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Former USC Coach Left Lasting Impression on Those Who Knew Him

August 08, 1989|MAL FLORENCE | Times Staff Writer

The years that Don Clark coached football at USC aren't memorable in context of the school's athletic achievements, but the man made a lasting impression on those who knew him.

Clark, who died Sunday night in Huntington Beach of what appeared to be a heart attack while jogging, was warmly remembered Monday by his friends. He was 65.

"In Don Clark, you had as fine a friend as a human being could have," said Marv Goux, who began his college coaching career as a member of Clark's USC staff in 1957.

"He was an All-American kind of individual. There has never been a finer man than Don Clark in all aspects. And he taught me techniques of the game that I still teach."

Goux said that Clark hired him when he was coaching at Carpinteria High School. Goux coached at USC for 25 more years and is now the defensive line coach with the Rams.

Clark hired another assistant in 1959, one who made an indelible impression at USC.

John McKay was on Clark's last staff in 1959. The next year he became USC's coach, a position he held for 16 years.

"We've lost a great friend," McKay said by phone from Tampa, Fla. "I can't think of a nicer person than Don Clark. I've never heard anyone say a derogatory word about him. As a head coach, he told the assistants what he wanted done and then let us do it."

Clark played guard at USC in 1942 and again in 1946 and 1947. Then, he played two years with the San Francisco 49ers before going into coaching.

Paul Salata, a former teammate of Clark with USC and the 49ers, said: "You would want to raise a son to be just like him."

Clark became USC's coach at the worst possible time. The school, along with UCLA, California and Washington, had been sanctioned by the Pacific Coast Conference for payments to athletes in excess of the league's allowable limit.

Seniors, such as All-American Jon Arnett, were allowed to play only half a season in 1956. Other players, who were juniors in 1956, lost their eligibility in 1957 because of the sanctions.

So, when Clark became coach in 1957, USC had lost 11 players to graduation and eight more from the junior class the previous year.

The bitterness among the penalized schools led to the dissolution of the Pacific Coast Conference in 1959. A new league, called the Athletic Assn. of Western Universities, was formed with USC, UCLA, California, Washington and later Stanford as the member schools.

It wasn't until 1964 that all of the Northwest schools became reunited with the Big Five in the Pacific 8, now expanded to the Pacific 10.

A few years ago, Clark reminisced about his coaching ordeal in 1957.

"When I became coach, we hadn't recruited for two years," he said. "(The PCC) didn't say we couldn't recruit, but they put severe restrictions on us. In the spring of 1957, we were down to walk-ons--no quarterbacks, or receivers to speak of."

Without established players, USC had a 1-9 record in 1957, beating only Washington. It's the worst record in school history.

By recruiting such talented players as the McKeever twins--Mike and Marlin--the Trojans improved to 4-5-1 in 1958 and 8-2 in 1959. The two defeats in '59, however, were inflicted by UCLA and Notre Dame in the last two games.

Clark left USC after the 1959 season to take over the family business, the Prudential Overall Supply Co., from an ailing brother. The company had 10 plants by the early 1980s.

During Clark's tenure at USC, he coached a quarterback, Willie Wood, and a tackle, Ron Mix, who later made the National Football League Hall of Fame. Wood was inducted Saturday after a career as a defensive back with the Green Bay Packers. Mix made his reputation with the San Diego Chargers.

Moreover, there was a young assistant on Clark's staff who became renowned in the administrative aspect of pro football: Al Davis, the managing general partner of the Raiders.

"I loved the guy," Davis said of Clark. "I loved his family. He was a vital part of my life and my friend. And the memories of those teams are great.

"We had over 20 guys make the pros from those teams and two Hall of Famers. I was just a kid then who came out from the East Coast. Don was a man, a great leader and was inspirational to me."

Clark grew up on a farm in Iowa and he recalled listening on the radio to a USC game in the Rose Bowl while milking cows.

His family moved to California in 1939, when he was 15. Clark then attended Washington High, earning All-City honors in football before enrolling at USC.

After playing for USC in 1942, he enlisted in the Army and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He reportedly spent 18 months in the combat zone and won a battlefield commission.

Clark was distinguished by his crew cut, a rugged build and a zest for athletic competition even in his later years.

Funeral arrangements at Pierce Bros.-Smith Mortuary in Huntington Beach are pending.

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