June 26, 2013
Roots is a series that profiles Vanderbilt coaches, and reflects back on their lives, forming a roadmap that guides readers through the early years of their lives to where they are today.
Geoff Macdonald (Women's Tennis) | Sebastian Vecchio (Soccer) | Cathy Swezey (Lacrosse)
Jeremy Organ (Swimming) | Greg Allen (Women's Golf) | Ian Duvenhage (Men's Tennis)
Clark Humphreys is a hometown kid. Born and raised in Nashville, Tenn., Humphreys spent many days and nights as a youth at Memorial Gymnasium and Vanderbilt Stadium where his parents were Vanderbilt season ticket holders. His mother graduated from Peabody College, as did his grandmother. He graduated from Brentwood Academy before earning a track scholarship to Auburn University and eventually embarking on a coaching career that ended up bringing him back to his hometown as an assistant track coach for the Commodores.
In an industry where jobs are at a premium and people must be willing to go wherever they can to get their foot in the door, the opportunities for homecomings are few and far between for coaches. Even once inside the profession, it can be very fluid with an ever revolving coaching carousel.
Humphreys knows first hand just how unpredictable and ever changing the profession is. His coaching break came in the middle of an academic year just one month before the spring semester would begin. He is now on his third stop as a coach and is working under his third head coach at Vanderbilt since arriving in 2006.
"How often do you get that chance to be in your hometown and be close to family?" Humphreys asked. "This next season I will be going on my ninth and if you had told me back then that I would still be here, I would have said no way."
Humphreys' first coaching experience did not come in track and field, but instead gymnastics. After graduating from Auburn, Humphreys looked up, down and all around for a graduate assistantship with a college track program. The phone did not ring, but it did not discourage him from beginning his coaching career.
With his track coaching career on hold, Humphreys turned to his former track coach, Bill Etheridge, who was also a gymnastics instructor at Westside Gymnastics, where Humphreys trained during winter and summer breaks. Etheridge offered him a job as a beginner level gymnastics instructor. Humphreys jumped at the opportunity and served in that capacity for four months until receiving a college coaching opportunity at the unlikeliest of times.
It was December and the vast majority of coaching openings had been filled before the fall academic semester began. The next wave of job openings would not occur until after the spring season. However, a vacancy as an assistant coach in jumps and multi-events occurred at South Alabama and Humphreys received a call.
The opportunity was too good to pass up and he accepted with the indoor track season less than a month away. After the spring season, the head coach left and Humphreys was named interim head coach.
"It was more than I truly needed at the time," Humphreys recalled. "I was overloaded. It was a massive learning curve and experience. But it was great and I'm glad I did it."
Humphreys served as interim head coach for three months before South Alabama hired former Olympian Lee Evans to serve as head coach. Humphreys stayed on under Evans for two years before moving back to his alma mater as an assistant. After two years at Auburn, Humphreys had the chance to move back home to Nashville as an assistant coach at Vanderbilt in 2006 and he has remained ever since.
Before establishing himself in the coaching ranks, Humphreys cemented his legacy as one of the nation's top decathletes and pole vaulters. He was a two-time state champion in the pole vault and the decathlon at Brentwood Academy. Until 2013, Humphreys still held the unofficial state record with a vault of 16-1.25. The mark was established in the decathlon and it still stands as the national high school record in the decathlon.
"When I was competing, you had to jump the state record at the state meet and I set the unofficial record my senior year in 1994," Humphreys said. "Now you can jump it at any point. Every year I would get a text from a coach checking on what my record was. My mark was finally broken this year."
Upon graduating from Brentwood Academy, Humphreys headed south to attend Auburn University and compete in the decathlon and pole vault. However, injuries would sidetrack Humphreys' career as a decathlete. He trained for the decathlon throughout his freshman year and took third at the SECs. As a sophomore, injuries began to occur and Humphreys focused almost primarily on pole vaulting.
With his attention devoted to vaulting, Humphreys began to soar. He earned All-America honors and won the NCAA outdoor title as a senior in 1997 with a school-record vault of 18-4.5, a mark that still stands today.
Humphreys would still compete in the decathlon from time to time to help Auburn score points, but his primary event was the vault. Had it not been for injuries, it may have been the decathlon and not the vault that Humphreys was best known for at Auburn. Even despite little training, Humphreys was entered in the SEC decathlon as a sophomore and junior to help the team score points. He finished eighth as a sophomore and second as a junior.
"I ended up having some injuries and I never was able to get on a role with that," Humphreys said.
While frustrating at the time, Humphreys believes now that his injuries have helped him become a better coach.
"When I trained, I did 110 percent and I would just jump," Humphreys said. "There would be some days when I would do some running, but there were not enough ancillary things and I think my training contributed to my injuries.
"That is definitely a learning curve for me. I know what I did back then with how I trained and there is a whole lot more to training that is knowledge based now and there is so much done today that I didn't do then."
As an assistant for the Commodores, Humphreys works with student-athletes competing in the pole vault, jumps and multi-events. This past season he helped tutor Brionne Williams, who earned second team All-America plaudits in the indoor high jump.
Through his tenure, Humphreys has seen the program make tremendous strides. In 2013, the Commodores had their best performance at the SEC Outdoor Championships in eight years.
"The progression we have made here has been pretty significant," Humphreys remarked.
After graduating from Auburn, Humphreys looked to continue his pole vault career and had the goal of reaching the Olympics. He trained in Auburn under assistant coach Jerry Clayton with his eventual wife, Erin, a heptathlete at South Carolina. Clark and Erin first met on a recruiting visit to Kentucky while seniors in high school and would see each other at meets throughout their college careers.
Both were intent on continuing their track careers at the highest level, but injuries again prevented Clark from competing at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
"I ended up tearing my hamstring about a month out from the Olympic Trials," Humphreys said. "I had already bought a ticket to go, so I went out and supported (Erin) and she competed in the heptathlon."
With his athletic career over, Humphreys already knew he wanted to stay in the sport as a coach.
"Bodies fascinated me," Humphreys said. "I studied exercise science and I always enjoyed learning. I wanted to be in that field where I could help others reach their potential. I've always been a people person. I communicate well and I can get along with anybody."
In addition to using his own experiences as an athlete to help him as a coach, Humphreys has also taken what he has learned from other highly-successful coaches that have mentored him.
His personal coach as a youth, Bill Etheridge, was a nationally-renowned vault coach. At Brentwood Academy, he was coached by Charlie Harper, who won 14 state titles. While at Auburn, Humphreys had four different coaches in five years. And all four coaches are still in the college ranks today.
"I try to use that experience I had in college to my advantage as a coach," Humphreys said. "I learned so much from them and I try to use their different teaching and coaching ways and parlay it into what I do. They all had a different personalities and styles, but to this day I still talk to them all. I get advice from them all."
Now, Humphreys competes against the coaches he was once coached by. As an athlete, Humphreys always wanted to do well and impress his coaches. The mindset hasn't changed now that he is a coach.
"It is probably the single most driving force as a coach," Humphreys remarked. "They all saw me as a kid who pole vaulted and ran the decathlon and now they know me as a coach, and hopefully they are going to finish up knowing me as the coach who beat them."
How did you first get into pole vaulting?
The real genesis of it is when I was a kid my father had a farm up in Clarksville, Tennessee. One day we were just on a family hike and there was a beaver dam that was created and there was a stick that seemed like it was made just for me to pick it up.
It was 8-foot tall and I still have it in my garage until this day. It was just this piece of wood that the beavers had cleaned off and I literally brought it home and started jumping over fences in my yard and bushes that my parents had.
Did you find immediate success competing in the pole vault?
I didn't start competing until I was in 7th grade. I was at a junior high track meet and it seemed like I had done 100 events and then my coach Charlie Harper said, 'Hey come over here and try the pole vault.' There were two people in the competition and I got second.
What is one of your most memorable moments growing up and attending basketball games at Memorial Gym?
I remember watching Shaquille O'Neal dunk a ball so hard that the backboard seemed to shake forever. There was a wire that connected from the top of the ceiling all the way to the backboard for stabilization of the backboard and they shook for I swear 20 minutes after he dunked. I had watched Will Perdue play. He was a great player, but I had never seen a human being that size that could do what Shaq did.
You also played basketball at Brentwood Academy, at a time when there were a number of outstanding players in Middle Tennessee, what was that experience like?
We could never get out of our district because it took two teams and we were third behind Goodpasture and BGA. Goodpasture had Ron Mercer and Drew Maddux and BGA had Sam Howard and a couple of guys who played lower level Division I basketball. We had some incredible games.