Here’s a Q&A with new Springdale High football coach Zak Clark.
Look for full coverage of Clark’s hire in Saturday’s Northwest Arkansas Newspapers.
You played against Springdale, coached here, coached against them. What are your expectations and can you bring it back?
I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t think you could get it back. I think everything’s in place to get it back. There’s pieces here. Just from watching, the familiarity of playing Springdale and the kids, I know the pieces are in place and they’re coming back to get it going.
Coach (Wayne) Stehlik said you were the first to call about the job. How soon did you reach out after coach (Shane) Patrick resigned and what was the timeline for you in this whole process?
I got about five, six text messages when the news came out. And knew there was going to be talk. And I knew I would have interest in the job. I didn’t know I was the first one, but I knew I wanted to get out in front of it and tell coach Stehlik. Got his number and texted him, said, ‘I’m very interested in the job. I’d like to talk to you, but I’d like to wait until our season’s over. So at what point that was, I know it was after I got five, six text messages within like a two-minute period that the Springdale job’s open. I knew I would be interested in it, but I wanted to get through the season, but I wanted to let him know I’m very interested.
Can you briefly go over your offensive and defensive philosophies?
Sure. You bet. That’s a good question. On offense, what I like, what we’ve done is we’re a multiple-personnel formation team. We’re going to play as many kids. We’d love to have a fullback, two tight ends, up to five wide receivers, a couple tailbacks. That way, instead of 11 starters, No. 1, now we’ve got 18, 19 starters that play. And every kid that could possibly can help the football team, they’re going to play. Obviously you’ve got to have a good run, pass balance. We feel like we’re on to some things schematically that we’re going to do a good job.
Defensively, above all else, we’re going to tackle. We’re going to tackle really well. And part of the draw in this is, No. 1 the kids. But also coaching against Springdale, I know what staff is here. I know what’s in place. I know how good they are. And that’s certainly a draw.
What did you learn about the job the first time you coached here that you think can help you now?
I think more than anything, right now, immediately, I’m familiar with a lot of what goes on. I’m familiar with the structure down at J.O. Kelley. I know Sarah Ford is going to do everything she can to help Springdale High School, in particular the football program. Anything that can make kids successful, these teachers, these principals, these schools are all about it and ready to jump onboard. That to me is a draw that’s what I know. And that’s what makes it enticing.
Northside did a really good job of going in the hallways and getting kids interested in football. How active are you going to be going through the hallways to get the kids who can help your program?
That’s a good point. The bottom line is football is a numbers game. You’ve got to have numbers. These guys are ready to go. I’m excited and I’m ready to get in there with them. But this isn’t enough. We’ve got to get kids out. We’ve got to get the excitement built at Springdale High School and get 100, 125, 150. Kid wants to play football, we’ve got a home for him. That’s the No. 1 goal getting off the mat is to get kids.
Your dad was a long-time coach. Was there any advice he gave you about becoming a head coach?
Sure. Well, he said above all you’ve got to be yourself. I’ve talked to him a lot about opportunities, the steps, what to look for in a career. He said you’ve just got to be yourself and when it’s time you’ll know. And I felt like right now it’s time to really go after one and I’m blessed and fortunate enough that it’s right here.
What’s it’s feel like? First head coaching job, you come out to this warm welcome.
I mean obviously there’s excitement the first day. But I’m really appreciative of Springdale and the administration taking a chance on a first time head coach. I think I’m very comfortable with what I know and I’ve been exposed to on the football side of it. But everything else is brand new and I look forward to the challenge and I think we can get it done.
Did you seek out any advice from other coaches during the process?
In any profession, there’s coaches that I value the opinion of. Mentors, if you will. And I’m always going to bounce ideas off of them and look forward to continuing that. Cause at the end of the day it’s a relationship business and you’re still involved with kids. So yes, there’s always going to be four, five coaches that I’m always going to seek their opinion. But at the end of the day, there was a point when you’ve just got to shut everybody out and get in your own thoughts, your own head and make the decision. And that’s what happened.
What attracted you so much about the job that you pretty much instantly contacted coach Stehlik?
Growing up in Fayetteville, there was always something about Springdale. 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. And when I had the opportunity to come here and I said that’s the one that I’m going to jump all over.
It’s obviously no secret the program has struggled since the district split, especially the last few years. What made you decide you wanted to take on the challenge?
There’s challenges here. There’s challenges at every job. Since the split, I think this side in this district, more athletes are getting involved. There are athletes here. I think the plan is two-fold. 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. And the other side is getting off the mat. What are we going to do right now to get off the mat. And I don’t know of any other way than to get in there and we’re going to have to grind and compete and we’ve got to get more kids out, more pieces. That’s a challenge and I’m excited about.
The last few years, you’ve got kids who decide to transfer, like a Fuller Chandler. Or you’ve got good athletes in the school who decide they don’t want to play for the football program. How aggressive do you have to be in putting yourself out there and marketing the program?
With any program, you’ve got to recruit your hallways. You’ve got to make it exciting. But at the end of the day, there’s a standard. Kids are going to have to want to be a part of what you’re selling. I don’t think there’s any phoniness to it. You’ve got to do it yourself. Anymore, especially football, kids have to want to be a part of the team. It’s one of the few sports that you need a lot of guys. We’re going to try to build this thing like it’s a community, it’s a school. Everybody’s going to have to have a little shared pain and sacrifice and pain in this to make it successful.
Will you bring any coaches with you?
The staff is important. I do know the job that these guys did, the existing staff that’s already here. And Shane. They’re good football coaches. And I know that from coaching against them. And that’s one of the draws. Cause there’s a lot of good football coaches here and within this system. But with every job a guy’s got to be comfortable. And the draw of bringing in some coaches, No. 1 for new blood, but also just when the dust settles everybody’s my guy. But bringing in guys that I’ve had previous relationships with is important.
Are you still going to coach quarterbacks?
I’ve thought about this and I’ve said this in the interviews. I’m not ready to give up what I felt like gave me a seat at the table and put me in the conversation. So that’s certainly coaching quarterbacks, calling the offense. That’s what I’m most comfortable with. And I feel like that honestly got me in this conversation. And so I’m not ready to give that up.