Rome wasn’t built in a day. That’s probably the most overused expression when urging someone to be patient, but in this case, that expression is meaningful.
It’s meaningful because there is a new head coach who patrols the sidelines for Robert Morris’s once proud football program. The Colonials’ new head coach, Bernard Clark, promises more than just a return to the program’s glory days of Joe Walton and his six conference titles. He promises a whole culture change for both on and off the field.
Here’s the thing about a culture change: That type of change is tough to occur in a one year span. So even though I love that the football team has been hyping this season up way more than years past, that excitement shouldn’t cause disappointment if the team puts up numbers similar to their most recent seasons.
So while I think Coach Clark can pull off a quick turnaround for the Colonials, I will also acknowledge that a one-year culture change is a tough thing to do. In fact, it is much more likely that the team takes several steps back while adjusting to a new coach with a new system, before taking significant steps forward.
Or as Harvey Dent from “The Dark Knight” would say, “The night is always darkest before the dawn.”
That’s why I urge caution when judging new head coach Bernard Clark during these first few seasons, as college programs can typically take three years to develop. Yes, Robert Morris gave former head coach John Banaszak four years to develop his program and that turned out to be a failure. On the counter side, Penn State gave James Franklin a third season while their alumni were calling for his job, and that has worked out extraordinarily well for the now tenth-ranked team in the country.
A Social Science Quarterly study by political scientist E. Scott Adler, Michael J. Berry and David Doherty at the University of Colorado, Boulder found that replacing a coach is more likely to make things worse in the short term. That’s why I agreed with the decision to keep Coach Banaszak around for as long as they did, and also why I hope that Coach Clark will be given the same amount of chances in his tenure at Robert Morris from both the athletics department and the fanbase.
Not only that, but he is a good coach. While the hire wasn’t one we were expecting at the time, Coach Clark is an exciting hire. According to the Robert Morris Athletics website, Clark’s defense ranked ninth in FCS in 2017, holding opponents to just 282.1 yards per game. He also had the country’s 15th-best rushing defense (107.0) and 20th-best passing defense (175.1) last year as Albany’s defensive coordinator and associate head coach.
Furthermore, he has now coached for ten different programs that include D-1 FBS schools Florida International (2004-2005, 2007-2008), South Florida (2006), Pittsburgh (2010) and Colorado State (2011). While this can be viewed as a bad thing, and I initially did view it as so, it could also be viewed as him gathering a lot of experience to prepare him for his first head coaching gig.
There’s nothing worse for a college program than a bad coaching hire. John Banaszak and his 8-34 record in four years at Robert Morris proved to be just that. The school still did their due diligence and now it should do the same with Clark regardless of how this season goes. Because when it comes down to it, a bad coaching hire is only made worse when it’s done in a rapid succession.
To go through coaches more than most people go through shoes ruins a college program. You don’t have to look farther than the University of Pittsburgh, who went through three head coaches and three interim coaches in a five-year span. This was after Coach Dave Wannstedt resigned after the 2010 season and lasted until they hired current head coach Pat Narduzzi in 2015.
Robert Morris doesn’t have the resources of Pitt. They don’t have the resources of a program that is only now starting to recover. That being said, this recovery led to a 5-7 record last season showing that it is still far from done. It was all caused because the athletic department made multiple bad hires, including two that lasted less than a year in Michael Haywood and Todd Graham.
That’s why coaches need to be given their fair chance. While Haywood and Graham were not the Pitt department’s fault for their departure — Haywood was arrested for domestic assault and Graham left on his own terms — they both demonstrate the problem of having to replace a brand new coach.
Regardless of whether Robert Morris finishes 11-0, 0-11 or somewhere in between, Coach Clark needs to be given his fair due if the program is to succeed. He needs to be given a chance to truly change the culture. To truly change it back into a winning culture.