Football Feature Friday: Coach Clark Wants to Win Every Battle
By: Bob Weiner for UAlbany Athletics
ALBANY, N.Y. – It’s no surprise that Bernard Clark wears many hats for the University at Albany football team. After all, he’s learned a myriad of lessons, both on and off the field, at every stop of his successful career as a player and coach.
In his fourth year as part of the Great Danes’ versatile and experienced staff, Clark is currently the team’s associate head coach, defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. “Titles don’t mean a thing here,” Clark said with a chuckle. “We all do what we’ve got to do. My main focus is as the defensive coordinator and as the linebackers coach. It kind of falls on me and coach (Joe) Bernard (the assistant head coach and offensive coordinator) to fill in the gaps with some of the other stuff when Coach Gattuso isn’t around.”
Clark learned how to compete on every play as a member of the two-time national champion Miami Hurricanes. Later, he played linebacker in the NFL with both the Cincinnati Bengals and the Seattle Seahawks. After hanging up his playing cleats, Clark embarked on a long coaching career that included stints at James Madison University, Liberty University, Florida International University, the University of South Florida, Hampton University, Pittsburgh and Colorado State.
Clark’s coaching philosophy made an immediate impact during his first season at UAlbany, when the Great Danes led the nation in turnover margin (1.25) as well as fumble recoveries (20), while linebacker Michael Nicastro earned third-team All-CAA honors.
“We like to be extremely aggressive on defense,” Clark said. “We feel our base defense is our best defense. The most important thing is that we want guys who will compete on every single play. Every rep matters. You have to win your individual battle every time. Just look at the Super Bowl. There was no doubt that the New England Patriots wanted it more than the Atlanta Falcons did at the end of the game.”
Clark breaks his defensive goals down into key parts. “First, we don’t want to give up many points at all. We are most proud that we only gave up 18-19 points a game this season. That’s what we’re looking to do. We want to keep the other team out of the end zone,” he said.
“No. 2 is that want to create turnovers. We want to create situations where we put our offense into the best situations to score. But No. 3, and the most important stat of all, is that we want to get the ‘W’.”
Although Clark is in control of the entire defense, he understandably focuses the most on his linebackers. He knows what he wants from that position.
“There are numerous things I look for when we are recruiting linebackers,” he said. “Of course, the most obvious, is that they must be able to tackle, but there are many other factors. You have to be as physical as a defensive lineman and as agile as a defensive back. What I’m also looking for is that they must have great vision. Our linebackers have to be able to read through the guards and be able to see both the running backs and the quarterback. They must be able to quickly figure out and read if it’s a run or a pass, and then react accordingly.”
Clark also looks for several physical attributes. “They have to be able to use their hands, and they must be able to change directions quickly,” he noted. “If they get sucked up into the run, they need to be able to shift their hips quickly to get back for a pass. Ultimately, they need great vision, hands, hips and feet.”
Clark prefers not to discuss his playing career with his current players, because it’s not ‘relevant,’ but he does pass on some key lessons learned on the field.
“When I was at Miami, we didn’t need a coach to tell us what to do,” he recalled. “That’s where competition comes up. Our practices were like blood baths. When we stepped on the field, we were competing on every single play. Saturdays were just another competition for us.”
During his NFL career, Clark learned a lot from Bengals’ teammate and Hall of Fame offensive tackle Anthony Munoz, an 11-time participant in the Pro Bowl.
“One thing I took away from my NFL days was the way Anthony Munoz played. He was a tremendous student of the game. It was phenomenal to me watching him study plays. He was a gentle giant and a charismatic Christian. To see him turn it on while he was on the field was simply amazing. He never trash-talked or opened his mouth when he was on the field.”
Clark recalled a game when the Bengals played the Buffalo Bills, led by defensive lineman Bruce Smith, another NFL Hall of Famer. “Bruce Smith was trash-talking the whole game with Anthony, and Anthony never said a word to him, except at the end of the game. He said he was sorry after he accidentally stepped on his toe.”
Clark said that’s the kind of player he respects the most. “I love the guys who are students of the game. Sometimes, the best player is the guy who competes and gives you 100 percent,” he said.
Gattuso said Clark fits perfectly into the UAlbany coaching family. “He’s a really enthusiastic, hard-working coach that players really respond to and play hard for,” Gattuso said.MEET JUSTIN WALKER -- 2017 UAlbany NLI Signee
Walker is a 6-foot, 219-pound linebacker from Bayonne, N.J. He played for St. Peter’s Prep before attending Lackawanna College. He transferred to UAlbany for this season.
Walker was an All-Hudson County League performer and senior captain while at St. Peter’s. In 10 games, Walker recorded 49 tackles, 5.5 quarterback sacks and an interception for the Falcons.
“Although I didn’t recruit Justin individually, I obviously was involved because he’s a linebacker,” Clark said. “One thing I noticed was that he has very good feet and good hips. He also has good vision and knows how to play downfield.”
Clark liked what he saw when the two sat down across from each other in their first head-to-head meeting. “He looked me right in the eyes. We like the way he carries himself,” Clark said. “He understands what we are looking for.”
UAlbany football season tickets are now on sale for the 2017 season. Prices start as low as $75. For more information visit ualbanysports.com/tickets or call the UAlbany ticket office directly at 518-442-DANE.