WISE, Va - Lee Clark has decided to step aside as head men’s basketball coach at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise in order to address some recent health concerns.
Clark, the winningest coach in UVa-Wise history, made the tough choice on Wednesday. Blake Mellinger, who has been Clark’s assistant for six seasons, will become interim head coach on Nov. 8. Clark agreed to provide mentoring by serving as special assistant coach and mentor for the Highland Cavaliers.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a few years now,” Clark said. “The older I get, the harder it is to deal with my health issues. It’s time to slow down a little.”
Clark’s decision was unexpected, and the UVa-Wise Athletics Department quickly rallied behind the popular coach.
“Our immediate concern is for the wellbeing of Coach Clark,” Athletic Director Danny Sterling said Wednesday. Coach Clark will still be involved in coaching, mentoring and recruiting, but this transition will give him the ability to step back and focus on getting healthy.”
Prior to leading the basketball program at UVa-Wise, Clark served as an assistant coach at then Clinch Valley College before leading Twin Springs High School to a state championship.
Clark leaves the head coaching position with 209 career victories. During his tenure, the Cavaliers claimed two conference titles and twice advanced to the NAIA National Tournament. The veteran coach has also overseen the basketball program’s move from a NAIA Division II program to a program that is currently in the second year of a three-year transition process to NCAA Division II.
New interim Head Coach Blake Mellinger, a native of Glade Spring, Va., played at UVa-Wise from 2003-2005 and earned all-conference accolades while serving as team captain as a senior. Mellinger has spearheaded the recruiting efforts of the program while developing game plans and strategies, monitoring team academics and compliance, scouting, and individual player development.
Mellinger’s first game as head coach is set for Sunday when the Cavaliers travel to King University for the school’s season opener, tip-off is set for 3 pm.
“We have an exciting future for our basketball program as we transition to NCAA Division II and the Mountain East Conference, and the team and I are happy that Coach Clark will be with us,” Mellinger said. “With our wonderful facility, and with the commitment from the College, I believe we will continue to be a competitive basketball team.”
Both Clark and Sterling are confident in Mellinger’s ability to lead the program.
“My decision was made easier by knowing that Coach Mellinger is ready to accept the responsibility of leading our basketball program into the future,” Clark said. “It’s a great time for the school and basketball program and to insert a young coach with enthusiasm and energy will be great for our program as we continue our transition to NCAA Division II.”
Sterling agreed that the program is moving from one set of capable hands to another.
“I have complete confidence in Coach Mellinger’s ability to lead the men’s basketball program,” Sterling added. “Blake is an excellent coach and an even better person. He is a great recruiter and he understands the people and culture of UVa-Wise. The basketball program is in good hands as we begin our first season in the Mountain East Conference.”