Carl Torbush spent most of his career as a football coach, so it was ironic that one of his most memorable moments came at a basketball game.
Torbush was at Freedom Hall for an East Tennessee State basketball game last winter when the crowd was informed that the former Bucs football coach had been inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. The man who led the comeback of football at the school received a rousing welcome as he smiled and waved from mid court.
“I finally got a standing ovation as a football coach,” Torbush said. “That doesn’t happen often. That was a thrill. Just to be voted in and presented at East Tennessee State, where you know how I feel about that. It was a very warm feeling, very humbling.
“I was proud of the fact that I did enough in my athletic career to be voted in and humble that there’s a whole lot of other people who deserve it more than I do.”
Torbush will be going into the Hall of Fame with a large class that includes Sonny Smith and Bruton Smith, two others who have left their marks on the local sports scene.
“When I got the call that I had been voted in, it made me feel really good,” Torbush said. “It’s a great honor. It’s a very sweet way to end your career.”
Torbush, 68, was an All-American football and baseball player at Carson-Newman. He went on to coach football at 12 colleges and was the head coach at North Carolina and Louisiana Tech.
After the 2011 season, Torbush stepped down as Kansas’ defensive coordinator when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He returned to health and was back in action at Liberty the following season.
He then retired for a second time and says he was content to spend the rest of his days riding his jet ski and playing baseball.
Then ETSU came calling and the coaching bug bit him again. Then-ETSU Athletic Director Richard Sander and former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer talked him into coming out of retirement to coach the Bucs as the school brought football back after a 12-year absence.
“Being able to come back and end it at East Tennessee State, a lot of people don’t realize it, but that was a big thrill for me,” said Torbush, who coached ETSU for three years. “Being able to be a part of building that program was a tremendous thrill. I enjoyed coming to work every day.”
Torbush said he keeps up with the Bucs from afar these days.
“I try to stay out of everybody’s business, not because I’m not interested, it’s just that I don’t feel like it’s my place. If you’re not careful, someone says you said something and that’s not good. Randy Sanders is a close friend as well as many of the other coaches.”
The former Kansas City Royals farmhand still plays competitive summer baseball, although the coronavirus pandemic has cost him this season.
“They called off the summer baseball season,” he said. “I’m disappointed about that. I’m going to play until I can’t swing any more.”
In the meantime, he’s enjoying his latest retirement.
“I can’t tell the difference between Monday and Friday,” he says.
Torbush is scheduled to be inducted in a ceremony in Nashville on Aug. 1.
“The good Lord has a plan for everything,” he said. “If you look back for my career, it was already in place and the puzzle was laid down way before I got be 68 years old.”