Dan Clark's career flourishes at Illinois State
It’s been 14 months since Livermore native Dan Clark left the University of Northern Iowa football staff to accept a position at Illinois State University.
You could say he got out of his comfort zone. Now, looking back, he’s excited about his new surroundings.
Clark, a 1991 Twin River Valley High School graduate and former Simpson College quarterback, is settling into his role as offensive line coach for the Redbirds and head coach Brock Spack.
Clark, who has had other coaching stops at Simpson College (Indianola), Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge and the University of Iowa, is excited about the future of his career and his family in the central Illinois community of Normal/Bloomington.
“It was another opportunity to build my resume and work with great people like coach Spack and his staff and continue to develop as a football coach,” Clark said.
“It’s a new place and a new opportunity. I had been in Iowa my whole life. But when this opportunity came about, we decided to do it,” Clark said. “My wife, kids and I jumped ship and what a great move it has been for us.”
“The Bloomington/Normal area is a beautiful community and we’re excited about the future and the direction Illinois State football is going,” Clark said. “State Farm Insurance has its national headquarters here so there’s a lot going on in the community.”
“It’s got a great little niche. It’s two hours from Chicago, St. Louis and Indianapolis. We’re centrally located to great population centers, which gives us a great recruiting base. It has a really good niche to it,” Clark said.
Clark recently became the full-time offensive line coach after splitting the duties with offensive coordinator George Barnett, who departed this past winter for a spot at Miami of Ohio.
“Coach Spack has given me the opportunity to be the full-time offensive line coach. It has been a fast spring. We just got a new offensive coordinator. We’re learning a new offense. It’s been a whirlwind spring with a new coordinator and new things to implement,” Clark said.
“With a new offense, we’re working on a new identity. We’re trying to figure out what kind of kids we have here going into the off-season and how it’s all going to fit,” Clark said.
Last year Illinois State went 5-6 overall and finished 4-4 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Clark inherits a veteran offensive line unit that features four senior starters up front. They’re hoping to produce a winning record in 2014.
“With our league and our conference, it is competitive week in and week out. From top to bottom, you are talking about one of the most competitive leagues in the nation,” Clark said. “I think we have a great opportunity to win. We have to play well. We turned the ball over too many times last fall. We were a younger team on defense. The more mature you are the better you will be.”
“North Dakota State (conference champ) had a senior-dominated team last year and so they made a great run. That’s a recipe for success, when you have your older kids playing well. We have a good mix of old and young players. Now it’s developing the young. It’s important for our older players to take the reins. They have to have their best years and our young guys have to play better this year,” Clark said.
Clark says recruiting is the hardest part of his job. The most enjoyable part of it is coaching the athletes once they are on campus.
“The genuine, one-on-one side of it is what I like. Once you have them on campus between the lines, it’s football and developing them as people. There are no stars behind your name if you were the best player in high school. Here, everybody is on an equal playing field and you play the best guys,” Clark said. “You get to develop them.”
“Coaches talk about why we’re in this profession and the bottom line is to develop kids and make them better people,” Clark said.
Clark enjoys working under Spack, a former Purdue University football player.
“Coach Spack is a football coach. No pride. No nonsense. You roll your sleeves up and get to work. I’ve known him for a long time and he had a position open up as an assistant line coach. Coach Barnett, who I’ve known for a long time, got me talked into jumping ship. I thought it was a great opportunity to continue my career coaching on the offense,” Clark said.
“Teaching the kids an offense right now so they can learn our system, that’s fun. That’s exciting to players and coaches. That’s why we got into it – to develop kids,” Clark said. “It’s the other phase that has taken off and become a monster and that’s the recruiting part of it.”
“Talking to parents and players on why this program is better isn’t easy. Let’s face it everybody wants to play division I-A football. That’s everybody’s dream. But not everybody can, so kids and their parents are trying to figure out where they fit. Universities are trying to figure out what their top prospects are and who will get an offer and division I-AA schools like ours are trying to figure out who will get an offer from Iowa, Iowa State, Illinois, Missouri or anybody else and then who can we sign,” Clark said.
“It’s the arms race of recruiting. Getting your product out there to kids. Recruiting will always be never-ending,” Clark said.
“And we have the MAC (Mid-American Conference) close by competing for athletes. Schools like Northern Illinois, Western Illinois, Ohio, Ball State, Bowling Green, Western Michigan, Central Michigan…we battle those teams for the same type of kids who are just on the cusp of getting a division I-A scholarship but may fall short for some reason. We’re battling those guys and trying to build our program,” Clark said.
“The recent recruiting season was unbelievable. We had a great recruiting year at Illinois State. We just put $30 million into a brand new stadium. There is a lot of commitment here to athletics and football,” Clark said.
Clark said the Illinois State opportunity was too good to pass up.
“I’m not one to jump ship every year. I’m not one to work for a year than leave. I’ve never been one to work like that and I wasn’t raised like that. I’ve never been looking for the next job,” Clark said. “I did a lot of homework before taking this job and confided with a lot of coaches.”
“Coach Ferentz at Iowa and Coach Twait at Iowa Central are coaches I respect and look up to,” Clark said. “They had nothing but great things to say about coach Spack. That was important to me. It was a great opportunity for me to continue coaching football and a great opportunity for me and my family to hook up with some great people.”
“It got me out of my comfort zone. After all, I’m an Iowa guy. But it has turned out to be a great move for me,” Clark said. “Granted, you have to win football games. We were a young program last year, but we’re in a great conference. It’s challenging but the kids we have to work with are what make it all special. We have great administrators to work with. Our athletic director is a visionary. He wants to be successful and win around here.”
“They remodeled the stadium. They built a new press box on the visitor’s side and split the field, so the visitor’s side is now the home side. We have new turf and a new scoreboard. It’s really a wow factor when you first see it when you arrive on campus. It really is beautiful,” Clark said.
Clark says he has no career coaching timetable to follow.
“I thought I’d still be at Iowa Central Community College by now. I don’t look ahead. It shocks people when I tell them that. But I don’t want to look too far ahead in this profession because I don’t think it’s fair to the people you work for or the kids you coach whom you are trying to develop,” Clark said. “It’s important to get rooted into a program and throw yourself all the way in and be a part of that. I have always believed that and will continue to believe that.”
“I have no idea where I’ll be in five years. I really don’t,” Clark said. “I’m planning on being here. That’s my plan. God-willing, that’s where I’ll be.”
Clark and his wife, Kristin, have three children in the age 9-13 range. With two boys and a girl, there are plenty of activities to keep the parents busy.
“Their activities are growing and it’s more time-consuming for parents. My wife is the taxi cab driver right now,” Clark said.
“It’s a busy time in our lives. There are so many AAUs, club teams, cheerleading, gymnastics and everybody thinks you can go year-around with this. It is unbelievable,” Clark said.
“I remember back in the day when you could play every sport and that’s what you did. We didn’t even have soccer, lacrosse or AAU basketball as an option for a junior high kid? I had never even heard of it back when I was in junior high,” Clark said.
Clark doesn’t know what the future holds for his youngest brother, Dallas, an 11-year veteran of the National Football League, is currently an unrestricted free agent after playing one season for the Baltimore Ravens in 2013. He spent 2012 playing for Tampa Bay after a long, nine-year run with the Indianapolis Colts.
“I can’t answer for Dallas. He’s a competitor and he’s probably trying to figure out in his brain if he can do it another year. The competitive side inside him wants to keep on playing. It’s inside all of us. The competitive side says, ‘who’s telling me I should be done now?’” Clark said.
“And I know his body feels good. It will be interesting this spring and summer for Dal if another opportunity comes along for him to keep playing or not,” Clark said. “But what a career he’s had. Either way, nobody can question his decision.”
Dan Clark Bio
Served as tight ends coach at Northern Iowa for three seasons. Served as graduate assistant at University of Iowa for three seasons (2007-2009), where he assisted with the offense and helped the Hawkeyes to three consecutive bowl berths, including a 24-14 victory over Georgia Tech in the 2010 FedEx Orange Bowl.
Clark joined the Iowa staff after serving as the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at Iowa Central Community College for seven seasons (2000-2006). During that time Clark helped Iowa Central compile a 56-20 overall record while advancing to a junior college bowl game in six of the seven seasons.
Clark served as assistant coach at Simpson College for five seasons (1996-2000), after spending time on staff as a student assistant coach in 1995. Clark helped lead Simpson to Iowa Conference titles in 1996 and 1997 with a combined record of 22-2 in those seasons as the team advanced to the NCAA Division III semifinals in 1997.
Clark earned his bachelor’s degree in physical education from Simpson College in 1995 and is pursuing a master’s degree in Sports Management. He was a four-year member of the Simpson College football team as an undergraduate (1991-94) and was the starting quarterback in his final three seasons. He also played baseball at Simpson for four seasons.
Clark is a member of the American Football Coaches Association and the Iowa High School Football Association. He and his wife, Kristin, have three children, Drew (13), Paetyn (11) and Jace (9).