TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It’s been a few years now since Bill Curry left the broadcast booth behind to roam the sidelines again.
At an age when retirement sounds like more of an option, the former Alabama coach took a plunge into uncharted territory. Instead of taking over an established program, he helped start a new one.
Tonight, he will return to the national airwaves as his Georgia State program takes another step out of infancy and into the big time when it faces the Crimson Tide at 7:30 p.m.
Starting from scratch is one thing. Facing the defending Football Bowl Subdivision national champions is another.
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“We literally started with one person and an idea,” Curry said. “More importantly, we had the support of the vast majority of student body.”
Nestled in the middle of Atlanta, Georgia State is hardly a small school. With an enrollment of 31,000, it is actually a few hundred students larger than Alabama. The Georgia State student body voted to increase its athletics fee to add the football program after a feasibility study was completed in November, 2006.
The program officially was launched in April 2008; Curry was hired that July.
When asked whether he would be interested in the job, Curry said, his “heart started pounding.” He replied that he first had to talk about it with his wife. When she gave the go-ahead, he signed on to be coach No. 1 in Georgia State football history.
The team had 60 practice dates last fall without playing a game before drawing 3,000 fans to its spring game this April. The Panthers also got what appeared to be a big recruiting boost in the spring, when former Alabama quarterback Star Jackson left Tuscaloosa to join the program after playing in the Tide’s A-Day Game. After watching the scrimmage on television, Curry told ESPN Magazine that Jackson was the best Alabama quarterback on the field that day.
Jackson hasn’t turned into a standout at Georgia State yet; he has appeared in only three games and completed 4-of-9 passes with two interceptions. Still, the program has plenty of support without being eligible for the postseason.
Playing their home games in the Georgia Dome, the Panthers average 16,750 fans, which would rank 11th in the Football Championship Subdivision when it becomes an official member next season.
“They don’t look like they have any organizational issues,” Nick Saban said. “They are really well coached. They do a lot of different things; they don’t have a lot of penalties. They’ve been practicing for a long time. I think the issue is that they haven’t been able to do the full body of work and recruit four or five recruiting classes to have maybe the numbers of players in depth, although I have a lot of respect for the players that they have playing.”
In their first 10 games, the Panthers have six wins, including a 41-7 pounding of NAIA Shorter in their inaugural game Sept. 2. After losing to another NAIA school in Game 2 — 23-14 to Lambuth — the rest of the Georgia State opponents came from the FCS. The Panthers took No. 6 Jacksonville State to overtime Sept. 18 before losing 34-27.