Of all the jobs I wouldn’t want to do – ditch digger, undertaker, goat farmer – the person with the hardest job has to be Bernard Clark.
Sure, it’s not as labor intensive as shoveling dirt or as depressing as taking care of the dead, but Clark has the unenviable job of reviving a struggling portion of the USF football team: the defensive line.
Gone is defensive tackle Tim Jones, the eighth leading tackler (38) for the Bulls last season. Moved on have Jason Allen – 32 tackles and eight sacks – and defensive end Terrence Royal, USF’s all-time career sack leader with 19.5 sacks, all of whom played their last game as seniors in the Bulls’ Jan. 1 bowl game.
Now Clark has to sort through the USF roster and assemble a front four, but the task of finding players to even compete for the position has proven hard enough.
Julian Riley, a transfer from the University of Florida, has already switched from defensive lineman to tight end and back to defensive lineman in two weeks. Junior Eric Thomas moved from player to coach because of a nagging knee injury.
Also, two other players are missing in action.
Junior college transfer and four-star prospect Frank Harry is reportedly headed back to Louisiana because he is homesick, and according to Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia, incoming freshman defensive tackle Leslie Stirrups – also a four-star prospect – is “probably” going to have to go the junior college route because of his grades.
Grades, homesickness and injuries – give the former Florida International defensive coordinator a break. No one deserves this.
Even if he finds the right players, he has only a short time to convince them he knows what he is talking about. Clark took over for Earl Lane, a mainstay on coach Jim Leavitt’s staff for 10 years, who has taken the same position at LSU.
“They’re getting used to another coach,” Clark said. “I mean, coach Lane was here for 10 years; it’s a new voice telling them what to do and how to do it.”
Clark knows exactly how hard it is to convince a new team. After moving around to coaching jobs at Liberty University and Florida International University, being the new guy is nothing new to Clark. He was even on the other end of a coaching switch as a player at the University of Miami.
“Coach Dennis Erickson came in my senior year, and I had been playing for coach (Jimmy) Johnson for the last four years,” Clark said. “Whenever you come in as a new guy, all the players are going to try to feel you out – you know, ‘Does he really know what he’s talking about?'”
Clark better know what he’s talking about. He stresses technique and “get-off,” referring to a player’s ability to react once the ball is snapped. Clark said once he teaches that, it’s easy to move a player around.
“(If) you got technique, you got get-off; you’re basically interchangeable,” Clark said.
I’m not sure if there are players compatible with former lineman Royal, Allen and Jones, but Clark is convinced it could be any of the eight guys at the position.
“I came here with no expectations of anybody,” Clark said. “Coach Leavitt gave me his opinion on all the fellas. But I’m the one who’s going to be coaching and getting involved with them.”
His opinion? Juniors Allen Cray and Woody George could have what it takes, and sophomore George Selvie could be one of the players to make Bulls fans forget Royal. But even Selvie played center in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
It’s early in the spring practice, and Clark has a lot of work to do, but he seems confident enough about how his players will handle everything from making his players listen to what he calls a “new voice” to position changes.
“I think once they get adapted to it, they’ll realize, ‘He knows what he’s talking about,'” Clark said.
I don’t envy him.