Talkin' ball with Coach Bill Clark: Too much to the good, too much to the bad
What is Bill Clark doing on the weekends now that he's recuperating from spinal fusion 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 Two: Texas tries to get Alabama's GOAT, defense travels, the Sun Belt also rises, an early start to the coaching carousel and sportsmanship still matters.
Alabama encountered a number of issues in its 20-19 win at Texas. How do you balance appreciating the win while acknowledging those issues?
BC: First, we can't lose sight of getting the win. That's what it's all about at the end of the day. There's an old saying, 'There are no ugly wins.' That's true. Now, we all want to win and come back and correct things because we know those things like penalties are going to end up beating us down the road. They coulda shoulda beat you, but you find a way to survive, especially when you're on the road. It's critical to get the win, but you know those things you've got to correct for future wins.
You've got to give the other team credit, too. What are their strengths? What did they take advantage of? Every week, there's going to be adversity. It's just how you handle it and can you overcome it and get through it.
It happens all the time. A player and a team look great one week, then struggle the next. People act surprised. It happened to Florida and quarterback Anthony Richardson. In one week, they went from a lot of hype after their big win over Utah to a home loss against Kentucky. What did the Wildcats do to flip the script on the Gators?
BC: What Kentucky had was, we've seen his strengths. We see what they're trying to do with this guy. I think one of the hardest things defensively is the unknown. In that first game, Florida created tendencies. Now we know who this quarterback is. He throws the ball on a line. We're going to take away those throws. GIve the Kentucky defense credit. I always say, 'Make them be left-handed.' That's my thing. We're not going to let them beat us with this. Or try not to. What Kentucky did was, they said, we see who he is, we see how they're using him and we're going to take those things away.
Kentucky football is not sexy, but those 'Cats know who they are. Mark Stoops is in his 10th year and has built a program that allowed him Saturday to pass Bear Bryant as the winningest coach in school history. How much of an advantage is it when an established coach faces a coach early in his tenure, like Florida's Billy Napier, who's trying to build his foundation?
It's everything. I went back and read about the history, how poorly (Kentucky under Stoops) started out in the SEC, but that AD stuck with him and believed in what they were doing. Every bit of that comes to fruition with a good coach given time. Granted, you've got to show progress. We all understand that. But that's what that looked like, top to bottom, how they believe, how they fight, how they train, how they work together. That's what a program looks like, and that's what stability brings you. It's a strange word in today's world, having some stability.
It was a huge day for the Sun Belt, with three programs going on the road and toppling Power 5 programs laden with tradition: Appalachian State at Texas A&M, former C-USA member Marshall at Notre Dame and Georgia Southern at Nebraska. Were you surprised?
BC: Let's go back to the program at App State. They do what they do. They kept it in the family. They run the same offense, the outside zone, the play action. They've got good facilities. Their coach had just taken the job against us in the bowl game. He's done a really good job. It's still surprising to go to Texas A&M and beat them, but App State is good. They've got a program. It's like what we tried to do at UAB. It takes years and years. We're very recent.
Georgia Southern. They've got a great tradition. Of course, now they're throwing it all over the field , and Nebraska has struggled so there's a difference there, but still. Give Georgia Southern credit. It's a place where football is important to them. It's been important for years. Marshall. Once again, same thing. It's important to the school. It's important to the community. That's how they built it. They've always been a good team that has gone and knocked off some big names. Two of our biggest wins were going there back-to-back years and beating them. That was such a big deal because I know their history.
They looked good (against Notre Dame). They looked really good defensively. Very sound. It's a recipe for winning on the road. Georgia Southern went about it a little differently, but App State and Marshall looked similar in how they won those games.
Nebraska loses Saturday and fires Scott Frost the next day. It's a fact of life in the coaching profession. As a coach, how do you evaluate the quality of a job like Nebraska?
BC: You're looking for synergy in all the things that touch you from administration to facilities to everything else. And you've got to look at your peers. Who in my conference am I expected to beat? What are the expectations here? That's the good and the bad. Nebraska has got really crazy expectations because of what Coach (Tom) Osborne did. He was one of the all-time greats, but that job right there, it's going to be tough. You have to look at synergy. What do we have that has a chance to set us apart? You always believe in coaching. You always believe that coaching is a big part of it. You have to look at the support and the synergy between you and the administration. What are your chances with the expectations at that place?
Frost, as a former Nebraska quarterback under Osborne who had just led UCF to an undefeated season, seemed the perfect fit, but it didn't work. Is this a good example of how fragile the line is between winning and losing can be, even at a traditional power?
BC: It's that fragile. It's a year-to-year process.The more you have a system, the more you have consistency with your staff, you have a chance to keep it going. But it's year-to-year, week-to-week. I was reading some articles from the weekend. Everybody that lost gets raked over the coals. That's one of the things that's hard for coaches, but it's even harder for your players, to keep them out of all that mess. It does so much to their psyche. That's something you've got to be prepared for in today's world. There's so much press, too much to the good, too much to the bad. Which is part of what makes our sport great but there's another side to it.
My wife was talking about, after a win, do you enjoy it? Really, when a game's over, I'm already thinking about the next one. The second you win, you go shake hands, and you're already thinking about the next opponent. That's the world you're in. That's the fragility you were talking about.
Did you notice that Nick Saban was angry as he was going to shake Steve Sarkisian's hand after the Alabama-Texas game? Some Alabama players were giving the Texas players the Horns Down gesture, and he barked at them. How much do you, as a coach, have to be aware of and react to moments and behavior like that?
BC: That's a great question for me. Ask anyone who ever played for me. I was constantly aware of things like that. I didn't want it to ever be a point where we made it miserable, but anything that was bad sportsmanship. I'm not talking about being competitive. We've had people talk about us, about how hard we play. I don't think any coach minds that. It's the taunting and things that take away from the team, that really take away from the win. My thing was always, game's over, buckle up, show your class, shake a hand. You won the game. Let's show our class.
I was in 100 percent agreement with that (reaction from Coach Saban) because that's how I am. Now's the time to be gracious. I know it's hard if that other guy's been chirping at you or whatever. You don't always know those situations, but you won the game. We got what we wanted. Now we show our class. That's who I am. I'm a son of a coach. All of those things are important to me because we're about making the best person we can make, teaching the life lessons they need to have. That's what it's supposed to be about, good sportsmanship. We are representing so much more than ourselves. That's the point Coach Saban was making. You're representing me, your university, our fans, yourself, your family. All of that's still true. I believe in every bit of it.