ATLANTA — Mark Hogan Jr., the first of many, should have paid more attention to his hair.
Of all people, Hogan, the first-ever football player in Georgia State’s history, should have known that even on a day when his head coach was announcing his impending retirement, he would notice the little things above all else.
When Bill Curry strode into the room, a sly grin adorned his face as his eyes found his initial recruit on the front row. Even at 69 years old his frame dominates a room, and Hogan, a redshirt junior linebacker, joined the rest of the audience gathered for the announcement in silence. Curry took a few steps forward and quietly spoke in Hogan’s ear, followed by a brief laugh from the two who started it all.
“He was giving me a hard time about my hair, that’s the funny thing,” said Hogan, whose family bridges the gap between Curry’s first and final head coaching jobs. His father played for Curry during the 1980s.
And so it was that Curry, who launched the Georgia State program in 2008 by focusing on the smaller keys to success, fittingly took the stage Wednesday to announce that the 2012 season will be his last. After “58 consecutive years” involved in organized football, including three Super Bowl appearances as a player and three previous coaching stints at Georgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky, one of the most respected men in college football will soon set his lifelong passion aside.
“I’m glad, frankly, to set this out of the way because people have been asking for a long time,” Curry said. “Having become sure that I know what’s going to happen, I can’t walk around telling people that I don’t know yet when I do, so we needed to get this done.”
After athletic director Cheryl L. Levick discarded any lingering doubts as to the purpose of the news conference, Curry was initially adamant that there would be zero emotional appeals until after the season. He said he is focused on the season. His program has set goals it cannot overlook.
However, as questions came in, prodding the surface of his lengthy, impressive career, Curry visibly appeared to soften. The gravity of the situation set in. His hard-line opening statement yielded to talks of humble beginnings, jokes among friends in the crowd and exchanging loving looks with his wife, Carolyn, seated in the second row.
Emotion always lurks beneath the surface with Curry. The longer you sit in his presence, the more it comes out. He played with it. He, at least in some part, left Alabama because of it. Even his acceptance of the Panthers’ job hinged upon familial ties to the university.
So, as he plans to hang up his beloved whistle he wore to Georgia State’s media day just weeks before, emotional appeals again tug at his heart strings. He holds regret that, because of coaching’s strenuous nature, he missed so many moments in the lives of his son and daughter. He is determined not to let that happen again with their five children.
“The one thing that’s highly touted that is not overrated is grandchildren,” Curry said while looking down at his glowing wife. “It is so wonderful, and I’m gonna know those children. . . . I missed our children growing up, and I’m not going to do that again.”
Curry will leave the job’s grueling workload with (likely) more than 92 victories on his resume but, yes, a career losing record. That didn’t matter on Wednesday; it wasn’t on his mind as his well-worn jokes were welcomed with Carolyn’s bright laughter. He holds Coach of the Year honors in both the Atlantic Coast and Southeastern conferences. He owns championship rings. His football career resonates so loud with accomplishment, one could even call it legendary — just not to his face.
“We had a prep meeting prior to this when we sat down with [associate athletic director] Allison [George], and he said, ‘Cheryl, do not call me a legend,'” Levick said. “So instead I’m going to do this: I’m just going to say that he is a hero to his players, he is an ambassador to this university and he is a lifelong friend to everyone in this room.”
The Panthers have yet to win anything of significance under Curry’s leadership, as is to be expected from a fledgling program. That fact does not prevent him from reflecting on the past four years as one of his brightest hours in coaching — “There’s so many, but this is one of them,” he said. — and he will carry that emotion for the rest of his life.
He built upon Bobby Dodd’s beginnings at Georgia Tech. He built upon Bear Bryant’s insurmountable legacy at Alabama (and then again at Kentucky).
But Georgia State was his project. His alone.
“It’s been humbling,” he said of his coaching twilight.
Bill Curry was no longer simply part of the construction. He became, ultimately, the foundation.
As he looks forward to one final season and then retirement, his hopes are that he can provide a similar bedrock for another developing structure, one with so much still ahead of it. Those grandkids never seem to quit growing.