June 5, 2009

Curry happy building hometown Georgia State

ATLANTA Bill Curry first met the girl who would become his wife in the fourth grade and predicted as a sixth-grader that he'd end up marrying her, so the longtime coach knows a thing or two about making accurate forecasts.

The new guys
Here's a look at six schools in various stages of starting a football program:
LOCATION: Charlotte, N.C.
STARTING IN: Hopes to begin in 2013.
HISTORY: New to football.
LOCATION: Atlanta.
LEAGUE: FCS independent. Will become a football-playing member of the Colonial Athletic Association in 2012.
COACH: Bill Curry (named June 10, 2008), who had been an ESPN analyst.
HISTORY: New to football.
LOCATION: Beaumont, Texas
LEAGUE: FCS independent. Will become a football-playing member of the Southland Conference in 2011.
COACH: Ray Woodard (named May 19, 2008), who had been coach at Navarro (Texas) College.
HISTORY: Had program from 1923-89.
LOCATION: Norfolk, Va.
LEAGUE: FCS independent. Will become a football-playing member of the Colonial Athletic Association in 2011.
COACH: Bobby Wilder (named Feb. 9, 2007), who had been offensive coordinator at Maine.
HISTORY: New to football.
LOCATION: Mobile, Ala.
STARTING IN: 2009, with a seven-game schedule. Will have a full schedule in 2010.
LEAGUE: FCS independent. Will become a FBS independent in 2012 and will become a football-playing member of the Sun Belt Conference in 2013.
COACH: Joey Jones (named Feb. 15, 2008), who had been coach at Birmingham Southern.
HISTORY: New to football.
LOCATION: San Antonio, Texas
LEAGUE: FCS independent. Will become a football-playing member of the Southland Conference in 2012.
COACH: Larry Coker (named March 6, 2009), who had been an ESPN analyst.
HISTORY: New to football.
But not even Curry, 66, could have guessed this latest chapter of his football career: He has returned to coaching after a layoff lasting more than a decade to build Georgia State's program from scratch.

Georgia State's program is light-years from the SEC and ACC, where Curry previously coached. Curry is more concerned with the school's proximity to his family.

That much became apparent last summer when the native of College Park an Atlanta suburb drove to his new office and saw his life flash before his eyes.

He passed the Fox Theater, where his daughter performed with the Atlanta Ballet in the "Nutcracker" as a 7-year-old. He went past the campus of Georgia Tech, where he played center in the early 1960s and later coached for seven years. By the time he started driving past the places he had taken his wife when he was courting her, Curry had tears running down his face.

"By golly, it affected me," Curry says. "It's schmaltzy stuff, but I loved it. I feel that way most days. I feel strongly about helping out my hometown. Atlanta has meant so much to me and has given me so much."

Atlanta now has offered him one more gift a chance to resume his life's work.

Curry played in three of the first four Super Bowls during a 10-year NFL career and went on to spend 17 seasons coaching at Georgia Tech (1980-86), Alabama (1987-89) and Kentucky (1990-96). He spent the next 11 seasons away from coaching. Curry launched a new career writing columns and broadcasting games as a color commentator for ESPN. He didn't have much interest in coaching again.

Whenever Curry received an inquiry from a school enticing enough to give him second thoughts, he'd approach his wife, Carolyn. Curry's football career has forced the couple to move 32 times in 46 years of marriage.

"What do you think about interviewing here?" Curry would ask.

"I think that would be fine," she'd reply. "I'll miss you, but you go ahead and do that."

That pretty much ended any idea that Curry would coach again, at least until Georgia State came calling.

Georgia State had hired former Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Reeves to pursue the feasibility of starting a football program at this traditional commuter school in downtown Atlanta. Reeves later told Curry about the appeal of this particular job.

By that time, Curry already had realized this represented the perfect time for him to relaunch his coaching career. The chance to build a program from scratch was enticing enough; the opportunity to do it in Atlanta made it too irresistible to pass up.

"This is the first time he'd gotten really interested because it is in our hometown," Carolyn Curry says. "This is in our heart and in our blood."

Curry formally accepted the job last June.

"I was doing what I love to do and doing it 15 minutes from where I live, with my girl smiling," Curry says. "The fact she has a master's and Ph.D. from this place probably didn't hurt."

That approval helped Curry begin arguably the greatest challenge of a football career that has spanned nearly half a century. Georgia State doesn't have an on-campus stadium the Panthers will play their home games at the Georgia Dome and still is raising funds for a practice facility. There's also the question of building enthusiasm for a fledgling college football program in a city swamped with SEC and ACC fans.

Bill Curry through the years
Here's a look at Curry's year-by-year head coaching record.
1980Georgia Tech1-9-1
1981Georgia Tech1-10
1982Georgia Tech6-5
1983Georgia Tech3-8
1984Georgia Tech6-4-1
1985Georgia Tech9-2-1
1986Georgia Tech5-5-1
The Panthers will have their inaugural season in 2010 and plan to remain a Football Championship Subdivision program rather than eventually moving up to the Football Bowl Subdivision level. Georgia State already competes in the Colonial Athletic Association in other sports and is planning football membership in that league as well.

"The way things are these days, unless you're already assured of a conference membership, you're kidding yourself," Curry said about the idea of moving up to the FBS level. "If you can get in a really good FCS conference and we'd be in the best one by a good margin then why not go there and get good enough to compete with those guys?"

Curry has prepared for his new job by seeking advice from other coaches who also have built programs from scratch.

He spoke with Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown, who held the same position at UAB when the Blazers were making the move to the Division I-A level. He talked to USF coach Jim Leavitt along with Georgia Tech senior associate athletic director Paul Griffin, who served as USF's athletic director when the Bulls launched their football program. And he received plenty of assistance from Howard Schnellenberger, whose situation is perhaps most similar to what Curry is facing.

Both coached at big-time programs earlier in their careers; Schnellenberger led Miami to the 1983 national title. Both had relatively long layoffs before taking over fledging programs. Florida Atlantic played its first game in 2001 and has won bowl games each of the past two seasons.

"We have bugged him, and he's been great," Curry said of Schnellenberger. "He's been so accommodating. We got him on a conference call with the entire staff. We had a list of questions, and I could tell he enjoyed sharing his experience with us. He shared the hard parts and the fun parts. It was great. We'll call on him some more."

Still, the biggest question surrounding the birth of Georgia State's program may involve its coach. Now that he is coaching again for the first time since 1996, Curry must prove the game hasn't passed him by.

Curry understands how much has changed in the past decade, particularly with the emergence of the spread offense. Although Curry wants his team to run the ball effectively, he plans to install a modern offense that features mostly one-back sets with three and four receivers.

It's not just the offenses that have gotten more sophisticated. So have the recruits.

"They're just heady," Curry says. "We were clueless [when I was playing]. I didn't know what kind of offense Clemson ran when I was recruited by Clemson. I didn't even know how to ask.

"Now we get asked about equipment : 'Are you going to wear such-and-such a brand?' We're asked, 'What are you going to do on offense?' We didn't ask stuff like that. The kids 12 years ago didn't ask stuff like that, at least not many of them."

Curry can show those recruits a coaching staff that features plenty of familiar names. Offensive coordinator John Bond held the same position at Georgia Tech during the final year of Chan Gailey's regime. Defensive coordinator John Thompson is a former East Carolina coach who has worked as a coordinator or co-coordinator at Arkansas, Florida, Ole Miss and South Carolina.

Elder statesmen
Georgia State's Bill Curry is one of college football's newest coaches and oldest coaches at the same time. Although he won't coach his first game for the Panthers until 2010, Curry, 67, is one of seven senior citizens coaching in the Football Championship Subdivision. Here's a look at the complete list of Football Bowl Subdivision and FCS coaches who will be at least 65 at the start of the 2009 season, along with their birth dates.
NameSchoolBirth date
Joe PaternoPenn State12-21-26
Bobby BowdenFlorida State11-8-29
Howard SchnellenbergerFlorida Atlantic3-16-34
Dick TomeySan Jose State6-20-38
Bill SnyderKansas State10-7-39
Rich BrooksKentucky8-20-41
Al GrohVirginia7-13-44
NameSchoolBirth date
Joe WaltonRobert Morris12-15-35
Bob FordAlbany9-11-37
Jerry MooreAppalachian State7-18-39
Ron McBrideWeber State10-14-39
Jerry GlanvillePortland State10-14-41
Bill CurryGeorgia State10-21-42
Andy TalleyVillanova4-6-43
NOTE: The FBS list doesn't include Ohio's Frank Solich, who turns 65 on Sept. 8.
Of course, the biggest veteran is Curry, a former Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Colts center who snapped the ball to Hall of Fame quarterbacks Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas. He still wears his championship ring from the first Super Bowl.

His career helped him land his first recruit at Georgia State. The lone football player already on campus is wide receiver Mark Hogan Jr., whose father played for Curry at Georgia Tech.

"I had never met Coach Curry before, but I had heard all the stories about what a great coach he was and about his character as a leader," Hogan says. "I'd heard about all the personal qualities that made him such a good mentor to my dad and some of my dad's teammates, like [College Football Hall of Fame selection] Pat Swilling and [Auburn defensive coordinator] Ted Roof."

Most of Georgia State's recruiting targets won't be nearly as familiar with Curry's coaching career. The typical high school senior this fall will have been 5 years old when Curry last coached a college game.

But that doesn't make Curry a completely unknown quantity to modern-day college prospects. If they haven't seen him on old NFL Films clips from his playing days, they know him as a football broadcaster.

In that regard, Curry said he benefited from broadcasting in the same manner that he always coached.

"It's encouraging when young players recognize not just the fact that I was on the air, but that I really do care about the players," Curry says. "The way I tried to do my job at ESPN, whether I was writing or talking, was to never take away the dignity from a young man or coach. It's not necessary. The guys that do it didn't play. They don't know how it feels. Those mothers are sitting out there listening, and it's not anything that our game should do, to degrade somebody because they miss a tackle or line up in the wrong place."

Curry plans to convey a similar attitude now that he's coaching again. Curry reached five bowl games during his coaching career and won the Bobby Dodd Award as the nation's top coach after leading Alabama to an SEC title in 1989. Two years ago, he received the Amos Alonzo Stagg Award given annually by the American Football Coaches Association to an individual who provides outstanding service in the best interest of football.

"A big part of the reason I'm doing my job is Bill Curry," said Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, who played for Curry at Georgia Tech. "A player coming out of high school can have no bigger role model."

The opportunity to serve as a mentor once again helped bring Curry back to coaching. The guy who played for Vince Lombardi and Don Shula wants to continue passing on everything he learned from his coaches. He likes to repeat the quote he often heard from Bill Badgett, his high school coach: "Football is life marked off by 100 yards."

Curry savors the chance to deliver those life lessons and mold young players. As much as he enjoyed broadcasting games, he couldn't avoid feeling wistful whenever he watched a postgame celebration.

"When I was standing in Baton Rouge watching Georgia and LSU leave the field, the guys have got their arms around each other and they're hugging or crying and limping and going into the locker room together," Curry said. "I'm going downstairs with my buddies and getting in the car by myself and going back to a Holiday Inn. It's not the same. You don't have your community. You don't have all the human drama. I just loved that.

"That's what I missed the most. I loved taking the instrument of the huddle and using it to teach young men how to be unselfish."

Now he gets one more chance. And when he does get back in his car at the end of each game, he won't have nearly as far to travel.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.



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