New ETSU football coach Carl Torbush speaks during Friday's introductory news conference in Johnson City. (Dave Boyd photo)
JOHNSON CITY — East Tennessee State has taken its biggest step yet in restarting a football program shut down a decade ago, hiring Carl Torbush as the Buccaneers’ new coach.
“The rebirth, the new era is here,” Torbush said Friday when introduced at a news conference. “It’s time to start.”
Torbush has been a head coach at North Carolina and Louisiana Tech, and he also worked as defensive coordinator at Alabama, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Kansas, Texas A&M and North Carolina. He has the task of restarting a program shut down in 2003 because of the financial cost of the sport; the Buccaneers start play again in 2015.
A student committee voted earlier this year to restart football even with a $125 fee per student per semester helping pay the tab.
Torbush said he initially vented about ETSU officials shutting down the football program when contacted months ago. Now he is embracing the challenge of putting together a program with a to-do list that includes drawing up plans for a stadium for the team.
“We’re excited about it,” Torbush said. “It’s a great, great opportunity. The opportunity and the privilege and responsibility that you have bestowed on me is not taken for granted.”
Before Torbush was introduced, a video played of people endorsing him as the new Bucs’ coach. Among his supporters are Mike Smith, an ETSU linebacker between 1978 and 1981 and currently head coach of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, and Sylvia Hatchell, the North Carolina women’s basketball coach.
“I wish him and his staff the best of luck as they restart our football program,” Smith said in a statement.
ETSU officials had former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer assisting with the search for the right person to take over this program. Athletic director Richard Sander said there were some unusual challenges in hiring a new football coach at East Tennessee.
“This was not being the head football coach at an existing program,” Sander said. “We did not have a football. We did not have any equipment. We didn’t have a clipboard. So this is somebody that’s going to have to build this program from the ground up. That’s really going to require a vast array of talents. Not only a guy that can really coach the game of football but also somebody that can engage the community, somebody that understands how universities work ...”
The challenge also includes the Bucs' return to the Southern Conference in July 2014.
Fulmer said it took a lot of vetting of a lot of possible candidates to find the right coach. The focus also included finding someone who knows how to win.
“Why do it if we’re not going to win?” Fulmer said.
His search led to Torbush, someone he’s coached and recruited against and also spent many hours studying film together. Torbush also is someone very familiar with the area.
Born in East Spencer, N.C., Torbush went to high school in Knoxville and attended college at Carson-Newman in East Tennessee. He started coaching at a Knoxville high school before moving to college. He coached at Louisiana Tech between 1980 and 1982 before going to Mississippi as defensive coordinator between 1983 and 1986, leading the Southeastern Conference in total defense his last season.
Torbush was head coach at Louisiana Tech in 1987 before heading to North Carolina where he was defensive coordinator between 1988 and 1997 before being promoted to head coach. He was head coach for three seasons through 2000.
Then he spent worked as defensive coordinator at Alabama (2001-02), Texas A&M (2003-05) and Mississippi State (2009). Torbush returned to Carson-Newman as assistant head coach between 2006 and 2008. He was defensive coordinator at Kansas for Turner Gill in 2010 and spent last season coaching linebackers at Liberty for Gill.