Carl Torbush, the man who ushered East Tennessee State University back into the world of college football, announced his retirement Thursday.
“It’s time,” Torbush said in front of a roomful of supporters during a news conference at Greene Stadium. “I’m sad for the fact I won’t be out there with the players, but the best thing I can say is it’s time. It’s time for somebody else to take it.”
Torbush joined a program in 2013 with little more than faith to get him started. The school, which had eliminated the football program after the 2003 season, had no equipment, no stadium and no players. Four-and-a-half years later, the program is on solid ground.
The team opened a new facility, Greene Stadium, and sold out half of its home games while winning four of the six contests in front of the home fans.
“In my mind, everything is in place for the next guy to come and move it forward another step,” Torbush said.
Torbush, 66, had a record of 11-22 in three seasons at ETSU. The Bucs went 4-7 this season and were unable to build on the momentum they had after going 5-6 last year in their second season back.
“I came to ETSU because of my love for football, East Tennessee, ETSU, the people and the passion for restarting a program that hurt all of us when it was dropped,” Torbush said. “My love, appreciation and respect for everything that makes this university special will last a lifetime.”
Torbush finished his career with an overall record of 31-48 as a head coach at Louisiana Tech, North Carolina and ETSU. Included in that total were two bowl victories while at North Carolina.
It’s the third time Torbush has stepped away from college football.
He left his position as defensive coordinator at Kansas in 2011 after he was diagnosed with low grade prostate cancer. He resurfaced at Liberty as linebackers coach in 2012 before retiring after one season.
During Torbush’s second retirement, Phillip Fulmer called. Fulmer, recently named athletic director at Tennessee, had been hired to help Richard Sander, then ETSU’s athletic director, find a coach for a program that had been dormant for a decade.
Torbush came aboard and ran a tight ship for four seasons, including one whole year with a recruiting class and no games.
“I’m most thankful for the foundation he has built around character and integrity, which was something he has been principled in for his whole life,” ETSU Athletic Director Scott Carter said. “We’re all better because Carl Torbush was a Buc.”
Torbush said he made up his mind “probably about a week ago.”
“I was scared that Scott was going to come and offer a five-year contract renewal, and quite honestly I didn’t really want to do that,” Torbush said. “Being 66 now, I didn’t want to be 71 years old and still coaching. For a head football coach, a one-year or two-year extension, isn’t the right thing.”
When Carter began to start talks about a possible contract extension, Torbush put an end to them pretty quickly.
“I had in mind the extension was where I wanted to go and found out pretty quickly that he had given a lot of soul searching, thought, prayer, discussion with his wife Janet about what they needed to do and what he wanted to do,” Carter said. “I was very thankful for his honesty and directness with me.”
Torbush’s contract runs through next June, and Carter said he’ll still be the program’s head coach until a new one is hired. Carter and ETSU President Brian Noland will begin the search for a new coach immediately.
“There will be a formal transition of leadership at that time,” Carter said. “It takes as long as it takes. Dr. Noland and I have had a chance to visit where we are and where we’re going.
“I’ll say this. This is a great job. It’s an unbelievable job with an unbelievable fan base and a great university. I anticipate the phone’s going to be ringing off the wall. I’m really looking forward to going through that process.”
Among Torbush’s highlights at ETSU were beating Western Carolina in front of a school-record crowd 13,863 fans at Bristol Motor Speedway and nationally ranked Samford to end the 2016 season. He also engineered an exciting overtime victory against Mercer at home this season.
Torbush plans on heading back to Douglas Lake and returning to the baseball field in the summer, where he hit close to .400 last year playing in a league with college players.
“Unless my arm goes out or unless I can’t hit that curveball, I’ll be out there,” he said.