UAB Blazer Football, Better Alive than Dead

Lyn Scarbrough

October 23, 2018 at 10:43 am.

Nov 18, 2017; Gainesville, FL, USA; UAB Blazers head coach Bill Clark claps against the Florida Gators during the first quarter at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 18, 2017; Gainesville, FL, USA; UAB Blazers head coach Bill Clark claps against the Florida Gators during the first quarter at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

“Sometimes dead is better.”

                                     – Jud Crandall (aka, Fred Gwynne)

In his book Pet Sematary, Stephen King, the author of horror, supernatural and suspense, tells the story of a burial ground in rural Ludlow, Maine where those entombed didn’t stay in the cemetery.  They could be resurrected, but the second-coming was grotesque, evil, better left gone and forgotten.

In the movie version released in 1989, a family that relocated from the big city loses its pet, then its child. Their elderly neighbor Jud Crandall, played by Fred Gwynne (you may know him better as Herman Munster) warns the father that he shouldn’t have a burial in that cemetery.

Of course, he does it anyway and the results were … grotesque and evil.

That script has come to mind over the past few years as we watched the planned death and burial of UAB football. There were so many people that so much wanted the Blazer program to be gone and forgotten.

During the 2014 season, UAB had qualified for a postseason bowl for only the second time in program history. Coaches, players and fans were elated, but not for long. They weren’t allowed to accept a bowl bid and got the worst possible news. Blazer football would be no more.

In explaining the decision, UAB officials said that football was being disbanded “in order to more effectively invest in the success of priority programs.” Apparently, football was viewed with the same importance as the rifle and women’s bowling teams, which were also done away with at the same time.

“In eliminating football, UAB will be better positioned to invest in programs where the institution can be sustainably competitive at the conference, and national, level,” the statement continued. “The best days for UAB athletics are yet to come.”

There were warnings about the negative impact that football’s death would have on the university, the city and the local area. There were pleadings from students and graduates, civic leaders and people in the community to keep the program. But, none of that mattered. UAB football was going to be dead and buried, and so it was. It became the first program shut down since the University of the Pacific in 1995.

But like what happened in Ludlow, the Blazers program didn’t stay dead. It took about seven months; it didn’t require cursed Native American grounds to bring it back; and the second-coming has been anything but grotesque. In fact, what happened at Birmingham’s Legion Field on Saturday night gave the strongest evidence yet that UAB football is back alive, better than ever.

UAB 29, North Texas 21, a most unlikely final score after a dominating first half by the Mean Green, was fitting. Trailing 21-10 at halftime and probably left for dead by some, UAB came back to life after intermission, and outscored North Texas, 19-0.

The high powered Mean Green offense was held to 64 yards rushing and multi-threat quarterback Mason Fine was shut out in the last two quarters. Blazers running back Spencer Brown ran for 100 yards, his third triple-digit game of the season, and junior defensive lineman Garrett Marino recorded two sacks and three tackles for loss.

The win left the Blazers with a league-best 6-1 overall record, and a 4-0 mark in C-USA.  They sit alone atop the West Division and are in the drivers’ seat to play in the conference championship game.

Last year, in their first season back from the gridiron morgue, the Blazers posted an 8-4 regular season mark, the best record in program history, and rewarded its players and fans with a postseason bowl trip to the Bahamas, its second straight season to be bowl eligible. And now this year, already bowl eligible again, a legitimate shot at the division title and an overall record equal to, if not better than, the 2017 landmark campaign.

Some folks would call that already being “sustainably competitive at the conference level.”

There’s still a lot of football to be played this season, but the UAB football program is far from being dead.

There were a lot of reasons why the correct decision was made to re-start the UAB football program, but none was more important than head coach Bill Clark himself. After one successful year at his alma mater, Jacksonville State, he came to Birmingham and in his first season had the Blazers eligible for the postseason.

After the fateful decision, even though some coaches were gone, some players had transferred and fans were despondent, Clark didn’t throw in the towel, didn’t take another job. Instead, he inspired his players and the entire Birmingham community, securing buy-in from business and civic leaders, promising those “best days” for football were yet to come if the facilities and support were there.

The decision-makers got the message and reversed the decision.

“We want to be conference champion and bowl eligible our first season,” said center Lee Dufour, who had transferred to South Alabama, but returned after the program was renewed. “If we work every day and follow the rules, we’ll succeed.”

“It will be tough, but for us it will be a good schedule,” Clark told Lindy’s looking ahead to the first season back on the field. “No doubt our players are excited.”

There was excitement and success, and the record speaks for itself.

Before Clark became head coach, the Blazers were 80-129 in their previous 18 seasons and had qualified for the postseason just once. His first season had the 6-6 mark and bowl eligibility.

Now, since UAB football was given new life, the Blazers are 14-6, 10-2 in C-USA games. They have played 10 games at home and won them all.

How about community support? For the 2017 season, the six Blazer home games averaged 26,375 in attendance to lead C-USA. Louisiana Tech, which ranked second in attendance, had 6,000 fewer fans per game than UAB.

The case can be made that in the past five seasons, no college football head coach has been more important, more irreplaceable for his team than Bill Clark, including the coaches in Clemson, S.C., Columbus, Ohio and Tuscaloosa, Ala. The Anniston native was the right man in the right place at the right time.

Clark made no attempt to hide his excitement after the Homecoming win over the Mean Green.

His one-word answer to the first postgame question on the Blazer radio network … “Wow!”

“What great crowd support, awesome. In the second half, they got on their feet. It takes everybody to get this done.”

So, what’s next for the Blazers? A road contest against winless UTEP could be a trap game. Then comes back-to-back home games against dangerous UTSA and arch-rival Southern Miss. The season ends with a conference game against the high-powered Middle Tennessee offense in Murfreesboro. All of those could be lost, but all are also winnable.

And, on Nov. 17, the Blazers travel to College Station to take on Texas A&M. The Aggies would be wise not to take that one for granted.

Last season, I had a vote in one of the postseason National Coach of the Year award selections. I voted for Bill Clark, who was from my perspective clearly the most deserving candidate. If UAB continues winning that may be my vote again this year and there’s no reason to think that can’t happen.

Jud Crandall and those that wanted to kill Blazers football could be right. Maybe “sometimes dead is better.”

But, this wasn’t one of those times and it’s a safe bet that many were surprised at just how good the second-coming turned out to be.

The story written by Clark and UAB football is one of the greatest in college football history.

Stephen King or any other author would be hard pressed to write one better.