By: Brian Bloom/Regional Manager
Coach Clark honored for illustrious career
Bartlett baseball coach Phil Clark walks in directly from the field. His shirt, with the National High School Baseball Coach Association emblem, is worn and dirty. His blue Bartlett baseball cap shows its age.
Yet it’s the ring that pulls the attention. Oversized and heavy, his name etched in the gold band, Hall of Fame encircling the jeweled center. It signifies the culmination of an extraordinary career.
A career, Clark adamantly acknowledges, that’s far from over.
Saturday in St. Louis, MO, Clark and three others, was inducted into the National High School Baseball Association Coaches Hall of Fame.
Bartlett’s baseball coach for the past nine seasons, Phil Clark started his career at Frazier’s Sky View Academy. In eight seasons he led Sky View to two state championships and a pair of runners-ups.
In 1988 the Bartlett native took over a Germantown program. Seven years later, the Red Devils were named the nation’s best baseball team.
“I remember we went to a tournament in San Diego,” Clark said. “We beat them from San Diego down,” he smiled. “We beat the number one team in the country at that time and we ended up being ranked the number one team in America by USA Today, Collegiate Baseball, and Baseball America.”
“We had an amazing group of kids,” Clark continued, shining the light on the players on the field. “I had two high level college signees, three to Arkansas State, one to Meridian and then to Memphis, another that went to Florida Atlantic. I just had a depth of tough, good baseball players.”
Two of those players earned All America honors. Jay Hood was drafted and played ball at perennial power Georgia Tech. Chris Lauterhouse went on to play in the College World Series for Mississippi State.
That summer Clark got an opportunity to coach at the Unites States Olympic Festival in Colorado Springs. It’s there the committee would choose the 18-under USA Baseball Junior National Team.
Through that connection, Clark was invited back in 1997 where he assisted the 18-under team. That squad included such major now league talents like Matt Holliday, Rick Ankiel and Jerry Laird.
“I was a damn good hitting coach that year,” Clark laughed.
Two years later Clark was named head coach of the 18-under junior national program. That team, lacking the firepower of the ’95 squad, nevertheless captured gold in Taiwan dropping Cuba in the semifinals and Chinese Taipei 10-9 in front of 25,000.
“To win that gold medal… to have that gold medal placed around the kid’s necks, and then the coach’s necks while they play the national anthem? It was an experience I will never forget,” Clark said.
In 2001, Germantown took its’ second state title with nine juniors on the field. One year later, with five SEC signees in his lineup, the Red Devils fell in a 10-inning single elimination game after earning the nation’s number six ranking.
One year later and Coach Phil Clark came to Bartlett.
“This is home,” Clark said. “My kids grew up here and I had never coached in the community I lived in. I love the City of Bartlett; my boys had gone to school here and thank the good Lord, this job opened up.”
Four years later and Bartlett was playing among the elite. The Panthers fell in the state championship finals in 2006. One year later, the 16th nationally-ranked squad captured the Tennessee title.
Coach Clark’s kids book-ended the state title with another runners-up in ’08 and made the state semi’s in 2009. His 2013 squad?
“I think we’ll be pretty good,” Clark said of his sophomore and junior-laden squad.
While last season’s team didn’t earn title honors, Clark’s accomplishments kept adding up. Win number 898 made the 56-year old coach the winningest coach in state history.
Today the number is 914 and growing.
“Being the winningest coach in Tennessee is special,” Clark admitted. Yet making it more so was the fact that three of the players on win number 898 were the sons of players from his original squad in 1980.
Married to wife Donna for 33 years, Phil Clark has two sons that have followed in father’s footsteps. Twenty-six year old Zach is currently assistant coach for the University of Memphis. Ryne, 22, is in college while working with Bartlett Parks and Recreation.
As Phil Clark fingers his Hall of Fame ring, it’s easy to see the end of an illustrious career. Yet Clark has no dream of retirement.
“I guess I have a personal goal now to get to 1,000 (wins),” Clark said. “And we need to get the Panthers back to the state tournament. This lull’s not sitting well with me; it’s not sitting well with anybody.”
With four to six more years to retirement, Phil Clark has a simple mantra.
“Our motto, through all these teams, was to simply outwork people,” Clark said. “I hope that’s a life lesson as much as anything else.”
A winner on the state, national and international field of play,” Clark’s motto has paid off.