UAB football’s historic season emblematic of increased institutional, community support
For the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s (UAB) football program, winning Tuesday’s matchup against Northern Illinois in the Boca Raton Bowl would be the cherry on top of an already historic, conference title-winning season.
However, the Blazers’ success this season is emblematic of much more than exemplary on-the-field performance.
Winning has not only repaid UAB President Ray Watts for reinstating the program, but it it has also highlighted the record institutional and community support for Blazers football – and UAB in general.
Remember, the program just started playing football last year after being shut down in late 2014. Public opinion and an unprecedented private fundraising campaign led by Birmingham business leaders helped lay the groundwork for the program’s return, but UAB and University of Alabama System leaders have doubled down on that effort with support of their own.
Just look at the significant investments being made into the program.
First came the new football-only complex and covered practice facility heralding “The Return.” This world-class 46,000-square-foot facility houses a weight room, locker rooms, training facilities, meeting/film rooms, offices and a lobby spotlighting famous Blazers who have played in the NFL.
Just in the past few weeks, UAB’s Bill Clark became the highest paid head coach in the C-USA when he received a five-year agreement extending through the 2023-2024 season. Clark’s compensation has been approved by the UA Board of Trustees and will reportedly begin at $1.45 million per year and reach $1.65 million over the span of the term.
Shortly thereafter, Clark was named the Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin explained that the UA System was all-in on making the stadium happen – for UAB and for Birmingham.
“The University of Alabama System stood with my office every step of the way in getting the BJCC stadium and arena renovation approved,” Woodfin said in a statement to Yellowhammer News. “Collaborating with BJCC, city, and community leadership, UA System representatives played an instrumental role in securing approval of the long awaited project which will bring hundreds of millions of dollars in capital investment to Birmingham. It is clear that The University of Alabama Board of Trustees shares my commitment to move Birmingham forward for the betterment of all 99 neighborhoods.”
Mark Ingram, UAB’s athletic director, advised that the stadium will help in recruiting both students and student athletes to the university. Which is another key point here.
When the program was shut down for budgetary reasons in late 2014, some wondered privately and publicly whether the System was committed to a vibrant undergraduate experience at UAB.
Those doubts have been erased by unprecedented growth in enrollment and investment. UAB has achieved record enrollment for three consecutive years, with the Board of Trustees pouring hundreds of millions of dollars in new capital investment into the continued development of the undergraduate campus.
This includes the new Hill Student Center, the new $32 million Nursing School renovation, the new state-of-the-art $37.5 million Collat School of Business and a new 231,000-square-foot undergraduate residence hall.
Reached for comment while attending bowl activities along with several other UA System trustees, President Pro Tem Ron Gray told Yellowhammer News that UAB’s success “is a testament to the partnership and leadership of all involved.”
“These are historic times at UAB as the university continues to sets new records for student enrollment, donor support, academic and athletic achievement, research and patient care. The physical growth of the campus has been transformational for our System, the city of Birmingham and the state of Alabama. It is a testament to the partnership and leadership of all involved,” Gray said.
He added, “As the Blazers take the field tonight, I want to congratulate Coach Clark, his staff and the team on a record season and the tremendous future ahead for the program and the university.”
Buoyed by the full support of the University of Alabama System and members of the Birmingham business community, UAB’s academic and football programs are only set to reach new heights – benefiting all of Alabama.
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn