Carl Torbush, who ushered East Tennessee State back into the world of college football after humble beginnings as a star high school athlete in Knoxville, has died. He was 72.
He spent 42 years working as a college football coach.
Torbush was born in East Spencer, North Carolina, and the family moved to East Tennessee when he was 11.
Torbush was a graduate of Austin-East High School and the only white football player in the first graduating class. He played football at Carson-Newman from 1971 to 1973 and baseball in 1973, and was an NAIA All-American both sports.
Torbush became ETSU football coach in 2013 with little more than faith to get him started. The school, which had eliminated the program after the 2003 season, had no equipment, no stadium and no players. But 4½ years later, the program was on solid ground.
Torbush went 11-22 in three seasons with the Buccaneers.
“I came to ETSU because of my love for football, East Tennessee, ETSU, the people and the passion for restarting a program that hurt all of us when it was dropped,” Torbush said at his retirement announcement in 2017. “My love, appreciation and respect for everything that makes this university special will last a lifetime.”
Torbush was also the coach at Louisiana Tech (1987) and North Carolina (1997 to 2000). Including East Tennessee State, he compiled an overall 31-48 record, including two bowl victories with the Tar Heels.
He was the defensive coordinator at Kansas in 2010 but stepped down after he was diagnosed with low grade prostate cancer. He resurfaced at Liberty as linebackers coach in 2012 before retiring after one season.
During Torbush’s second retirement, Phillip Fulmer called. Fulmer, who recently had been named athletic director at Tennessee, helped ETSU find a coach for a program that had been dormant for a decade.
At the start of Torbush’s college playing career, he was headed for Tennessee but was caught in the shuffle of coach Doug Dickey’s hasty departure for Florida and Bill Battle’s surprise hiring. Torbush barely missed the cut for the last grant-in-aid at Tennessee.
He still walked on at UT and played center during spring practice, but quickly became disillusioned because his mentality was a linebacker’s. He eventually crossed paths with Carson-Newman’s Frosty Holt and Dal Shealy and transferred.
“I was not on scholarship (at UT), but just realized it was time to move on,” Torbush told Knox News in 1998. “I would have done anything to get to go to college at Tennessee, but there never were any hard feelings. Some things like that just don’t work out, because you are meant to be somewhere else.”
He even gave pro baseball a shot after being an undrafted free agent signed by the Kansas City Royals.
“I played a season (in Sarasota, Florida) and had a good year and made the all-star team,” said Torbush, who resigned as Carter High baseball coach to pursue his big-league dream. “But I didn’t have a good enough arm and it was pretty clear to me that (Class) AA would be about it. If I hadn’t been so darn hard-headed, I would have tried first base because I could hit.”
Instead, he went to Baylor, earning a master’s degree, and spent a season as a grad assistant in 1975.
He also worked as an assistant at Southeastern Louisiana (1976-79), Louisiana Tech (1980-82), Ole Miss (1983-86), North Carolina (1988-97), Alabama (2001-02), Texas A&M (2003-05), Carson-Newman (2006-08) and Mississippi State (2009).