Trent Dilfer, a former Super Bowl-winning quarterback and ESPN analyst, was unveiled as head coach at UAB on Wednesday, laying out a vision for an era of Blazers football that, he said, “a lot of people couldn’t imagine.”
Dilfer, who is about to finish his fourth season as head coach at Lipscomb Academy in Tennessee, said he knows it will be a challenge to make the transition to the college game. He said he likes “big climbs”.
“It’s a giant mountain,” he said, “but I think the College Football Playoff is something we should talk about.”
It was a strong sentiment to express about a show that until recently was a doormat on the Group of 5.
UAB didn’t start playing NCAA football until 1996 – overshadowed by the University of Alabama and with far fewer resources. Had three winning seasons and one bowl berth in the 17 seasons before Bill Clark took over as head coach in 2014.
The show ended after the 2014 season and was not replayed until 2017.
Clark remained through the shutdown and return, and led the team to a 43-20 record and two Conference USA championships before stepping down in the summer to deal with a sore back.
Offensive coordinator Bryant Vincent was promoted to interim head coach and led the team to a 6-6 record during the regular season.
Dilfer, 50, admitted he wasn’t well-versed in the show’s history.
“I know that,” he said. “I know that if you are in the Southeast, you have a president who cares about excellence and a [athletic director] who understands the impact of football on a donor base who wants football to be good, you can be really good. So whatever branding is on the shirt, I think this has the opportunity to be one of the best.”
Dilfer, who won the Super Bowl at quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens in 2001, said he didn’t know what to think when UAB athletic director Mark Ingram first assessed his interest in the position.
“I wouldn’t use the word ‘fear,'” he said. “I was skeptical.”
But the more Dilfer thought about it, the more he said his interest grew. People thought he was a fool for taking a job coaching high school football in Tennessee, he said, and on Thursday he will lead Lipscomb to a state championship game.
“I will make very few promises,” he said. “But this promise I will make: you will bring out the best in me.”
Dilfer said he would be lying if he said he knew how to recruit at an elite level. But he said he would learn.
He also acknowledged the players’ feelings that he was brought in as manager.
The team sent a letter to the school president Tuesday morning, expressing its frustration with the handling of the coach search and lending its support for Vincent to be named the permanent head coach.
“They are losing a man they really believe in,” Dilfer said. “Talking to these players today, you can see the pain in their eyes. They love coach Vincent. They love that team. And I said, ‘I want to honor that.’ I want to help them finish strong.
“But I’m also hoping to earn their trust as we go through this together, because big things are coming. So let’s connect with our current roster and let’s recruit them.”
Vincent will remain and coach the team in the HomeTown Lenders Bahamas Bowl on December 16 against Louisiana Tech.