Through thin glasses, Bill Curry could see a roomhalf-filled with media members, each holding cameras or voice recorders andsitting in comfortable seats that were nonexistent five years ago.He voiced his unwavering appreciation. He glowed from hismakeshift stage. Here, in the still-shimmering Georgia State football practicefacility, houses Bill Currys career twilight, but also his self-described coachingculmination. Its a lifestyle he could never escape not that he ever wantedto even after a decade of working among the media types who now hang on hisevery word for stories and sound bites.So, sitting in a black suit complemented by a tie that colorcoordinates with his surroundings, Curry still remains the coach, a spittingimage of past mentors. For even while dressed in that regal suit at the teamssecond-annual Media Days gathering, he could not lose one simple accessory,even at the bidding of his public relations team.Allison told me one thing before taking the stage. Shesaid, Take that whistle off, said Curry, who will turn 70 during the 2012season.In his book, Ten Men You Meet in the Huddle, Curry wrote atlength about whistles, or rather The Whistle, his former Georgia Tech coachBobby Dodd, a legend whose lessons never strayed far during Currys stints atGeorgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky. Dodd still has a stifling presence inAtlanta. The Yellow Jackets stadium bears his name. The Georgia State programbears many of his principles.As the Panthers go through the transition process of joiningthe Sun Belt Conference in college footballs highest league, the Football BowlSubdivision (FBS), that mentality still resonates. In a sporting world of realignmentand perennial change, Bill Currys program, while appreciatively swept up intothe rising tide of potential TV contracts and scholarship increases, remainssteadfast on the interior.The Panthers sat through seminar after seminar thisoffseason: on addiction and suicide, on guns and gangs, on sexual misconductand academic dishonesty. Georgia State will, in due time, attempt to contendfor championships at the highest level of collegiate athletics, but Currysvalues remain the same.When you put this whistle on,its not just a game. Youre dealing with young lives, and maybe in a moreprofound way than any of us realize, he said.And so the leader leads his men,whistle around his neck, off into a season with little consequence.Another familiar face heads in asimilar direction.--Eight coaches have led theUniversity of Alabama since the retirement (and subsequent passing) of Paul BearBryant. Dennis Franchione, now the head coach at Texas State, is one of them.Franchiones team will also makethe leap to the Sun Belt in 2013, giving the league two former Crimson Tidecoaches patrolling the sidelines, a coincidence that is not lost on either manor conference commissioner Karl Benson. That carries weight, particularly inthe regions Sun Belt teams participate. But while Curry raised a fledglingprogram from nothing beginning in 2008 We dressed in the locker room thatsome members of the athletic staff wouldnt go in, and I dont blame them, hesaid Franchione re-inherited an established program.Our situation was so muchdifferent than Georgia State in that they started from scratch. We have hadfootball here for 100 years, weve won two national championships with formercoach Jim Wacker back in the early 80s. There is some tradition and pride here,said Franchione, who also coached at TCU, Texas A&M and New Mexico.The 61-year-old Kansas native ledTexas State (then known as Southwest Texas State) during the 1990 and 1991seasons before taking the New Mexico job. He and his wife, Kim, felt that staywas too short. So he returned to lead the Bobcats to the college footballpromised land, the FBS.Texas State will join the WesternAthletic Conference in 2012, their first season in the FBS, before immediatelymoving to the Sun Belt. Unlike Georgia State, which will compete withoutpostseason opportunities in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) thisseason as part of the Colonial Athletic Association, the Bobcats will hope to contendimmediately for bowl games and, as the plan goes, national recognition.There are growing pains withthat. Were getting the quantity right now, Franchione said of his increase inavailable scholarships from 63 to 85 as part of the divisional upgrade. Nowneed to make sure that we continue to upgrade the quality of the quantity. Thisis a process, its not gonna happen overnight.Growing pains. Process. Not overnight.Therein lies the undeniable linkto Alabama for both men. Curry and Franchione have both been given opportunitiesto mold programs in their own image, ones running parallel to their visions andmorals, and, more importantly, given the time that they were never trulyafforded in the scrutinizing light of Alabama football. The Crimson Tide is toomonumental, too historically significant, for major rebuilding projects.Both coaches posted 10-win seasons in theirfinal years with Alabama. Curry, who, as a Dodd prodigy, never felt welcomed,bolted for Kentucky in 1990. Franchione was dealt the recruiting violations andsanctions of his predecessor and left for Texas A&M in 2003. Alabama is a destination job inthis sport no coach simply leaves Tuscaloosa without cause.But perhaps that impetus fordeparture is identical to the one that roped Curry and Franchione back into thecoaching world: The chance to build, the contingency to shape.
--Curry reached out to many formercolleagues when he started the Panthers program, notably former MiamiHurricanes coach Howard Schnellenberger, who started the Florida Atlanticprogram from nothing. Thats Curry: Still learning,still studying the lessons from his past under Dodd and athletic director Dr.Homer Rice or calling Schnellenberger for a lecture on positive attitude bylistening to him call the Texas Longhorns soft right after losing 56-3. He even planned to phone a fellowformer Alabama coach, but circumstances changed.I would love to have picked Franchionesbrain, Curry said. I actually intended to call him but we both got elevatedand now were in the same league so I cant be asking him questions like, Hey,do you wanna help us?"But how much longer will he searchout such help? His five-year contract ends after this season.Georgia State athletic director,Cheryl L. Levick, has said contract extensions have been proposed, but that herfootball teams headman wants to coach out the season before deciding on hisfuture terms or retirement. He still remains true to those values thatcarried him this far.And, for an architect, its acomplicated decision. Did Curry build the Panthers program up from muddypractice fields infested with kudzu and broken glass only to walk away beforethe pinnacle is reached? His team will not be allowed to play in the FCSpostseason in 2012. As a transitional member of the Sun Belt, the Panthers willbe postseason ineligible in 2013 as well.Its a situation that is equallystringent on his players the first collection of four-year players in programhistory especially the upperclassmen who will not be able to finish theircareers vying for championships.Its hard because you look forsomething to play for, junior running back Donald Russell, a Kentuckytransfer, said. I just told the team, Even though were not playing for atitle or playoffs, we still can make a statement to show that next year when wecome into the Sun Belt we are serious, we are ready for this conference.Curry, in special contribution toESPN.com during his media years, once talked about what he labels theFellowship of the Miserable mentality It functions much like a cancer, and can destroy the entire organism ifallowed to grow, he wrote and how it can decimate a program. Well, his players appearto have caught on. They, essentially, are playing for nothing but pride,improvement and momentum the next two seasons, and yet, they all say thingslike, for the good of the program. Georgia State players have formed theFellowship of the Possible, for no apparent reason other than the guys lined upbeside them and their coach.Franchione expressedsimilar optimism for his Texas State program. Its contagious whenyoure in the midst of construction; the end result perseveres as a gloriousmystery.The future Sun Beltmembers, led by the former SEC stalwarts, are nothing if not hopeful.