By Mark Nagi
There are so many great people that work in high school athletics in East Tennessee. They spend their time and talents towards making the lives of our kids better and more productive. The lessons they teach go well beyond the playing fields, courts, courses, and stadiums.
South-Doyle football Coach/Athletics Director Clark Duncan has been leading young adults in Knox County for over four decades as a football coach and administrator. Last week, Duncan announced that he would be retiring at the end of this school year.
“It wasn’t an overnight decision,” Duncan told me. “It’s been about a 3-4 year process. Just over time, you find that there are things that you don’t enjoy doing as you maybe did as much as when you were younger. At the end of the day, it was this… as much as I will miss the relationships, I don’t want to be that guy many years down the road that says he wished he wished he tried this or done this. I am still of sound mind and physically in pretty good shape. My intention is to go and live life and do some things that I have never had a chance to do. I’ve either played or coached football for the past 55 years. I have never had a fall (season) off. I want to play fall golf and be on the lake. Just a lot of factors there.”
One of those factors is family. Duncan has two grandsons, ages 3 ½ and 1 year old. He plans to help with coaching them in little league in the not-too-distant future.
“They are full tilt,” Duncan joked. “I’ve always said I want to be a part of their lives and I want to help them.”
Duncan is 63 years old but looks younger. He credits the folks at Knoxville Orthopedic Clinic for helping him recover from some major surgeries. “They put me back together,” Duncan says. “I feel like I am 30. I’m lifting and doing things like I did when I was 30. I feel great.”
Duncan was an assistant coach at Fulton from 1981-1985. He was the head coach at Powell from 1986-2002 and has led the football program at South-Doyle since 2009 (while serving as the S-D athletics director since 2003. In that time, he’s developed a bond with thousands of kids.
“The coolest thing in this profession is that you build those relationships, you are a mentor, and hope to help them make better decisions, be better citizens, better husbands, better fathers….” said Duncan. “That’s what it’s all about. People talk about X’s and o’s and wins and losses, and those are important in the moment and you want to win more than you lose because you want kids to feel that success as a reward for their hard work. But at end of the day, I’d be hard-pressed to remember any records for any of our teams…. but I can tell you about the players and the relationships. If you are in the business for any other reason, then you are in for the wrong reason.
Duncan told the Cherokees players about his decision and said that it was a special and memorable time. “I wasn’t sure how to do it,” said Duncan. “You don’t know what to expect. It was overwhelming. Lot of tears and laughs and hugs. It was a great ending.”
Duncan will continue to serve as South-Doyle’s athletics director through the end of the school year and will have a major role in the search for his replacement. “No one knows the program better than I,” said Duncan. “For me, it is about finding the guy that can continue and make the program even better. I’m excited about being a part of that.”
On a personal note, I first met Duncan back in 1994, when I was working for the old TNi cable channel. I was an upstate New York kid that had been in Knoxville for a couple of weeks when I started doing play-by-play for high school football. We covered a bunch of Powell games over the next two years, which meant I’d interview Duncan quite often. He was always polite, cooperative, and willing to spend as much time as necessary to help a young sportscaster do his job effectively.
I covered Duncan’s teams for over two decades, and he was always accommodating in the same way.
He will be missed.
Best of luck in retirement, Clark… you’ve earned it.