Bill Clark explains when and why he knew he had to quit
Something was wrong. Very bad.
Although Bill Clark dealt with back pain from a lasting injury suffered almost 40 years ago, it was very different.
For the past week, during annual summer camps, Clark has been unable to stand for more than 10 minutes at a time and has been relegated to a part-time spotter. After postponing spinal fusion surgery for several years, the problem grew to the point that it was no longer an option but a necessity.
“Hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.”
Given the time needed for a successful recovery and the stability of the UAB football program, Clark announced his retirement today on social media as head coach of the Blazers program, effective August 1, 2022.
“I took out a statement already, explaining what’s going on with me and my health,” Clark said. “Obviously, there’s never a good time to walk away from your program. I have had a long standing back problem, dating back to my high school gaming days.
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The initial injury occurred in the summer of 1983 while Clark was a student at Piedmont High School. The son of head coach and the late Ragan Clark, who later hired his son and former Hoover Rush Propst coach early in their respective careers, (Bill) Clark was working in the high school gymnasium when he suffered the original injury. .
“I hurt him squatting in high school,” he said. “I think I had a narrowing of the spine and other things that go with it. But that’s how I hurt it originally, I cracked the porous seal. The disc is pulled out, the vertebrae are sitting on top of each other, and that nerve going to my right leg is pinched.
Specifically, the L4 and L5 vertebrae were pinching Clark’s nerve, but the problem was alleviated somewhat during a standard vasectomy that Clark underwent in 1997. Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl, the pain went from manageable to unbearable while migrating to the lower limbs.
“After BYU it starts hurting my front leg,” Clark said. “I have suffered from back pain all my life. I had injections and when they stopped touching I really started to think I had a serious problem. Spring was really tough and it’s something I’ve been dealing with for years, so I felt like I could pull through.
“When I finally got to directing on June 1, there wasn’t much choice but to merge,” he added. “Can I survive without doing this all season long? During camps, when talking to players, I have to ride a golf cart or get on my knees. It’s just to talk to the kids who came to my camp. I just can’t do my job, it’s not my way of doing it and it’s not what my guys need.
After a successful but physically strenuous spring practice, Clark sought various opinions related to his illness. It wasn’t until UAB launched annual summer camps that the issue reached critical mass and postponing surgery was no longer an option. The computer came to a head over the past week as Clark only managed to observe 15 minutes each night of a two-day 7-on-7 event. Knowing he would be up for at least two months and the first recovery time at six months, Clark called for an end to his career as UAB’s most successful football coach, but did not. ruled out a return once his rehabilitation is complete.
“The only thing to fix is with a (spinal) fusion which is a big downtime,” Clark said. “I will undergo this operation in July. I put it off, trying to see if I could make it, and I went to neurosurgeons across the country, locally, some of the best in the country, and saw if there was anything else I could TO DO.
Exactly as focused as he was in 2014 after the program was rejected, Clark was adamant about keeping his staff together and employed for the foreseeable future. Offensive coordinator Bryant Vincent will serve as interim head coach, leading Spanish Fort to the AHSAA Class 6A title in 2010 before jumping to the college ranks, and David Reeves will remain as defensive coordinator and assistant head coach.
But the man who rebuilt the UAB program from his own ashes won’t be far behind.
“I’m always going to be in Birmingham, I’m always going to be here and available to help in any way I can,” Clark said. “We had a great summer and just finished our last camp. Excited for them, I think we have a very good team, and it’s a family for me.
“It’s been a long time coming but I really made that decision just last night,” he added. “I’ve been really thinking about doing the surgery and seeing where I’m at in a week, but I know what the downtime is. Our staff are ready to go, our players fit, I think we we have a good team and I want the best for them.
In his six seasons leading the Blazers on the field and his nearly nine years as head coach, Clark amassed a 49-26 record with two American Conference championships, a record 11 -3 in the program in 2018, bowl eligibility every season and a 2-2 record in bowl games.