National Press Club

Coach Builds Ga. State Football Day by Day

September 25, 2009 | By Mark Schoeff Jr. |

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When it plays Alabama in its inaugural football season next year, Georgia State University may get pummeled by the highly ranked Crimson Tide.

But the Panthers won’t get knocked down any harder than their coach, Bill Curry, did on his first day of NFL practice with the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s. Curry, an offensive lineman, lined up across from future Hall of Famer Ray Nitschke.

Nitschke broke Curry’s face mask and nose. Despite a disastrous start, Curry stuck with professional football for a 10-year career. He is trying to develop the same kind of fortitude in Georgia State players.

“We’re going to get up off the ground and hit them again and hit them again,” Curry said at a Sept. 23 Newsmaker.

A former coach at Georgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky, Curry has a reputation for taking over programs in transition and succeeding.

At Georgia State, Curry must build a team from scratch. The Atlanta school announced in April 2008 that it was launching a program in the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-AA. Curry was named coach two months later.

The team is preparing to kick off its first season next fall and will meet Alabama in November 2010. The squad, which currently consists of 28 scholarship and 43 walk-on players, is already practicing five days a week, starting at 5:30 a.m.

“We expect to be competitive the first day we play,” Curry said. “We can improve 2 percent every day at something.”

Curry also is demanding that his players work hard on their degrees. The school’s athletic teams have an average GPA of 3.0.

“We’ve got a big academic tradition to live up to,” Curry said.

The advent of football is making an impact beyond the athletic department, according to Curry and Georgia State President Mark Becker.

The school, which has an enrollment of 30,000, has seen an increase in the number of students living on its downtown Atlanta campus. About 1,000 people attended an early September pep rally.

“We were thrilled by the turnout,” Becker said. “(The team) has captivated the entire campus.”

The reaction bolsters Curry’s belief that football has captured America’s imagination.

“Baseball is not the national pastime anymore,” Curry said. “Football is the national sport.”

For Curry, a football team is the apotheosis of a diverse group of people who bond for a common purpose that transcends race, ideology and background.

“It always happens in the huddle,” Curry said. “I call it the miracle of team.”