Bill Curry goes back to Tuscaloosa as a changed man

Bill Curry says he has gotten more enjoyment out of leading Georgia State than any other job.

Bill Curry says he has gotten more enjoyment out of leading Georgia State than any other job.

This isn’t the story about a fledgling football program going into Tuscaloosa. It’s the story of an old football coach, a grandfather, finding perspective in his late 60s. It’s the story of a wake-up call that 34 moves and four teams and six coaching jobs and even a brick through the second-floor office window never provided.

“This literally has been the highlight of my career,” Bill Curry said.

He is standing on a practice field that once was a dumping ground in a scarred patch of downtown. In front of him, a MARTA train rushes past on an elevated track. Behind him, a gutted brick building that once housed some homeless people is slowly being transformed into a field house.

This is Curry’s Eden.

“To be with a group of young people, most of whom have been told they’re not good enough, and show them how to succeed and have a meaningful life – I haven’t felt like this in a long time,” he said. “I wish I was mature enough to have the same objectives as I did before. But I didn’t. I was caught up in the winning.”

Georgia State closes its inaugural football season Thursday night at Alabama, the campus Curry left 21 years ago after basically being told he wasn’t wanted.

The coach wanted to give his wide-eyed players something they wouldn’t forget. Let’s just hope that after this game, they can still remember the evening.

Curry went 26-10 with an SEC title at Alabama but was viewed as an outsider.

Curry went 26-10 with an SEC championship in three years at Alabama but was viewed as an outsider.

He will tell you this season has been a great awakening for him. He has been allowed to create a blueprint for a program. He has built it from the abandoned ground up. He has coached young men on the field and guided them off of it, without being pulled into a corner by the obnoxious, check-writing, booster buddy of the program who suddenly wants to call plays.

There has been a purity to this job that you seldom find in college athletics.

Georgia State has afforded Curry, at the age of 68, an opportunity to satisfy the same competitive instincts that drove him when he played for Vince Lombardi.

But more than all that, Curry will tell  you this venture has changed him. He has grown up. In his previous coaching life, he was as consumed and obsessed as any of them. It wore on his family, to the extent that he said his wife, Carolyn, all but threw him out of the house one evening.

“I remember going home one night in Tuscaloosa and after dinner Carolyn said, ‘Just go back to the office,’” Curry said. “It was very uncharacteristic of her to be so cruel and cold like that. I was stunned. I said, ‘But I’m here,’ and she said, ‘No, you’re not. You’re sitting over there making recruiting calls. You might as well be at the office. You say you’re coming home. You’re not home. I know it. The children know it. Just go back to the office.’ So I hung up the phone.”

After pausing to collect his emotions, he added: “There were too many nights. Too many days. Our son nailed me about 10 years ago. He said, ‘Look, dad, there was one thing we always knew. As long as your team won, it was OK to be happy at our house.’ That broke my heart. I knew it was true.”

It’s different now. Game days are more like family reunions. Carolyn Curry even arranged for their two grown children, spouses and five grand children to gather on the field with him at the Georgia Dome before the Panthers’ first game against Shorter. They all posed with Curry for a picture.

It will be their Christmas card.

A similar scene wasn’t going to happen in Tuscaloosa. Whereas Curry is celebrated at Georgia State, he often was vilified at Alabama.

Losing to Auburn three straight years didn’t help his cause. But he always was going to be viewed as an outsider there — a non-Bama guy from Georgia Tech. Even an SEC championship and two SEC coach of the year awards weren’t going to change that. So he left.

School officials made it clear they didn’t want him. The contract Curry was offered after the 1989 SEC title season did not include a raise and it stripped him of power to hire and fire assistants.

Curry: “The contract said, ‘We’d rather have somebody else as the football coach.’”

His attorney’s thought was to tear up the contract and throw it their faces. Curry’s response: “I said we’re not going to do that. Just tell them respectfully thank you but our choice is to move on.” And he left for Kentucky.

Curry is over it. He said the last time he got bitter was “when Vince Lombardi got rid of me. It didn’t occur to me that maybe I wasn’t a good football player. When I got into coaching, I made up my mind that if somebody didn’t want me, I’d just go somewhere else.”

But he acknowledges some family members remain bitter about the Alabama experience. That includes the evening in 1988 when a brick was thrown through his office window following a 22-12, Homecoming loss to Mississippi, a game in which the Tide failed to complete a pass. Curry discovered the brick and broken glass the next day when he arrived to tape his weekly coach’s show.

Curry joked, “My first thought was, if the quarterback had been as accurate as the guy who threw the brick, we wouldn’t be discussing this.”

He regrets not keeping the brick as a reminder.

“For some reason nobody took credit for it,” he said. “I would’ve thought there’d be a thousand people wanting to be recognized.”

When Georgia State suffered its first loss to Lambuth this season, nobody threw a brick, “except maybe me,” he cracked.

His desire to win has always burned. But his job carries a sense of pure enjoyment and satisfaction that wasn’t present when he left Tuscaloosa. It’s not exactly a homecoming Thursday night. But 21 years later, he has something to celebrate.

Earlier posts

So I can get Georgia State and 42½ vs. Alabama? Hmmm…

Heyward, Posey both deserving of top rookie honors

Liberty CEO ($87.1 million) made more than Braves’ roster

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC and Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

109 comments Add your comment

vmguru

November 16th, 2010
1:38 pm

First – only because it was my first chance to say it…

vmguru

November 16th, 2010
1:40 pm

I’m glad Curry is doing well. I am an Alabama fan that always thought he was a good coach that never had a chance simply because he was a Georgia Tech graduate and didn’t have connections to the Bear. I’m glad he is having success at Georgia State.

Jamaaliver

November 16th, 2010
1:41 pm

Georgia State has a football team?

GSU Man...

November 16th, 2010
1:43 pm

Curry deserved a better fate at Bama. He just did not win enough games at a big time football school. Good Atlanta man.

We have him at GSU and all associated are very happy.

just asking

November 16th, 2010
1:49 pm

so why did he leave GT? He beat Alabama and no one threw a brick through his window there. He could have had a long tenure my guess, no one was complaining about his record which was medocre overall. As a GT fan, these coaches leave for supposedly bigger and better, but you beat Bama while at GT, so you obviously had the kind of recruits that it takes to beat them. O’Leary does the same thing and looked what happened.

vmguru

November 16th, 2010
1:52 pm

I don’t think Curry was ever the Georgia Tech coach although I could be wrong about that. The only tie to Tech that I know about is he graduated from there.

BAMAToNE

November 16th, 2010
1:56 pm

The quotes pretty much explain why he left Alabama. He couldn’t handle the pressure. It’s that simple. The brick business is fabricated b.s.

vmguru

November 16th, 2010
1:56 pm

And wrong I was – he was an assistant there in the 70’s and later became head coach there. To a lot of Alabama fans that would be strike 2 (1 for being a graduate and 2 for being the coach). Thank you Wikipedia. I did not remember him coaching at GT. Of course I was a bit young then… :)

Eric

November 16th, 2010
1:56 pm

Great story. Great perspective. In a sport where most (including myself) get so caught up in W’s vs L’s, we tend to forget that these coaches area also husbands & fathers.
After this weekend’s fiasco on the plains…this was a pleasant change-of-pace read.

Paul in RDU

November 16th, 2010
1:58 pm

vmguru – Bill Curry was hired as head coach of GT in early 1980 and left after the 1986 season to be HC at Alabama. You won’t see many GT grads shedding tears for the problems that he had in Tuscaloosa.
It’s good to see that he is doing well with GSU, however.

athensdawg

November 16th, 2010
1:59 pm

great article schultz.

bill curry has been a class act, ran a clean program a winner, and a thorn in UGA’s side.

Richt should follow him at Ga State….Bill could teach him a thing or two.

vmguru

November 16th, 2010
2:00 pm

It sounded like a combination of losing to Auburn and the resultant poor contract offer more than the brick incident. To make that incident the reason is a stretch. Also I don’t think the pressure had anything to do with it either based on Jeff’s story about the contract. What football coach wants to accept what amounts to a demotion following a season where you won the SEC?

UGADawg83

November 16th, 2010
2:15 pm

Thorn in UGA’s side? He was 2-5 against UGA at Tech…if that’s a thorn……………………..

Dr. Warren

November 16th, 2010
2:15 pm

I went to middle and high school with Curry’s daughter, and she was a very good person and smart, hardworking student. Despite his overdoing it on the job, Curry must have done something right at home.

Ted Striker

November 16th, 2010
2:16 pm

Nothing against Dan Radakovich, but I believed Tech should have offered Curry the AD job. That said, it sounds like Curry is happier where he is. He’s always been a class guy.

how2fish

November 16th, 2010
2:18 pm

Congrats to Coach Curry as fine a gentleman as I have the pleasure to ever meet!

Tech75

November 16th, 2010
2:20 pm

There is no finer man to lead a program, to set a standard, to provide leadership to young men.

Period.

Sports Review

November 16th, 2010
2:21 pm

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Tech75

November 16th, 2010
2:22 pm

That said, Bill, do you know anything about basketball?

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by GSU_News and Sara, Jeff Schultz. Jeff Schultz said: Bill Curry goes back to Tuscaloosa as a changed man http://bit.ly/boiQgp [...]

Paul H

November 16th, 2010
2:27 pm

How many Tech fans wish they still had Coach Curry right now?

coach joe

November 16th, 2010
2:27 pm

what is Georgia State’s record? I know coach Curry is great to listen to when he is on the radio..Wish him well.. To play Alabama, hope they get a big pay day..I’m sure they’ll earn it.

yo mama

November 16th, 2010
2:39 pm

Jeff, no mention that he went on to play center for the Colts and Johnny U, after Green Bay? it would have been nice to counter with that, after his stint in Green Bay. You know just a suggestion.

SimpleDawg

November 16th, 2010
2:41 pm

Hail Curry !

SoCal Dawg

November 16th, 2010
2:41 pm

Great piece! Shows that there is a lot more to happiness than money and a job.

Mr. Magoo

November 16th, 2010
2:41 pm

Maybe Hewitt should seek Curry’s advise about staying where you are not wanted!!

Gus Morris

November 16th, 2010
2:44 pm

Nice picture of Coach Curry and my dad!

itsmeagain

November 16th, 2010
2:47 pm

States record right now is 6-4. Though we’re kind of expecting it to change to 6-5 come Thursday, a winning season is still a great outcome for a first season.

coach joe

November 16th, 2010
2:49 pm

thanks.. 6-5 is a great start..

Hankie Aron

November 16th, 2010
2:53 pm

Often lost within the Wins and Losses, is the fact that some football coaches are the only real male role model in a person’s life. They can shape a kid to go down the right road in life when they are clearly pointed towards the wrong. Making a difference in someone’s life can’t be measured like a W, L, or even a National Championship.

wintervillebrave

November 16th, 2010
2:54 pm

He was phenomenal while at Tech! I think he could have got them a NC if he had stuck around a few more years. I used to love the black watch defense, and I’m a UGA fan.

Hankie Aron

November 16th, 2010
2:54 pm

QUESTION- Is that Urban Meyer in the background behind Curry in that picture? I’m just saying it looks like him

Don

November 16th, 2010
3:08 pm

Great article about a guy who obviously coaches for the right reasons. To put a program in place, and have a winning record the first year is very impressivem regardless of the opponents! Also, there must have some people at Alabama who remembered that he is a good man as well, as they gave him a game at Alabama to help make his first year a financial success as well. Good luck, coach.

juvenal

November 16th, 2010
3:11 pm

still talks a good game…..

GW

November 16th, 2010
3:20 pm

Curry used to brag about being a “Tech man” til Alabama offered him their job then poof he was gone. He got Tim Couch to Kentucky but did not run out of a shotgun formation…. odd. He and his wife are very charitable. I’m glad Ga. State got him out of the broadcast booth.

reebok

November 16th, 2010
3:21 pm

i never cared much for coach curry, but i am happy for the success and perspective he has found.

Jack P

November 16th, 2010
3:23 pm

What is not mentioned in this article are the death threats his wife and children received from the disgusting Alabama crazy fanatics. Like a man once said “to be an Alabama fan is to admit to having a mental disorder.”

calvin

November 16th, 2010
3:28 pm

‘just asking’ asked, “so why did he leave GT?”

He left because he was convinced that it was a ‘higher
calling’. He was recruited to change college football
there, and hopefully have his influence spread. He had a
reputation for honorable behavior and being a force for
good in his players’ lives.

Unfortunately not everyone at Alabama bought into that, and
he was treated disrespectfully by many; and the rest is history.

The fact that he couldn’t beat Auburn, even after winning
every other game one season, may have been the killer for the
Alabama fans and supporters.

DaWg

November 16th, 2010
3:29 pm

Good article. Something like this should be expanded into a longer article.

Delbert D.

November 16th, 2010
3:30 pm

The days of the Black Watch defense with Ted Roof and Pat Swilling were pretty good.

jw

November 16th, 2010
3:39 pm

I think his biggest problem, and he would probably tell you this – was the ego – He tried too hard to prove an outsider could coach after Bear. Plus, he was able to take that slice of humble pie and put it to good use at Kentucky – he did lay a pretty good foundation up there – he learned his lesson – and he got his life focus back Then his time at ESPN where he was always passed over for coaching slots makes one wonder if he gets a chance to coach again. Glad he is taking time to smell the roses this time around – it is hard to hear him talk about ‘back when’ – folks make mistakes – he admits them and has moved on, he will get GSU on solid ground. His biggest job is making those young men good citizens after their GSU days are over.

I think he does well at that. Reminding us all that this football stuff is not the biggest thing in the world, but opens the door to opportunities to grow as a person is a much more realistic sermon to preach to his players, their families and the football world. Do your best and be a good, respectful person – that’s the Bill Curry philosophy that I like the best. Good choice, good man, and good for Georgia State and their athletics.

[...] original post here:  Bill Curry goes back to Tuscaloosa as a changed man | Jeff Schultz By admin | category: GEORGIA STATE | tags: allegiance, curry, GEORGIA STATE, [...]

Bama

November 16th, 2010
3:56 pm

Several things:

-I’ve been a Bama fan for 40 years and have had best friends with dad’s on the coaching staff. I have no idea where the head coaches office is located. I bet there are very few outside the atheletic adminis that do.
-There were many more people that wanted him to stay than leave. You’ll never hear him talk about it but he knows that.
-It’s funny he got fired at Kentucky with no football history and if he’s had the same record against Indiana or Louisville basketball he would’ve been treated worse.
-I don’t think Curry is a bad guy but bringing up the brink thing as an indictment of the entire Alabama program and its fans is a joke and he knows it. In other words only one person threw the brin…no more.

Hey JackP

November 16th, 2010
3:59 pm

I’m sure your a delusional aubie and you’ll find out what happens when you lie and cheat your way to the top….get ready to hit the bottom. You guys really have no integrity, character or anything that a parent would want out of a school…totally a laughing stock.

Buckeye

November 16th, 2010
4:11 pm

It’s good to know one can find fullfillment – even at 68 years old. Quite a football journey including Lambeau and Tuscaloosa. Good luck, Coach. You are one of the good guys.

TDone

November 16th, 2010
4:20 pm

If Curry had stayed at Tech, he would still be the coach.

If Ross had stayed at Tech, he would still be the coach.

If O’Leary had stayed at Tech, he would still be the coach.

I liked Curry when he was at Tech because after the first three years, we were competitive with everyone in the ACC and in the SEC.

I think Curry knows now he made at mistake going to Alabama, but I understand why he did it.

dawghater

November 16th, 2010
4:20 pm

Bill Curry’s problem isn’t his return to Tuscaloosa it’s his return to coaching! He belongs on TV not on the sideline. Nice guys aren’t always good football coaches!

engiqueers...

November 16th, 2010
4:22 pm

curry is my least favorite tai dish

MURPHY

November 16th, 2010
4:39 pm

Coach Curry is for sure a coach we would all want our kids to learn from. A class act for sure.I wish them good luck in Bama. What a great oppritunity for these kids.Im sure they will never forget this game.

wxwax

November 16th, 2010
4:47 pm

Really nice story, Jeff. Thanks for writing it.

As a counterpoint, we have the comment posted by BAMAToNE. Excellent irony; although it’s probably lost on the young man.

Love this quote from Curry:

“Our son nailed me about 10 years ago. He said, ‘Look, dad, there was one thing we always knew. As long as your team won, it was OK to be happy at our house.’ That broke my heart. I knew it was true.””

I’ll bet that Nikki “I get my daddy back” Meyer could tell a similarly sad tale.