Unleashed: In Clark They - Already - Trust
Nov. 14, 2012
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Weeks after he got to Washington in 2011, Jamie Clark told me this was going to happen.
And when it did, when the Huskies learned Monday they were back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007, their coach and veteran of so many postseasons before had a calm, almost muted reaction that said "I expected this."
His players, assistant coaches and staffers nervous munched on burritos all around him staring at a projection screen in the Rose Auditorium of Conibear Shellhouse as the brackets got unveiled. About halfway through the pairings, "WASHINGTON" showed up on the screen opposite Air Force for a first-round match at Husky Soccer Stadium Thursday at 7 p.m. The room erupted in cheers.
Clark just sat on a stool at a side wall of the room, with only a hint of a smile creasing his face. Just two words of satisfaction left his mouth.
A few minutes later he told his giddy Huskies (12-4-3), who came within a 1-0 loss to UCLA this month of winning their first conference title since 2000: "It's well-deserved. And it's going to be pretty damn fun."
He would know.
People often ask me for the differences I've noticed covering college athletics every day these last two years after a decade primarily covering professional teams.
One of the biggest: I've come to learn coaches have a much larger, more direct impact on college teams than on ones in the pros.
A huge reason is the college head coach's impact on recruiting, and the subsequent effect recruiting has on eventual wins and losses. A second reason: in college a coach can instill far more belief far more effectively into 18-, 19-, and 20-year olds than he can into a 30-something guy with a wife, kids, an agent, plus fame and more money than that coach may have.
A huge example of this is Clark, who turns 36 next month.
This regular season he took an eclectic team with an unheard-of six transfers in its senior class of eight players to UW's longest unbeaten streak since 1999 (nine games). If not for a goal-interference call that waved off a score by Ian Lange in regulation Clark's guys would have beaten Connecticut, ranked No. 1 at the time by one national poll, on its home field in September. They lost on a free kick in overtime - but gained belief they could play with anyone, anywhere.
It says tons about the coach and the school that six players decided to transfer in and about to receive their UW degrees.
It says even more about Clark that those transfers are winning on a national level after - in the case of 2012 transfer Patrick Pacheco from New Mexico -- as few as four months playing together.
Clark has masterfully cobbled together this mishmash reunion of Seattle-area youth- and select-league competitors to turn around Washington's stalled program in less than two seasons. Even after changing his staff before this season, even after some top recruits went elsewhere, after injuries and the 2011 regime change, he's gotten his players to buy into a selfless, blue-collar system that puts the team above themselves.
They are indeed a show worth watching. And a show worth believing in.
"He brings a ton of belief," senior Ben Fisk said Monday moments after the midfielder from Federal Way, Wash., learned he was in his first NCAA tournament. "He has a system and gets everyone to buy into it. It's effortless, really, to buy into it.
"He does such a good job with us, along with his coaching staff, to make us believe that we are going to win, that we have as much of a shot as anyone to get to the Final Four and win a national championship."
As a player, the two-time All-American got Stanford to its first NCAA Final Four in 1998. After getting drafted into Major League Soccer and playing in 34 games over two injury-filled seasons for San Jose, Clark moved to Albuquerque to start a life outside soccer in 2002. 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.
Since then, Clark has been an assistant or head coach at five schools over 10 years. Thursday night he will coach in his ninth NCAA tournament, and his 22nd NCAA tournament match.
New Mexico made the tournament three times in Clark's four years there. In 2005 Clark helped the Lobos reach the national championship match. His father Bobby then called his son to be his assistant at Notre Dame. The Irish made the NCAA quarterfinals both years the Clarks were together there.
Harvard hired Jamie to be a first-time coach in 2008. Clark got the Crimson to the second round in that year and to the third round in '09. Then he got Creighton back into the tournament and to the second round in 2010, after the Blue Jays had missed the NCAAs the year before Clark arrived.
After that, UW realized what Clark could do for its program and hired him to replace Dean Wurzberger.
No wonder Fisk thought Clark would get him to an NCAA tournament before his Husky career ended. It's one of the main reasons he transferred home to UW after two seasons at Cal Poly.
"Oh, yeah, I definitely expected that," he said. "Jamie comes in with a long resume of success. And I expected nothing but that to carry over with this program."
Here's the trait that should have Air Force worried Thursday night: Clark just doesn't get teams to NCAA tournaments. He wins in them.
Clark's teams have won at least one game in each of eight previous appearances in the national tournament. He's won at least two games in the NCAAs three different times. His NCAA tournament record as an assistant and as a head coach is 13-8. That's a 62-percent success rate in the sport's most important games, the most important matches of these players' lives.
Washington's program has won never won more than a single game in 14 NCAA tournament appearances.
"IT'S GOING TO BE AWESOME"
So how does Clark do it? Once his players see his impressive resume, how does Clark then get his guys to believe?
A glimpse came Monday immediately after UW returned to the NCAAs.
Once the roars subsided that echoed throughout Conibear subsided, Clark got off his stool and stood before his excited players.
His celebration address lasted all of 1 minute, 50 seconds.
"We get a chance to show teams and show people, `Hey, to us, we are one of the best 16 teams in the country,'" Clark told them. "We'll prove it. We'll win -- one at a time.
We'll prove it. We'll win -- one at a time.
"It's going to be awesome."
He then described how rugged Air Force (10-8-4), a former conference rival of his at New Mexico, will be Thursday night.
"The beauty of it is, that's what we've made our name doing," he said to his Huskies. "This year, we were the toughest team to play again. We were the hardest team to break down. So we can prove it to another team that thinks it plays as well as we do - but they don't.
"Take care of yourselves. You get a big, whole day off, so let's make sure we get school work done. Let's get ahead so that Wednesday is the easiest day and Thursday is nothing but focus. Get your work done, and we'll be ready. OK?
"Off to work."
With that, the players erupted in more cheers and applause.
Pacheco has been hearing Clark talk to teams since the senior midfielder was 12 years old. That's when Clark coached Pacheco in a youth league in Albuquerque. Clark then joined the staff at New Mexico - where Pacheco played until transferring to UW this summer.
Even though he had been to the NCAA tournament in all three seasons he played for New Mexico, advancing as far as the round of 16, the native of Taos, N.M., saw more value in finishing his college career with Clark.
"If there's anything I can say about Jamie it's that he's sometimes a man of few words - but those words are so wise," Pacheco said. "You know exactly what he wants.
"He is the most intelligent coach I have ever played for - by far. He can take any type of player on a team in any system, and he can have every player buy into that system. So that way it works. He finds ways to win. Sometimes it's not always the prettiest, but if you are winning who's going to complain?"
Nobody at Washington.
Pacheco credits Clark for toughening his mind and much as his game.
"He's taught me to keep the game simple, especially in terrible situations. Just when to play the ball in behind. And just composure," he said. "He lets me know I am an older player now. This is my senior year. I should feel comfortable on the field.
"If anything, he's instilled a lot of confidence in me. He's giving me the most confidence I have ever had."
As the best leaders do, Clark defers credit to those around him.
"I don't think it's even just me," he said. "Whether it was Brandon (Prideaux, his top assistant who left after last season) last year or Craig Waibel and Jeff Rowland, my two assistants now, there's definitely a positive energy. It's a positive staff.
Right now, we are going 11 games with one loss. So I think we've got good momentum.
"You know, we critique. But I am a big believer in positive reinforcement. Finding out what's good and what can make us great. And those guys are the exact same way. We run our team on positivity, on fueling, and how we can be great.
"I don't know if they like playing for me or not," he said, in what had to be a joke, "but I know they like playing for Jeff and Craig."
OH, BY THE WAY ...
There is one intriguing, Jamie Clark-centric subplot to Thursday's game. Should the Huskies beat Air Force, they would travel to Omaha, Neb., to a second-round matchup with .... Creighton (15-3-2). Clark's former Blue Jays earned a first-round bye.
"You know, when you jump around as many schools as I have ... three of the top 16 seeds are at schools I have worked at," Clark said. "So I kind of felt I was going to run through one of them pretty quickly, whether it was New Mexico, Notre Dame or Creighton.
"I think it would be really fun. I hope we get the chance to get there. Not that you look past games but it's impossible not to say that would be a fun game to be a part of. I just know so many people there, the stadium, the crowd that would be there.
"I just hope that we can do the business to have the chance to play there."
And, no, he's not envious that Creighton got the bye. Clark is exactly where he wants to be, coaching in the soccer Mecca of the Northwest. With a turned-around team that truly believes.
"I like playing the first-round game. It really gets your feet moving and it builds momentum," he said. "And there's nothing like momentum. Because once you've got it, it's hard to stop.
"Right now, we are going 11 games with one loss. So I think we've got good momentum."
Not to mention the perfect leader for this time of year.
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.