Perry Clark – Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame
Head Coach, 1998-2000
It was Fall, 1989. Perry Clark, a young 38-year old basketball coach was excited about his first day of practice as the new head coach of the Tulane Green Wave. Finally, his dream is realized – for the first time he would direct a major college program.
Four years earlier Tulane’s basketball program was discontinued by the university’s president due to an embarrassing point-shaving scandal. The former Georgia Tech assistant had the task of building a basketball program from scratch in the Metro Conference – one of the best college basketball leagues in the country.
Excitement, enthusiasm and optimism were in abundance. But something was missing.
“We realized we didn’t have enough basketballs to do all of our drills. We only had about three or four balls and we needed at least 12 or 14,” he chuckled.
Two years later, 1991-92, Tulane Basketball was perhaps the story of the college basketball season, winning the Metro Conference regular season crown (the only conference title in Tulane history) and qualifying for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. It was the start of the most successful decade in Green Wave basketball history as it featured seven March Madness appearances – three trips to the NCAA Tournament and four bids to the National Invitation Tournament (NIT).
Because of those accomplishments, Perry Clark will be inducted into the Allstate Sugar Bowl’s Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame, Class of 2020.
“It’s a tremendous honor because I love the City of New Orleans and I tried to work hard to make us part of the fabric of New Orleans,” Clark said. “I wanted to represent the city in a very positive light and I think we did. It means an awful lot to me. I can honestly say, going into this hall is one of the highlights of my life and my career.”
Clark-coached teams registered six seasons of at least 20 wins, 1992 (22-9), 1993 (22-9), 1995 (23-10), 1996 (22-10), 1997 (20-10) and 2000 (20-10). Before his arrival in New Orleans, the Green Wave had a total of three 20-win seasons – the most recent in 1948-49 under coach Clifford Wells, himself a member of the Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame.
The Greenies notched first round victories in each of their three trips to the NCAA Tournament with wins over St. John’s in 1992, Kansas State in 1993 and Brigham Young in 1995. Clark remains the only coach in Tulane history to direct the Green Wave to the NCAA Tournament.
Tulane went to the NIT four times (1994-96-97-2000), reaching the Final Four and a trip to Madison Square Garden in New York in 1996. The Green Wave fell to Nebraska in the semifinal but finished in third place in the tourney after an 87-76 win over Alabama.
Clark, a Washington D. C. native, says he can’t pick just one highlight during what was certainly one of the great program-building jobs in college basketball history. But an 87-83 overtime win, on the road over perennial power Louisville on January 4, 1992, had loads of meaning. It was win number nine of a season-opening 13 game winning streak and Tulane was ranked as high as No. 13 in national polls.
“We earned everybody’s respect that we were legitimate,” he said. “And my ultimate respect for Denny Crum [Louisville’s hall of fame coach] and that program always made the Louisville game significant. Because I always felt like to be the king you had to beat the king.”
A member of the Tulane Hall of Fame and the Louisiana Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Clark was voted winner of the Hank Iba Award given by the United States Basketball Writers Association as the National Coach of the Year in 1992. He was Metro Conference Coach of the Year and Louisiana Coach of the Year in both 1991 and 1992.
“My time at Tulane was Camelot,” he continued. “We accomplished so much and everything just came together. We couldn’t have done it without people like Dr. Eamon Kelley (Tulane president), M. L. Lagarde (athletics staff) and Bill Goldring (booster). It was just a great time that can never be duplicated. And that’s why going into this particular hall of fame is so special and important to me.”
He also credits his high school coach and mentor, the late Morgan Wootten of DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md., the gold standard of high school basketball coaches, for much of his success.
“He told me people may forget your name. They may forget what you’ve done for them. But they never, ever forget how you make them feel.”
Following his tenure at Tulane, Clark served as the head coach at the University of Miami (2000-04), leading the Hurricanes to a school-record 24 wins and the NCAA Tournament in 2002. He also directed the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi program for four years (2007-11) and has been an assistant coach at the University of South Carolina since 2013, helping the Gamecocks to a program record 26 wins and the NCAA Final Four in 2016-17.
Despite it being 20 years since he patrolled the hardwood in New Orleans, Tulane and New Orleans will never forget Perry Clark.
Story by Ro Brown of the Greater New Orleans Sports Awards Committee.