COLUMBIA — Perry Clark felt something he didn’t count on as he mapped out his next college basketball season – boredom.
Clark, a successful head coach with four NCAA appearances at Tulane and Miami, had easily moved into an analyst’s chair after leaving the Hurricanes in 2004. He returned to that role again after four struggling seasons at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi from 2007 through 2011.
Clark is back on the bench again, this time as assistant to South Carolina coach Frank Martin. It’s his first assistant’s role since 1988, when he finished a stretch helping Bobby Cremins assemble an Atlantic Coast Conference powerhouse at Georgia Tech.
The 61-year-old Clark was content assembling TV and radio broadcast jobs but confided to Martin that he missed the daily contact with college players and high school prospects eager to improve.
“It was like when I was in Catholic school and I had a holiday, but everybody else was in (public) school,” he said. “So you wind up sitting at home not doing anything.”
That changed when Florida coach Billy Donovan told Clark about a potential opening on the staff of Alabama coach Anthony Grant. Clark called Martin, Grant’s close friend, for some background on Grant. A short time after, Martin convinced Clark to join the Gamecocks and take over for top assistant Brad Underwood, who took the Stephen F. Austin head coaching position this spring.
“With Frank, I was very much impressed with his staff chemistry and his vision for this place and what they needed to go to the next level,” Clark told The Associated Press in his new office.
Clark didn’t worry about the perception of stepping down to an assistant after 19 years as a head coach. “For me personally, I love coaching and I still felt I had things to offer,” he said. “I’m a big believer in being a contributor.”
That’s already begun. He’s gotten to know some of the Gamecock players – South Carolina features eight first-year players on this year’s roster – and hit the road recruiting at several summer gatherings.
Martin, who spent most of the summer as an assistant coach for the U.S, team at the World University Games, hasn’t outlined Clark’s role or concentration at practices this fall. Yet Martin has made sure Clark has what he needs to succeed at South Carolina, even checking on a courtesy car while overseas.
Clark led Tulane to three NCAA tournament appearances in 11 seasons in what Clark acknowledged was a wonderful situation that would’ve satisfied him even longer. But changes to the university president and athletic director led Clark to panic, he said, and jump at the Miami job when it came open after the 2000 season.
While Tulane administrators and fans allowed Clark the time to grow, the culture at Miami was to make things happen in a hurry, Clark said. Two seasons in, Clark’s Hurricanes went 24-8 and reached the NCAA tournament. “But that was with juniors and seniors who we knew we’d be good,” Clark said. “The next two years we had a lot of freshmen and sophomores and didn’t have time.”
Clark was fired after the 2004 season. He received several assistant offers after the dismissal, but wasn’t sure he wanted to move down a rung – a decision he now believes kept him out of the mix for head coaching jobs the next few years.
It took him three years before getting the job at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, which had just come off a Southland Conference title and an NCAA tournament trip the season before. Clark did not have any consistency in the program or the department – “I had four ADs in four years,” Clark says with a chuckle – and walked away from the job after four seasons with a 54-71 record.
Two years away, though, showed Clark he was ready for more. He’s talked extensively with Cremins, who played at South Carolina and once famously accepted the job here before returning to the Yellow Jackets.
“Bobby thinks it’s great that I’m here and is excited about what we can do,” Clark said.
Could South Carolina success lead Clark back to the bench as a head coach? He’s not sure.
“If I don’t call another time out, it won’t bother me at all,” he said. “I’m just happy to be back and do what I can to help Frank.”
Clark did have one request for Martin during negotiations.
“I told him I’d never made a Final Four,” Clark said. “But I don’t want to put too much pressure on the boss.”