On the surface, things couldn’t look much better for the UAB football program.
Three local corporations recently announced separate $500,000 gifts to help fund the construction of the Football Operations Building, which appears on pace to see shovels in the ground this summer.
The schedule keeps strengthening with the Blazers adding a 2018 game at Texas A&M.
Those are all signs of progress toward UAB football’s return to the field in 2017, but look beyond the headlines, and everything may not be golden.
As Athletics Director Mark Ingram reaches his one-year anniversary on the Southside – his hire was announced May 1, 2015 – multiple sources close to the program paint him as part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Those sources describe a growing friction between Ingram and a number of UAB head coaches, including head football coach Bill Clark, sparked by what they called Ingram’s heavy-handed micromanagement that goes beyond a new boss running a tighter ship than the old boss.
Those sources expressed concern that Ingram may not fully support Clark, the popular coach who stayed to revive the program after President Ray Watts shut it down in December of 2014. Ingram, who’s in his first stint as an athletics director, didn’t hire Clark. Former AD Brian Mackin did.
The concern among some UAB supporters has reached the point that they’ve discussed privately how to convince the university administration that Ingram is the wrong man for the job and should be replaced.
One example of Ingram’s alleged micromanagement: He instructed Clark and his football staff to turn in their business and personal cell phones to the athletics department for examination.
Another example: Ingram presented Clark with a handful of potential NCAA violations within the program that turned out to be much ado about very little. One concerned a player sleeping on a teammate’s couch for two months – even though the first player had actually contributed to paying the rent. Another concerned Clark taking the team bowling beyond the allowable number of weekly hours for team activities – even though Clark had cleared the trip beforehand with the compliance department.
Clark declined comment for this story, but people close to him said he feels like he’s in a daily battle with his own administration.
Tension for months
The tension between Clark and Ingram apparently has been building for months. When Southern Miss head coach Todd Monken left in late January to join the NFL’s Tampa Bay Bucs as offensive coordinator, Southern Miss AD Bill McGillis called Ingram to ask for permission to speak to Clark about the Southern Miss job.
Ingram hadn’t told Clark of the interest from Southern Miss when McGillis called Clark, who informed him that he would have to go through Ingram first. McGillis told Clark that he had contacted Ingram.
Apparently, Ingram’s failure to promptly notify Clark angered the coach.
When Clark and Ingram spoke later, and Clark asked Ingram what he thought he should do, did Ingram tell Clark he needed him to stay and continue to spearhead the return of UAB football? No, according to friends of Clark. Instead, they said, Ingram told Clark he should do what was best for him.
Clark and Ingram also have clashed over issues ranging from the number of assistant coaches Clark would originally be able to hire to the initial reluctance of the athletics department to fully fund summer-school attendance for the program’s football players. One source close to the department said the summer-school issue since has been resolved.
In response to questions about his relationship with Clark and the allegation that he’s micromanaging the athletics department in a heavy-handed way, Ingram declined an interview request but instead provided this statement:
“The management of a Division I athletics department is a complex and rewarding task. It would be inappropriate and ineffective to manage our department in the media. As I approach the end of my first year at UAB, I am impressed by how far our department has come. We continue to receive great support from our community both on and off campus, as well as our coaches, fans and many other stakeholders. We are all working hard to advance our shared commitment of achieving sustained excellence across our programs.”
Ingram’s statement didn’t address the specific issues raised by the multiple individuals close to UAB athletics who spoke to AL.com. Ingram is one year into a five-year contract with a base annual salary of $300,000.
It’ll be important to monitor this situation because Clark clearly has widespread support among UAB fans and community leaders, support that Ingram has yet to earn. There’s no way to know if the coach and the AD can work out their differences on the road to football’s return, but one thing seems evident.
If Ingram were to alienate Clark to the point that the coach would consider leaving, the AD would be met with the kind of public scorn that hit the man who hired him. Instead of “Fire Ray Watts,” those angry chants at UAB sporting events likely would change to “Fire Mark Ingram.”