Football: Clark Ready For Springdale Challenge
Clark Ready For Springdale Challenge
Posted: January 12, 2015 at 1:30 a.m.
Zak Clark was the first coach to contact athletic director Wayne Stehlik about the Springdale High job when it came open in November.
At A Glance
Springdale High Coaches
Coach^Tenure^W-L^State Titles^Conference Titles
* Dennis DeBusk served as interim coach in 2009
Less than two months later, Clark became just the fifth Springdale head football coach in the last half-century Friday.
But he's also the fourth in the past decade.
Clark left his position as Fayetteville offensive coordinator and assistant head coach to follow in the footsteps of long-time, legendary Springdale coach Jarrell Williams, current Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, the late Kevin Johnson and recently resigned Shane Patrick.
The first two went a combined 315-142 with five state titles and 19 conference championships in 41 years. The latter two were 37-56 in nine years.
The line of demarcation between the pair of duos is the school district's split into two high schools when Springdale Har-Ber opened in 2006, Johnson's first year after Malzahn took the offensive coordinator job at Arkansas. Springdale hasn't won a playoff game since the memorable 2005 undefeated state title run.
And Clark knows that better than most. He spent two years at Springdale as an assistant coach before watching the struggles from nearby after taking the Fayetteville offensive coordinator job in 2010.
But that didn't deter him from taking on the rebuilding project.
"There's challenges here," Clark said. "There's challenges at every job. ... If we can ever mobilize this side of town and get them out and get them excited and started early, I think that's going to be the guy that's going to turn this thing around long-term."
Clark's ties to the program and area should pay dividends as he tries to revive the Red'Dog program. Of the previous four Bulldog coaches, Patrick was the only without a tie to Northwest Arkansas or the Springdale community before taking the job.
Williams grew up in Fort Smith and lettered at Arkansas several years before taking the Springdale job in 1965 and becoming ingrained into the fabric of the community over the course of the next 36 years as he won four state titles and 17 conference titles.
Malzahn spent five years at Shiloh Christian prior to taking the Springdale job as Williams' successor. He was 53-11 while leading the Bulldogs to two state title game appearances in five years, including a 14-0 season and state championship in 2005, the district's final year with just one high school.
Johnson was an assistant on Malzahn's staff before taking over the job. And Clark was on Johnson's staff for the two years, valuable experience that gives him an understanding of the community beyond what he knows from playing and coaching at Fayetteville. Illness ultimately forced Johnson to step down and he later passed away.
"Growing up in Fayetteville, there was always something about Springdale," Clark said. "We were always rivals, but when you get a Fayetteville-Springdale rivalry, that was neat. I lived it first-hand. I'd say coaching here the two years coming over, my first coaching job was right here and there was always something special about this place that enticed me."
Restoring Springdale to respectability will be a process.
The Bulldogs have missed the playoffs three straight years and are coming off an 0-10 year in the fall, the program's first winless season since going 0-0-3 in 1916. Springdale went 0-15 against Fayetteville, Bentonville and Har-Ber during Patrick's five years, with an average margin of defeat of 29.1 points against the 7A-West powers.
Clark will have to re-ignite the passion for the football program after it waned in recent years. Rebuilding the program may be a tough task, but there is belief around the community that the right coach can still have success at the school. That includes another former local standout and one-time Razorback quarterback.
"It just comes down to if you look at Gus, his biggest strength is making the most out of what he has," former Springdale prodigy Mitch Mustain said. "He's had some pretty talentless teams that he's done well with, relatively speaking. One of the things I've learned is good coaches make themselves great coaches with great assistant coaches. I think if (Clark) can put together a good crew that's committed enough to put in the time more than they're getting paid for to it, and understand you have to make your players reach for it, I think he can do OK."
Clark's re-introduction to Springdale at his introductory press conference drew rave reviews from players and students at the school. And it also got the stamp of approval from the most legendary Springdale coach of them all.
"I think he's a very impressive young man," Williams said. "He did a great job at the pep rally. I think coming in, he's going to impress the kids with his demeanor. He's just got to establish a foundation for hard work, a lot of patience."
Jimmy Carter can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NWAJimmySports on 01/12/2015