Ex-Towson coach Albert now a man for all seasons

September 17, 1992|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Staff Writer

College football in Maryland dates to the 1870s, and, in the century-plus since, only two coaches won as many games as Phil Albert.

Eddie P. Hurt was a legend for 31 years at Morgan State, where a gymnasium complex carries his name. At the University of Maryland, the stadium honors H. C. "Curley" Byrd, who redefined education and athletics in College Park.

Perhaps one day there will be a monument to Albert at Towson State, but the athletic department has no plans for new facilities; budget woes led to a de-emphasis of football that preceded his resignation last February.

jTC Even the tribute in May, when 250 friends and former players honored him with speeches and a trip to Hawaii, made Albert uncomfortable. Besides, after 20 years as head coach and 117 victories, the man is only 48 years old, and still an employee of the university where he has spent half his life.

In some ways, it's like old times for Albert, who was a classroom teacher for his first 11 years at Towson State. He teaches three courses a day five days a week, with one very huge difference: After Albert is finished with classes in individualized fitness, bowling, racquetball and tennis, he doesn't think football.

Not much, anyway.

"The last part of August, and even last week, it's like I had an inner clock geared to football," Albert said. "I'd look at my watch and say, 'What should I be doing right now? How should I be preparing for this opponent?'

"Twenty years ago, when I was teaching and coaching, I was preoccupied with the latter. I'm enjoying what I'm doing now. I don't have film to watch, recruits to contact, parents in my office or 100 phone calls to return. That's going to make me a better teacher."

Albert has moved down a dozen or so doors and around a corner from the football offices at the Towson Center. He has a view of Minnegan Stadium, and the walls are covered with reminders of his time with the Tigers: footballs commemorating milestone victories, plaques, a citation from the governor and numerous team photos.

The 1974 shot of the school's only unbeaten, untied team doesn't include Albert; he figures he was the photographer.

Gordy Combs' debut as Towson State's head coach last Saturday was a 36-19 loss at Rhode Island. It was also the first Tigers football game in which Albert wasn't a coach. He did listen to the broadcast, and plans to attend the home opener Saturday (7 p.m.) against Bucknell.

Combs and five assistant coaches played for Albert, and the Tigers' scholarship players were recruited on his watch.

"Initially, I wondered how I'd feel coming to work not as the football coach," Albert said. "I considered that when it came time to resign, and decided I'd be able to handle it."

Albert does some motivational speaking, and can take a greater interest in two college athletes he doesn't coach. Daughter Becky is a junior lacrosse player at Penn State, and son Christian, a freshman, plans to play basketball at Widener.

Albert said, "The void gets smaller every day," as he deals with the first fall since 1953 that he isn't playing or coaching football.

In 1954, the game was eight-man football for 10-year-olds and he played for the Bulldogs in Conemaugh, Pa. By his sophomore year at East Conemaugh High, Albert was playing quarterback. Throwing the football became a Towson State trademark.

Albert helped Carl Runk get a club team started in 1968, was an assistant from 1969 to 1971, and became the head coach 20 years ago. His first team went 1-9, but, from 1973 to 1986, Towson State never had a losing record. It reached the NCAA Division III championship game in 1976 and went to the Division II playoffs three times between 1983 and 1986.

The wins stopped in 1987, when the Tigers moved to Division I-AA, where they have gone 14-39. In 1990, athletic director Bill Hunter proposed dropping football, and last February the administration settled for phasing out scholarships by 1995. The de-emphasis also will mean a reduction to two full-time coaches, and though Albert left criticism of the Towson State administration to alumni, it clearly wasn't the way he wanted to do business.

From the time Towson State moved to I-AA, Albert complained about the Tigers' working with fewer scholarships and support than the competition. He was interviewed by Colgate and checked out vacancies at other Division I-AA programs after the 1987 season, but nothing worked out.

"Would I coach again? It depends on the opportunity," said Albert. "I'm keeping myself prepared.

"I'll tell you this, since I resigned in February, I haven't talked to a single person about a football job.

"There are no football jobs out there. With NCAA cuts, there are more coaches than there are positions. I'm not a networker, and maybe that's a fault. Anyway, I never got into coaching to try to get somewhere else."

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