Father doesn't always know best.
Jamie Clark has been on a soccer field since before he could walk, and on it seven days a week after that. The son of former Scottish League player and now worldwide coach Bobby Clark has followed his dad from Scotland to Zimbabwe - where his family was accepted into the local Matabele culture - to New Zealand to America. Jamie became Stanford's first All-American while playing for his father, then played professionally in Major League Soccer.
Yet the man who raised the Huskies' men's soccer coach never imagined his youngest of three children would be what he has become: A colleague, a fellow leader of a major college program.
"I never really thought about him as a coach," Bobby Clark, Notre Dame's esteemed leader and veteran of the profession, told me.
His hearty laugh and an even heartier Scottish accent bellowed through the phone from South Bend, Ind.
"He was always very much a coach on the field when he played," the elder Clark said of his son. "But we never talked about it as a career path.
"He just kind of fell into it."
Now his son has fallen into the most vibrant soccer community in the United States. He's the leader of UW's tradition-filled program, and turned a Huskies team that uncharacteristically missed four consecutive NCAA tournaments before his arrival into one of the top programs in the country. The Dawgs have now made three-straight NCAA Tournament, including an Elite Eight and Sweet 16 run, while also achieving a No. 1 National Ranking in 2014.
Chatty, engaging Jamie Clark is the new bridge between Washington's remarkably deep and talented youth programs and the ultra-successful and rabidly followed Seattle Sounders of MLS.
"It's already a huge benefit, because people care about soccer in Seattle. It's the best soccer city in the country," Clark said. "There's a passion. For our present team, there is inspiration to be drawn from, right in front of them.
"From a recruiting perspective, this is the best city to play in. The Sounders are an interested group. They come watch games. That's a party that cares about U-Dub soccer. You know, they want to know players. It's nice to know that they want to put us in a spotlight."
Clark speaks with almost none of his father's Scottish accent. That's because Jamie moved to America when he was 5, when his dad came to be Dartmouth's coach. The Clarks have come to believe the U.S. college system is the smartest way to develop soccer players.
"In Europe, kids leave at 16, are washed up at 21 and have nothing to fall back on," Jamie Clark says. "That's why my dad left. He loved the U.S. college system. That's why we came over here."
Both father and son were pro players - Bobby for 20 years in the Scottish League, 17 for Aberdeen, and Jamie for two seasons with San Jose in MLS.
"One of the most important things in having had pro experience, and having an assistant coach who has pro experience (Jeff Rowland), is for guys to realize that this isn't a stepping stone to the pros necessarily. It can help you get to the pros, but the next step along the line isn't a better step," Jamie Clark told me.
"With a great university, on a college team, this will be some of the most fun soccer they will ever play in their lives. These are the best `teams,' the closest teams, as far as actually being part of a team and a community and being part of a successful organizations. College teams have this."
Bobby Clark, who also played on Scotland's World Cup teams in 1970 and '74, '78, sees U.S. college soccer as unique in its ability to nurture players while they grow into productive adults - ones with educations that can allow them to excel beyond the pitch.
"Growing up in Scotland, nearly everybody who played soccer went straight from high school and tried to play professionally," he said. "The way circumstances went with me, I stayed in school and went to college (at Jordanhill College, in his birthplace of Glasgow). And I felt a little bit different. I felt so lucky. It gave me a little bit different slant on things.
"One of the things that drew me to this country (in 1985) is it had this niche: Top athletes could go to university. In Europe, in Africa, in New Zealand, the places I've been, academic institutions, that's all they were. There wasn't anything like college athletics to get involved in for a soccer coach. It was either the pros, or go teaching.
"I thought, `What a great opportunity this is here! You can get an education - and play your sport for six days a week!'
"I've been here ever since."
And it's not as if college soccer has slowed the development of Bobby Clark's players. Two he has coached have gone to England's Premier League, to play with the world's best. Many more have played or are playing in MLS.
From Website Designer To Soccer Coach
Jamie, who was a first-time head coach at Harvard in 2008 and '09 before leading Creighton in 2010, really did fall into dad's coaching path.
After two disappointing and injury-filled seasons playing in the pros, Jamie was out of MLS and seeking to start a life outside soccer. In 2002, he moved to Albuquerque. That's where his older brother by three years, Tommy (now the head of Grassroots Soccer, an organization that teaches soccer and tries to prevent the spread of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa), was completing his residency in pediatrics at the University of New Mexico. Jamie was there to help his brother begin a website.
Jeremy Fishbein had just been hired to take over men's soccer at New Mexico. When he found out a former Stanford All-American, NCAA finalist and MLS player was in town, he asked Jamie to be his assistant with the Lobos.
So much for that website.
Fishbein and Clark led New Mexico to unprecedented successes, including a run to the 2005 national championship match. Four players were drafted into MLS while Clark was at UNM, and three of the four teams Clark worked with advanced to the NCAA Tournament. The Lobos were 61-16-8 in four seasons Clark assisted them.
Then Dad called from Notre Dame with an opening.
"They told me this Clark kid could do quite well coaching," Bobby joked to me. "So I said, `Why not?'"
Notre Dame reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament in both of the seasons the Clarks were together in South Bend, going 29-11-7. Together they developed Joseph Lapira into the 2006 MAC Hermann Trophy winner and Soccer America Player of the Year. Additionally, two Fighting Irish players were named to the NSCAA Scholar All-America team.
Then Harvard called to make Jamie a first-time head coach. That's when he learned the same thing his father did decades earlier when he arrived in America.
"It sometimes takes playing at the next level to realize that the next step isn't a better step always. It's a higher level of competition. But as a whole environment goes, I don't think there is a better environment (than college soccer)," Clark says.
"If we create Washington to be the best in the country, they won't ever play on a better or more fun team."
To Clark, that's not as far off as it might seem. He looks around UW and sees limitless potential. He sees the success of the Sounders. He sees Sounders players, coaches and staff alongside UW alums at Huskies practices and games, actively involved in the program. And he sees one of the most fertile developmental grounds in the nation inside his new home state.
I asked him how fortunate he felt he was, already an NCAA tournament head coach at such a young age.
"The thing with all young coaches is there's one usually striking similarity: If you are a successful young coach, you haven't had a long, successful pro playing career," he said, chuckling.
Remodeling The Huskies
The link between what his father has done in college soccer and what Jamie Clark has tried to do at Washington runs deep.
At Dartmouth, Bobby Clark became a three-time Ivy League champion whose teams twice lost in the NCAA tournament to the eventual national champion. At Stanford, he inherited a team that was 10-24 over its previous two seasons. Within three seasons, Stanford reached the national title match for the first time in its history. In his initial season at Notre Dame, 2001, he had the Irish in their first NCAA tournament in five years. They've been in every one since.
If the chip is like the old block, Washington may have struck gold by hiring the younger Clark.
"I've seen him go into three programs and turn programs that hadn't been in NCAA tournaments into NCAA tournament teams," Jamie Clark says. "You have to encourage these guys at what they are good at and make that better, because that's what they already know. Improve the positives. But you also have to face some realities. And the realities are, these teams haven't been to the NCAA tournament."
That's exactly what Clark told the Huskies in one of the first meetings of his first offseason.
"I don't think it's huge things, but it's a lot of little things that add up," he said. "And I am fortunate because it's a situation that is not unlike Creighton. That's a team that had been to 17 straight NCAA tournaments, missed one the year before I got there, and then we got right back on track."
His UW remodeling plan centers around recruiting.
Clark targets the best of Washington's high-school and youth programs. Those will continue be the building blocks for renewing a tradition of excellence at Washington started 20 years ago and maintained until recently by Dean Wurzberger. Clark's predecessor resigned after UW narrowly missed the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive time in November of 2010.
"It was a huge attraction (to this job)," Clark said of Washington's youth programs. "There are going to be so many good players coming out of this state. If we keep the majority, we will be one of the best teams in the country."
But Clark arrived as the ninth coach in the history of Huskies men's soccer for more than just the recruiting base. There is the Huskies' tradition of NCAA tournament appearances over the last few decades. There is an indoor facility on campus -- and not one a half hour away that the team would have to meet at 6 in the morning to use, as was the case at Creighton.
Even Seattle's weather is an asset to Clark. He calls its moderate temperatures and cooling rains "the best training conditions of anywhere in the country," and says it is conductive to the up-tempo, pressuring, ball-movement game his Huskies will play. He likens the climate here to Southern England, home of some of the world's best soccer.
Clark spent most of UW's spring drills just watching and assessing, rather than instituting his ways from the get-go. He learned he had a "very, very tightly knit team that really cares about each other."
He also learned he had a dynamic, veteran goal scorer upon which he could build his first season: Senior Brent Richards from Camas, Wash.
"We had one of the best attacking players in the country when I got here. That's a good base to start with," Clark said of Richards, who had scored 21 goals in his first three seasons at UW before Clark took over.
"When you find a couple of special players, you have to build your team around them," Clark said. "I've been pretty fortunate, whether as an assistant coach or head coach, I've had a Hermann Awards semifinalist now on our team for seven straight years. And of those, every single one of those guys was a 10-plus goal scorer. And not every one of those guys was the year before.
"Soccer is a low-scoring game. If you have one or two big guns scoring goals you are going to be successful. You are going to win your share of games."
Clark believes the Washington program he inherited has enough to get back to the NCAAs after a tournament drought.
"We have the potential," he said. "It's realizing that potential. It's getting guys to really, truly believe in themselves.
As Jamie Clark's life and his entry into coaching show, anything already has.