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UNC football staff remembers the intensity, tender-heartedness of late head coach Carl Torbush

TORBUSH 1

UNC defensive coach Carl Torbush, center, rubs the head of center Jeff Saturday as he arrives to a press conference to announce his appointment as the new head coach of UNC football. Photo Courtesy of UNC Athletics/Dan Sears.

Rick Steinbacher thought he was tough. 

That is, until the former UNC linebacker suited up for his first practice with Carl Torbush.

“He was just so all over me about doing things right,” Steinbacher said. “I was almost brought to tears in practice because his standard was that high.”

Yet, when Steinbacher needed someone to talk to about graduation, his career, or even when he was preparing to get married, he sought out the same coach who nearly made him cry.

“I could go into his office, and I could tell him what I’m thinking,” Steinbacher said. “And I could just totally 100 percent count on him as a man of faith, as a man of character and a man of values.”

He was demanding and tough on the field, but kind and tender off it. A coach of football and a coach of life.

Torbush, the UNC head football coach from 1997 to 2000, died Sunday, Nov. 5, at 72. He was the North Carolina defensive coordinator and linebackers coach during Mack Brown’s first tenure in Chapel Hill from 1988 to 1997. Torbush was, in Brown's words, the "architect" of a unit that finished second in the nation in back-to-back seasons for total defense in 1996 and 1997.  He was a finalist for the 1997 Broyles Award, given to the country’s best assistant coach. 

When Brown left to take the head coaching job at Texas in December of 1997, Torbush was named his successor and led UNC to a famous 42-3 win over Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl to cap off an 11-1 season. 

Born in North Carolina, Torbush moved with his family to Knoxville, Tenn., when he was 11. He attended the University of Tennessee and walked on to the football team before transferring to Carson-Newman College as a sophomore where he played football and baseball. Torbush was an NAIA first-team All-American in both sports his senior year.

After one season playing professional baseball in the Kansas City Royals organization, Torbush started his collegiate coaching career. 

The desire to compete never left him as a coach. Steinbacher recalled one time when Torbush came into the meeting room all bruised up.

“We were like, ‘Coach, are you okay?’” Steinbacher said. “‘Did you get in a car accident?’”

Nope. He had just gone back to Carson-Newman to play in a fully-padded alumni tackle football game. No big deal.

Darrell Moody, a member of Brown’s offensive staff in the 90s, coached with and against Torbush throughout his career. 

“He kept things simple where the players could really understand it,” Moody said. “And what he did was very precise and very good.”

Moody said Torbush knew the ins and outs of his scheme, understood how to make adjustments and had a high attention to detail.

“He believed in his players more than they believed in themselves,” Steinbacher said. “And he helped them accomplish more than they were capable of accomplishing.”

Torbush would get on his players without ever saying a curse word, although Steinbacher and his teammates wish he would have.

Steinbacher said a curse word would have hit softer than some of the creative things the coach would come up with. “Dadgummit" or "loggerhead" were about as close as Torbush would get.

“He would get all over you without saying a bad word, but he would get his point across,” Steinbacher said. “He was so intense, and he was demanding, but it was always so grounded in faith and love that you appreciated it.”

Away from football, Steinbacher described Torbush as a great family man to his wife, Janet, and to his son, Trey. In many ways, Torbush brought his players into that family too. Steinbacher fondly recalls dinners with his teammates at the Torbush's house.

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“I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who was a better family man and a better football coach, the combination of both, than Carl Torbush,” Moody said.

Steinbacher said Torbush, who recruited him as a high school athlete and later as a member of his administrative staff, never changed. Steinbacher can still picture Torbush walking into his family’s dining room when he was a 17-year-old kid.

“He was then who he always was,” Steinbacher said. “He was just this happy, fun-loving, gregarious person who also had an amazing intensity, tenacity and competitiveness about him. And that drew me to him. Then, that drew me to him when I went to work for him, and it makes me love him so much and want to honor his legacy.”

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