Gordy Combs, Towson State's new head football coach, will go into spring practice in April knowing a great deal about the available talent, and less about the Tigers' future plans.
When 20-year head coach Phil Albert resigned yesterday, Combs was offered the position. He accepted, and after nine seasons as an assistant to Albert, Combs will try to reverse a program that began declining when it moved to Division I-AA in 1987.
The Towson State administration has announced plans to downgrade the sport, and Combs has no scholarships to offer high school seniors or transfers. Athletic director Bill Hunter has said that the Tigers will be joining a 20-school league affiliated with the Eastern College Athletic Conference, but that group won't be writing down specific rules until April.
In effect, Towson State will be playing non-scholarship football in a few years, when Combs could find himself with just one full-time assistant coach. In seven months, however, the Tigers must begin tackling a schedule that includes I-AA heavyweights like William & Mary, James Madison and Delaware.
"We have invested a lot in our players who are going to be juniors and seniors next year," Combs said. "We've got a lot of guys who are at the stage in their careers when they're ready to contribute. We feel we have a strong nucleus for a good team."
The Tigers had only 12 seniors on last year's 1-10 team that was better than its record, as Towson State finished with a 27-17 loss to Youngstown State, which went on to win the NCAA Division I-AA title. Quarterback Dan Crowley started as a true freshman, and transfer running back Tony Vinson started at Purdue in 1989.
Combs, 41, is a native of northeast Baltimore and went to high TTC school at Calvert Hall. After two years at the University of Dayton, he transferred to Towson State, and captained Albert's first team, in 1972. He taught and coached in the Anne Arundel County public school system while serving as a Towson State assistant, and was named the Tigers' defensive coordinator in 1981.
"I have mixed feelings about taking the job," Combs said. "I wanted to be the head coach at some time, but I always thought it would be when Phil went on to a bigger job. It's different, when you were coached by the man you're going to replace."