Jan. 16, 2013
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BERKELEY - Jack Clark, in his 30th year as head rugby coach at the University of California, became the sixth coach to helm the program in its 131-year history after the 1983 season, following two years as an assistant under Ned Anderson.
Clark became head coach after a successful football and rugby career at Cal that was followed by post-collegiate rugby campaigns on the U.S. National Team. Clark's play as a United States Eagle earned him a spot on the World XV team that played the Welsh National Team during its 1980 centennial celebration in Cardiff.
The Golden Bears beat Maryland at the end of Clark's second season as head coach to win the 1985 national title and have won 22 titles during his tenure, including seven of the past 10 national collegiate championships and 17 of the last 20.
Clark has also served as head coach for the Collegiate All-America team, from 1985-92; head coach of the U.S. National Team, from 1993-99; and general manager for the national team, from 1993-2003.
Clark's Golden Bear rugby program has produced 126 All-Americans and 35 of Cal's 43 all-time U.S. international players. Altogether, they have made an astonishing total of 572 international test appearances for the U.S. National Team since 1976. Five of Clark's former players have also gone on to earn their "Blue" at Oxford University as graduate student-athletes. Additionally, Cal rugby has produced more overseas professional players than any other U.S. club.
One of 29 varsity sports under the authority of the Intercollegiate Athletics department, rugby is the oldest intercollegiate sport at the University, a financially self-sufficient and non-scholarship program. Its student-athletes earn their merits on and off the pitch, going on to make significant contributions as citizens of the world and loyal alumni to their University.
The success of rugby at California has flourished during Clark's coaching career thanks in large part to the tremendous support from alumni, administration, students, parents and sponsors who have ensured a permanent campus home for the team on Witter Rugby Field and in the adjacent Doc Hudson Fieldhouse, perched above campus and San Francisco Bay in beautiful Strawberry Canyon.
Cal Rugby Head Coaches
1882-1905: Competed without a coach
1906-14: Oscar Taylor and James G. Schaffer, 78-21-10 (.716)
1915-1930: No outside rugby
1931-37: Ed "Mush" Graff, won-loss records not kept
1938-74: Miles "Doc" Hudson, 339-84-23 (.760)
1975-83: Ned Anderson, 105-52-2 (.660)
1984-present: Jack Clark, 538-70-5 (.877) in 15s; 39-11 (.780) in 7s.
How can we make sense of all the changes that appear to be taking place in U.S. college rugby?
"It's very fluid. The landscape continues to change. The shifts are largely positive, brought about by rugby's reintroduction into the Olympic Games and the overall growth in youth and high school participation and college rugby as a commercial endeavor."
What and who are the drivers behind these changes? Is it USA Rugby?
"USA Rugby, as the national governing body, has been slow to react to both the opportunities rugby is currently presented as well as to what and where the best teams are aspiring. Of course, when a constituency gets underserved, others fill the void. In this case, private investors partnering with NBC and sponsors have created the premier event in college rugby, the Collegiate Rugby Championship 7s. The universities themselves have additionally led a restructuring away from USA Rugby conferences and competitions to an alignment with traditional sports conferences such as our efforts with the PAC Rugby Conference."
What is the PAC Rugby Conference?
"It's our new regular-season rugby conference. Thus far we have the historically best six teams: Arizona, ASU, UCLA, Utah, Oregon State and Cal. The remaining three Pacific Northwest PAC schools are making really good progress in building their rugby, so we would hope to include them down the line. Colorado is a good team and they'd be a welcomed addition. Stanford has an extremely rich heritage in rugby and I suspect they will want to align at some point but they declined this inaugural season. This leaves only USC and although they've got some work to accomplish with their rugby team, under the right circumstances they could become good quickly. Cal is building its local and traditional fixtures around this conference schedule. The UBC matches and those versus the local sides like Saint Mary's remain important to us."
What is the relationship between PAC Rugby and Division IAA?
"The PAC schools decided they are not interested in USA Rugby's classifications. They are meaningless divisions when viewed on merit and competitive success. With Utah, UCLA and Cal all headed to the Varsity Cup Championship as opposed to the USAR version, USAR just wanted to flex their authority. Silly, really, and moreover, counter-productive to their mission and responsibility as well as growing college rugby."
Is it true the College Premier Division has dissolved?
"Correct, it's been officially disbanded. The CPD survived two years, and both champions, Cal and BYU, have withdrawn along with better than a dozen of the best teams."
Is it also true that Cal and BYU are both in the Varsity Cup for the postseason?
"It's a very exciting endeavor, a postseason with a field comprising many of the finest teams in the nation: the perennial Ivy champion in Dartmouth, the best military academies in Air Force and Navy, the most iconic university in Notre Dame, Cal and UCLA, BYU and Utah. All of these institutions are good partners in elevating college rugby."
What are the specific areas you envision when you refer to the growth of college rugby?
"My definition for growing rugby is always the same. The benchmarks are more fans, more media, more sponsor partners and more and better athletes and coaches. All of our strategies in American rugby need to be anchored in these benchmarks. Especially our competitions need to be viewed through this lens. This is why Cal's interests lie in PAC Rugby followed by a Varsity Cup postseason, while continuing to build on our traditional schedule."
What significance does the reopening of Witter Rugby Field have this season following two straight years with every match on the road as the facility supported the renovation of Memorial Stadium?
"It will be great to get back to Strawberry Canyon. Witter Rugby Field is more than our home - it's that place where we have put down permanent roots. I believe the team did as well as any team could in a situation without home matches for two years. That said, we were indeed damaged. Our commercial footprint all but disappeared. It will take us some time to recoup our fan base and get the commercial engine running smoothly again."
Are there improvements planned for Witter Rugby Field?
"Yes, but the most important aspect is we now have a master plan for Witter Rugby Field completion, which has been documented with the University. We'll need to complete the construction in phases but it all fits into our strategic plan, The Next 100 Years of Cal Rugby. There have already been some improvements to the infrastructure of the grounds, better electricity and water access. Some will notice the field has been leveled. We love our new goalposts - they seem to reach to the sky. Permanently installed kicking nets are in behind the posts. New scoreboards at both ends of the facility and broadcast production-grade lighting. And of course the new synthetic FieldTurf playing surface, of which we are of two minds. We know why Witter Rugby Field's natural grass was so beautiful: we about never trained on it, instead using a small training zone just off the pitch. We were also reluctantly forced to reschedule or cancel reserve-grade matches in order to look after the old gal. So although spectacular on occasion, it was more luxury than practical. The synthetic turf is good for training and keeping the facility open and available in all weather conditions."
What are your impressions looking back on the first full 7s season Cal played in the autumn?
"All in all, pretty good. It was enjoyable and we learned a lot which will inform our planning going forward. We have a commitment to be proficient in both forms of the game. We want to compete and win in both forms and we accept this challenge while remaining steadfast in the student-athlete ethos. This is a challenging University environment. Around every corner there is someone excelling in academics, athletics and life. The bar gets continually raised. There is no standing still, no trying to hold your ground. We are required to advance, to improve, to make our best better. It comes with being a student or employee at Cal. If I attend a half-dozen meetings on campus, I'm going to hear that `comprehensive excellence' is the goal two dozen times. Not excellence in sport only, but the pursuit of excellence across the board."