Bill Curry has faced a lot of challenges in a life dedicated to football as a player at Georgia Tech and with the Green Bay Packers and Baltimore Colts and as a coach at Georgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky.
Curry, 65, has undertaken perhaps his biggest challenge by becoming the first head coach for Georgia State's new program earlier this summer.
Staff writer David Friedlander recently sat down with Curry to discuss those challenges - from hiring his first assistants, including former Meadowcreek coach George Pugh, to recruiting his first crop of players from throughout the metro Atlanta area, including Gwinnett County.
DF: I guess the obvious questions with regard to your decision to come out of a lengthy coaching retirement and start up a brand new program from scratch are why Georgia State and why now?
BC: One of the reasons is because it's in Atlanta. Carolyn and I have lived all over the country. The only region we haven't lived is Pacific Northwest. We are Atlantans. We love it here. We came back six years ago (from a secondary residence in Murphy, N.C.). That was a big part of the equation. When I got feelers (from other schools about coaching), and truthfully, there were not a lot of them, Carolyn always encouraged me and she's been great about it. She'd say 'Wonderful. I'll miss you, but ...'
When I called her about this job, her response was electric. She's such a spontaneous person. She said 'Great, you get to do something you know something about and I don't have to move.' But it's like anything, your heart steers you in the right direction.
DF: Georgia State hasn't enjoyed much success in terms of wins or fan support until fairly recently - most notably, Lefty Driesell's tenure as coach of the men's basketball team. Did the school's athletic history give you pause to take up this task?
BC: Athletic success doesn't necessarily breed athletic success. We proved that at Georgia Tech when we allowed it to get away from us in the '70s, and it took awhile to get it back. Just because you had not had a great track record, it doesn't mean you can't in the future.
In my sport, it might look different if not for the emergence of schools like Alabama-Birmingham, South Florida, Central Florida and Florida Atlantic. People say, 'Yeah, but those schools are in Florida. They have a lot of talent down there.' Well, so do we (here in Georgia).
When (Former NFL coach and GSU football consultant) Dan Reeves started talking to me (about the job), I said, 'Shouldn't you do this?' He said, 'Yeah, but I've never coached a down of college football before. We really should get someone who has.' Then, he started talking about the 100,000 (GSU) alumni in metro Atlanta and that there are more CEOs and CFOs (produced from GSU) than Tech and UGA combined. We have the largest dorm, and we're not going to be a commuter school anymore. There are more advantages at Georgia State now that it never had before. With all due respect, athletic administrations (in past years) never had the kind of resources that are here now.
DF: One of the resources you don't have is time when you stop to think that this time next year, you'll be getting ready to welcome your first freshman class to campus and two years from now, you'll be preparing for your first game.
BC: It sounds like a lot of time to people, but I've already said this to our people. We'll be running onto the field to play a football game before you know it.
My first job is to find a coaching staff. We're well on our way to doing that. I have to confess, I've gotten very lucky certain people were available and were willing to do it.
DF: Another key job you must get going with quickly is recruiting players. Let's start with your first freshman class, which you will sign on National Signing Day next February and redshirt one season. Exactly how many players are you expecting to sign with your first class?
BC: We could sign as many as 30, but we're not going to invent players. So, if we find 19 or 21, fine. If we find 30 who meet our qualifications in terms of character and academics and can hit, great. That's the next thing.
DF: What about potential transfers from other programs or potential walk-ons?
BC: We have gotten some calls, and they know what to say. There's a certain protocol we have to go through - like getting releases from their scholarships at their current programs, etc. I'll be meeting with our compliance officer soon to go over exactly how we have to proceed as far as that's concerned.
DF: Given the success of high school football around the metro area, I think it's safe to say high school programs like those in Gwinnett County will be prime recruiting grounds for you. Exactly where are you going to concentrate your recruiting efforts?
BC: At every single school (in Georgia). If you go to every single school, you'll hear high school coaches say, '(College coaches) never come by here unless we have a (big-time) player.' But we're going to come by anyway. We want to support high school football from the coaches and players down to the counselors and principals.
You want to know our method? We're going to show up. When you get a chance to visit with a player and his family, you tell the truth and it's amazing how many players will come your way. We do have a lot to sell (at GSU), and there's an almost pathological desire (among the current crop of players) to play early. Well, they'll get an opportunity to play early with us.
DF: There has been some talk about possibly having enough transfers and walk-ons to hold at least a rudimentary spring practice next year. Is there any chance of that happening?
BC: Anything could happen. We could end up where that's just a pipe dream, but we could end up with enough people (next spring) to do some segments of what we want to do.
DF: Of course, next year will be only a year of practice. How do you think you'll keep an eager young group of players dying to play games interested in what will be just a practice year?
BC: By this time next year, we'll start writing up practice schedules and scripts. I think we'll have a heck of a challenge to make that interesting. How do you go out there and practice every day and you don't have the allure of the game? The first thing you do is find out how other schools do it. Who had success? And we see if we can't be creative and come up with excellent scrimmage ideas - maybe get the pep band and cheerleaders out there and such.
DF: I just realized we both may be getting ahead of ourselves here. Before you can practice, you have to have a practice facility. How is that process going?
BC: That's a matter of great interest by us. I've got an idea of what the thinking is on that. I've got an idea of some of the possibilities. I've met with some people working on the project, and that's about as far as it's gotten. But I've been concentrating on our coaching staff. And it's been quite a media crush. It's surprised me a bit, and it's pleasing, but very time consuming.
DF: So is it safe to say you've been as busy as you've been in any offseason in your career?
BC: I have been this busy before in the initial stages at each of the programs I've been responsible for taking over. But this one has different challenges simply because there are numerically more things to take care of. On the other hand, I don't have guys cutting class or John Wayne-ing someone in a bar.
DF: Looking further down the road, what kind of progress would you like to see, or is that kind of putting the cart before the horse considering you don't even have any players yet?
BC: I don't think it's putting the cart before the horse. We know we're not going to outpersonnel people early. We had better have systems that can fit a variety of types of personnel.
The only goal I've got that's very clear is we want to be competitive immediately with our schedule and show improvement every time we take the field. We want to quickly earn respect.
DF: Speaking of your schedule, have you thought about what your first one might look like?
BC: I need to talk to our AD (Mary McElroy) about how she sees that proceeding. That's down the road, but my inclination, just like my friend (former Miami coach) Howard Schnellenberger (who started a similar program at Florida Atlantic) is to play whoever wants to play us and whenever they want to play us. I don't know if that's the right situation here, but we'll see.
The (Colonial Athletic Association) is plenty big time. We're in very difficult conference, though we'll be independent our first two years. I've already been thinking about ideas of who to play, but nothing we're close to announcing yet.
DF: What about Georgia Southern? They're a perennial I-AA powerhouse, they're close by and they use the same initials. It seems like a natural rivalry. Any chance you could wind up scheduling them at some point?
BC: I can start firing (the name of) one school after another and say they're somebody we'd think about playing. But I don't think we can be specific about somebody close by right now.
DF: You've often compared building GSU's program to that of similar schools like Alabama-Birmingham, Central Florida, Florida Atlantic and especially South Florida. The common link to those programs is that they all eventually moved up to BCS status within a decade or so of starting. Is that your eventual vision for your program?
BC: (Laughs) Sure. I've got a friend at ESPN - one of the executives. He called me (just after taking the GSU job) all excited and had it all mapped out how many years it would take. I told him, 'That's just because you want us to play at Notre Dame the opening week of the season.'
DF: One thing is for sure. You'll be playing in a big-time facility in the Georgia Dome. One of the biggest things some critics have pointed to is the size of that facility, with the feeling it may be too big for GSU's program, at least, initially. Do you think playing there will help or hinder the growth of the program?
BC: Growing our program involves fundraising and staff. I've been over there (at the Dome). I went over there to do some promotional spots and I walked out on field. It's been a long time since I've done that with a (team) color on. I've done that with a suit and microphone a couple hundred times the last decade. But I learned so much from my ESPN experience.
When we started having smaller bowls, I was one of complainers saying 'Who wants to watch those bowls?' The answer is a lot of people. People shocked me because they were so excited. The fans at the New Orleans Bowl is a great example. The (Super) dome did a great thing. They closed the upper deck, cordoned off and decorated segments to where it didn't look like there were that many empty seats. With a crowd of maybe 20,000-25,000, it was a nice crowd. So, I think if we're smart where we put people, It could be good, and we need to attract ... good crowds, but we don't know what that number will be yet.
One of things I'm encouraged about is we asked Georgia State graduates who have bought season football tickets to other programs, 'Would you switch back your allegiance to Georgia State if we had football program?' Almost all of them said they would.