A Conversation with Monte Clark

Rich Passan talks to a standout member of one of the greatest offensive lines ever. Monte Clark continues to be involved with football, and Rich talks to him about what he's currently doing and a history with the NFL that spans nearly fifty years.

Also: See Rich Passan's interview with Clark from 2006

Monte Clark was one of the most underrated offensive tackles in Browns history. A big man at 6-6, 260 pounds, he was a staple at right tackle for six seasons before retiring following the 1969 season.

Although he never gained postseason honors, Clark proved a perfect complement to All-Pro Gene Hickerson on the right side of an offensive line that helped pave the way for the likes of Hall of Fame running backs Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly.

In his six seasons with the club, the Browns made the postseason five times, including four appearances in the NFL championship game and a championship ring in 1964.

After retiring, Clark went into coaching and served as the Miami Dolphins' offensive line coach for four seasons, then was promoted to offensive coordinator.

In 1976, he was hired as head coach and (unannounced) general manager by San Francisco and led the 49ers to an 8-6 record. When the 49ers were sold to Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. in 1977 and Clark refused to give up the personnel duties, he was fired.

After one season out of the game, Clark was hired as head coach by the Detroit Lions in 1978 and given complete control of the team. After seven seasons and a 43-59 record, he was fired in December 1984.

Clark, now 69 and living in suburban Detroit, served in various capacities with the Dolphins in the 1990s before becoming a special consultant with the Lions eight years ago.

TheOBR: What do you do with the Lions?

Monte Clark: I work with (General Manager) Matt Millen, whom I've developed a great relationship with and have a lot of admiration for. I travel to games. I sit with (Millen) at games. We come in on Monday  morning and grade tapes together. I comment on what we're doing, what we're not doing, what we should do. Give my opinion on things. And (new Detroit coach) Rod Marinelli seems to be very eager to take advantage of my over 46 years of being around the National Football League.

TheOBR: OK, let's travel back.  From the beginning. You were drafted by San Francisco, played there for three years, then played a season in Dallas before coming to Cleveland.

Monte Clark: I injured my neck (in his last season in San Francisco). Ruptured a disk. They didn't think I was going to be able to play anymore. Neither did I. But I was able to play another eight years, sometimes with a lot of pain. But I learned to kind of live with it. After the one year in Dallas, I was lucky enough to get connected with Cleveland. Cleveland had (All-Pro guard) Jim Ray Smith, who lived in Dallas and was doing well in real estate. He was going to retire unless he could be traded to the Cowboys. So (Browns coach) Blanton Collier made a deal with the Cowboys for Smith. He could take anybody he wanted off the Cowboys' line and fortunately, he picked me. Dallas wasn't America's team back then. They were in their third or fourth year.

TheOBR: You arrived in Cleveland in 1963, but unfortunately got hurt your first year.

Monte Clark: Hurt my knee. Anytime I was healthy, though, I was a starter.

TheOBR: You wound up playing with some pretty high profile people.

Monte Clark: Jim Brown is as good as it gets. It was a great thing to get to play with him.

TheOBR: Nothing wrong with that line you played on (Dick Schafrath at the other  tackle, John Wooten and Gene Hickerson at the guards and either John Morrow or Fred Hoaglin at center).

Monte Clark: Oh yes. Those guys were tremendous. We were very proud of what we learned there. We always felt we had an advantage. We were sold on the fact that we had the latest word in technique and if anybody didn't do things like we did, obviously they didn't know what they were doing.

TheOBR: In what way?

Monte Clark: Blanton Collier knew more about detailed football about any position than anyone. He had a teacher background, was very smart and was a great teacher. He knew everything from that aspect by watching film frame by frame. He had a lot of great thoughts of where the head should be put. The footwork and all the techniques were very precise. That was very helpful for me when I went to Miami (as a coach) and was able to take all this to the Dolphins. (At Miami), we broke the all-time rushing record, were the first team to ever have both backs over 1,000 yards and were the only undefeated team in the National Football League. All that stuff offensively was what I learned in Cleveland.

TheOBR: Are you part of that 1972 group that roots against an NFL team that might threaten that unbeaten mark?

Monte Clark: We're very proud of that record. We still enjoy the exclusivity of being the only one to ever do it. We'd like to retain that if we can. It's nothing evil. Some people make it out to be something that it isn't. It's a just a matter of pride of being the only team that went undefeated and we sort of enjoy that status and would like to see it continue as long as we can.

TheOBR: When you think of Cleveland, what are your fondest memories?

Monte Clark: I think of the tremendous knowledge of the fans. I think of 80,000 people standing room out there every week and the great support you had around town and around the state. People by the hundreds and sometimes thousands coming out to the airport to welcome us when we had a big victory and came home. It was just a great place to play. It used to be said – and I think it's true – the Browns were the New York Yankees of football.

TheOBR: Fill in the blank, playing for the Cleveland Browns was . . .

Monte Clark: The best thing that happened to me in many ways. My association with Blanton Collier. The relationship we developed. He handpicked me to come to Cleveland. Then when I injured an eye playing basketball during the offseason (in 1970) and got double vision, I started thinking about retirement. It was tough enough to block one guy, but two coming at you is a little tough.  As soon as I started to probe that possibility, Don Shula ended up calling Blanton. I had never coached a day in my life and never met Don Shula. All I could remember was him on the sideline yelling at Bubba Smith, the guy I was supposed to block (when Shula coached the Baltimore Colts). Shula called me and said, "So you want to coach. Who do you know that I might know?" I anticipated that question. First name I gave him was Blanton Collier. Of course, Don had a background with the Cleveland Browns, having played there and being there when Blanton was there and he had a lot of respect for Blanton . . . Don said, "I'll get back to you in a couple of weeks after I talk to some people." After he talked to Blanton, he called back early next morning and said, "Come on down. You've got the job." I didn't even interview with him. He hired me on the phone. I always give Blanton and Don's respect for Blanton credit for that.

TheOBR: One last thought. You played next to Gene Hickerson. You coached Bob Kuechenberg at Miami. Both played guard. Both have Hall of Fame credentials. Neither is in. Who better to evaluate these two than someone who played with one and coached the other. Go.

Monte Clark: Both belong there. With Gene . . . I can't believe he's not in long ago. Anybody who can go a whole damn season – or maybe a series of years – and not give up a sack belongs in Canton. Gene was absolutely a devastating downfield blocker. When he went out there ahead of Jim Brown and our runners, his man ended up on the ground. He was a tremendous athlete. He could run like hell. He was about a 4.7 (40-yard dash) at 260 pounds. A great football player.

TheOBR: Compare him to Kuechenberg.

Monte Clark: There's not a tougher guy in America (than Kuechenberg). You have to kill him to beat him. He played in the Super Bowl the year we went 17-0 with a cast on a broken arm. After the game, (the cast) was like pulp because he beat (Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle) Alan Page in the head with it so many times. Kuech was a great short-yardage blocker. He could take a guy who was about two inches off the ground, get down, dig him out and put him on his back. He was very tenacious. Tough. Great competitor. Never made mistakes. Hickerson never made mistakes. Ever. At least he never admitted to one.

TheOBR: I'm going to make you an elector to the Hall of Fame and give you one vote. Will it be for Kuechenberg or Hickerson?

Monte Clark: I'm losing you. I can't hear you . . . Nah, just kidding. I have a special place in my heart for both of them. One as a teammate, one as a guy who put his life on the line every week for me. I really can't choose between them. Both belong in there.

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