clark

Bear Bryant did it once in his illustrious career, and he was the last Alabama coach to do it. So did Shug Jordan, and he was the last Auburn coach to achieve the feat.

No current SEC coach has done it, not even Nick Saban, not once at any of his head coaching stops, despite challenging Bryant for the mythical title of best college football coach ever.

It won't be easy, and it's not likely, but guess who has a chance to do it this season? UAB's Bill Clark.

Do what? What accomplishment could the UAB coach possibly reach that's escaped Saban's considerable grasp? Clark could win more games than he did the previous season at the same school for the third straight season.

You could look it up - but that's not necessary because I did.

In three seasons under Clark, the Blazers have improved from 6-6 to 8-5 to 11-3. Add an asterisk if you like because UAB didn't play a game in 2015 or 2016. If you think a shutdown is a surefire path to improvement, suggest it to your favorite head coach - then duck.

An eight-win season in 2019 is a realistic expectation and would be a healthy indicator of a program that's not going away - figuratively - but UAB's DNA demands that the university refuse to dream too little dreams.

So ...

If the Blazers can win 12 games or more in 2019 - probably too much to ask and certainly too much to expect given the loss of 30-something players from the reigning Conference USA champions - Clark will be the first FBS coach in this state since Jordan to improve his win total at the same school for a third straight year.

His own win total. For this unique metric, no factoring in an easy bump after a failed predecessor.

It's an odd stat, perhaps born of a preseason that lasts too long but mercifully ends Thursday as the Blazers open against Alabama State at Legion Field. Call it the Magic City Kickoff Classic.

Jordan authored a steady climb at Auburn from 1967-1970 of four straight seasons in which his Tigers won more games than the previous year, raising their victory total from four in 1966 to six to seven to eight to nine. In 1971, Auburn matched the nine wins of 1970 and then notched 10 victories in 1972.

That's how you get your name on the stadium.

It's harder to maintain an extended upward trajectory when you win at the level of Bryant and Saban. Early in his legendary tenure, Bryant improved his win total for three straight years from 1959-61, capped by his first national title. Saban came close to doing the same in Tuscaloosa from 2013-16. Those Crimson Tide teams went from 11 to 12 to 14 wins, then came up just short of a 15th victory in the 2016 season's national championship game against (who else?) Clemson.

What does it all mean? Besides the fact that we're beyond ready to watch actual games and have those details fuel the conversation? It means Clark and company have done more than put together a championship team at UAB. They're constructing a championship program that's built to last.

The next step in that journey begins Thursday night.

UAB coach Bill Clark and Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin visit at Legion Field in advance of UAB's home opener against Alabama State. (UAB photo)



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