Before Paul Johnson, there was Homer Rice, and guess what?

I’ve chatted with Homer Rice off and on for more than 30 years. He’s always been riveting. In fact, just when I think I’ve heard it all involving this caretaker of sports wisdom, I discover something else.

Did you know Rice has a Jackie Robinson connection?

We’ll discuss that in a moment, but let’s start with this: Rice is the former Georgia Tech athletics director. So this is interesting with the Yellow Jackets holding their spring football game Saturday: Coach Paul Johnson has spent the past dozen years, spanning from Georgia Southern to Navy to the Flats, perfecting the triple-option offense, but guess who invented the thing about six decades ago?

Yep.

Take a bow, Mr. Rice.

I’m guessing Johnson and Rice huddle often about the inner workings of B-backs, A-backs and the such. “I’ve been down there to meet with Paul a couple of times, and I went to practice [this week] to talk about the needs and that sort of thing, but we don’t talk football too much,” said Rice, 83, threatening to make the earth spin backward before adding, “Well, we kind of go back over a little bit of history.”

That history eventually moves to the present, where Rice says of Johnson, “He has done the best job with this [triple-option] play and what he has added to it than anybody I’ve known in the history of the play. He has a great feel for it. There’s a lot of teaching involved, and it doesn’t come easy, but he has stayed with it.

“Once Paul gets the type of players you really need for that offense, he’ll be unstoppable.”

He’ll be like Rice during much of his coaching career. But listen to this: Here I was this week enjoying my latest conversation with Rice, and the subject switched from football to baseball, especially since Wednesday marked Jackie Robinson’s 62nd anniversary breaking the color barrier in baseball.

It turns out Rice interacted with Robinson back then, along with all of those other famous Brooklyn Dodgers. That’s because Rice was a rising catcher in the organization. “There’s a guy named Campanella who came along, and I thought, well, I better go into coaching,” said Rice, chuckling, referring to future Hall of Famer Roy Campanella.

No, I didn’t know any of that. I did know Rice fought in the Philippines during World War II. I knew he was a storied high school football coach in Tennessee and Kentucky (a combined 102-9-7). I knew about his slick offenses as a coordinator at Kentucky and Oklahoma in the 1960s and as a coach at Cincinnati and Rice.

He also was the coach of the Cincinnati Bengals in the late 1970s, when we first met. Plus, he was an athletics director at Rice and North Carolina before spending 17 years, through 1997, turning a pitiful athletics department at Tech into a prolific one. The trophy given to the top AD every year is named after Rice, too, and did I mention he just authored his seventh book?

He’s the man.

He’s the renaissance man.

52 comments Add your comment

mike

April 18th, 2009
8:51 am

Thank you Mr. Moore. Lots of people don’t realize how bad GT’s sports programs were when Homer Rice arrived. Everything had to be rebuilt. I think he made just one bad hire, but in my opinion the name of the football stadium should have his name on it. By the way, DRad is outstanding too.

Ted Striker

April 18th, 2009
8:45 am

Nice article, Terence. I always thought Rice was a class act at Tech and he is indeed a renaissance man.

Speaking of, good luck and happy trails to you. Maybe you’re that renaissance man TOO.

Mr. Skynyrd

April 18th, 2009
8:26 am

Good article Terence. I don’t read your “woe is the black man” stuff, but this one was good. The more you learn about Tech’s history the more impressed you become. Great school, great tradition. Most of us who transplanted to the Atlanta area aren’t familiar with all the history. You kind of stole a page from Bisher today.

Have to admit that UGA and the SEC have been the dominant forces around here in the last decade. I don’t see the SEC stepping back, but I think Tech’s going to give UGA a run for their money in all the major sports for the forseeable future. Tech won’t win them all, neither will UGA. It’s fun to see some life back in the rivalry.

freshd

April 18th, 2009
12:35 am

i like the dawgs but tech will dominate the major sports except. baseball, tennis and the gym dawgs. thanks suzanne, way to go out on top.

1995BRAVESHAD BROTHAS WORLDCHAMPS

April 18th, 2009
12:34 am

JOHNSON YOU BETTER HAVE AN AIR ATTACK THIS YEAR

freshd

April 18th, 2009
12:32 am

Good story T-MOORE. Just let me say once again what I said the other day. The fan in Ga. are bandwagon jumpers, and if you think Im wrong, go and read the BRAVES blog. Last week, the braves were gonna go 162-0. Jordan Schafer was the next big thing, and Matt Diaz should be playing everyday. Now they want to bring up the AAA team, and get rid of T.P. and MCDOWELL. There next victims will be the HAWKS, if they lose in the first round. OH yeah they killed the DAWGS and Martinez last year. Ga. TECH will pass UGA SPORTS in the next year, and like the dawgs.

Bayou Bengal

April 17th, 2009
11:44 pm

Did LSU stop it? Easily stopped offense. You just have to play in their backfield. With a coach who will call a fake punt from inside his 30 in the first half, and run it with a defensive end AND then yell at his offense, you can’t expect much. What a jerk. Tech put up 45 on a horrible DAWG defense and everybody thinks this offense is great. You guys need to realize ya’ll had tons of defensive talent, but were horrible.

jacketbacker

April 17th, 2009
11:13 pm

Nice article…..Dr. Rice is indeed the man….GT athletics was on its deathbed when he showed up…..He did a remarkable job on the flats and all Tech fans owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude….Go Jackets and THWG!!!!!

Jethro Tull

April 17th, 2009
10:34 pm

SugarHillDawg=Nerd Tormentor, from the state of Georgia is where he’ll get his recruits. Did you hear CPJ beat georgie 45-42 last year? And these weren’t even his recruits!!

So let me guess, you were one of the one’s who said: CPJ’s offense won’t work against BCS conference teams ; CPJ’s offense won’t work against SEC conference teams ; And now you’ll saw: “It won’t work next year because everyone is used to it, you know “catching on to it”. And then there’s the tired old, “You can’t recruit for it”.

You mutts are following the same old myths CPJ has heard for years and you look sillier than ever. Good try.

Listen morons: IT’S JUST A DAMN OFFENSE. THERE’S NO SECRECT TO STOPPING IT!!

Oh my, it’s so obvious how freakin’ out scared you are. LOL

mrb

April 17th, 2009
9:53 pm

More than any other individual, Homer Rice deserves credit for saving Tech athletics. He is the man. Thanks Terence.