At age 24, Clark Irwin finally has a normal life.
The Little Rock native works fairly normal hours, has plenty of time for his wife and parents and occasionally catches NFL games on TV. In the last eight months, he’s even found time to shoot hoops at Cammack Village’s park, not too far from the Foxcroft neighborhood where he grew up.
So far, so good with this normal adult life stuff.
The way Irwin sees it, he jumped into it just in time.
Until February, Irwin had essentially coached under Houston Nutt for half a decade. Irwin spent three years seeing spot action as a backup Razorback quarterback and special teams player, but his real value was as an understudy to the coaches. He signaled plays to the offense and helped run passing drills with fellow quarterbacks Casey Dick and Mitch Mustain, both of whom were roommates at different times.
“I was getting my minor in graduate assistantship if you want to look at it that way,” Irwin says.
He officially took that position in early 2009 after following Nutt to Oxford, Miss., where Nutt had started head coaching Ole Miss the season before. There, Clark spent late summers and falls immersed in game planning, film study and practice seven days a week. “It’s almost like you can ever do enough,” he says. Game days – with the crowds, the adrenaline and the constant in-game chess match between coaches – were the most fun part of it all.
Everything seemed primed for Irwin to take the next step up the coaching ranks, to one day possibly follow in his mentor’s footsteps as a head coach himself.
Irwin felt himself drawn closer to the point of no return for a game he’d deeply loved since childhood.
[Full disclosure: My younger brother was Irwin’s friend in childhood, and I knew Irwin when he was a Jefferson Elementary student. I recall my brother talking about Irwin’s lunch recess exploits on the playground field there and, a few years later, at Pulaski Heights Middle School.]
By the time Irwin started leading Little Rock Central High School’s ninth grade team to an undefeated season, he was a fairly seasoned young quarterback who knew his squad could be special on the varsity level. “We had Antwain Robinson [who would play for the Razorbacks], Mickey Dean and Kevin Thornton [both would play for UAPB]. It was such a good group of guys, and we had all known each other from AAU basketball.”
Their chemistry was evident as sophomores, when they finished 7-4 with a share of a conference championship. In the next two years, though, the group finished 27-1 and won two state championships. In his career, Irwin passed for 3,000 yards, rushed for 700 yards and was the first quarterback to start every game in former Central coach Bernie Cox’s 37 years there.
Irwin, at 5-feet-11 and 180 pounds, knew he wouldn’t get many scholarship offers. But he did get an offer to play for Nutt, with whom he shared similarities. Both had been quarterbacks leading Central to state championships while starring in multiple sports – Irwin in baseball, Nutt in basketball. “I think he had some pride in that … He had a role for me help him and kind of assist him in coaching and signaling.”
That’s the likely route, but it’s too early to tell, Irwin says. If working in business “turns out not to be for me, I may try coaching again.”