Carl Torbush said he was “stunned” when the opportunity to build a football program from scratch at East Tennessee State first presented itself a couple of weeks ago.
It didn’t take him long to warm up to the idea.
The new head coach looked very much at ease Friday as he was introduced to a large, enthusiastic crowd at a news conference at the Millennium Center. In the company of ETSU officials and supporters, former players and old friend Phillip Fulmer, who directed the coaching search his way, Torbush said he’s ready to tackle the daunting job of putting the Bucs back on the field in 2015.
“Number one, I was stunned because I didn’t know they were going to come in this direction,” he said, referring to his visits with Fulmer, ETSU athletic director Richard Sander and president Brian Noland. “But I knew if I had an opportunity to come here that it was a perfect fit. Being from East Tennessee and recruiting this area for over 30 years, having a wife from Kingsport, knowing the great academics East Tennessee State has … I was very intrigued about starting it.”
Torbush, 61, is a well-established coach who has worked at a dozen schools over the last three decades, most as defensive coordinator. He was notably the head coach at North Carolina from 1998-2000, and previously guided the Louisiana Tech program for one season, in 1987.
His record as a head coach is 20-26.
Noland likes the new face of ETSU football, saying the special circumstances here made Torbush the ideal choice.
“Coach Torbush has a history of success, a passion for excellence and the energy to build Buccaneer football into a point of pride for our university,” he said.
Torbush is a North Carolina native, but he grew up in Knoxville and was an All-American in football and baseball at Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City. He soon set out on a coaching career that has taken him all around the South and beyond, including stops at Alabama, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Mississippi.
He saluted his wife Janet, a Dobyns-Bennett graduate, and son Trey for bearing with him in his travels.
“I was pretty consistent the first 20 years,” he said. “The last 10 I’ve been like a gypsy – here, there and everywhere.”
The East Tennessee roots and Torbush’s homespun humor – “One great thing about being here is I won’t need an interpreter to understand what I say,” he said -- made for a comfortable introduction to the ETSU faithful, many of whom have been clamoring for football to return to the university after a decade-long absence.
Noland made the decision in April to bring it back, and hired Fulmer, the Hall of Fame coach who won a national championship at Tennessee, to help Sander in the vetting process. Two months later, they have their first coach.
Torbush, who signed a five-year contract with a base salary of $160,000, tapped into the psyche of the program history on Friday.
“I know the pain and the anguish and everything else, 10 years worth of it,” he said. “To see the game come back was exciting to me. I didn’t play here, but I know a lot of people that did play here, and to see the gleam in their eye and know that their alma mater is getting ready to start football again, it makes me feel even better that I’m their new head coach.”
Torbush dismissed any lingering concerns about this health. He resigned as defensive coordinator at Kansas in 2010 because of what was termed as “low grade” prostate cancer.
Rumors of his demise have been greatly exaggerated, he said.
“I heard I’d had cancer about three or four times,” he said. “I dealt with prostate cancer one time. That was two years ago, and that was the reason I left Kansas. I just felt like if I was going to deal with that, I was going to come home. Home is East Tennessee, and down in Sevierville right now.
“I’ve been cleared from that two years. I always take great care of myself. I will say this: you get to a certain age, you better get yourself examined. The physical part is great, but if I hadn’t had the exam, I never would have known I had that. The guy did a great job and I was jogging again within three weeks.”
The next season, Torbush was back on the field at Liberty, but he lasted only one season there before announcing his retirement in February. Turns out the retirement was short-lived.
“I thought about when I left Liberty that I might ought to say that I quit, or I resigned,” he said. “But when you do that, there are a lot of questions you have to answer. Somebody said today that I’ve retired more times than Brett Favre.
“There’s only a certain number of jobs that would intrigue me, or make me get excited about being there – and this is definitely one of them, because of where it’s located and what I know about it. I know the importance of football in East Tennessee, as well as East Tennessee State.”
Torbush only has time to catch his breath before getting down to work at ETSU. He has at least a couple of assistant coaches in mind that he’d like to hire in the next few weeks to get the recruiting process started.
He expects prospective high school players to be very attentive when the Bucs come calling.
“The number one thing is to start the recruiting process as quick as we can,” he said, “because it’s real simple: If you don’t have good players, you don’t have a good football team. With the excitement of people knowing East Tennessee State really has football back again, I’m going to be shocked if we’re not tremendously received as far as recruiting these next two years.”
Torbush has some good coaching friends he’ll use as sounding boards on how to go about building a new program. He mentioned Brad Lambert (Charlotte), Bill Curry (Georgia State) and Larry Coker (Texas-San Antonio).
“I know the guys I need to talk to, because they’re close friends of mine and they’ll share with me what they did that was right and what they did that they wouldn’t do again,” he said. “We’ve got a good nucleus to pick their brains and get done what we need to get done, so we don’t make mistakes before we get to the next step.”a