Phil Albert, who built Towson State football into an NCAA title contender at two levels and raised the program to a third only to see it recently downgraded to non-scholarship status, resigned as Tigers coach yesterday.
Albert, who in 20 years compiled a 117-91-3 record, informed his players of his decision yesterday afternoon. He will remain at Towson State as a faculty member. Longtime assistant Gordy Combs, who played for Albert, will replace him as head coach.
"I've invested a lot of my life in Towson State," said Albert, who plans to discuss his resignation at a news conference this morning. "I don't want to offend anyone, our coaches or players, but this is the thing to do right now. I've been struggling with this. I'm not going to be looking for any other jobs."
Combs, who captained Albert's first team, in 1972, will be the program's third head coach, following Carl Runk and Albert.
"I was offered the job," Combs said, "and I accepted it. Phil didn't give the staff any specific reason for stepping down. There's no doubt that I wanted to be a head coach at some time, but I thought it would be when Phil went on to a bigger job."
Albert, 47, is the only person to attend every Towson State game since the Tigers began the sport in 1969. He was an assistant for three years to Runk before assuming the head coaching position in 1972.
Four years later, the Tigers made it to the NCAA Division III championship game, and Towson State appeared in the Division II playoffs three times between 1983-86. It moved to Division I-AA the following season, and there the program began to struggle.
In October 1990, athletic director Bill Hunter proposed dropping football as a means of erasing an athletic department budget deficit that had reached $257,000. Backers of the program rallied support and, at the time, Albert said he wouldn't mind coaching a team that didn't offer scholarships.
Last November, supporters abandoned a fund-raising effort aimed at raising additional scholarship funds. In January, Hunter said that the Tigers would not be giving any new football scholarships and that the school plans to enter an Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference-affiliated group of like-minded colleges expected to be in place in April.
Besides cutting scholarships and an eventual downgrading of the schedule, Towson State's move could mean a cut in staff from five to as few as two full-time positions. Runk, the lacrosse coach, speculated that Albert resigned to save someone else a job.
"I was taken aback by it," said Runk, who said Albert would remain on the faculty. "It really hurt because he brought this program to tremendous heights and he meant so much to the kids. Phil always had high hopes for the program, but it was no secret around Towson that he didn't get the financial support of the teams he was playing against.
"He always represented the university in a positive manner, and he got the best out of the youngsters. I really feel for him because we started together and I recruited him to Towson State 24 years ago. I know his coaches were hurt and I wouldn't be surprised if he quit just to keep some of them on the staff."
Since the move to I-AA, the Tigers have gone 4-6, 5-5, 2-8, 2-9 and 1-10. Last year's record was the worst in Towson State history. The Division I-AA scholarship limit is 70, and the Tigers never paid for more than 45 in their five seasons there.
Earlier, Albert, a native of Johnstown, Pa., built powerhouse teams at the Division II level, where the Tigers had barely half the NCAA limit of 40 scholarships, but that formula didn't succeed in I-AA, where the talent included Dave Meggett.
Albert's best teams were known for their potent passing game. With Dan Dullea, Ron Meehan and Kurt Beathard at quarterback, the Tigers routinely threw for 300 yards a game.
AAlbert's first team went 1-9 in 1972, beating only Johns Hopkins. Two years later, it was unbeaten, and in 1976 Towson played on national TV in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, losing the NCAA Division III title by three points. In 1979, the Tigers upgraded to Division II, and more success followed. The 1984 team reached the NCAA semifinals.
Combs, a 1972 graduate of Towson State who attended Calvert Hall, captained Albert's first team. For the past nine years, he has carried the title of assistant head coach.
"There is going to be no noticeable difference in the way the program is run," said Combs, 41. "There might be some subtle changes, but I feel we have the strong nucleus for a good team. We haven't signed any high school seniors to letters of intent, but we're going to try to bring in 25-30 kids next fall."