KNOXVILLE -- A few minutes after Georgia State's 51-13 loss to Tennessee on Saturday evening, Carolyn Curry raised her hand a foot or so from her husband's face, as if to elicit a soft and sympathetic high-five from the Panthers coach.
Instead, Bill Curry pulled her hand close and kissed it, then broke into a small but affectionate smile.
As always, the 69-year-old coach had his priorities in perfect order.
"It takes a lot to build a quality football team," said Curry, who started the GSU program from scratch four years ago and will retire at the end of this season. "And now I see that it takes a lot more than I thought it did."
Saturday's game went the way most thought it would, including, apparently, nearly 15,000 UT fans who stayed home.
But even Saturday's loss would have a hard time topping Curry's personal worst moment at Neyland Stadium.
"It was 1960," he said. "I was on the Georgia Tech freshman team and we were playing at Tennessee. Jim Carlen (who would later coach at West Virginia, Texas Tech and South Carolina) was our coach.
"With about three minutes left, our quarterback, Billy Lothridge -- who would go on to finish second in the 1963 Heisman Trophy [to Roger Staubach] -- gets hit hard by Ed Beard. Maybe it was clean and maybe it wasn't, but I thought Beard was trying to hurt my teammate, and I got into a fight with him and got kicked out.
"I was the only long snapper we had and Carlen's screaming at me, 'Now we're going to lose because we don't have anybody to hike the ball!' We did win, though. But when I got back to campus, Coach [Bobby] Dodd was waiting at the bus. He said, 'Let's not do that again.'"
Not that it's all been bad for Curry in Knoxville. The Yellow Jackets team he played on in 1963 won there. The 1985 Georgia Tech team he coached tied the Vols, 6-6. Then there was his 1988 Alabama squad, which provided Curry his happiest moment in Neyland, though he didn't expect it when the game began.
"We had David Smith at quarterback that year and he had a bad knee," he recalled. "Well, early in the game he hurts his knee and he limps off the field and I figure that's it for him. He was a skinny little thing anyway -- he looked like a choir boy -- and I just didn't think there was any way he could come back.
"So I walk over to him and tell him that I really appreciated him trying and we'd just have to win it without him. Well, David looks at me and says, 'Coach, I'm fine. And I know what to do to win this game.' And we did win it (28-20). To this day, [offensive coordinator] Homer Smith and I say that's as gutty a performance as we've ever seen in college football."
If his Panthers didn't deliver one of the best performances in college history Saturday, they did deliver one of the most determined, right down to calling two timeouts in the final minute, much to the consternation of UT's remaining fans, who loudly booed.
"We will never allow an asset to go unused," Curry said of those late TOs. "If the fans are late getting to their cocktail party, I apologize to them, but we'll do it every time ... to teach a lesson to the guys that you never give up."
From leadership such as that do wives look to high-five their husbands after 38-point losses.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com or 423-757-6273.