Posted: 12:03 pm Friday, February 21st, 2014
By Ken Sugiura
Homer Rice will be inducted into his 14th hall of fame Saturday, this one into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in Macon.
“I assume (this is) the last one,” said Rice, Tech’s former athletic director. “I don’t think I qualify for anymore.”
All 14, including enshrinement in the Tech sports hall of fame, have assuredly been deserved. He’ll be honored Saturday primarily for his 17 years at Tech, reviving a struggling athletic department with superior hires, direction and fundraising. He’ll be inducted along with one of those hires, former Tech basketball coach Bobby Cremins. Former Tech voice Wes Durham, whom Rice also hired, will emcee the enshrinement Saturday night.
It has been a considerable career: While at Tech, besides hiring Cremins, he hired coaches Bill Curry, Bobby Ross, George O’Leary, Bruce Heppler, Danny Hall and Grover Hinsdale. He developed the women’s athletics programs at Tech. Among his hires was women’s basketball coach Bernadette McGlade, now the commissioner of the Atlantic 10 Conference.
At Tech, he started the Total Person Program to provide Tech athletes with the grounding to pursue excellence in academics, athletics and personal well-being. The NCAA used his program as a pattern for other colleges to use.
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As North Carolina athletic director, Rice also hired Durham’s father, Woody, to be the voice of the Tar Heels in 1971. (Wes joked Thursday that those two decisions were the only mistakes of Rice’s career.)
When Rice was looking for someone to fill the Tech job, then-sports information director Mike Finn gave him a tape of Durham, then at Vanderbilt.
“I said, ‘You’re pulling my leg – that’s Woody,’” Rice said. “’That’s can’t be Wes, his son. That’s Woody.’”
While at North Carolina, he gave career advice to a Tar Heels quarterback interested in athletic administration, suggesting he get a sports management degree at Ohio University. The quarterback’s name? John Swofford.
After learning the intricacies of the split-T offense and its double-option component from Missouri football coach Don Faurot, who had developed the offense while coaching at a Navy pre-flight school Iowa along with Jim Tatum and Bud Wilkinson (both of whom went on to win national championships), Rice took it a step further as a high school coach in Tennessee, and created the triple-option offense, the forerunner of coach Paul Johnson’s offense.
“I was always doodling and came up with it,” he said. “I thought of it at 2 o’clock in the morning, waking up and drew this play.”
After his success with it, Rice was invited by Texas coach Darrell Royal to introduce the scheme to the Longhorns coaching staff. Texas tweaked it with great success, winning two national championships and influencing college football with the wishbone offense. Or, as Royal first called it, “Homer’s triple.”
After Bill Curry’s departure to Alabama following the 1986 season, Rice hired Bobby Ross after he had resigned from Maryland and become an assistant coach with the Buffalo Bills. Ross, of course, led Tech to a share of the national championship in 1990.
“I called his wife Alice and told her that I wanted to talk to Bobby about the position at Georgia Tech,” Rice said. “She said he’d be back that night. It happened to be minus-50 degrees in Buffalo at the time. I’ll never forget – she said, ‘Please call back.’”
Rice and Cremins and the fellow inductees will be part of a fan event, free to the public, 1-2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. There will also be a dinner in their honor at the Macon City Auditorium. For more information, visit the hall’s website.