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UAB Athletic Director Mark Ingram has worked to find a permanent football coach for the Blazers football program since former head coach Bill Clark announced his retirement in June. Bryant Vincent was selected to be the interim head coach for the 2022 season.

Ingram spoke with 1819 News about what the experience has been like as he makes the decision on an important hire.

1819 News: With a whole season to work with, how has this process been different than a normal coaching search?

MARK INGRAM: There is a real flaw in our hiring system in college athletics. It is that you’re hiring, particularly a football or men’s basketball coach, a women’s basketball coach would be this way too, with this pressure to do it quickly. When your coach leaves at the end of the year, on their terms, meaning they took another job, you somewhat get surprised by that. Somewhat. Now, you have a week to find a coach, a couple of weeks maybe. People say you should have this list in your desk drawer. You might have that list. That doesn’t mean you have a relationship with everybody on that list. It doesn’t mean that everybody on that list would like to leave the job they’re in. This is a list of people that you think in your mind, if our job came available, I’d like to talk to these people because of the reputation they have or the job they’ve done. They might not be very happy where they’re at and not want to come here. You can’t just assume, just because you called them, they’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, definitely I’m in.’ You go through that list, but you’re trying to build a working relationship before you make that hire.

You don’t have enough to really have time to do that the way it should be done. A football coach’s position is the most high-profile public face of your university. You’d like to say it’s the president, it’s not. From the hierarchy standpoint it is, from a chain of command it is, but not from what the public sees. There’s no president on ESPN. The flaw is you’re trying to hire the highest profile individual with an incredibly small amount of time and a small amount of interaction, which is why you run into personality conflicts down the road. There are things that come up that wouldn’t be a standard interview question.

The thing about having some time is I have been able to speak to more people. The process isn’t really that different, as much as we have more people we can connect with. We have more time to have phone conversations, assess their interest level, probably do a little bit more research on their background. Theoretically, you say, you have more time to meet. But, they’re in the middle of the season, so they don’t have time to meet. Phone calls here and there, some texting and really our background work of calling people from their previous stops. The person you’re speaking with may not know you’ve already talked to him four or five times. You get a feel [for things like] I wonder why you did so well at this stop and not at that one. You just let someone else tell you what they’ve heard or what they think. It just helps you try to bring clarity toward the end. I was able to cast, let’s just say, a wider net and really talk to some people that you might assume we couldn’t get. It was like, what the heck, we’ve got time, let’s ask them. Let ‘em say no. That’s okay. Bill Belichick is not interested in our job.

1819 News: Has it also given coaches or their representatives more of an opportunity to reach out to you?

Mark Ingram: Absolutely. It's been a mix of me reaching out to people that I’m impressed by and them reaching out to me, through agents or whatever, to make it known they’re interested. [Things like] he is interested and this is why. There are all sorts of personal reasons that a person, unbeknownst to me, would be interested. They might say, you might not think to call me but for this is a reason I would come there.

1819 News:  How does the move to the American Athletic Conference factor into the quality of candidates?

Mark Ingram: If the American is a higher profile conference than the one some other coach might be in, then coming to UAB in Conference USA might be a lateral move, coming to UAB in the American is not.

1819 News: Can you characterize the quality of candidates you’ve communicated with?

Mark Ingram: Nearly everybody that we’ve spoken to either is a head coach or has been a head coach. I think head coaching experience is important. It’s not the most important. The people that we’ve spoken to that haven’t been [head coaches] have been fantastic. But, going into it, the plan was ‘Let’s talk to somebody who either is or has been a head coach. And, when they were a head coach they had success.’ They may have had success at stop No. 1 and, then, stop No. 2, maybe not as well. Now they’re a coordinator again or whatever. If the right chemistry is there, if the success level where they were at is transferable to here, we try to look at the circumstances into why they weren’t as successful at stop 2 or 3 as they were at stop 1 or 2.

1819 News: What is the time frame you expect to make a hire?

Mark Ingram: You look at the early signing period and it’s about getting in front of that by let’s say a couple of weeks. I wouldn’t want to put a date on it, but, knowing that you would like to get at least a couple weeks in front of the [early signing day], ideally. So, that way, an announcement could be made and recruits that are committed to us get excited and still want to sign or, potentially, and I say this in their favor, every kid needs to make the decision on what they feel like the best fit is for them. I use the position as fullback, because my son plays fullback, some offenses run a fullback, some don’t. If you’re a guy that plays fullback and you want to go to a school that uses a fullback, great. Then, all of a sudden, they make a coaching change with a coach that doesn’t use a fullback. Well, maybe you shouldn’t go there. You want to give everybody the best opportunity to either maintain their commitment or look elsewhere.

(Note: The first day of the early signing period this year is Dec. 21)

1819 News: Is Bryant Vincent a candidate?

Mark Ingram: Yeah. As you would imagine, I have given this a lot of thought. The question, often asked, is how many games does he need to win to get this job. This is a common question of a coach on the proverbial hot seat, right? That’s the situation that you usually hear that question asked. But, it’s a similar situation. I told him, that I don’t think it’s fair to him or any coach in a similar situation, that you look at a game or two or even [wins and losses], as a whole, as the sole reason. There is not a number on that.

We spent a lot of time, our committee did, in asking a lot of people the qualities we should be looking for in our next head coach. We asked our athletic foundation board, we had a long conversation with our alumni board. I’ve asked a lot of former players, just tell me your thoughts on the qualities of a head coach. I’m not talking about [particular] people. Over and over again, [I heard] you’ve got to find somebody with a high level of integrity. If you find somebody of really high character, they’ve worked hard for that reputation. They are going to want to surround themselves with assistant coaches who are the same, who won’t ruin their reputation. And, then they’re going to recruit players who are a lot like them too. Then, those players, who are of high character, won’t get in trouble off the field and they will do well in the classroom. So, you avoid other things that are not really related to football.

I think, reputation, character and image of the program, those things are important. We will start there and I told Coach Vincent that. You, obviously, want someone who is a winner, someone who can lead people, someone who is a good recruiter that understands this part of the country or who can put together a staff that understands this part of the country. That’s important. They, themselves, don’t have to be [from this part of the country], they have to be willing to go build relationships.

1819 News: On that note, what emphasis do you put on a coach knowing the uniqueness of a particular program, conference or area of the country?

Mark Ingram: There are plenty of situations where, they say, a person “ain’t from here” and then doesn’t do well. But, there are plenty of situations where people aren’t from here and did well. Urban Meyer went from Bowling Green to Utah to Florida. This dude, did a triangle throughout the country. Successful, successful, successful. I think Bob Stoops is from Youngstown, Ohio. Well, he did great at Oklahoma. So, you got a lot of that. There are plenty of examples of coaches who did well, who are not from that area. To say you have to be from that state or you have to be from that conference. Is there benefit? It’s more of their entire staff makeup. I don’t think you can bring a whole group from Southern California and then go have success at Syracuse with never having worked in the area, recruited in the area. They will have a hard time. I don’t discount that. We talk about it, but it’s really related to entire staff, more than it is one person.

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email steve.irvine@1819news.com.

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