Alabama-Birmingham is firing athletic director Brian Mackin and will announce later this week that it will be shutting down its football program, according to a source familiar with the matter.
The announcement will likely be Thursday and is a move that boosters and former players had feared for the last month. UAB is undergoing a university-wide yearlong comprehensive strategic planning study that includes the evaluation of the financial viability of football.
Mackin has been UAB's athletic director since 2007 and did not return messages seeking comment.
The news comes on the heels of the Blazers beating Southern Mississippi 45-24 on Saturday night to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2004, the school’s lone bowl appearance.
It’s been a miraculous season for UAB (6-6) under first-year coach Bill Clark. He took over an underfunded program that hadn’t had a winning season in a decade and was so downtrodden that his predecessor, Garrick McGee, quit on his own accord after two seasons to become offensive coordinator at Louisville.
There had been warning signs about the university's commitment to football. They included Clark's three-year contract not being extended, the contracts of his assistants expiring in January and the Blazers lacking any non-conference opponents scheduled beyond the 2016 season.
The last FBS school to drop football was Pacific in 1995. UAB's football program got its start in 1991 as an NCAA Division III school and once tried to hire Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, then an LSU assistant, in 2006.
“It’s been tough,” Clark told reporters after Saturday’s win. “My wife will say I’m one that can focus pretty good, but it’s been hard. I have to just admit it. It’s been tough. Hopefully, that shows what we’re about.”
Earlier this month, UAB President Ray L. Watts released a statement about the campus-wide study after concerns surfaced that the football program would be shuttered:
"More than a year ago, UAB began the most comprehensive campus-wide strategic planning process in our history, calling for the 10 schools, College of Arts and Sciences, Honors College, Information Technology, Research Administration and other units to develop individual strategic plans, set priorities and implement long-term goals.
"Within that framework, the Athletic Department is conducting a full strategic review of its programs. The Athletic Department has engaged outside experts and is exploring a full range of options -- not all of which will be implemented -- to reach its desired results of sustained excellence.
"Not surprisingly given the size of the program, one area of focus involves evaluating the investments in football and the resources necessary to achieve and sustain excellence now and into the future. We've been working for many months on this data driven process, and it would be counterproductive and inappropriate to speculate on outcomes based on an incomplete process -- not just related to athletics, but across the campus.
"We are working to accelerate the timeline for completion of the strategic plan and will communicate with the UAB community in the near future. Although we certainly welcome input from our fans and supporters and value their enthusiasm, the fact is that rumor and innuendo will be distracting to our coaches and players who have big games in the coming weeks."
"We are being careful and thoughtful in our disciplined process with lots of input -- and we will reach the right outcomes for UAB."
The UAB Football Foundation had pledged to raise millions for the Blazers if Clark’s contract were extended, non-conference opponents were scheduled for beyond 2016 and if the university’s administration committed to supporting football. The Birmingham City Council also recently passed a resolution of support for the program.
The University of Alabama System Board of Trustees oversees UAB and many Blazers supporters believe the board wanted to shut down their football team because of a feud with former athletic Gene Bartow and to eliminate any competition with the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Many college coaches, including Florida State's Jimbo Fisher, expressed disappointment about Sunday’s news and lauded Clark for the job he’s done at UAB. He’s highly respected in the coaching community and was a candidate for the Troy job that went to Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown this weekend.
Clark won back-to-back state championships at Prattville (Ala.) High, played a significant role as defensive coordinator in South Alabama’s transition to the FBS and orchestrated a major turnaround in taking Jacksonville State to the FCS playoffs last season, his lone year at the school.
Alabama safety Nick Perry, who played for Clark at Prattville, recently told SI.com that Clark reminds him of Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban.
“It’s a shame,” Georgia Southern coach Willie Fritz said of UAB and Clark. “He’s really done a great job there.”
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