Bill Clark had plenty of chances to leave UAB. The biggest reason: It had just left him.
In 2014, the Blazers coach lost his team and his job when the football program was dropped by the university. What else was a 46-year-old coach to do in the football-rich Deep South but coach somewhere else?
"It was a bunch of reasons," said Clark, explaining why he stayed in Birmingham, Alabama.
He not only stayed but prospered.
Clark's Blazers are 9-1 and ranked in a traditional poll (in this case, the Coaches Poll) for the first time -- all that less than two years after he resurrected a program that had been cut four years earlier because of budget issues.
Yes, Clark could have gone most anywhere -- back to where he came from as an FCS head coach, maybe even hook on somewhere as an SEC assistant. His qualifications were never a question when UAB shuttered.
But there was a career decision to be made -- wait around for two years while UAB football was reborn or move on.
"I kind of fell in love with this place when I got here. I'm from this area. I always felt like it was a diamond in the rough," he said. "You've got a medical school, enrollment is booming. Then it's, 'Wait a second, this place should be great.'"
If the Blazers are not great this week, they're close to it as UAB heads to Texas A&M. The No. 25 ranking for UAB in the Coaches Poll is its first since briefly sneaking into the old BCS rankings in 2004.
That year, the Blazers beat TCU and Mississippi State, which shows you success in Birmingham is possible. After beating Southern Miss on Saturday to clinch the Conference USA West, it is clear UAB football's resurrection is possible, too.
UAB is 17-5 overall in its second life over the past two seasons. It is already assured back-to-back bowl games for the first time.
All it took was a commitment by city leaders and $40 million to bring back the program. That and a lot of faith. It's one thing to start what is essentially a college football expansion franchise. It's another for wins to be at the end of a fund-raising rainbow.
"Did we have any clue we'd be 9-1 and be 25th in the nation our second year? No," said Tommy Brigham, a local real estate developer who was part of the "Gang of 7" of city leaders who oversaw the resurrection. "But we did feel that Coach Clark was the kind of coach and leader and had the passion to be part of doing something not just good, but great."
There are plans and there are results. There is a commitment to a build a state-of-the-art $175 million stadium for the Blazers due to open in 2021.
The program has arrived ahead of that schedule. When UAB was reinstated for the 2017 season, Clark was allowed to sign two recruiting classes in a calendar year in order to catch up. The NCAA also waived the typical years-long provisional wait to become an FBS program as it normally mandates.
This 2018 team that has broken into the top 25 features 34 seniors, many of those from the 60 junior college players Clark signed to lay a fresh foundation.
Clark has built the Blazers on rushing and defense. They're the only school in the country with three shutouts. They're in the top five nationally in sacks, scoring defense, passing defense and total defense.
When Southern Miss tied it late, Clark went to his hoss, running back Spencer Brown. The sophomore might as well been on a recruiting poster. The 235-pounder came from nearby Kimberly as a high school linebacker turned tailback. Clark and the staff saw him at a UAB camp.
"He comes in here, and we had the old facilities," Clark said. "He ran 4.52 and 4.53 [seconds in the 40-yard dash] on grass at 235 pounds. We said, 'You're offered.'"
As a freshman, Brown broke Jordan Howard's school record for first-year rushers. (Howard is now with the Chicago Bears.) He was named 2017 C-USA Freshman of the Year. More than that, he was a nice guy bringing sugar cookies to his offensive linemen on Monday mornings.
After Southern Miss settled for a field goal in overtime on Saturday, there was no question what UAB was going to do on its possession.
"We're running the ball," Clark told his coaches. "I don't care if they know it. And we're going to give it to him."
Brown's third carry of the possession resulted in the 17-yard run for the game-winning touchdown.
When Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher was asked this week if UAB looks like a particular SEC team, he nodded. "All the good ones," he said. "They're ranked. They're 9-1."
And in this week of some dreadful SEC nonconference matchups, UAB-Texas A&M at least has some intrigue. The 15.5-point line favoring the Aggies suggests this will be one of the closer games.
This is another endless reminder that college football doesn't do Cinderellas well. When Boise State started to nose closer to the BCS Championship Game, the critics came out of the woodwork questioning schedule strength, etc. The same applies to UCF. As good a story as it is, why should anyone care if the Knights claimed a national championship last season? Some do because that's impinging on tradition, birthright and just better football.
Let's see UCF play an SEC schedule, the old argument goes. Well, we're going to see UAB play an SEC team this week.
"This is like another SEC team," Fisher said of the Blazers. "They may be the No. 1 defense in the country."
More coachspeak, perhaps. A bit of history, definitely. Fisher was set to become UAB's next coach in 2007. A $600,000 contract had been agreed upon. A plane was about to be sent to pick up him from LSU.
At the last moment, the University of Alabama Board of Trustees killed the deal citing budgetary constraints. (Sound familiar?) Fisher eventually went to Florida State as an assistant. UAB settled on Neil Callaway.
"You're next step is to be [a] head coach," Fisher said this week. "You're always trying to take steps either for a job you think you can stay there forever for a job you can be successful and promote you to the next level."
UAB was neither for Fisher.
Nevertheless, we vote on these matchups with our eyes. In this Season of Chalk, UAB is a refreshing intruder.
"Just to show that if you work and you believe, things like this can happen," Clark said.
Never mind the obvious Alabama and Auburn ties, Birmingham is one of the highest-rated cities in the country for college football viewership. And it has one of the sport's best stories residing downtown.
"There are more eyeballs watching college football in Birmingham per capita than any other city in the country," Brigham said. "This is a football state and football city."
UAB does its best to plan game times around Alabama and Auburn so as not to go head-to-head. In near freezing temperatures Saturday, almost 26,000 souls showed up at Legion Field to watch the Southern Miss game at the same time Auburn was playing Georgia.
"That tells me there's a fan base that will come out even in inclement weather," Brigham said. "Imagine if UAB becomes the alternative. If a kid is not going to Alabama or Auburn, there may be some SEC kids [saying], "I'm just going to stay in Birmingham.' "
Football -- at least renewed football -- has been responsible for a UAB enrollment spike that could account for extra $250 million.
"I'd like people to not dwell so much on the past," Brigham said. "… [The program] got shut down, and it was very painful. I just don't believe we'd be where we are if we had not done this. It's not just football; it's a front porch to our city. Let's use the front porch."
That front porch is beginning to blossom. Clark already takes recruits to a Top Golf that has gone up near the site of the new stadium. Near that is a entertainment district and a remodeled Legacy Arena.
Someday soon, Clark and UAB football may be not only a program but a city centerpiece. Reborn and renewed, it's all really happening.
"I'm sort of surprised Bill stuck around," Brigham said. "… You look back, either he was crazy, or he knew something."