As coach and conscience, Bill Curry will be greatly missed

Bill Curry at the podium Wednesday. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Bill Curry at the podium Wednesday. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

Bill Curry asked that Cheryl Levick, Georgia State’s athletic director, not refer to him Wednesday as a legend. Having played under Bobby Dodd, Vince Lombardi and Don Shula, Curry is sensitive about the word and its usage. And there is, ahem, the issue of whether it actually applies.

Bill Curry’s career record is 92-118-4. He has had seven winning seasons in the 19 he has worked at Georgia Tech, Alabama, Kentucky and now Georgia State. He announced Wednesday that the season ahead will be his last as a coach. It will not, he hopes, be his last as a person of influence, and that’s the good news. If there’s such a thing as a legendary voice of reason, Bill Curry is it.

This correspondent met Curry 28 years ago, just after he gave a speech to a Yellow Jacket booster club proclaiming that his Tech team “will drive the cheaters to their knees.” Fans of rival schools were outraged. The AJC columnist Lewis Grizzard, an admitted and ardent Georgia fan, demanded that Curry name names or hush his mouth.

On May 15, 1984, Curry spoke these words in defense of his oratory: “I’d like to see responsible people in all programs get involved and start asking questions. Are players being pushed to go to class in tough majors? Are they being recruited illegally? Are they being fed steroids? … There’s a vast silent majority out there on a lot of issues. We’ve all been guilty about watching something happen. That’s the power of inertia. We don’t want to rock the boat — maybe it’ll go away. But it’s a funny thing about bad things: They don’t seem to go away.”

On Aug. 15, 2012, the day he announced his impending retirement as coach, Curry spoke of the “incredible quandary” facing schools regarding the scope and place of collegiate football. He mentioned “dollars and foolishness.” He said: “I’d like to be part of the solution.”

There are those, it must be noted, who have long considered Curry a raging hypocrite. If he’d won as big at Alabama as the Bear had, they insist, he wouldn’t be complaining about systemic excesses. (For the record, three of Curry’s winning seasons were the years he spent coaching the Tide, and in 1989 he led Alabama to a share of the SEC title. Then, tired of fighting his own athletic department, he left for Kentucky.)

Asked Wednesday if we speak too little about those excesses and too much about winning games, Curry said: “Absolutely, and that’s a question you ought to ask every chance you get. If you complain about it [as a coach], it sounds like you’re making excuses. But somebody needs to address it. The college presidents really need to take a look at their value system.”

And there’s the reason it’s tempting to refer to a 69-year-old coach with a losing record as a legend. Curry has been good for college football because he has never been afraid to mention the bad. His teams have waxed and waned — the 1985 Tech team that finished 9-2-1 was expertly coached; the 1994 Kentucky team that went 1-10 was just wretched — but his principles have not.

Why is he retiring? In part because of his five grandchildren. “Of Super Bowl rings and jet airplanes and flying all over the place and honors and trophies,” Curry said, “the one thing that is highly touted but not overrated is grandchildren.”

Then this: “I thought it was the right thing to do [as a younger coach] to work 90 hours a week, and I missed my children growing up. I’m not going to do that again.”

Curry worked, and continues to work, the 80- and 90-hour weeks because it’s what football coaches do, but somebody needs to ask: Is working 80- and 90-hour weeks something anyone should do? Curry is one guy, maybe the only guy of such eminence, who’ll pose the question. As much as he has meant to his players at previous stops, as much as he has done from lifting Georgia State from a program without even a chinstrap to the Sun Belt and FBS status, his greatest purpose has been as a conscience.

He’s a smart man who’s not easily cowed, and sometimes that gets him into trouble. Take the 1984 speech. Curry revealed Wednesday that he took the podium that night having just read an impassioned letter from a Georgia fan saying that Tech would never ever beat the Bulldogs. “I turned into that offensive center who had to block Ray Nitschke by slamming into him,” he said. “Carolyn [his wife]  tried to warn me, but I spoke in anger.”

History records that Curry’s Jackets beat Georgia 35-18 in Sanford Stadium six months later, and by December the Bulldogs would be under NCAA investigation. (Curry insists he didn’t rat out his rival.) Even so, he still regrets the speech. “The last thing we need is some idiot saying we’re going to bring the cheaters to their knees,” he said.

Right about many things, he’s wrong about this. College football already has enough Nick Sabans and Urban Meyers and Lane Kiffins. Now more than ever, the sport needs Bill Currys.

By Mark Bradley

94 comments Add your comment

SkyDawg

August 15th, 2012
4:31 pm

Good luck coach. Enjoy those grandchildren

First?

blazerdawg

August 15th, 2012
4:33 pm

True “coach”, great guy, and a great Jacket/Panther/Atlantan/Georgian.

Good luck in your future endeavors Coach Curry!

SkyDawg

August 15th, 2012
4:34 pm

Still not crazy, after all these years, about the ‘cheaters’ speech but you can’t fault a guy for being honest. And besides, we OWN the Jackets, so no real harm done.

Mark Bradley

August 15th, 2012
4:36 pm

Kudos, SkyDawg.

Speed Racer

August 15th, 2012
4:38 pm

As a Dawg fan, heard to embrace any GT man but I have to say that Curry has been, by all accounts, and upstanding leader of men. The way the Tide fans treated him showed their ignorance for sure.

Speed Racer

August 15th, 2012
4:39 pm

“hard to embrace” not “heard to embrace.” (There needs to be a way to delete and re-post when one finds typing errors.)

SkyDawg

August 15th, 2012
4:41 pm

Agreed Speed. I actually became a Curry fan after watching that idiocy. How he held up is still a wonder. .

Reebok

August 15th, 2012
4:41 pm

Good luck in whatever your next venture is, Coach. Thanks for everything.

WDE

August 15th, 2012
4:45 pm

Very nice article Mark , I have had the pleasure of meeting Coach Curry and he is impressive when you meet him to say the least. A friend played for him at UK and would walk thru fire for him lousy team or not.

Pantherfan93

August 15th, 2012
4:49 pm

Thanks coach. You gave us a start, and allowed us to dream. Hopefully we can give you a legacy of what you started in return.

Georgia Tech is in Atlanta

August 15th, 2012
4:53 pm

He’ll definitely be missed by Georgia State’s opponents.

Georgia Tech is in Atlanta

August 15th, 2012
5:01 pm

Jeez at all the accolades being dumped on Curry. I remember when he was at Tech: 2-19-1 his first two seasons, constant beatdowns at the hands of Auburn, never could defeat Furman, beat UNC just one time. Thanks goodness for The Citadel and Memphis State in 1982 or that would have been a losing season, too. To top it off, all he had to do was beat Wake Forest in 1986 to get the Jackets to the Bluebonnet Bowl and he blew that!

JB

August 15th, 2012
5:03 pm

Solid guy. Never much cared for him, but that’s looking at him from a public perspective. Players love him, nuff said. Going to Bama was a mistake, and Bama showed their real colors. Killing trees, throwing bricks etc. That’s why there is never any news of trouble over there due to Governor on down being ALL in. Wish Curry the best and good health, Tech guy and all.

Hurt Park

August 15th, 2012
5:04 pm

On September 8th, Beat Tennessee in Knoxville!

[...] who will turn 70 in October, said there were several factors that helped him decide, including that he was missing the lives of his two children and five grandchildren and that he [...]

Getaway

August 15th, 2012
5:15 pm

Yeah, I can’t imagine that Curry would have let a child sex predator run free on his campus after he became aware of it. Not like another “legend”.

chuck

August 15th, 2012
5:16 pm

Georgia fan here. Bill Curry is a great man, The kind we need in coaching. Had the privilege of hearing him speak two years ago. Was very impressed. Good christian man. God bless his future.

Auburn cheating big surprise NOT

August 15th, 2012
5:18 pm

these days you are kicked out of LSU for using illegal drugs and continuing to fail the drug test…but doesn’t bother at least 20 other schools that we heard about that want Honey Badger on their team illegal drugs or not.

Then there is Auburn the biggest cheaters in 2010. It is hard to believe Chizek has outcheated SC, Bama and Tn

chuck

August 15th, 2012
5:20 pm

Georgia fan here. Bill Curry is a great man. The kind we need in coaching, but can understand his reasons for leaving. Had the privilege of hearing him speak two years ago, and was very impressed. A fine christian man. God bless his future undertakings.

KR

August 15th, 2012
5:38 pm

“NOT”: you need to get out more. The NCAA cleared Auburn of any wrongdoing in 2010.

I wish Bill Curry all the best. I wouldn’t necessarily call him a legend, but he has proven himself to be a good man.

GSU is in Atlanta

August 15th, 2012
5:38 pm

Great write up. Win or Lose, I am thankful for everything Curry has done for GSU.

Dave

August 15th, 2012
5:39 pm

Agreed, Mark.

Hurt Park

August 15th, 2012
5:45 pm

In a very short period of time,
Bill Curry has done a great job at Georgia State University,
from no football to the FBS (Division 1-A).

Well Done.

Stinger 2

August 15th, 2012
5:49 pm

I believe Curry was influenced very much by Coach Dodd and carried the principles he learned from the “grey fox” into his coaching carear. However, his basic good character and honest approach was probably learned from his parents.

South GA

August 15th, 2012
5:57 pm

In 1985 a young man from Lowndes County signed with Curry’s Tech team as a highly touted QB. He played in the spring game and then was severely injured in a terrible car crash that summer. He would never play football again but Coach Curry honored his scholarship anyway.
Good coach, great man. We need more like him in college football today.

Curry

August 15th, 2012
5:58 pm

To pay a tribute to Curry please attend the Ga State games this season.
Attendance = appreciation

Georgia State future

August 15th, 2012
6:02 pm

If, and that is a big word, if they get an aggressive, young coach, I can see Georgia State becoming a power in their league. Should be able to pick up upperclassmen from Tech and Georgia that are not getting much playing time, and combine that with the abundance of high school talent within a 50 mile radius, that are not quite good enough for the SEC, and things should look good for GSU.

Grantham's The Man!

August 15th, 2012
6:10 pm

Hire Curray as the head of the NCAA’s Task Force Against Cheating. He sounds like a natural, and he already knows his way around the state of Alabama.

WooYeah

August 15th, 2012
7:33 pm

A great person, and yes, compared to many today, he is a legend. While the winning record as a coach isn’t that great, he was a key part of the great Green Bay Packer teams. He has succeeded in two different careers and most importantly, as leader of men.

Wilson Pickett

August 15th, 2012
7:44 pm

Coach Curry is a fine man and an average Coach at best. If not for a dumbazz President of the U of A (Joab Thomas) Bill would have never been on the list. Joab hired a sales manager instead of a football coach. Bill pissed off everybody in the A Club with the exception of the plastic surgeon All American center. Bill was gone before the 1st game of 1989.

Do yourself a favor and stop your little girls whinning about Alabama. Beat somebody that has beaten somebody and most will listen.

Silly Bloggers

August 15th, 2012
7:46 pm

I am a UGA grad and I have the utmost respect for Curry. The sad thing is that there are only 29 comments as the nay-sayers have nothing to say as it is not an indictment of UGA, cheating at AU, dirty recruiting at Bama, etc. God forbid the trolls comment on an article about a man who took a stand against what has become the most corrupted sport in history. With that being said, I would trade nothing for college football. Go Dawgs!

GSUAlumBaseball81

August 15th, 2012
8:06 pm

GT in ATL = ……………………….

TheTechie

August 15th, 2012
8:21 pm

Enter your comments here

TheTechie

August 15th, 2012
8:22 pm

.429 Head coach = legendary?

No….

I know you Georgia State kids are new to football, but he is not a good coach.

Stateside

August 15th, 2012
8:26 pm

Nice read. I’m proud to be a GSU…and CBC…fan.

TheTechie

August 15th, 2012
8:26 pm

TheTechie

August 15th, 2012
8:27 pm

Chis Ault (Nevada) .682 > CBC

TheTechie

August 15th, 2012
8:28 pm

Hayden Fry (Baylor) .564 > CBC

TheTechie

August 15th, 2012
8:29 pm

Lou Holtz( W&M, Kent St, NCState, Ark, Minn, ND, SC) .651 > CBC

TheTechie

August 15th, 2012
8:29 pm

Mack Brown (Texas) .679 > CBC

TheTechie

August 15th, 2012
8:30 pm

Football today is all about winning and NOTHING else.

Those that say different are fools.

I remember

August 15th, 2012
8:38 pm

Sanctimony has its place, but it is seldom pretty. I remember him vandalizing the hedges and that was plenty for me. Being holier than all others must be a tough burden to carry all these years.

Big Jacket

August 15th, 2012
8:44 pm

I hope if my grandsons play football, they will be lead by someone like Coach Curry.

UK91

August 15th, 2012
8:49 pm

Curry is a legend. In just a few seasons he turned a non-existent football program into a Division I team. He did the exact same thing at Kentucky, only in reverse.

John Futch

August 15th, 2012
9:19 pm

One the genuine good guys.

John Futch

August 15th, 2012
9:20 pm

One of the genuine good guys.

So moved I omitted a word. ;—)

Phillip

August 15th, 2012
9:24 pm

The metrics may not support the “legend” designation, but the man and his heart do. I’ve heard Bill Curry speak twice in my life – once delivering the eulogy of a good friend and once delivering a talk to a youth group. Both times he had the crowd laughing and crying, but more importantly, he left us with life altering take aways that were amazing anecdotes from his life. A bound between a white, undersized rookie and a huge, black All Pro that altered his rookie camp with Green Bay and his life. Encounters with Bobby Dodd. His love and respect for his wife. An amazing man and a great inspiration to us all, even an old Bulldog like myself. God speed Bill Curry – I hope the free time you have will be well spent with your family AND in front of groups that are hungry for your inspiration.

The Mighty Quinn

August 15th, 2012
9:32 pm

Two great memories of Bill Curry at Tech: Goes to a bowl game and kicks the starting QB off the team for rules infractions and wins the game anyway. A DB makes an interception in another game and makes a big show on the field. When he comes off the field, Curry grabs him by the face mask, pulls him to his face and starts chewing him a new one; the kid tries to turn away from Curry and he yanks the face mask back around and continues to chew the kid out. I don’t care what his won/loss was, he did and still does coach the game the right way. He’s a legend in MY book.

Ted Striker

August 15th, 2012
9:40 pm

I thought he’d have been an excellent AD at Tech.

Good grief

August 15th, 2012
9:57 pm

Enough Nick Saban’s? Really? Same scumbag category as Urban “quit for personal reasons” Meyer and lane “send the girls out to recruit” Kiffen? Bradley=complete homer dbag. Curry, though, is a decent fella that just never could figure out how to beat allbarn. RTR!