When Jeremy Pruitt worked at Hoover High School just outside of Birmingham, Alabama from 2004-2009, he consistently ran into Bill Clark, who was the head coach at Prattville High School in Prattville, Alabama.
“Bill was coaching at Piedmont High School when I was playing at Plainview for my dad,” Pruitt said during his Monday press conference. “This goes all the way back to the late 80s, early 90s.
“I’ve known Bill and Bill’s father, who was a high school football coach at Old Hatchet High School in North Alabama for a long time; my father still is a high school football coach. Bill was a defensive coordinator at Hoover at one time, before he got the Prattville job, so we played each other along the way.”
Clark served as the head coach at Prattville from 1999-2007 where he won back-to-back state tiles in ’06 and ’07, and he only lost 11 games total. Clark then moved on to South Alabama where he served as the Jaguars’ defensive coordinator for five seasons before moving on to Jacksonville State.
During his lone season as head coach of the Gamecocks, Clark led Jacksonville State to their first playoff victory, 49 school records, 13 Ohio Valley Conference records, and three NCAA records. His success an hour east of Birmingham led to Clark landing a gig in the Iron City.
“Bill’s been successful wherever he’s been,” Pruitt said. “He’s an extremely hard-worker. He’s always had good coaches that’s worked with him. He’s done an outstanding job”
Clark’s most impressive stop is his current one. Clark helped build up a UAB football team that went 6-6 season in his first season as head coach, but on December 3, 2014, university president Ray Watts announced the elimination of the football program.
Following a two-year hiatus, UAB’s football program returned to the field in 2017 and promptly won eight games, was capped off by an appearance in the Bahamas Bowl. A year later, Clark led the Blazers to an 11-3 record and a win in the Boca Raton Bowl.
“The guy (Clark) has done a fantastic job at UAB, where there’s not ever been a whole lot of success there,” Pruitt said. “He won the conference last year, they have one loss this year, and they’ve got a really good football team. They’ve done a nice job in recruiting, they’ve got the guys playing extremely hard.”
This year, UAB sits at 6-1 on the season with their lone loss coming to Western Kentucky on Sept. 28. Since then, the Blazers have reeled off three-consecutive wins over Rice, UTSA, and Old Dominion.
UAB’s defense ranks fifth in the nation in total defense, holding opponents to 248.6 yards per game. The Blazers’ defense has tallied 60 tackles for a loss, and their 12 fumble recoveries rank second nationally. The Blazers are allowing 15.7 points per game, which ranks 11th in the FBS.
“If you look at them, they have one of the best defenses in the country, statistically,” Pruitt said. “Putting pressure on the quarterback, I think there have been 26 sacks. They are not allowing a whole lot of points. (They get) a lot of pressure. Just really sound and really hard-nose football.
“Offensively, the guys take care of the football and create explosive plays and have really, really good wide receivers as a group. They look like SEC wide receivers and are probably just as good as any group we have seen.”
UAB arrives in Knoxville as the Vols’ homecoming opponent. The two teams have previously met on four different occasions, Tennessee winning all four contests. The two teams last played in 2010 when the Vols won 32-29 in double-overtime.
This UAB football team is different, however. The Blazers are well-coached, and they have a winning culture instilled. When the game kicks off at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday night in Neyland Stadium, UAB won’t be looking to simply collect a check; they’ll be looking to pull off what Georgia State did in the Vols’ season opener.
“We have a tremendous challenge this week,” Pruitt said. “Our guys have to get in here and get focused. We have to find a way to play our best football on Saturday night.”