This story was updated April 5, 2018, at 11:59 p.m.
Austin Clark, one of the most iconic high school coaches in Chattanooga history, has announced he is retiring as head of the boys' basketball program at Baylor School.
In 36 seasons as the Red Raiders' coach, Clark's teams won 522 games and reached the state tournament 15 times, advancing to the final four six times and finishing as runners-up twice.
"I consider myself very fortunate to be a part of the Baylor family, and I couldn't ask for a better place to coach the last 36 years," Clark said. "I was watching a show earlier this year on one of my best friends, Condredge Holloway, the former Tennessee (football) great. He said he asked his CFL coach how he would know it's time to retire, and his coach replied, 'When you start thinking about it, it's time.' That really hit me.
"I've been thinking about it quite a bit, so I knew it was time for me to step away. I always wanted to make sure when I did retire that the person following me would have a chance to succeed. We have the makings of a good team next year, so this is the right time.
"It was a very tough decision. The toughest part was talking to the kids."
Known as a fiery competitor willing to play all comers, Clark was named coach of the year seven times by local media, including this season's Best of Preps honor after guiding Baylor to the Division II-AA state title game with a 19-7 finish. He was the Scrappy Moore coach of the year in 1987, an award given to the area's top coach across all sports, as well as a TSSAA A.F. Bridges coach of the year. He also earned TSSAA Distinguished Service Awards.
"Austin has always been a role model for the young people he has worked with," said TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress. "Everyone in our office has the highest respect for Austin because of his integrity and the way he has dedicated his life to doing things the right way.
"I hate to see that we're losing such a great coach and role model for kids. It will be hard to fill his shoes, but I know Baylor will do all it can to do so."
A 2017 Baylor School Sports Hall of Fame inductee, Clark worked as the school's athletic director from 1990 to 2006, and during that time Baylor won 102 state championships. In 2005 Sports Illustrated ranked Baylor's athletic program as the best in Tennessee and 23rd in the nation.
In 1993 Chattanooga Mayor Gene Roberts awarded Clark the key to the city and a certificate recognizing his contributions to the city.
"It's impossible to wrap your arms around all he means to Baylor. He's a living legend for all the right reasons," said Baylor headmaster Scott Wilson, who was also an assistant on Clark's staff for his first six seasons. "I knew the moment we interviewed him that we wanted him to be a part of our school because he's such a real person, so positive and enthusiastic, and I wanted our kids to be around that.
"He knows how to teach the game and coach the game and understands it's all about working with young people and helping them grow into the men they should be. He's a one of a kind, so while I'm sad for us, I'm truly happy for him.
A native of Kingston, Tenn., Clark played for Ray Mears' Tennessee Volunteers during the years of the "Ernie and Bernie Show" and says he "did a lot of passing" to Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld as both a starter and sixth man. Clark was a dangerous shooter himself, and following the 1976 season he won the Tennessee Thoroughbred Award as the player who gives the most to the team.
Clark came to Baylor after four years as an assistant coach at Middle Tennessee State University. He had been offered the head basketball and assistant football coaching job at Brentwood High School, but when that opening became political and the school board wavered on approving the hire, Clark was recommended for Baylor's opening by longtime TSSAA executive director Ronnie Carter.
Shortly after he interviewed and toured the campus, the only question was whether he could also coach golf.
"I started work the next Monday, and within a couple of weeks we were practicing, and then the season started," said Clark, who will remain on the school's staff as assistant dean of students of the upper school. "I have to thank former headmaster Dr. Herbert Barks for giving me the opportunity. I've always had great support from the faculty, staff, alumni, parents and administration, including our current headmaster.
"My wife Cindy has always been my greatest supporter, and my daughter Logan and son Jordan, who played and later coached with me, have always been in my corner. I have had so many memories coaching against the greats like (Howard's) Henry Bowles and (Brainerd's) Robert High and with the kids who played for me. I hope the kids will remember me as being fair and for teaching them more about life than basketball.
"Baylor is a great school. I hope whoever comes in next will stay 36 years and enjoy it as much as I have."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.