Harry Clark's exit interview
June 13, 2012
Harry Clark has gone through a number of stages in life, almost all grounded in athletics. He was an 11-time state track and field champion at Stanford and Cascade high schools. He was a national-level decathlete at both Houston and Montana State. He was a football and track coach for six years at Stanford High. And for the last 11 years he's been an assistant coach at Montana.
A new chapter commences next month when Clark starts his new job as an assistant at Carroll College in Helena, a school with an athletics program Clark describes as a "mini Montana." Clark will become the first full-time assistant under head coach Matt Morris in a track and field program that will be entering just its third year of existence in 2012-13.
Before Clark shuts his office door for the final time, GoGriz.com caught up with him for his exit interview.
What was the appeal of the coaching job at Carroll?
HC: There were a lot of reasons. They are starting a new program, and I'll get to work with Matt, who's a great friend of mine. Plus I've been here 11 years now, so it will be nice to have a change of scenery. Plus they really recruited me to get me over there. It felt good to be recruited again. It was neat.
How did you and Matt become friends?
HC: When he was coaching at Loyola (Sacred Heart High School) in town (from 1996 to 2005) he would bring his kids over to (Dornblaser Field) a couple of times a week to work out after we were done. We would visit, and we really clicked from the get-go. He's a big-time golfer, and so am I, so we started golfing together and really hit it off after that.
What is his coaching style like?
HC: He's not afraid to integrate new things into his program and try new things in training instead of just sticking with the same old routine. He'll say, Let's do this and see what it does in this period of time and see if it works. So he's not afraid of change. I really like that.
What is the current makeup of the Carroll staff?
HC: Matt has someone who helps out with the distance kids, but to this point he's only had assistants on small stipends and volunteers. They told him when he first started the program that if he brought in a certain number of athletes, he could add a full-time assistant. They are up to something like 72 kids in the program, so he's built it to where he was given an assistant. We're hoping to build up our group of throwers and maybe get a throws coach down the road.
What athletes will you be working with?
HC: I'll have my hand in just about everything except the distance kids. Specifically the jumps, multis and hurdles. Matt will do the rest.
What would you like to see in your replacement at Montana?
HC: A knowledgeable coach and somebody who cares about their job. Somebody who wants to be with the athletes at all times. My athletes were never at a workout by themselves, so I'm hoping it's somebody who has the passion to be with the kids and keep our 400-meter success going.
Why is Brian Schweyen a good head coach?
HC: His leadership. He keeps everybody in check and on their toes, from recruiting to everything else you have to do in this job. He makes sure you're doing your job and the athletes are doing theirs.
Given Montana's current setup, with make-do indoor training areas, is it realistic to think the Grizzlies could ever win a Big Sky Conference title?
HC: I won't say you can't, but it's going to be hard. We lose athletes like you wouldn't believe because of the lack of an indoor training facility. If we had somewhere to train indoor, it would be a whole different story. You could get kids from anywhere you wanted, plus you wouldn't lose any Montana kids.
We don't lose many from the state, but we do lose some kids for that very reason every year, and they tend to be the upper-level athletes.
But you do what you need to do. You get used to working with what you have, both with the facility and the time constraints with other sports needing their time too. It will be the same at Carroll. We won't have an outdoor track, so in the spring we're going to have to work out at a local high school track and get time on it when we can. We'll do what we need to do to get the work in, just like we do here.
Matt's already made waves by signing Derrick Williams of Columbia Falls, one of the top distance runners in the state, and Stephen Delaney of Charlo, one of the top hurdlers. Both were athletes Montana wanted. Sounds like you'll be going after the same type of talent you've been recruiting here.
HC: Absolutely. It's going to be a little different recruiting against Montana, but it will be my job.
What is Matt's recruiting philosophy?
HC: I don't quite know yet, but he really wants Montana kids, because you have to be able to train and live here. They know what to expect with our winters and what our springs can be like.
Would you ever negative recruit against Montana?
HC: I don't negative recruit. Period. Never have, never will. You recruit to your school, you don't recruit against another school in a negative light. That will always come back to bite you down the road.
You sell yourself, and you sell your program. If that's not good enough, then that's the way it is.
What will it be like pulling up in a bus next spring for the Al Manuel Invitational and stepping foot on the track at Dornblaser Field as visiting coach?
HC: I'll be able to see everyone during the indoor season at meets at Bozeman, but it will certainly be different. It will be odd going to a meet on our track as a visiting coach and not having to work any events.
As the nation's top-ranked prep decathlete coming out of high school, what kind of college options did you have?
HC: I had something like 112 options. The big thing for me was winning the decathlon at the Golden West meet in California after my senior year. It's a big meet for the top seniors in the country.
I went to Tennessee on a visit, then to Houston. I met Carl Lewis, who was one of my idols. He had already graduated (from UH), but he was still there training. That made a pretty big impression. Then to have (hall of fame coach) Tom Tellez tell you he wants you to be on the track team that had something like eight Olympians.
What was the transition like going from Cascade to Houston?
HC: It was intimidating, mostly from a living perspective. Coming from Cascade, where there is 600 people, to a city of four million? That was a culture shock. It was hard being that far from home for a guy who likes the outdoors and opportunity to hunt and fish.
What was it like training in that level of program?
HC: It was a job. You worked your (butt) off every single day. And there was almost stifling pressure. If you didn't go to nationals, you didn't have a scholarship. That's the kind of pressure we were under. It was way different than how we treat our kids here. We put them under pressure, but not like that.
Why did you transfer to Montana State after three years competing at Houston?
HC: Because in the long term I wanted a coaching job in Montana. When you leave and compete so far away, people forget who you are.
Does holding the Montana all-class record in the triple jump and the Class B records in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles mean anything to the athletes you're recruiting?
HC: It's funny, because a lot of the parents of the kids we're recruiting are about my age, so a lot of them remember you running in high school. It seems to resonate with them maybe more than their kids.
How is prep track and field different now than it was in the early 80s when you competed?
HC: Schools at the B and C level did not have as many sports going on back then, so track was a really big deal. Plus now you're seeing a lot of kids specializing in a particular sport, because they think they'll be able to go further. That sort of specialization does not hurt football or basketball, but it takes its toll on track. You see kids now who could be just awesome track athletes, and they are not out.
In small towns at that time, everyone knew who the athletes were, and those athletes were expected to be in every sport. I think it produced more well-rounded athletes. It never hurts to learn how to run fast, no matter what sport you're in.
You coached Loni Perkins to eight Big Sky Conference titles in the 200 and 400 meters. Kourtney Danreuther, who still has two years of eligibility remaining, won her third and fourth Big Sky titles last month in the 200 and 400 meters. What's similar and dissimilar about the two of them?
HC: They are small-town Montana kids, and they both want to win. Both of them hate losing. You put them on a track, and they'll get it done.
If Loni did not have her back problems, there is no telling what she could have done. We'd get to a really good part of our training sequence and her back would start to flare up, so we'd have to ease off.
I can pretty much push Kourtney as hard as I want to, and she responds. Actually the harder you work her, the better she responds. With Loni I could never get her to that point.
Kourtney gets a lot more nervous than Loni ever did. Kourtney turns into a talker when she gets nervous. Loni was a lot more laid back. But you couldn't ask for two better kids with better personalities.
And it was neat how they both elevated their (relay) teammates and gave the rest of them confidence. Loni and her group broke the indoor mile relay record (in 2008), and Kourtney did the same thing with her teammates (to break the outdoor record last month at conference). Their talent brought those teams together.
What is the hardest part about leaving?
HC: Not being able to walk up and down the hallway and seeing all the coaches and people who work here. I'm going to miss that a ton, because it's like family. Everyone cares about one another.
But that same thing will eventually develop over there. Carroll is like a mini-Montana. They love their sports.
What's your favorite part of coaching?
HC: When an athlete does something they didn't think they could do. When they do something and look at you and say, "Holy cow, that was awesome." When they finally see that the hard work we're doing is paying off.
And walk-ons. I have huge respect for walk-ons, because they are out there doing the exact same workouts as the scholarship athletes for the love of the sport. Those are the kids who are going to do well in life. If they are willing to put in that kind of work for nothing, you know they are going to be successful down the road in life.
What's your least favorite part of coaching?
HC: When you have kids who you know have the talent but don't give the effort. You know their potential is up here (raising hand overhead), but their work ethic is down here (dropping hand to waist level).
A lot of those are maybe kids who didn't have to work hard in high school to have success. They are naturally talented and don't know what it's like to work hard. That doesn't work at this level.
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