Building first GSU football schedule an 'intriguing exercise'

Curry getting advice from Terry Bowden, Schnellenberger, Marshall's Lengyel

Georgia State coach Bill Curry wanted to take his team to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama. Just not this soon.

As he has built the schedule for the school’s inaugural season in 2010, Curry found himself with a take-it-or-leave-it offer from the Crimson Tide to play Nov. 20, 2010.

“We’ve got one weekend open. You want it or not?” said Curry, paraphrasing the response he heard from Alabama. “Are you crazy enough to turn this down? And then I’ve got other people saying, ‘Are you crazy enough to do it?’ ”

As he has put together the schedules that the Panthers will play in 2010 and 2011, Curry has been asked plenty of questions. Fortunately for him, not all of them have doubted his sanity.

“It really is an intriguing exercise,” said Curry, the 66-year-old former Georgia Tech star who went on to coach at his alma mater, Alabama and Kentucky. “I don’t know what I expected because I’ve never done it before, but it’s fascinating to try to put something together.”

After he was hired in June 2008, Curry began the scheduling process in earnest last fall. He has had no shortage of advisers. Terry Bowden, now the coach at North Alabama but who directed Samford’s move from Division III to Division I-AA, called on Curry’s first day on the job. He heard from Howard Schnellenberger, the former University of Miami coach who built Florida Atlantic from scratch.

A regular sounding board has been Jack Lengyel, who became coach at Marshall after nearly the entire team died in a plane crash in 1970, which was portrayed in the 2006 movie “We Are Marshall.”

“It’s a very, very difficult job of starting a football team starting from ground zero,” Lengyel said.

Assistant head coach and defensive coordinator John Thompson, who aided Curry in scheduling, estimated that Georgia State got in touch with about 100 schools, including most of the teams in the SEC and ACC.

In some respects, it isn’t so difficult, Thompson said.

“It’s like if you were going to play golf,” he said. “You call up your buddies and first of all say, ‘Do you want to play?’ And then, ‘When can you play?’ And then, ‘How many strokes will you give me?’ ”

Primarily, they either sent e-mails or made phone calls. Most schools, but not all, did not respond.

“A lot of really strong [Division I-AA] schools would love to play us the first two years,” Curry said. “A lot of them. They always call back.”

Curry is trying to follow Lengyel’s advice to divide the schedule into thirds — teams that will be tough to beat, teams that will be comparable and teams that Georgia State should beat.

The schedule likely will include Division II opponents. Curry and Thompson have also been in touch with other schools starting their own Division I-AA teams — including South Alabama, Texas-San Antonio and Lamar.

Curry said the schedule will include home-and-home dates with some stronger Division I-AA teams.

The economy has been a factor. Teams that Curry expected to be happy to come to play in the Georgia Dome without a payout have balked in recent weeks.

“They’ve had to change their requirements financially just because of the cost of travel,” Curry said. “We’re dickering over things like that.”

With concerns about attrition — the team will have about 50 players on scholarship in 2010, nearly all of whom will be true or redshirt freshmen — the team might play fewer than the maximum 12 regular-season games in the first two seasons.

Those worries were not enough for GSU to turn down Alabama’s offer, and the Crimson Tide will be the final opponent of the first season. The game carries the near-certain risk of a huge loss. But Curry, after consulting with school president Mark Becker, athletics director Cheryl Levick and his coaching staff, decided to take the plunge. The exposure, the $400,000 payout and the motivation it would give to players were too great to pass up.

“It’s a tough thing to turn your back on an opportunity like this, to take a team into one of the great venues anywhere in the world for our sport,” said Curry, who coached Alabama for three seasons in the late ’80s.

In recent weeks, what began as a loose plan on greaseboards, printouts and computer files has turned into a schedule. Curry expects that the schedules for the first two seasons, after which Georgia State will join the Colonial Athletic Association, will be finalized by the end of the summer.

Said Curry, “Hopefully, we’ve got some where we’ve got a chance, too.”

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