IMHO: Ex-Dartmouth Soccer Coach Retires, Having Spread His Branches (Video)

  • Bobby Clark, in ball cap, talks to his Notre Dame men’s soccer team in an undated photograph. Clark, who brought Dartmouth College men’s soccer to its most successful moments during an eight-year run in the 1980s and ‘90s, announced his retirement from college coaching on Nov. 28, 2017. (University of Notre Dame — Reagan Lunn)

  • Dartmouth men's soccer coach Bobby Clark leads his team in practice in Hanover, N.H., on Nov. 1, 1990, as they prepare for the Ivy League championship game. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dartmouth men's soccer coach Bobby Clark in an undated photograph. (Valley News photograph) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Dartmouth men's soccer coach Bobby Clark speaks to his team at halftime during their game with the University of New Hampshire in Hanover, N.H., on Oct. 7, 1992. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Sports Editor
Thursday, December 07, 2017

The seed becomes the sapling, the sapling a tree. As it grows, the tree spreads roots, securing a firm foundation. Branches form, sprouting branches of their own over time.

Bobby Clark, the one-time Dartmouth College men’s soccer coach, heads into retirement having grown a significant coaching tree. At least a half-dozen men who either worked with him, played for him or both, including youngest son Jamie, now guide NCAA Division I or III programs.

Uncounted others — former players, former coaching aides, people in the game met through clinics or casual contact — have continued in the sport, guiding college or academy programs, teaching youths, branching out.

Clark announced his retirement from college coaching last week, ending a 31-year run that included eight seasons in Hanover (1985-93), his first sideline assignment following a storied Scottish football-playing career. Already a community that supported the sport when he arrived, Hanover went soccer-goofy in Clark’s presence: As the Dartmouth men reached two NCAA quarterfinals, youth soccer got a boost with the Upper Valley Lightning program Clark supported. Albeit distantly, his presence remains in the successes area high schools enjoy as well as the accomplishments the Big Green continues to rack up years after his departure.

“You’re talking about a redwood,” joked Wesleyan University coach Geoff Wheeler, who captained Clark’s next-to-last Big Green squad in 1992. “The obvious ones are the college coaches, but it’s more important to look beyond that, as Bobby did, to those who stayed in some capacity: club coaches, recreational coaches. That is what is even more fun to think about when you think of his tree. Its roots are deep.”

Clark is busy tying up loose ends at Notre Dame, where he spent the last 17 years and where he won an NCAA championship four years ago. Family is the big reason for finally stepping aside at the age of 72, he said in a phone interview this week. His wife, Bette, deserves to have him around more than a college coaching job sometimes allows. Their 50th wedding anniversary arrives in September.

“I thought it would be nice, rather than be coaching a college soccer game on our anniversary, to do something else,” Clark said. “When you hit your 50th anniversary, I think you should take some time away. I still enjoy it, and I still have plenty of energy … but I felt this was the right time for us. I have the energy to do things, but if it got much longer, I might lose that energy.”

It’s no stretch to imagine the next seed to be planted in South Bend coming from the Bobby Clark coaching tree.

What would lead a Scottish goalkeeper of some renown to hoist his roots and plant them in a soccer backwater like the United States? The seed must be planted somewhere, right?

People in this country who have followed the arc of Clark’s coaching career sometimes overlook what he accomplished on the fields of Europe first. Twenty years of goalkeeping in his native Scotland included 17 seasons at Aberdeen, with whom he won a Scottish Cup, a Scottish League Cup and a Scottish League championship. He also took part in three World Cup campaigns, landing a spot on the Scotland squad that made the 1978 finals in Argentina.

U.S. authorities leaped into soccer in 1967, buoyed by domestic reception to the previous year’s World Cup in England. The fledgling United Soccer Association imported the entire Aberdeen roster during its summer offseason and planted it in the nation’s capital of Washington as the Whips. Clark followed as their keeper.

“We played a nine-week schedule; we played the final in the Coliseum in Los Angeles against an English team (Wolverhampton Wanderers), and that was a pretty good game,” Clark recalled of the Whips’ 6-5 overtime loss. “We were asked to come back in 1972 to play a series of games against Wolverhampton. We played in L.A., we played in San Francisco, we played a game in Seattle and in Vancouver, all against Wolverhampton. When we were in Seattle, an old Scottish lad, Bill Logie, asked my assistant if he had anyone involved in coaching who would be interested in coming back the next year to do some coaching with local youths.

“I’d done my A license all my life; I was a physical education teacher. I was always into coaching. So I came back in 1973 to the Seattle area for four weeks; the next year, I came back in the offseason to Portland (Ore.) and did the same. That got me into looking into America.”

Clark credits Hubert Vogelsinger, an Austrian who established one of the first youth soccer camp programs in the U.S. in 1965, with directing him toward college coaching. Princeton had an opening — they would eventually hire an alumnus, future U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley — but the school was so impressed with Clark that it offered to be a reference should he pursue another college vacancy.

Princeton’s loss became Dartmouth’s gain in 1985. The rest is history: eight seasons with the Big Green, two years with the New Zealand national program, followed by a return to American college coaching at Stanford and Notre Dame. The 1998 NCAA final with the Cardinal. The national title with the Fighting Irish in 2013. A 369-156-80 career record.

Throughout, Clark emphasized the soccer program as family. Bette regularly welcomed players into the Clark home for pre-match breakfasts.

“The running joke is she’s always picked the teams, she’s been so involved in it,” Jamie Clark noted.

All three Clark children — Tommy and Jennifer as well as Jamie — played the game well and would make it part of their adult lives. Many past players have become fast family friends.

That extended family now includes coaches at all levels of the game. Clark provided the seed that got them started.

“You’d look at Bobby and say, ‘I want to be him; I want to do that,’ ” said Georgetown coach Brian Wiese, a Dartmouth graduate who tended net for Clark’s final three seasons in Hanover and who later assisted Clark at Stanford. “I wanted to be around that kind of environment that he’s made. It’s one of those things that’s affected me so much. That was something I always longed to be a part of.”

It’s tempting, and ridiculously easy, to anoint Chad Riley as Clark’s potential successor in South Bend. Check off the boxes: Notre Dame grad. Former Fighting Irish player for Clark. Former assistant coach with Clark. Successful five-year head coach at Dartmouth, holding the position endowed in Clark’s name.

In the decade-plus since his 2004 graduation, as he has grown from one of Clark’s coaching seeds into a capable tree of his own, Riley has taken comfort in knowing his mentor was still at Notre Dame’s helm. Clark’s retirement changed that dynamic.

“The hard thing for a place like Notre Dame, like Dartmouth, is its strong tradition and alumni base,” Riley said on Tuesday. “The thing about Notre Dame is it will always want to be the best. That’s the lens through which they’ll see it, knowing and realizing what a special leader, coach and teacher they’ve had for 17 years. It’ll probably be a challenge; I’m glad I’m not in charge of the search.

“It’s one of those things that hit me harder than I thought when he did step down. I’ve always told people that I was fortunate that, for these past 15 years, my coach was still at my school. I don’t think I’ve got my head around it.”

And yet, Jamie Clark pointed out, there’s something to be said about Notre Dame reaching past his father, selecting a sapling from someone else’s coaching forest.

“Most coaches leave for another job or get fired; in those situations, you’re replacing for a different timeline, and there are different feelings behind the movement,” the Hanover High graduate and seventh-year University of Washington men’s soccer coach said. “For this one, I think replacing him with someone from his coaching tree would be good, but it would be very different. It’s hard to replicate, and it’s sometimes better, as hard as it is, to go in a brand new direction. Replicating with second-best, that doesn’t feel right.

“I wouldn’t say anyone on his tree is second-best; he’s a unique man. But no one will do it quite the same way.”

Bobby Clark is leaving soccer, but soccer will never leave Bobby Clark.

Clark said Scotland will probably be the base; Bette and he have a home in Lossiemouth, a town of 7,000 beside the North Sea, 60 miles northwest of Aberdeen. All three children remain here: Jamie in Seattle, Tommy in the Upper Valley and Jen in suburban Los Angeles, where she coaches women’s soccer at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps College. The Clarks have seven grandchildren to chase. They won’t be strangers.

Clark desires to teach the game still. It could be youth. It could be graduate school adults. It doesn’t matter. But it will no longer be a job. It was always a classroom, a place to plant seeds and help them grow.

“The game is the teacher,” Clark said. “To some extent it is about winning and losing, but a lot about how you handle the situation. Your attitude toward everything is most important.

“It teaches me every day now. I’m very passionate about it, and it’s about how you handle that passion.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.

Notre Dame produced the following goodbye video for Bobby Clark. Continue reading after the video.