June 27 wasn’t the culmination of Bryant Vincent’s grinding journey through the coaching profession. The 46-year-old Kentucky native still has plenty of work left before he hangs up his whistle and kicks up his feet.
June 27 was certainly different, though. It was the first day he woke up as a college football head coach. It was two days following Bill Clark’s stunning announcement that he was stepping down as the University of Alabama at Birmingham's (UAB) head coach to deal with back problems.
“I remember waking up and saying, ‘I’m so blessed, I’m so lucky, I'm humbled to have this opportunity,’” said Vincent, who counts Clark as one of his best friends. “It’s an opportunity I knew I was ready for and I wanted to attack every day. And I wanted to make Coach Clark proud. I wake up every day and I‘m thankful [for] the opportunity that he gave me.”
Officially, Bryant is the interim head football coach at UAB. His tenure may last one season. It may last the rest of his coaching career. No one truly knows. That’s a decision that UAB athletic director Mark Ingram will make at some point. Betting against Vincent, though, fits perfectly into his story.
“Just to be able to come into this state, not know one person, I’m not a coach’s kid, just self-built and built it off relationships,” Vincent said. “It’s always been about the players. Always. And it’s always been about the people. To go through the journey. I’m serious, man, if you have faith, and I do, to go through that journey and come to this point it’s just all part of God’s plan.”
Vincent grew up in Glasgow, Kentucky, which has a population of around 15,000 and is about 30 miles west of Bowling Green.
“We had some nice factories here at the time,” said Sam Royse, the longtime baseball coach at Glasgow High and the person Vincent calls his hero, his mentor and his motivation. “We had a good mixture of people that worked at those and we had a good mixture of medical people, law people. We had two schools – one is a county school, one is a city school. I think it’s a typical small town with a mixture of all types of people from all walks of life.”
Vincent found his place on the football field and baseball diamond.
“Bryant was competitive. That was the one feature (about him),” Royse said. “He wanted to be successful. Bryant’s not big; he wasn’t fast or anything like that. But he played hard and, I think, got the most out of his ability. I think that’s probably a trait that he seeks from his players. That was one of his biggest attributes. He wanted the teams he played on to be successful. He wanted them to win.”
After graduation, Vincent made the short trip to Western Kentucky but returned home after one semester.
“Bryant and I, for five or six months, hadn’t been in contact, hadn’t spoken,” Royse said. “He went off to Western Kentucky University. On his own, something spurred him to realize that he wasn’t happy in the path he was taking at that particular time. Just out of the blue one day, I was sitting in the classroom, the door flew open and it was Vinny. We shook hands just like yesterday. He told me he just needed to make a change and see if I could help him.”
Often, the coaching world is a very connected place. Royse, who played baseball at Wallace State and Troy, was friends and a former teammate with Mark Smartt, who, at the time was the head coach at West Alabama. After one call, Vincent had a spot to play baseball and go to school. Never mind that he had never been to Alabama and knew no one at West Alabama.
He packed up his car and drove nearly 400 miles to Livingston.
“I walked in the dorm, I called [Royse] and said ‘Where the hell did you send me?'” Vincent said. “There was a Hardee’s and a Subway and that was it. He said, ‘Vinny it’s gonna be good for you, just put your head down and go to work.'”
Vincent was a baseball redshirt as a freshman and decided the next year that beginning his football coaching career would be beneficial. Former Alabama All-American Bobby Johns was the school’s football coach. Vincent approached him about being a student coach. Johns told him to come back the next morning at 5:30 and he’d let him know if a spot was available. Vincent showed up at 5 a.m. and waited in the parking lot.
“He got out of the car and said ‘I didn’t think you’d show,'” Vincent said, grinning at the memory. “He goes, ‘Alright, you can come on and help out, meet in my office later today.'”
Vincent worked under offensive coordinator Tommy Laurendine in 1996, before taking over sole responsibility for the wide receivers the next season.
“Bobby kind of took me under his wing,” Vincent said. “I learned a lot about discipline. I learned a lot about toughness. I learned about no excuses. Bobby was a rule follower, he was a dictator, but he cared about the kids. He brought confidence and discipline. I learned a lot under Bobby.”
Johns offered Vincent a grad assistant spot. The job paid $280 a month. However, Bryant and the former Holli Pritchett were married their senior year and expecting the birth of their oldest son, Brady. So, they headed to Kentucky and Vincent took a job as an elementary school teacher and high school assistant football coach. A year later, he opted to return to Alabama.
He met Charles Henderson High coach Hugh Fountain at a strength clinic and soon was a member of his offensive coaching staff. Charles Henderson was running the wishbone at the time. Vincent was intrigued by the spread offense after coaching against Hal Mumme’s Valdosta State team while at West Alabama. Mumme moved on to the University of Kentucky and during his one year back in his home state, Vincent soaked up the spread offense knowledge.
He directed a high-flying spread offense at Charles Henderson for four seasons before getting a call from Spain Park head coach Vince DiLorenzo. Vincent traveled to Hoover five times for an interview. Eventually, he was offered the job in a program that was a year old and in the considerable shadow of Rush Propst and Hoover High. Spain Park won seven games and made the playoffs for the first time in his first season on the staff. The next year, with Neil Caudle putting up big numbers at quarterback, Spain Park finished 9-4 and advanced to the third round of the playoffs. Injuries slowed down the progress the next season.
Vincent was ready for a head coaching position. He was hired at Greenville High but didn’t take over a thriving program. Greenville was 1-9 in each of the previous two seasons. Vincent led his team to a 10-3 record, advanced to the third round of the playoffs and was selected as the Class 5A coach of the year. The following June, he received a call from acting Spanish Fort athletics director Tommy Walker.
“I go, 'Tommy, it’s the second week of June. Are you kidding me?” Vincent said. “That night, he drives to Greenville. He meets me at the high school and said, ‘I brought you some film. Just watch it.’ I watched it and told him, ‘Tommy, are you trying to get me not to take this job?’ It was bad.”
Spanish Fort was 0-10 on the varsity level and 0-7 in junior varsity games during its first season. They had no weight room. They had no stadium. They had no practice field at the school. They didn’t have a locker room. Home games were played at Robertsdale, Foley or Fairhope, depending on which one was on the road.
Vincent took the job. One of his first tasks was setting up a weight room in an English classroom. Somehow, he turned Spanish Fort into a winner. His first team went 4-6. He followed with seasons of 11-2 and 11-3 before the 2010 team finished 13-2 and beat Briarwood Christian in the state championship game.
“We created a culture in Spanish Fort,” Vincent said. “The town was just consumed with it. We did the same thing in Greenville. We created a culture and we set the town on fire.”
Vincent was ready for the next step. He joined Clark on the South Alabama staff. In 2014, when Clark took over at UAB, Vincent was hired as the program’s offensive coordinator, directing an offense that included future NFL players Jordan Howard, J.J. Nelson and Gerald Everett.
“Being 6-6 that year was incredible,” Vincent said. “We come out of the box, I think 4-2, and the rumbling hits the press - UAB to shut down program. Unbelievable. We put it on our backs to save the program.”
UAB came down to the final game of the season – a trip to Southern Miss – needing one more win to reach bowl eligibility.
“We went down there and blew their doors off,” Vincent said. “We were celebrating and I saw (then-athletic director) Brian Mackin. He was just standing there (with his head down) and I knew. We all knew because he wasn’t excited. He already knew.”
Three weeks after the shutdown, he was coaching for South Alabama in a Montgomery Bowl. Three years later, he was back in Birmingham, taking over as the Blazers' offensive coordinator for the 2018 season. After a special four seasons, it’s time for Vincent to lead the way.
“To be able to lead this team, this year is very special to me,” Vincent said. “It’s very humbling. This place means something to me. To do it at UAB, a place where I’ve been through the lowest lows, when they shut it down, to the highest highs, now to be able to lead this team this season, it’s pretty incredible.”
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