To say Kansas State head coach Mike Clark is the driving force behind the Wildcat baseball team would be an understatement. The 17-year skipper not only embodies the spirit of the Wildcats on the field, but he takes on several other jobs which display a whatever-it-takes attitude to promote and improve the baseball program off the field.
Think back to 1986. The height of the Cold War. Ronald Reagan was President and the original George Bush was Vice President. The world was alarmed by a major nuclear accident at the Chernobyl power plant in the Soviet Union. Barry Diller of News Corp., created a fourth television network, Fox. Platoon and The Color of Money were the top movies. “We Are the World” and Phil Collins’ No Jacket Required were the top song and album. In the spring of that year, a young and restless 33-year-old named Mike Clark had just finished his sixth season as the head coach at Northeast Oklahoma A&M Junior College in Miami, Okla., guiding the Nordsmen to their fourth consecutive season of 40 or more wins. However, he was looking for more. He had always harbored a dream to coach in Division I. Play with the ‘Big Boys’. He had already helped rebuild programs at the high school and junior college level and now he wanted to see if he could do it on the ultimate level. Then opportunity knocked. He heard about the vacancy at Kansas State, a program that had struggled at best to compete with the powerhouse programs of the Big Eight Conference for much of the 1970s and 1980s. After persuading a friend to make a call on his behalf, Clark told the search committee that he was coming to Topeka on a recruiting visit and wanted to stop by and talk with them about the job. Soon after, Clark took a $4,000 pay cut to become Kansas State’s 19th head coach. He was the fourth head coach in five years after the previous four amassed a combined 85-116 record. The program had endured four consecutive losing seasons and had just three winning seasons in the previous 10 years.
Now fast forward 17 years to 2003. George Bush’s son, George W. Bush, is President. The world is again worried about nuclear weapons, but this time in Iraq and North Korea. The Cold War has long been forgotten with the break-up of the Soviet Union into several nation-states. Fox is one of the most-watched television networks in the world. Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and Nelly’s “Air Force Ones” are the top songs, while The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is the top movie. An experienced and battle-tested Mike Clark has transformed the Kansas State from one of the worst programs in the Big Eight into an annual contender in the Big 12 Conference. For proof of Clark’s influence, look at the following facts.
--Success. Over 30 percent of Kansas State’s all-time wins both overall and in conference play have come under Clark. You would have to take the wins of his four predessors – 342 wins in 14 years – 78 wins short of Clark’s total of 420 – to come close to equaling the wins garnered by Clark’s teams over the last 16 years. In addition, six of the nine 30-win seasons in school history have come under Clark’s watch, while he has coached five of the nine teams that have advanced to postseason play in school history.
--Player Development. Kansas State had just two All-Americans and 25 all-conference selections in the 86 years of baseball before his arrival. Since 1987, Clark has produced five All-Americans, including the Wildcats’ only two-time All-American and 1990 Big Eight Conference Player of the Year Craig Wilson, while over 60 players have garnered all-conference recognition, including 17 first-team selections. He has also produced 55 players who have been taken in the Major League Draft or signed pro contracts as free agents.
--Academic success. Clark has seen five of his players earn Academic All-America honors in their careers, while countless others have earned academic all-conference distinction. In 2002, juniors Tim Doty and Kevin Melcher became the first pair of Wildcats to earn Verizon/CoSIDA Academic All-District VII first team honors since 1972, becoming the 11th and 12th players in school history to earn recognition to the team. All but three of these players have come to the program since 1987.
--Growth. In 2002, K-State opened the newly-renovated Frank Myers Field at Tointon Family Stadium. Nearly every facet of the stadium was improved from a new playing surface with state-of-the-art drainage and irrigation systems to new home and visiting dugouts to a new seating bowl with capacity for over 2,000 fans. For the first time in school history, players have their own lockerroom complete with custom-built lockers, bathroom and shower facilities and team room complete with a big screen TV, couches, study tables and computers. In 2003, a brand-new lighting system, improved warning track and state-of-the-art scoreboard will adore the stadium.
The all-time winningest coach in the history of team sports at Kansas State, Clark is coming off one of his most gratifying seasons in 2002, in which his Wildcats finally broke through after several close calls and reached the Big 12 Tournament. Not just satisfied with making the tournament, Clark’s ‘Cats shook off an extra-inning loss to Texas Tech in the opening game to post back-to-back elimination wins over NCAA Regional participants Baylor and Texas Tech before falling to eventual College World Series participant Nebraska in the semifinals. When the dust had settled from the 2002 season, Kansas State would celebrate one of its best seasons in recent memory. The Wildcats achieved a 30-win season for the ninth time in school history, while the team earned 10 wins over teams ranked in the one of three major polls during the season. The team’s 13 conference wins were the most since the team joined the Big 12 and the most in league play since 1995, while the fifth place finish was the highest since also finishing fifth in the Big Eight in 1996. The Wildcats also earned conference series wins over a program-best five schools, including ranked squads from Nebraska, Baylor and Texas Tech.
The season was particularily special because Clark achieved not only his 400th career win as the Wildcat mentor but his 700th as a head coach in 2002. He became the first K-State coach in any team sport to post 400 wins, earning the historic win in the Wildcats’ dramatic come-from-behind 8-7 victory over NCAA Regional participant Wisconsin-Milwaukee on March 18 at the Homestead Challenge in Homestead, Fla. He earned his 700th career win in memorable fashion on April 5, as the Wildcats tied the school-record for the longest game with a 15-inning victory over eventual NCAA Regional participant Texas Tech, which also represented the program’s first win in Lubbock in six tries.
Since being named head coach on July 10, 1986, Clark has guided Kansas State to competitive heights neve before seen at the conference level in Manhattan. His first team went 28-24 and a surprising 9-12 in the Big Eight. The 1988 team started a streak of at least 30 wins in four consecutive seasons by going 34-24. That team was an offensive juggernaut and was arguably the best offensive team in the history of K-State, setting school records in batting average (.339) and runs scored (564). He earned Big Eight Coach of the Year honors following the 1990 season when his upstart Wildcats finished second in the league standings. In 1995, Clark led his improved Wildcats to a 29-24 record and a third-place finish in the Big Eight Tournament. Not only did Clark direct the team to a 16-game win improvement from the previous season, but the third-place finish and two tourney wins were the best Big Eight tournament performances in K-State baseball history. In 1997, Clark guided K-State to its ninth winning season under his command. It also was the fifth 30-win season for the ‘Cats under Clark’s leadership.
Prior to the 1993 and 1994 seasons, which were major rebuilding years in the K-State program, Clark had led the Wildcats to six-consecutive seasons with a record of .500 or better. That was the first time the Wildcats had accomplished that feat since the 1937-41 seasons. After his initial campaign in 1987, when the Cats went 28-24, Clark’s squads reeled off four consecutive 30-win seasons, the first time in school history K-State baseball teams had accomplished that feat. The 1995 team would have been a shoo-in for that accomplishment, but weather washed out seven games on the K-State schedule.
Clark came to Kansas State after seven ultra-successful season at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College, where his teams compiled a 293-136 record, including a 55-23 mark in his final season. It was a program which had only won 13 games in its three previous seasons prior to Clark’s arrival. Additionally, Clark directed the Norsemen to their first-ever 30-, 40- and 50-win seasons.
Clark began his coaching career as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Missouri Western State College in St. Joseph, Mo., where he spent two seasons as the team’s pitching coach, while earning his master’s degree from Northwest Missouri State. This coaching stint came after a successful two-year playing career at Western. As a senior, he notched a 19-11 mark from the mound, including wins over Missouri and Kansas. A control pitcher with a lively arm, Clark still holds the Griffon single-season record for fewest walks allowed, giving up just 22 free passes in 103 innings worked in the 1975 season. That year, he was named first-team All-District 16. Those Missouri Western teams had success as well, as the Griffons captured three District 16 titles during Clark’s playing days and also nabbed a pair of regional championships. Additionally, the 1975 Griffon squad made a trip to the NAIA World Series and brought home a fifth-place finish.
Clark’s head coaching experience began at Coweta (Okla.) High School in 1978. While there, he compiled a two-year mark of 46-18. He also served as the basketball coach and an assistant football coach. He left Coweta for the Northeastern Oklahoma A&M job before coming to K-State.
Clark is also widely recognized as a community leader. He founded ‘Coats for Kids’ in Riley and Geary counties, which has given away over 15,000 coats to needy children in the area. In addition, he is a former member of the Board of Directors for the Manhattan Boys and Girls Club for 12 years.
A native of Traer, Iowa, Clark is married to the former Julia Thedinga of St. Joseph, Mo. The couple are the parents of two children, a 23-year-old son Casey, who is a 2001 graduate of Kansas State, and a 21-year-old daughter Kelli, who is a senior at K-State.