Passion still burns in Panthers’ Curry
Georgia State head coach succeeding with ‘new’ challenge
ATLANTA – Bill Curry has seen and accomplished a lot in his 68 years.
He played for Vince Lombardi with the Green Bay Packers during his 13-year NFL career.
He coached Alabama to a 26-10 record and won the SEC championship in 1989. His record gave him the highest winning percentage among Alabama coaches since Bear Bryant.
“He’s seen everything” was probably tossed around quite a bit when he stepped down at Kentucky – his third head coaching stop – in 1996. But simply put, that wasn’t true. He hadn’t seen everything.
A native of Atlanta, Curry had never started a football program from scratch. Not too many coaches do. So when a school in his own backyard decided it wanted in on college football, the itch was there. See, the excitement of the first game day of the season never leaves someone who’s been around it as long as he has. Welcome to Georgia State, coach.
“It never changes,” Curry said of the first game of the season. “There’s great anticipation. The most normal metaphor is ‘like a kid at Christmas.’ I say yes and no. At Christmas, if you’re really lucky you get to go see Santa, and you have a pretty good idea if he’s going to deliver or not. Here, it’s like being a kid on Christmas but you have no idea what you’re going to open up.”
Nothing seems to faze Curry. Having his top two quarterbacks suspended for violating team rules didn’t have him the least bit nervous. Having to run last season’s punter Bo Schlechter out to start at QB in the season opener? No big deal.
Even Labor Day weekend traffic in one of the traffic meccas of the world didn’t do it. That’s mainly because of a police escort from the team’s hotel near Atlanta Perimeter Mall which helped things quite a bit for us Friday. It’s one of the things that coaches miss most when they leave the game.
“If we could get all football coaches to tell the truth about what they miss most when they leave this stuff? Probably having a police escort through traffic,” Curry said on the way downtown. “There’s nothing like it. These guys that ride these motorcycles and in the vehicles have to be fearless; I tell them they are as crazy as we are. The craziest ones are in Birmingham, Ala. They get you there and back as quick as can be.”
Embedding with the second-year program for the afternoon was quite the scene. A trip which could have easily taken an hour was turned into half that, thanks to the cops on motorcycles and the Georgia state troopers telling car after car to get out of our way. Georgia State was coming through on I-85.
Playing as an FCS Independent – like our first host of the road trip in South Alabama – the Panthers play their home games at the Georgia Dome, and are looking to build off an inaugural season in which they went 6-5 as they prepare to join the always-tough CAA next season.
Friday brought the start of year two. And it got off to a better start than the first year. The results in both games were 41-7, but this time around there was no minor fender bender to deal with on the way downtown.
This time, the trip was smooth and the team responded to a passionate pregame speech with a shellacking of fellow Atlanta resident, the Clark Atlanta Panthers.
It won’t be the biggest game of the weekend to be played on that turf thanks to Georgia and Boise State on Saturday. Curry even joked while seeing all of the Georgia flags in the parking lot, but the 26,273 fans that were there to see his Panthers made some noise. Especially the students in the end zone, something Curry wanted the visiting Panthers to have to weather.
Yes, Georgia State has a home-field advantage even with only the lower level open.
“The dome is wonderful, I was shocked,” Curry said. “I really didn’t think it’d be a home-field advantage but it is. It transforms well to blue and white, our band was an instant success; they set the atmosphere. If we have a large crowd and fill up the downstairs it’s incredible. If we have a small crowd it’s still loud and festive – especially with the jumbotron. We’re going to have days where we have big crowds, and days when we don’t.”
While many people like to ask him what the differences are between coaching at the highest of levels in the game and an FCS program in its second season, Curry and his veteran coaching staff focus on the similarities.
There are more than meet the eye. Many run deep with what the game is all about.
“The similarities are that a teenage football player from one generation to the next, while the technology is different, the educational methods are different, the culture is different, but there’s one thing that’s the same: They want to play,” Curry said. “When you get a group of guys together that really, really want to play football and are willing to pay the price then it’s a great adventure in any generation. I wouldn’t do it if that weren’t the case, but it is the case. While at Alabama they may be bigger and faster, these guys mean just as much to me as those guys did.”
Curry has his team believing in that. Play as a team. Respect your teammates. Good things will happen.