Sports Stance: A look at Derrick Clark’s leadership

The atmosphere within the men’s basketball organization has been a mystery ever since head coach Derrick Clark was suspended and junior guard Cam Williams was dismissed. At the center of this is Clark’s future at MSU Denver.

Derrick Clark

Head Coach Derrick Clark looks on as his Roadrunners fall to the Number One seed Fort Lewis. Photo by Abreham Gebreegziabher • agebreeg@msudenver.edu

On Jan. 28, Clark was suspended and Williams was dismissed. The athletics department issued a press release that revealed nothing about the nature of the suspension other than the fact that it was not a legal matter.

“Metropolitan State University of Denver Director of Athletics Dr. Anthony Grant announced tonight that head men’s basketball coach Derrick Clark will serve a three-game suspension beginning with tonight’s game against Westminster,” the report said. “Grant made it clear that this is not a legal matter. Because this is a personnel matter, further details will not be provided or discussed.”

I asked Associate Director of Athletics John Kietzmann about the nature of Clark’s suspension and he provided me no further details. One thing he did make clear was that Clark’s suspension was not related to the dismissal of Williams.

Speaking of Williams, Kietzmann told me during a phone call that his dismissal was for a violation of team rules. He pointed out that Williams had been suspended for two games early in the season, inferring that the dismissal wasn’t just because of one egregious offense, but that it was a culmination of issues.

Then, on Feb. 10, Williams was surprisingly reinstated to the team. Again, the Athletics Department issued a statement:

“Williams has met with men’s basketball student athletes, coaches, and administration following his initial dismissal for violating team rules. Further details will not be provided on this matter.”

That same day, the Athletics Department issued another press release that further convoluted the matter.

“Metropolitan State University of Denver Head Men’s Basketball Coach Derrick Clark has chosen to take an indefinite leave of absence. During his absence, Adam Wall and Michael Bahl will serve as co-head coaches for the Roadrunners. Because this is a personnel matter, further details will not be provided or discussed.”

While the two actions very well may be entirely separate, the timing syncs up in a very odd way. Clark was suspended on the same day that Williams was dismissed, and then he took an indefinite
leave of absence on the very day Williams was reinstated. The timing of the leave of absence is noteworthy as well and calls into question what decisions Grant will make about Clark after the season.

Feb. 10 was extremely late in the season. At that point, the Roadrunners had only five regular season games remaining until postseason play began in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference
tournament. Clark’s contract with MSU Denver also has a clause that requires full-time attention to the program. Section 4.1.2 of his contract states this clearly under the “Coach’s Duties” section.

Under the “Termination for Just Cause” language in section 6.1.5, the contract even mentions that prolonged periods of absence would be just cause to terminate Clark’s employment. Based on the language of the contract, MSU Denver did consent to Clark’s leave of absence, but that does not mean that Clark hasn’t violated his contract before.

On May 19, 2015, Clark was arrested for driving under the influence on the Auraria Campus. This was a clear violation of his contract, and provided grounds for the university to terminate for just cause. Section 6.1.4 of the “Termination for Just Cause” section states it clearly:

A deliberate or serious violation of the law, regulation, rule, constitutional provision or bylaw of University, the athletic conference, or the NCAA, which violation may, in the judgment of University, reflect adversely upon University or its athletic program.

Instead, Clark was given a letter of reprimand that included sanctions imposed on him by the university. Detail of the sanctions are unavailable.

Derrick Clark Timeline

A timeline of Derrick Clark’s multiple offensives and accomplishments on the court

The recent DUI is Clark’s second. His first DUI came in April of 2002 when he was an assistant coach for the Roadrunners. He pleaded guilty to his second in 2015, and even so, Grant still signed Clark to a two-year, $163,521 per year contract extension in May 2016. Now, less than one year after his extension, he has taken an indefinite leave of absence from the program right before the most important part of the season.

Those are the facts, and the Athletic Department remains mum on the subject. In my opinion, all signs point to the dismissal of Clark after the season. The head coach of a program is a role model
for the young, impressionable student-athletes and is responsible for molding young people into morally sound members of society. If a coach can’t stop breaking laws and violating team rules, then someone else needs to be found.

Should athletic success be the only metric for a leader? Or should he be held accountable for his actions? The influence of the coach on the personal lives of these players needs to be considered.

Clark spent time on the University of Colorado men’s basketball staff as an assistant coach for three years before being named MSU Denver’s head coach in 2010. In his first year as head coach, he guided the team to the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA tournament. Two years later, he led the team to the championship game, but lost by one point to Drury. He got close the next year as well, bringing the team to the Final Four.

However, since that last Final Four appearance, things have not gone as well. Two years ago the Runners couldn’t make it out of the first round of the NCAA tournament, and last year, after going 19-11, they didn’t even qualify. This year the team is 16-12, and barring an unexpected RMAC tournament run, they again won’t qualify for the NCAA tournament. And Clark won’t even be on the sideline for the RMAC tournament based on his contract with MSU Denver.

If Clark is to fulfill the last year of his contract, it would behoove the athletics administration to be transparent as to why they thought it appropriate for him to return. As it stands, the information available to the student body raises questions about what the administration truly values in a leader.

Author: David Schaut

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