Fulmer, who recently hired Jeremy Pruitt as the Vols’ new football coach, played an instrumental role in bringing Carl Torbush to East Tennessee State.
When Fulmer contacted Torbush about taking the job as head coach of ETSU’s resurrected football team, Torbush had already retired for the second time. He was enjoying life on Douglas Lake and figured the rest of his football-watching days would be spent on the couch, not the sidelines.
Torbush said yes, and the rest is history. And history will show it was a good move for everyone involved.
Torbush was the perfect father figure a new program needed. He brought years of experience and skin tough enough to handle the inevitable losing that he would experience in the formative years of the program.
He got to work the day he was hired, June 21, 2013, and never looked back. Starting with two assistant coaches, he built and built and never wavered in his convictions all the way up to his retirement announcement on Friday.
Torbush said when he took the job, there was not even a helmet on campus. It wasn’t a joke.
“I remember the first time we were going to have tryouts, we were going to have stopwatches and dummies, but we didn’t have anything to try them out with,” he said.
These days, the program has a stadium of which to be proud. While not as big as some of its Southern Conference counterparts, Greene Stadium is one of the jewels of the league. The SoCon commissioner said so himself.
“Fantastic,” John Iamarino said during ETSU’s 31-25 loss to The Citadel with 7,544 fans in attendance. “It’s very fan-oriented, a great space. You can see the mountains. You can see the campus. The press box is gorgeous. A lot of foresight, I think, went into it.”
Now that Torbush has stepped down at a very young 66, he can rest easy. He’s earned that right. He got things started here, and they’re going in the right direction. Even Torbush acknowledges the Bucs could have won a few more games, but the foundation has been laid for the next man to keep things moving.
“You know you’ve arrived when you get on the Internet and they’re griping,” Torbush said during the news conference announcing his retirement. “Before this year, they weren’t griping. They were just excited about having football back. Now they’re griping because we don’t score enough touchdowns or win enough ballgames. So when they do that, you know you have arrived.”
Everyone who has ever dealt with Torbush acknowledges his character, even though he says his players often complained that he was too “old school.” He never apologized for it, saying his brand of discipline would make them better employees, husbands and fathers down the road.
Torbush was the right man for the job all the way to the end. He said “It’s time,” and he was right. It’s time to hire a new coach, but it’s also time to remember the man who helped it all get started. His contribution to the university should never be forgotten.
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Here’s what was being said about Torbush on the day his retirement was announced:
ETSU women’s basketball coach Brittney Ezell was a two-sport athlete at Alabama at the same time Torbush was the Crimson Tide’s defensive coordinator.
“Carl’s been like a father figure to me since our time at Alabama,” Ezell said. “When he came here for his interview, I had just been hired in May. He walked in my office and we both started to cry because we hadn’t seen each other since I was 22, 23 years old.
“He sat in there with me for an hour and we talked all things ETSU. He’s like the best big brother I ever had and one of my biggest supporters. I can alway count on Carl to be there, give honest feedback and be supportive.”
Torbush paid Ezell a compliment during his news conference, saying she was a football coach at heart.
“I am,” she said with a laugh. “He came over and told me what I need to do to get the job. He knows I love football, and he knows we share the same philosophy about selflessness and team and character and doing the right thing. So it was flattering to be mentioned in his press conference. He’s the football coach; I’m just honored to know him.”
Like Ezell, ETSU men’s basketball coach Steve Forbes has a history with Torbush. They were at Texas A&M together when Forbes was an assistant under Billy Gillespie and Torbush was the defensive coordinator for the Aggies.
“The thing that impresses me most about Carl is he’s the same person every day,” Forbes said. “Win or lose, he’s just a tremendous human being. He’s the type of coach that I would want my son to play for. He believes in the right things. He’s been a great friend to me. He’s a great mentor, and we’re going to miss him.
“He represents our institution in the right way, and he’s one of the finest people I’ve ever met.”
Austin Herink has been the Bucs quarterback for three years, and Torbush is the only head coach he’s played for in college. Next season, he’ll be playing for a new coach with several teammates having graduated, a first for the new program.
“It’s a little different because the whole time we’ve been here it’s been with the same coaches and everyone coming back,” Herink said. “It’ll be a new challenge for us. I’m sure Dr. Noland and Scott Carter will make the right decision because they’ve always done that since the time I’ve been here.
“Coach Torbush is one of the best men I’ve ever been around. I’m forever indebted to him. He gave me a chance to play college football. I was able to realize my dream. His experience of being around major-college football gave him a chance to build this from the start. I’ll always appreciate what he’s done. I’m a Buc for life.”
ETSU President Brian Noland, with plenty of help from then-Athletic Director Richard Sander and Fulmer, pulled the trigger to hire Torbush. It was a move he never regretted.
“On behalf of our university and our board of trustees, I want to thank Coach for what he has done to build everything around us,” Noland said. “When he accepted the job as head football coach, we had one football. Everything about this program he built.
“He played a visionary role in the stadium. He recruited every coach to this institution. He recruited every single student-athlete. Many of them have graduated, and many of them will graduate this year. I have been extremely humbled to work with this individual. He has provided great vision for our institution.”