The way was left clear for Clark, who will be 50 in September, by the equally unexpected announcement yesterday by his former Forest team- mate Martin O'Neill, who was the bookies' favourite, that he would be staying with Wycombe Wanderers.
Fred Reacher, Forest's chairman, revealed that the club had considered a double act of O'Neill and Clark, but decided against it. 'It's been a very difficult decision, but when Martin pulled out it was no contest,' he said.
Clark will work on a two-year contract, during which time he will be expected to restore Forest to the Premier League. 'He is a man of talent, integrity and honesty, and we're delighted that we've been able to appoint someone who knows the set-up at the City Ground,' Reacher added.
Remarkably, in making their choice, Forest have carried out a recommendation made by Clough more than a decade ago concerning who he would like to succeed him. Clark was by then manager of Orient, where he spent eight years in charge during which the team dropped into the Fourth Division but later won promotion via the play-offs. He moved over into an administrative role two years ago.
Clark's connection with Forest began in the same year as Clough's, 1975, when the new manager recruited him from Newcastle on a free transfer at the age of 32. He went on to win European Cup and League championship medals, and later coached at Forest before joining Orient as assistant to Ken Knighton in 1981.
Like Clough, he is a North-easterner, and an adherent of The Forest Way. The similarities may end there, for Clark is anything but enigmatic or volatile, being renowned within football as an approachable if slightly dour character.
Forest had planned to unveil their man today, but O'Neill's withdrawal heightened speculation to the extent that Reacher broke the news at last night's reserve match against Stoke.
Earlier, he had explained the thinking behind O'Neill's change of heart. 'Martin decided he wanted to remain where he was,' he said. 'He told us he felt it was right to stay loyal to Wycombe and at the same time gain experience of Football League management at a lower level.'
After signing a new two-year deal with Wycombe, whom he has just led to a non-League 'double' including promotion to the Third Division, O'Neill acknowledged that he might come to regret what he called 'an emotional decision'. He said: 'When I'm managing Maidenhead in two years' time I'm quite sure I'll know I've made the wrong move.
'But I've started a job at Wycombe which I want to finish. There's enormous potential here. I'd love to see Forest go right back to the top - and I have this silly little dream that we could join them.' First, though, O'Neill is to explore the possibility of the GM Vauxhall Conference champions going full-time with his chairman, Ivor Beeks.
One of Clough's more colourful contemporaries, John Bond, also bowed out yesterday, resigning as Shrewsbury's manager. The 60-year-old Bond left along with chairman Ken Woodhouse after his team's poor finish to the season. Bond had been in charge of the Third Division club for two years, following spells at Bournemouth, Norwich, Manchester City, Burnley, Swansea and Birmingham. His long-time assistant, Fred Davies, takes over.Reuse content