UAB Football fans have lots to celebrate. They won a Conference USA Championship this past weekend. They ranked in the Coaches Poll. And the Blazers will play the Boca Raton Bowl, their second bowl game in a row. It’s a lot for a program that was shut down by the school system’s board of trustees late in 2014 and resurrected only two years ago. WBHM’s Gigi Douban talks about the Blazers’ season with Tom Arenberg, who teaches journalism at the University of Alabama and is former sports editor for the Birmingham News.
Given the team’s quick rise to success, it’s uncertain how long UAB can keep Blazers Coach Bill Clark. The school extended his contract and gave him a big raise, starting at $1.45 million.
“I have no doubt that larger schools are thinking about Bill Clark, maybe talking to Bill Clark, because what he’s done is remarkable not just on the football field, but off the football field,” Arenberg says. Clark rallied fans and donors alike to support the program. He says Clark could have left when the program was shut down, but he didn’t. “It might not be a given that he will leave, but it’s also clear that despite the much higher investment than in the past that UAB has made in Bill, it’s fairly clear that other schools can outbid UAB if they want to,” Arenberg says.
But can UAB get out from under the shadow of the state’s bigger and better-funded programs, Alabama and Auburn? Arenberg says it was a breakout season within the Birmingham community. “I think there were parts of the Birmingham community that needed to show more support, or at least UAB needed to earn their support, and I think that’s happened,” Arenberg says. And that’s happened, he says. People are going to games, they’re contributing money, and they feel a sense of community pride around Blazers football, he says. No need to try to outdo their bigger rivals. “They just need to have enough of a base and support in the Birmingham community to continue their progress and continue their success,” he says.
Some commentators have argued the national media hasn’t been paying enough attention to UAB football, but Arenberg says they’re catching on now. “This is the turnaround story of the year on a national scale, as far as I’m concerned,” he says. “The conference championship has drawn some more attention, the bowl game will draw some more attention,” he says. Who knows? Maybe Coach Clark’s name is mentioned in reference to some bigger job openings, Arenberg says, which generates more buzz around UAB.
And if the Blazers have a downturn, fans have seen worse — no program at all, which Arenberg says puts a few losses in perspective.