By David Rogers. December 12, 2019. BOONE, NC — Not only is it the likely most expedient solution in filling the football head coaching vacancy at Appalachian State, it may well be the best long-term solution for continuing the Mountaineers’ rise in the FBS ranks.
COVER IMAGE: New App State head football coach Shawn Clark (center) gives his offensive linemen instructions. Photo courtesy of AppStateSports.com
A source close to the athletic department confirmed to Blowing Rock News on Thursday that the “interim” tag should be removed from Shawn Clark’s head coaching title after the Appalachian State Board of Trustees meet via conference on Friday at 1:00 pm. The board is expected to go immediately into closed session to discuss and terms of an employment contract.
Clark’s prospective position upgrade clarifies the leadership of the football program going forward after former head coach Eliah Drinkwitz was hired just four days ago by Missouri — and it comes at a crucial time in the recruiting process. According to 24/7 Sports, a subsidiary of CBSSports, Appalachian State has 15 commitments for the 2020 recruiting class with the Early Signing Period just six days away. December 18, 2019, is when most recruits from high schools across the U.S. will sign their National Letter of Intent.
In most cases, a late season head coaching change at an institution at the very least raises questions in the minds of otherwise committed recruits. Where that leadership vacuum persists, the more likely a recruit is to change his mind.
Appalachian State’s program has experienced this scenario before. It was just one year ago that former head coach Scott Satterfield and several members of his staff left Appalachian State for Atlantic Coast Conference and Power 5 contender, Louisville. A couple of earlier commitments decided to go elsewhere, even though App State moved fairly quickly to hire then NC State offensive coordinator Drinkwitz as the Mountaineers’ new head coach. In Louisville, the firing of former head coach Bobby Petrino and hiring of Satterfield created even more uncertainty. Not only did some recruits decommit to the Cardinals, but even some roster players transferred with the uncertainty.
According to Blowing Rock News sources within the App State football program, Clark is not only highly respected by the current players, but “loved” might actually be a better descriptor for his relationship with the guys toiling on the field. Such good vibes are likely to be reinforced within the team with his being named as THE next head coach of the program, removing the interim tag. Expect emotions and motivation to run high in New Orleans on December 21st.
As an Appalachian State alum with the proverbial “Black & Gold running through his veins,” Clark’s hiring also reduces the risk that the program will be forced to go through a similar transition in future years, at least any time soon. That was a known risk when Drinkwitz was hired a year ago. A young, ambitious, up-and-coming outsider rising through the ranks of college coaching is much more likely to use success at one institution as a stepping stone into his next, potentially higher paying job. Given the passion of alumni for Appalachian State and the lifestyle gained by living in this area, money is unlikely to be the most dominant factor in leaving or staying.
EDITOR’S NOTE: So far, only former App State assistants Charlie Harbison (defensive backs) and Erik Link (special teams) have been announced as hires at the University of Missouri, following Drinkwitz. It is unknown if any additional current assistant coaches from the Mountaineers will leave, either before or after the New Orleans Bowl game vs. the University of Alabama-Birmingham on December 21st.
Excerpts from Shawn Clark’s bio at AppStateSports.com
A 1998 graduate of App State and two-time All-American as a title-winning player in Boone, the 44-year-old Clark will be in charge of the program leading up to its Dec. 21 appearance in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl against UAB.
In addition to his duties as the assistant head coach in 2019, Clark’s fourth season directing one of the nation’s top offensive lines has played an important role in helping App State enter the bowl season with a 12-1 record.
The Mountaineers are the first FBS program from the state of North Carolina and the first Sun Belt program to post a 12-win season. With Power Five road wins against North Carolina and South Carolina, plus two victories against a 10-win Louisiana squad, App State leads Group of Five programs with four wins against ESPN top 45 FPI teams.
The Mountaineers will be playing in the New Orleans Bowl for the second straight year. Last year, Clark took over the play-calling duties before the bowl game, and App State rewarded his aggressive approach with a 45-13 victory against Middle Tennessee.
Clark worked as the offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator in his first three seasons back at his alma mater before receiving the 2019 promotion to assistant head coach on the staff for first-year head coach Eliah Drinkwitz, who is leaving to become the head coach at another university.
In each of Clark’s four seasons coaching the offensive line, with App State compiling a 42-10 record in that span, the line has ranked in the top 25 nationally in both rushing yards per game and fewest sacks allowed. App State ranks 17th nationally at 229.2 rushing yards per game this season and No. 19 with only 17 sacks allowed thanks to a line in which all five starters received All-Sun Belt recognition.
Those accomplishments have contributed to App State’s line being named a top-15 unit nationally in each of the last two years with back-to-back appearances on the Joe Moore Award Honor Roll. The Mountaineers’ streak of eight straight seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher is second only to Boise State’s 10, with Jalin Moore and Darrynton Evans each posting back-to-back seasons with 1,000-plus yards since Clark returned to his alma mater.
Clark was a two-time All-American (1996 and ‘98) and three-time all-Southern Conference selection (1995, ‘96 and ‘98) as an offensive guard at App State from 1994-98. A four-year starter, he entered the lineup as a true freshman in 1994 and earned third-team Associated Press All-America honors as a junior in 1996. He missed the entire 1997 season due to injury but returned as a fifth-year senior in 1998 and was named a first-team Walter Camp All-American.
Clark graduated from App State in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He earned a master’s degree in education from Louisville in 2003.
After wrapping up his playing career, Clark coached at Louisville (graduate assistant – 2001-02), Eastern Kentucky (offensive line – 2003-08), Purdue (offensive line – 2009-12) and Kent State (2013-15) before returning to Boone in 2016.
In 2016, the Mountaineers led the Sun Belt in rushing offense (250.9 yards per game to rank No. 10 nationally as well as No. 2 in Sun Belt history) and ranked 16th nationally in sacks allowed. The line also paved the way for Moore to be named the Sun Belt’s Offensive Player of the Year and steered Marcus Cox toward becoming the program’s all-time leading rusher with over 5,000 career yards.
The Mountaineers led the Sun Belt in both rushing yards and fewest sacks in 2017, as they allowed only eight sacks (No. 2 nationally) and averaged 223.6 rushing yards per game to rank 22nd nationally. App State averaged 315.8 rushing yards during its 4-0 finish, going over 300 yards in each of the last three games, and it became the first Sun Belt program with three offensive linemen (Colby Gossett, Beau Nunn, Victor Johnson) named to the all-conference first team.
The 2018 team ranked 14th nationally in rushing yards per game (240.3) and 20th nationally with only 18 sacks allowed. Quarterback Zac Thomas was named the Sun Belt’s Offensive Player of the Year, and Evans rushed for 1,187 yards even though he didn’t become the team’s primary back until after a season-ending injury sidelined Moore in Game 5.
Prior to his return to App, Clark was at Kent State for three seasons, and he was promoted to assistant head coach/offensive line coach in 2015 after two seasons as the run game coordinator. With Clark at the helm of the offensive front, the Golden Flashes ranked among the nation’s top 35 in fewest sacks allowed all three seasons, including in 2015, when they ranked 12th nationally with just 13 sacks surrendered.
In four seasons at Purdue, Clark helped lead the Boilermakers to two bowl appearances and a win in the 2011 Little Caesars Bowl. He coached seven All-Big Ten performers and three NFL draft picks at Purdue and oversaw a running game that produced 200 yards on the ground in five-straight games in 2010, a feat that occurred only twice before in school history. The Boilermakers also rushed for at least 100 yards 11 times in 2011 en route to their Little Caesars Bowl victory.
Prior to his four-year stint at Purdue, Clark coached three future NFL players, three FCS All-Americans and nine All-Ohio Valley Conference honorees in six seasons at Eastern Kentucky. With Clark on staff, EKU won back-to-back OVC championships in 2007 and 2008, made two FCS playoff appearances and compiled a 43-26 overall record.
Clark began his coaching career with two seasons as a graduate assistant at Louisville. The Cardinals went 18-8 in his two seasons on staff, winning the 2001 Conference USA championship and appearing in the 2001 Liberty Bowl and 2002 GMAC Bowl.
Clark’s wife, Jonelle, was a standout softball student-athlete at Eastern Kentucky and was inducted into EKU’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2008. The Clarks have two children: a daughter, Giana, and a son, Braxton.