PHOTO AND STORY COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN
MADISON, Wis. – Chris Clark, Wisconsin’s most tenured head coach in any sport, is taking on a new role as Director of Rowing, UW Director of Athletics Chris McIntosh has announced.
“I’d like to thank Chris for his nearly three decades of outstanding leadership as our men’s rowing head coach,” McIntosh said. “I’m excited he will continue to have a positive impact on our rowing programs in this new capacity.”
In his new role, Clark will provide support to both men’s and women’s rowing programs and will remain a coach working with student-athletes. He will assist with developing on-water and dryland training plans and competition schedules. Clark will supervise and work closely with the Riggers relative to rowing equipment management.
“We are celebrating the 150th year of Wisconsin men’s rowing in 2024 and I feel extremely gratified that I’ve been a part of that for 29 years so far and have more to go,” Clark stated. “Coaches last a long time here at “Wisco”-I’m only the third head coach in 77 years and I was acutely aware I needed to put a respectable shift in to live up to expectations.”
Clark will report to Senior Associate Athletic Director Marija Pientka, as will Women’s Rowing Head Coach Vicky Opitz and the new Men’s Rowing Head Coach. A national search for Wisconsin’s new men’s rowing coach will now begin.
Clark’s time at Wisconsin began in 1994 as an assistant coach, before he took the head coaching reigns in 1996 to start a 27-year stretch that saw more than 1,000 student-athletes walk through the doors of UW’s boathouses.
During his time leading the Badgers, UW won the 2008 IRA National Championship by capturing the Varsity Challenge Cup in the varsity eight, the ninth varsity eight national title in program history. That crew would be named “Crew of the Year” by Row2k.com voters, as well as “Best of 2008” by Rowing News. The 2002 crew placed second and Clark was named Independent Rowing News College Coach of the Year for that season.
UW also captured five Ten Eyck Trophies as overall team points champion at IRAs under Clark, more than all but four other schools have captured all time.
He directed teams to eight top-five and 20 top-10 Ten Eyck Trophy finishes.
At the conference level, UW won a pair of Eastern Sprints titles in the varsity eight, the school’s second and third in history. UW took home the Rowe Cup as team champion at Eastern Sprints in those same years (2002, 2008), winning for the second and third times and the first since 1946. In all, Clark led the Badgers to 12 top-three Rowe Cup finishes at Eastern Sprints. He won EARC Heavyweight Coach of the Year in 2002 and 2008.
In all, Clark’s crews brought home more than 50 medals from IRA competition, including 17 gold medals, and added over 50 medals at EARC Championships (Eastern Sprints), with 23 of those gold.
Five of his UW rowers went on to compete at the Olympics including 2004 men’s eight gold medalist Beau Hoopman. Hoopman also captured bronze along with Badger Micah Boyd at the 2008 games.
A total of 40 rowers under Clark competed internationally on Olympic, world championship, Pan American and Under-23 World Championship stages.
Over his time as coach, over 160 men’s rowers earned over 350 Academic All-Big Ten honors, while over 50 student-athletes garnered over 70 Big Ten Distinguished Scholars honors since the award was first handed out in 2009 (3.7+ grade-point average for the year).
Clark inherited the UW men’s rowing program from Randy Jablonic, who led UW for 28 seasons. Jablonic is the grandfather of newly-named UW women’s rowing head coach Vicky Opitz.
“Coach Randy Jablonic, my predecessor, gave me my first full time coaching opportunity,” Clark said. “It’s quite appropriate, maybe even poetic, that I now am in the position to help Jabo’s granddaughter, Vicky Opitz, navigate the uncharted waters of her first head coaching job.”
Before UW, Clark spent two years coaching at the U.S. Naval Academy as an assistant coach.
At the international level, Clark spent the late 1990s and early 2000s helping Team USA. He coached the men’s four with coxswain to gold at the 1999 World Championships, while his men’s eight did the same at the Pan American Games that year. The Clark-coached coxed pair won the bronze at the 1998 World Championships, as well.
At Under-23 World Championships, Clark led the men’s eights to gold medals in 2002 and 1996, while his crews claimed silver medals in 1998 and 1997. He was named the U.S. Olympic Committee Developmental Coach of the Year in 1997.
In the boat, Clark rowed at Orange Coast College, Stanford and California, winning Pacific Coast Championships in 1978, ’79 and ’82. He earned a political science degree in 1983 from California. He also rowed for the Oxford University Boat Race Crew in 1986, obtaining a special diploma in social studies in 1987.
Internationally, Clark’s highlights include a silver in the men’s coxed pair at the 1983 Pan American Games and a seventh-place finish in the men’s pair at the 1985 World Championships.
Clark on working with three different Directors of Athletics
“Pat Richter hired me and for the majority of my tenure, Barry Alvarez was Athletic Director. I may have a different perspective as I’m not originally from Wisconsin, but I’m not entirely sure that everyone can appreciate how fortunate we were to have had Pat and Barry and now Chris McIntosh. These three are not “businessmen/operators” like a lot of ADs, they are the real deal, leaders and advocates for student-athletes, they know what it’s like to compete in D1 and I feel very fortunate to have worked with them.”
Clark on making the change now
“I’ve always admired coaches who make professional moves at the opportune time as opposed to overstaying their welcome or just fading away. Ed Nuttycombe, our legendary track coach, won dozens of titles and accolades but walked away at the top of his game. No one had to suggest to him maybe it was time to leave.”