When Georgia Southern College was minutes away from announcing Erk Russell as its football coach to revive the school’s long dormant program, they realized they didn’t even have so much as a football for the news conference.
Georgia State University is looking for more than a football — but as coach Bill Curry pointed out, they need that, too. In fact, it was one of his first orders of business.
“I said, ‘We better get a football,’” Curry said. “We don’t even have a football.”
Curry was lured back into the coaching ranks after spending the last 11 seasons as an analyst for ESPN.
For now, Curry’s job is to keep the school and its supporters focused on the task at hand.
“I think the biggest challenge now is not spending a lot of energy in a bunch of different directions,” he said.
Though his last time on the sidelines as a coach was in 1996 at Kentucky, Curry said his work with ESPN has allowed him to stay in touch with the game. He points to the rapid ascent of South Florida and Curry has called some of their games. He’s using the path cleared out by South Florida coach Jim Leavitt as a blueprint for the Panthers’ program.
“I was so taken by what he had done,” Curry said.
He’s talked to Watson Brown at Alabama-Birmingham and Howard Schnellenberger at Florida Atlantic. Curry also can draw inspiration from what Russell did at Georgia Southern more than 25 years ago.
“I followed everything and anything Erk Russell ever did,” Curry said. “I loved that guy.”
Curry said he made a mistake getting into verbal jousts with the late Russell — known for his one-liners and quick wit — at clinics they attended. But he also had a respect for Russell’s ability as a coach.
“I had no idea they could be as successful as quickly as they did,” he said.
Curry had been working for the Baylor School, a renowned and prestigious private school in Chattanooga, Tenn., imparting lessons on leadership to high schoolers.
“I think it kept me in touch with this generation,” he said.
Curry, an Atlanta area native, was a star player at Georgia Tech and after a lengthy NFL career, became Tech’s head coach in 1990. He nearly returned to The Flats a couple of years ago.
“The only place I wanted to be an athletic director was at my alma mater,” he said.
He has gotten a helping hand from an unexpected source — Georgia head coach Mark Richt said he would help any way he could.
“I have such respect and affection for Mark Richt,” Curry said. “He is an unbelievable person.”
Curry was the Bobby Dodd national coach of the year — named for his coach at Georgia Tech — in 1989. He was the ACC coach of the year in 1985 and the SEC coach of the year in 1989.
Georgia State brought Curry on board to advise them on how to start a football program. The school, the second largest in the state, announced on April 17 it was beginning the program. Two months later, they turned to Curry to take over the reins.
“When the opportunity to coach in my hometown became available, that was a surprise,” he said. “I was surprised at how jacked up I got.”
His first recruiting job was selling the idea to his wife Carolyn. Finding out they didn’t have to go anywhere helped.
“The girl has moved 32 times in 45 years,” he said.
Now his challenge to hire a staff, and Curry said he expects to announce his first assistant coaches later this summer. He’ll bring on board four assistants and a director of football operations.
The Panthers staff will begin recruiting this fall and Curry said some current students have volunteered to play. They have designs on an initial recruiting class in February and will open play in 2010. They will have 20 scholarships in 2009-10 and up that level to 60 in 2010-11 before getting the full complement of 63 scholarships for NCAA Football Championship Subdivision programs in 2011-12.
Georgia State will be a member of the Colonial Athletic Association.