BILOXI -- UAB head coach Bill Clark has carried a message wherever he's gone over the last six months, reminding everyone that the Blazers' football program is back from the dead.
Clark spoke Thursday during the Gulf Coast Coaching Clinic at the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino, going over the fundamentals of his defensive philosophy for a room full of high school coaches from across the region.
Calling himself a "clinic guy," Clark enjoyed the opportunity to interact with many of the coaches he will be working with on the recruiting trail as he looks to rebuild a UAB program that appeared extinct not long ago.
"Hopefully I can give a little back. I learn a little every time I'm out," Clark said. "It's also to put our message out. It's, 'Are y'all back?' That message is every day and I'm telling it and they're seeing it."
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After the Blazers went 6-6 in Clark's first season as head coach, UAB administration shut down the program in December of 2014, only to decide to revive it in July of 2015.
There was no UAB football season in 2015, but Clark did sign a nice class of recruits on Feb. 3.
The Blazers began spring practice on Feb. 15 with about 64 players, half scholarship players and half walk-ons.
The Blazers took the practice field last week knowing that there will be no games to play in 2016.
Clark's staff will spend the next 18 months getting the team ready to play the 2017 home opener against Alabama A&M.
When most teams are playing games this fall, the Blazers will be practicing with an eye on the 2017 season.
"We'll have scrimmages and make it fun as we can," Clark said. "We'll make those 3 scrimmages like games with a band and cheerleaders. I told the players that they're going to have to simulate games best we can. We'll look up and it's going to be Christmas. Like everybody else, we'll be getting ready for '17."
With a limited number of scholarship players taking part in spring practice, Clark will simply look to keep the momentum headed in the right direction.
"This spring is obviously about evaluating players and trying to create a culture where they understand how we practice and what our expectations are," Clark said. "We're
trying to carry every bit of that into the summer as we add 25-30 guys in June. Then we'll have 60 guys that know how we do it at UAB. That started in the fall with the 29 players we had. Most of them had been with us before.
"I thought we had a good culture before we got shut down. It's about bringing back what we had before taking it to the next step."
The quality of recruits that Clark brought in for the class of 2016 raised eyebrows around the region.
Even following a sixth-month stretch where UAB football appeared to be at an end, how did Clark managed to keep the program headed in a positive direction?
"I think it was hard, but our guys in the community, the alumni and all folks put up such a fight," Clark said. "The thing we're talking about is literally making history. When the NCAA said they've never seen anything like this, we're literally part of something that's never been done before. I think that's a fun thing to be a part of. It's a great school, a great community. They never really invested in the program like it needed. That's going on now with (a new $15 million practice facility). Hopefully, we'll get a stadium announcement soon. It's a new day for UAB."
Tulane's new coach speaks: Clark wasn't the only FBS coach to address the clinic on Thursday.
New Tulane head coach Willie Fritz, who spent the last two seasons at Georgia Southern, shared some of his knowledge with the coaches in attendance.
Tulane's staff has already been active recruiting the Mississippi Gulf Coast and that's likely going to be the case going forward.
"With the academics we have at Tulane, we've got to spread our net a little wider than some other schools," Fritz said. "We're really fortunate we've got a bunch of great football ability in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the panhandle of Florida. We're going to recruit the Atlanta area and Texas.
"We're going to recruit this area. Mississippi is so close to us. It's right in our backyard and we were fortunate to sign one kid from Mississippi (Gentry OL Phabion Woodard). We'd like to sign 3-4 guys from Mississippi, 3-4 guys from Alabama and 3-4 guys from Florida. We'd like to get 8-10 in Louisiana and 2-3 from Texas. It's a great area. It really is."
Fritz is in the process of a dramatic culture change at Tulane, which has mostly run a pro style offense over the last two decades.
"It's a big-time change," Fritz said. "With what we're doing on offense, defense and in the kicking game, it's totally different. It is whenever any coach comes in. We are going to run some option. How much? We'll find out be based on our talent level. That'll be something new for Tulane."