While the departure of former Appalachian State head coach Eli Drinkwitz to the University of Missouri initially sent shockwaves across the college football world, the Mountaineers already had his successor in-house. On December 13, the Sun Belt powerhouse selected interim head coach Shawn Clark to be Drinkwitz’s replacement to lead Appalachian State. Clark, a well-respected position coach with nearly two decades of coaching on his resume, is well equipped to take a prominent Mountaineers team to new heights in 2020 and beyond.
Background on Appalachian State HC Shawn Clark
Before he signed a five-year deal to become the 22nd head coach in Appalachian State history, Clark starred as an offensive lineman for the Mountaineers (1994-98), where he was a two-time All-American and a three-time All-Conference selection. He graduated with a degree in criminal justice and later earned his master’s degree from Louisville in 2003. In fact, it was at Louisville that Clark discovered the passion that ultimately led him down the winding path to his first head coaching job — but more on that later.
Clark first broke into coaching as a graduate assistant for an ascending Louisville program back in 2001 and remained in that capacity for two seasons. He then earned a promotion to become Eastern Kentucky’s offensive line coach (2003-08), where he helped develop tackle Larry Turner, who became the St. Louis Rams’ seventh-round selection in 2004.
After leaving a lasting impact on a markedly improved Colonels program, Clark’s next stop was Purdue, where he held the position of offensive line coach for the Big Ten contender for four seasons (2009-12). In his final season in West Lafayette, Clark saw two of his linemen hear their names called on draft day: Dennis Kelly in the fifth round and Nick Mondek in the sixth round. Clark then moved on to Kent State, where he held the familiar title of offensive line coach once again (2013-15). Under Clark’s tutelage, Kent State guard Brian Winters became the 72nd overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Winters has gone on to start 79 of his 89 career games with the New York Jets.
Return to Appalachian State
The fifth stop on Clark’s coaching carousel brought him back to his alma mater.
In 2016, Clark was named Appalachian State’s co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, before ultimately being elevated to assistant head coach in 2019, while also retaining his role on the line.
The Mountaineers thrived under first-year head coach Eli Drinkwitz last season, coming away with a 12-1 record and a Sun Belt Championship — their second in as many seasons. On December 10, however, Drinkwitz bolted for a head coaching opportunity at the University of Missouri, leaving Clark as the de facto leader with one game remaining on the schedule. Clark, who had waited 18 years for this opportunity, did not flinch in the face of adversity. Instead, he relished in the moment. The Mountaineers won in convincing fashion, upending UAB 31-17 in the New Orleans Bowl.
The team rallied around affable Clark, who had been an integral part of the program’s success over the past four seasons. Known as a coach with the innate ability to get the most out of each of his players, Clark pushed all the right buttons that night, leaving little doubt that the interim head coach was the perfect candidate to carry on the storied legacy. On December 13, Appalachian State made it official, announcing the 44-year old Clark as their 22nd head coach in school history.
Clark brings nearly two decades of coaching and a winning culture to his new role; thus far in his four-year stint at Appalachian State, the Mountaineers have evolved into a powerhouse and established Sun Belt supremacy, winning conference titles each season. The program has consistently ranked in the Top 25 nationally in rushing yards and fewest sacks allowed since his arrival.
Clark’s forte, however, is displayed by his lengthy history of developing talent. Whether it was Dennis Kelly – a prominent role player on the Tennessee Titans, or most recently guard Colby Gossett — Clark’s NFL pipeline has grown over the past 15 years. Perhaps no player can attest to his stellar coaching more than tackle Victor Johnson, who has been the beneficiary of Clark’s tutelage since he first arrived in Boone, North Carolina. Johnson has been a first-team All-Sun Belt performer for the past three seasons and was selected to represent Appalachian State in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in California earlier this month.
Clark will have no shortage of next-level talent to work with at Appalachian State in 2020 and beyond; his presence, reputation, and resume alone should make it an attractive destination for some of the top recruits in the country.
A former player and well-traveled coach, Clark has a firm grasp on culture, knowing just what say to inspire others, and he also has the ability to put players in position to be successful. The impact he has had on players at each of his stops along the way speaks volumes about his coaching methods, message, and emotional intelligence.
The winding path that once began as a graduate assistant at Louisville has led Appalachian State’s Shawn Clark back home, where he figures to re-write the record books at his alma mater in the years to come.