Talkin' ball with Coach Bill Clark: That's what a program looks like
What is Bill Clark doing on the weekends now that he's rehabbing after back surgery and not coaching football for the first time since his freshman year in college? He's watching games like a coach. Every week, he shares his insight and observations on what caught his trained eye.
Week 6: Interim coaches making noise, Jimbo makes a curious call on the final play, should a head coach call his own plays, should Nick Saban be glad people are doubting his team ahead of a huge game at Tennessee, nobody rebounds like UAB and nothing matters quite like that Children's Harbor game.
Nebraska, Georgia Tech, Arizona State and Wisconsin have fired their coaches since the season started. Those four teams went 4-0 Saturday, and they're a combined 6-2 under interim coaches. Is there any rhyme or reason to this mini-trend or is each situation different?
BC: Every situation is different. When you don't lose but one guy and everything else is in place, sometimes it's just a jump start. It's hard to talk about without talking about each situation individually, but emotion is a factor. Now especially with all the social media and other stuff, there is probably just an opportunity to relax and just play. When you've had a guy who's been under fire, there's probably a sense of relief, and now we can just play.
Everyone's talking about the "pylon route" pass play Texas A&M's Jimbo Fisher called on the final snap with a chance to beat Alabama for the second straight year. It seemed like a low-percentage throw into a tight window that needed perfect timing to work. The wide receiver didn't drive the cornerback very deep before cutting back to the pylon. The quarterback threw it late, high and wide short of the goal line, and Alabama survived. What was your view of the call as a coach?
BC: I heard Coach Saban talk about what they did defensively. I saw that clip. We'll start defensively. It's a two-point call. There's always a worry on a two-point call that somebody could run the ball, but you hardly ever see it. The defensive mindset is we want to have enough guys in the box, but we're expecting a pass. That's what most people are going to do. They're going to throw the ball. Sprint out. Roll out. It's based on where the ball is. You could hear Coach Saban go through all the scenarios, what they were thinking, outside (leverage), inside, where the help was. You want a great description of how we all play two-point defense, that was a great description of it. They spied the quarterback, which we like to do. I love that.
Offensively, does the quarterback take it through a progression, or is it trying to get the best player the ball? Sounds like (Fisher) had already decided he wanted to make a throw to (five-star freshman Evan Stewart). He was saying it from the sideline. That's very good gamesmanship (by Alabama cornerback Terrion Arnold, who said he saw Fisher call out Stewart's name). That's what all goes on, that good football players are doing, anything they can learn, they're listening, stuff people may not ever know.
I've done that from the sideline, saying "Hey, we gotta run block here," seeing if you can mess up somebody.
I hate to comment on a guy's call, but it's like a slant. It's hit or miss. I like the idea of the quarterback being able to pick his target and stay alive. I've seen it work and seen it not work. I've been picked down there where they block a guy playing man coverage. You see those back-shoulder, quick throws a lot of times are good, but they're not real good when the cornerback is pressed up like that. That was the question I had because that guy was pressed up.
Given the way Texas A&M has struggled on offense, especially at quarterback, it's been suggested that Jimbo Fisher give up play-calling and hire an offensive coordinator to handle that responsibility. Have you ever called your own defensive signals? What goes into that decision as a head coach to call the plays yourself?
BC: I've heard people say, "I'm the best assistant I've got, and I got hired because of my prowess as a play-caller." My thoughts have always been to be very involved, but you can be very involved without being the guy calling all the plays. It lets you do so many other things. One thing as a head coach is you've gotta be who you are. You have to do what you believe in. You hate to have all that scrutiny and pressure and not do what you believe in.
I still want to know what's going on on the other side of the ball, and that's really hard when you're calling all the plays. I want to be very involved, but I want to be involved with special teams. I want to be involved with the offense from a defensive standpoint. That's why I don't like calling all the plays. You can call anything you want at times as the head coach, but you don't have to call all of them. You get a lot more out of your staff that way. I can check on everybody. I can know what's going on in the offensive room and the defensive room and still be very involved in the side I'm really good at.
Is it a blessing for Alabama that it beat Texas A&M without playing its best game? Is it to their advantage going into a huge game at Tennessee looking vulnerable, dropping in the rankings, people questioning them?
BC: Alabama has to like that they're going in there, I don't want to say as the underdog, but you have something to prove. Anytime players are playing with something to prove, coaches are coaching with something to prove, they're better. There won't be any overlooking this game. You saw what happens when you don't have your quarterback and he's that good. It can happen to anybody in college football because quarterback play is so important. Now the bulls-eye is not quite on them as much as it has been. I think it helps them.
UAB has come back strong from each of its losses this season with emphatic victories over the Georgia Southern team that beat Nebraska and the Middle Tennessee team that won at Miami. What does it say about Bryant Vincent, the staff and the players that when they got knocked down, they rebounded with a really strong performance the next week?
BC: I think that's what a program looks like. When your kids believe in the system, when they believe in their staff and the staff believes in them. That's what we say. We're going to have adversity. It's all in how you handle it. That tells you everything about a person. That tells you everything about a team. That's the mark of a good team. Things are going to happen, especially on the road, but to come back and to play as well as we did Saturday, especially in the first half, I was really, really proud of them, given the significance of that game. For them to bounce back, it tells me a lot about them.
UAB is now 5-1 in the Children's Harbor game in which the players wear special uniforms with the names of Children's Hospital patients on the back. Every game matters, but there is something special about that game, isn't there? You see it in the players, don't you? It means something to them, doesn't it?
BC: Oh, there's no doubt. I knew this game was going to be good, but I didn't know it was going to mean as much to them as it has. That's what's so great about it. We're honoring Children's Harbor. We're bringing in those kids. They had 81 kids from Children's Hospital come to practice Thursday. That will bring tears to your eyes, the kids interacting with the players, bringing notoriety to Children's Harbor and Children's Hospital.
A lot of players are better for it. We're talking about making them better people. I don't know when we started getting away from that, making it all business, but it's not all business. These are still young people. We're trying to make them better people, better citizens, all of the above. That's a promise I always made to the parents. What better way than this by playing for somebody other than yourself, especially a sick child or a recovered patient? It doesn't get any better.