Combs ready to take Tigers into a new era

February 26, 1992|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Staff Writer

The narrower vision for Towson State football of no scholarships and a smaller coaching staff suits Gordy Combs just fine. It didn't appeal to Phil Albert, and that's one reason why he resigned the Tigers' head coaching position, which was immediately taken over by Combs.

At a news conference yesterday, Albert discussed some of the reasons he stepped down Monday after 20 years as Tigers coach. Combs talked about his plans, which could have Towson State back in postseason play later in the decade, albeit in a non-scholarship league and in a regional format.

"I would not have planned to end my tenure at Towson State this way," said Albert, who, five years ago, had a program that was the best among Eastern Division II schools. The Tigers won five of 32 games over the past three seasons, however, failing to find their niche in Division I-AA.

Towson State will remain I-AA in name only. The Tigers no longer are offering scholarships, and athletic director Bill Hunter is proceeding with plans to join a group of 20 like-minded football programs that are members of the Eastern College Athletic Conference.

"It was quite evident at our institution that we weren't going to be able to do what had to be done in order to compete for the I-AA championship," Hunter said.

The NCAA limit for I-AA scholarships is 70, and Albert never had

more than 43 to offer.

"You don't have to be bright to see that our athletes didn't match up in recent years, even when we were in Division II," assistant coach Jay Robinson said. "Coach Albert made kids feel good about themselves, and they always got the most out of their ability."

Said Albert: "I never said I did or didn't want to go [to I-AA]. I did say we would be competitive with 50 scholarships. As early as 1985, there were some noticeable changes [in administrative support], but that was not the determining factor in my decision to resign."

Towson State eventually might cut some full-time coaching positions, and Albert didn't dispute speculation that he resigned in order to save an assistant's job. He will resume teaching physical education courses in the fall, but those plans sound temporary.

"At my age, I'm not really ready to retire," Albert, 47, said. "I've no thought as to what I'm going to do next. Hopefully, I've opened some opportunities for myself the last few years."

A native of Johnstown, Pa., Albert was preparing to join the staff at Shippensburg State in May 1972 when then-Towson State president James Fisher offered him the Tigers' head coaching position.

He has spent nearly half of his life at Towson State, taking the dTC program from Division III to II to I-AA. His youngest child, Christian, is a high school senior, and though this is not the time of year when coaching positions open, Kay Albert said, "When you're a coach's wife, you're always ready to move."

While Albert will weigh his future, Combs is charged with directing the Tigers while their scholarship funding gradually is taken away. He has signed no high school seniors to letters of intent, simply because there isn't any money to offer.

"We still hope to bring 25 to 30 new players in next fall," Combs said. "We always have had non-scholarship players. Because of the financial limitations we worked under, we were always going after that kind of kid."

Towson State will play a demanding schedule next fall, but, in 1993, several powerful programs will be dropped (James Madison, for example) and replaced with Central Connecticut, Charleston Southern, Buffalo and Morgan State. By 1994, the Tigers figure to be immersed in the ECAC's league.

Hunter, meanwhile, said that Towson State disdained the normal national search for a successor to Albert and gave the job to Combs "because there's been so much controversy the last year and a half. Continuity was of primary importance."

The Combs file

Age: 41.

Background: Native of Northeast Baltimore. Lives in Rodgers Forge with wife Diane and three children. Graduate of Towson State, received masters degree in secondary education in 1975.

Playing career: Calvert Hall. Two years at the University of Dayton. Two years at Towson State, where he was an All-Mason Dixon Conference linebacker.

Coaching career: Part-time assistant at Towson State for seven years. Became Phil Albert's first full-time assistant in 1979.

Quote: "We're going to throw the football. I was weaned on that system. Normally, players are going to test a first-year coach, but they understand who I am."

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