June 15, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
Click here to receive Gregg Bell Unleashed via email each week.
SEATTLE - Sorry to break bad news just before Father's Day.
But father doesn't always know best.
Jamie Clark has been on a soccer field since before he could walk, and on it seven days a week after that. The son of former Scottish League player and now worldwide coach Bobby Clark has followed his dad from Scotland to Zimbabwe - where his family was accepted into the local Matabele culture - to New Zealand to America. Jamie became Stanford's first All-American while playing for his father, then played professionally in Major League Soccer.
Yet the man who raised the Huskies' new men's soccer coach never imagined his youngest of three children would be what he has become: A colleague, a fellow leader of a major college program.
"I never really thought about him as a coach," Bobby Clark, Notre Dame's esteemed leader and 28-year veteran of the profession, told me Tuesday.
His hearty laugh and an even heartier Scottish accent bellowed through the phone from South Bend, Ind.
"He was always very much a coach on the field when he played," the elder Clark said of his son. "But we never talked about it as a career path.
"He just kind of fell into it."
Now his 34-year-old son has fallen into the most vibrant soccer community in the United States. He's the new leader of UW's tradition-filled program, and he is poised to U-turn a Huskies team that has uncharacteristically missed the last three NCAA tournaments.
Chatty, engaging Jamie Clark is the new bridge between Washington's remarkably deep and talented youth programs and the ultra-successful and rabidly followed Seattle Sounders of MLS.
"It's already a huge benefit, because people care about soccer in Seattle. It's the best soccer city in the country," Clark told me from his office in the Graves Annex building during a rare break this spring in recruiting, getting to know the community and starting his program. "There's a passion. For our present team, there is inspiration to be drawn from, right in front of them.
"From a recruiting perspective, this is the best city to play in. The Sounders are an interested group. They come watch games. That's a party that cares about U-Dub soccer. You know, they want to know players. It's nice to know that they want to put us in a spotlight."
Clark speaks with almost none of his father's Scottish accent. That's because Jamie moved to America when he was 5, when his dad came to be Dartmouth's coach. The Clarks have come to believe the U.S. college system is the smartest way to develop soccer players.
"In Europe, kids leave at 16, are washed up at 21 and have nothing to fall back on," Jamie Clark says. "That's why my dad left. He loved the U.S. college system. That's why we came over here."
Both father and son were pro players - Bobby for 20 years in the Scottish League, 17 for Aberdeen, and Jamie for two seasons with San Jose in MLS.
"One of the most important things in having had pro experience, and having an assistant coach who has over a decade of pro experience (in former 12-year pro Brandon Prideaux, UW Class of 1997), is for guys to realize that this isn't a stepping stone to the pros necessarily. It can help you get to the pros, but the next step along the line isn't a better step," Jamie Clark told me last week, five months into his new job.
"With a great university, on a college team, this will be some of the most fun soccer they will ever play in their lives. These are the best `teams,' the closest teams, as far as actually being part of a team and a community and being part of a successful organizations. College teams have this."
Bobby Clark, who also played on Scotland's World Cup teams in 1970 and '74, '78, sees U.S. college soccer as unique in its ability to nurture players while they grow into productive adults - ones with educations that can allow them to excel beyond the pitch.
"Growing up in Scotland, nearly everybody who played soccer went straight from high school and tried to play professionally," he said. "The way circumstances went with me, I stayed in school and went to college (at Jordanhill College, in his birthplace of Glasgow). And I felt a little bit different. I felt so lucky. It gave me a little bit different slant on things.
"One of the things that drew me to this country (in 1985) is it had this niche: Top athletes could go to university. In Europe, in Africa, in New Zealand, the places I've been, academic institutions, that's all they were. There wasn't anything like college athletics to get involved in for a soccer coach. It was either the pros, or go teaching.
"I thought, `What a great opportunity this is here! You can get an education - and played your sport for six days a week!'
"I've been here ever since."
And it's not as if college soccer has slowed the development of Bobby Clark's players. Two he has coached have gone to England's Premier League, to play with the world's best. Many more have played or are playing in MLS.
FROM WEBSITE DESIGNER TO SOCCER COACH
Jamie, who was a first-time head coach at Harvard in 2008 and '09 before leading Creighton in 2010, really did fall into dad's coaching path.
After two disappointing and injury-filled seasons playing in the pros, Jamie was out of MLS and seeking to start life outside soccer. In 2002, he moved to Albuquerque. That's where his older brother by three years, Tommy (now the head of Grassroots Soccer, an organization that teaches soccer and tries to prevent the spread of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa), was completing his residency in pediatrics at the University of New Mexico. Jamie was there to help his brother begin a website.
Jeremy Fishbein had just been hired to take over men's soccer at New Mexico. When he found out a former Stanford All-American, NCAA finalist and MLS player was in town, he asked Jamie to be his assistant with the Lobos.
So much for that website.
Fishbein and Clark led New Mexico unprecedented successes, including a run to the 2005 national championship match. Four players were drafted into MLS while Clark was at UNM, and three of the four teams Clark worked with advanced to the NCAA Tournament. The Lobos were 61-16-8 in four seasons Clark assisted them.
Then Dad called from Notre Dame with an opening.
"They told me this Clark kid could do quite well coaching," Bobby joked to me. "So I said, `Why not?'"
Notre Dame reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament in both of the seasons the Clarks were together in South Bend, going 29-11-7. Together they developed Joseph Lapira into the 2006 MAC Hermann Trophy winner and Soccer America Player of the Year. Additionally, two Fighting Irish players were named to the NSCAA Scholar All-America team.
Then Harvard called to make Jamie a first-time head coach. That's when he learned the same thing his father did decades earlier when he arrived in America.
"It sometimes takes playing at the next level to realize that the next step isn't a better step always. It's a higher level of competition. But as a whole environment goes, I don't think there is a better environment (than college soccer)," Clark says.
"If we create Washington to be the best in the country, they won't ever play on a better or more fun team."
To Clark, that's not as far off as it might seem. He looks around UW and sees limitless potential. He sees the success of the Sounders. He sees Sounders players, coaches and staff along UW alums at Huskies practices and games, actively involved in the program. And he sees one of the most fertile developmental grounds in the nation inside his new home state.
I asked him how fortunate he felt he was, not yet 35 and already an NCAA tournament head coach.
"The thing with all young coaches is there's one usually striking similarity: If you are a successful young coach, you haven't had a long, successful pro playing career," he said, chuckling.
REMODELING THE HUSKIES
The link between what his father has done in college soccer and what Jamie Clark will try to do at Washington beginning with the season opener in August runs deep.
At Dartmouth, Bobby Clark became a three-time Ivy League champions whose teams twice lost in the NCAA tournament to the eventual national champion. At Stanford, he inherited a team that was 10-24 over its previous two seasons. Within three seasons, Stanford reached the national title match for the first time in its history. In his initial season at Notre Dame, 2001, he had the Irish in their first NCAA tournament in five years. They've been in every one since.
If the chip is like the old block, Washington may have struck gold by hiring the younger Clark in January.
"I've seen him go into three programs and turn programs that hadn't been in NCAA tournaments into NCAA tournament teams," Jamie Clark says. "You have to encourage these guys at what they are good at and make that better, because that's what they already know. Improve the positives. But you also have to face some realities. And the realities are, these teams haven't been to the NCAA tournament."
That's exactly what Clark told the Huskies in one of the first meetings this offseason.
"I don't think it's huge things, but it's a lot of little things that add up," he said. "And I am fortunate because it's a situation that is not unlike Creighton. That's a team that had been to 17 straight NCAA tournaments, missed one the year before I got there, and then we got right back on track."
His UW remodeling plan centers around recruiting.
Clark is already targeting the best of Washington's high-school and youth programs. Those will be the building blocks for renewing a tradition of excellence at Washington started 20 years ago and maintained until recently by Dean Wurzberger. Clark's predecessor resigned after UW narrowly missed the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive time in November.
"It was a huge attraction (to this job)," Clark said of Washington's youth programs. "There are going to be so many good players coming out of this state. If we keep the majority, we will be one of the best teams in the country."
But Clark arrived as the ninth coach in the 48-year history of Huskies men's soccer for more than just the recruiting base. There is the Huskies' tradition of 13 NCAA tournament appearances in the last 18 years. There is an indoor facility on campus -- and not one a half hour away that the team would have to meet at 6 in the morning to use, as was the case at Creighton.
Even Seattle's weather is an asset to Clark. He calls its moderate temperatures and cooling rains "the best training conditions of anywhere in the country," and says it is conductive to the up-tempo, pressuring, ball-movement game his Huskies will play. He likens the climate here to Southern England, home of some of the world's best soccer.
Clark spent most of UW's spring drills just watching and assessing, rather than instituting his ways from the get-go. He learned he has a "very, very tightly knit team that really cares about each other."
He also learned he has a dynamic, veteran goal scorer upon which he will build his first season: Senior Brent Richards from Camas, Wash.
"We have one of the best attacking players in the country. That's a good base to start with," Clark said of Richards, who has scored 21 goals in his first three seasons at UW.
Clark thinks Richards, who tied his career-high with eight goals while Washington went 11-6-1 and 5-5 in the Pac-10 last season, could score 10 or more this fall in his system.
"When you find a couple of special players, you have to build your team around them," Clark said. "I've been pretty fortunate, whether as an assistant coach or head coach, I've had a Hermann Awards semifinalist now on our team for seven straight years. And of those, every single one of those guys was a 10-plus goal scorer. And not every one of those guys was the year before.
"Soccer is a low-scoring game. If you have one or two big guns scoring goals you are going to be successful. You are going to win your share of games."
Does Washington have enough now to get back to the NCAAs this fall.
"We definitely do. We have the potential," he said. "It's realizing that potential. It's getting guys to really, truly believe in themselves.
"Some people think that this could be a rebuilding year, that we should look to the future. But we have five great seniors. It's not fair to think of it as rebuilding for them. They are great people and great players. They deserve to be in the NCAA tournament, and should be. We're going to rely on the strength of those guys' character to draw along the process a little bit faster than it could take.
"If they push and they get the other guys with them, we'll be thereabouts. And if we're in the NCAA tournament, anything can happen."
As Jamie Clark's life and his entry into coaching show, anything already has.
About Gregg Bell Gregg Bell is an award-winning sports writer who joined the University of Washington's staff in September 2010 as the Director of Writing. Previously, Bell served as the senior national sports writer in Seattle for The Associated Press. The native of Steubenville, Ohio, is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He received a master's degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000.
Gregg Bell Unleashed can be found on GoHuskies.com each Wednesday.