EMORY, Va. – Graham Clark was in his element Tuesday morning.
The 64-year-old was working alongside committed football coaches, searching for clues on game film and entertaining reporters with jokes.
Meet the new offensive coordinator and quarterback coach for the Emory & Henry Wasps. He’s refreshing, fun and intelligent.
"It’s good to be back and talking ball with these guys," Clark said. "I get free coffee hanging out in the coaches office, so that’s good."
Clark announced his retirement from coaching in 2018 following a successful 25-year run as head coach of the Dobyns-Bennett Indians.
So what prompted Clark to make the jump to college football?
"I had to do something," he said. "They eliminated the senior citizen’s people greeter program at Wal-Mart."
Jokes aside, and Clark has more zingers then a Las Vegas headliner, this looks to be a home run hire for E&H head coach Curt Newsome.
Clark is an old-school coach who has the intellectual curiosity to adapt to a fast-changing game and the personality to connect with well-connected alumni and young people from various backgrounds.
"It will be exciting to be around young people again with all of us having a common goal, which is to some football games here," Clark said.
A former E&H player who coached for two years at Chilhowie High School, Clark will not need a map to find high schools, talent and admiring coaches.
In a wide-ranging interview Tuesday, Clark spoke of his love for his college alma mater and his appreciation for non-scholarship NCAA Division III athletics.
"Once you see the fieldhouse and stadium here, it’s obvious that football is important to Emory & Henry," Clark said. "At this level, you come to school for two reason – academics and athletics. Emory offers great opportunities in both of those areas."
While a few of the landmarks around the Emory community have undergone facelifts, the football culture remains strong. After two straight losing seasons, the Wasps need a jolt.
Clark knows the past and present story of the Wasps. He has monitored scores, visited with former E&H offensive coordinators Craig Stutzmann, Timmy Chang and Quintin Hunter, and attended games.
Under the creative Stutzmann, now the University of Hawaii passing game coordinator and quarterback coach, the Wasps averaged churned out 32.7 points and 440 total yards per game in 2015.
The Wasps have since modified their relentless "spread-and-shed" attack, but Clark knows how to move fast while keeping opposing coaches guessing and defenders on their heels.
"Over the last few years I was at Dobyns-Bennett, we ran a lot of RPO (Run-Pass-Option) and tempo," Clark said. "My job is to take what they’ve been doing here, adapt it a little and eliminate some of it, and continue to be successful."
Basically, the Wasps will keep pace in a pass-happy Old Dominion Athletic Conference that is brimming with clever coaches, brainy players and ambitious athletic directors.
"We’re not going to line up in the wishbone this season. That’s not the system these young men were to recruited to play," Clark said.
With receivers like 6-foot-6 senior athlete Derrick Yates and sure-handed junior Gunner Griffith along with versatile junior quarterback Hunter Taylor, the building blocks are already in place for the Wasps at the skill positions.
"I know a little about the personnel here and I like what they’ve been doing," Clark said. "I’ve already talked with one of our quarterbacks and I’ve watched quite a bit of film in the past few days. I’m excited."
Newsome and Clark have much in common. The longtime friends have deep football contacts around the nation, they have a track record of success, and they both played at Emory & Henry.
"A lot of people don’t realize that Curt and I were both offensive linemen here," Clark said. "I worked at linebacker as a freshman. But when the coaches had a chance to time me in the 40-yard dash, they decided that I needed to concentrate on being a linemen."
During his college days, Clark weighed between 210 and 220 pounds in college.
"At one time in my life I was 6-foot, but I’m sure that I’m not that tall now. That comes from playing offensive line all those years. You get beat down."
As he walked around the campus Tuesday and viewed the new FieldTurf at Fred Selfe Stadium, Clark said his passion for the game still burns.
"I don’t think that ever leaves you," he said. "I can remember coming out after a game one night at D-B and hearing one of our players ask his father when does a person ever get over that love of the sport. The dad told the player to ask his grandfather. The grandfather said it hadn’t happened to him yet, and he was 80 at the time."
A portion of Clark’s time early Tuesday was spent taking calls from former teammates and coaching associates. Clark seemed to enjoy the whole process.
"I can still talk for 30 minutes to a wrong number," Clark said. "It’s great to be coaching back where I spent four years as student. Curt and I have been friends forever and I’m looking forward to working with him.
"Curt hasn’t chewed me out and or fired me over the headset, so will we see. This is a great Division III school and football program, and I think I’m going to have fun."
A devotee of "The Andy Griffith Show", Clark put the day perspective when asked about how Barney Fife would react to the television cameras and reporters on campus.
"This is bigger than the day Barney and Andy had to protect the gold truck coming through Mayberry," Clark said.
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