On The Beat with Georgia’s Ray Goff: star player, head coach, impact recruiter
ATHENS — Ray Goff loves Georgia in a way few others can.
From his hometown of Moultrie, to the Athens area countryside where he now resides in neighboring Oconee County, the former Bulldogs’ star quarterback and head coach makes his affinity clear.
“Georgia is a great place to play college football, it’s a great place to go to schoolm and it’s a great place to be a fan of,” Goff said during his Ingles On The Beat interview on Monday night. “It’s just a great place.”
Goff had 20 years worth of Georgia football. But one gets the feeling even that wasn’t enough for the now-65-year-old successful Zaxby’s businessman.
Goff’s first four years as a player culminated with 1976 SEC Player of the Year honors, an SEC Championship and a Sugar Bowl showdown with Tony Dorsett’s national championship Pitt team.
An ensuing free-agent tryout with the Denver Broncos resulted in Goff handing his $1,000 bonus back to the NFL club after determining pro football wasn’t in his future.
“I gave them the check back, and they said ‘you can keep it,’ “ Goff recalled.
“I said ‘No sir, my dad brought me up, and you don’t take something for nothing.’ So I gave them the check back and got on an airplane and came back to Georgia.”
A graduate assistant job under Vince Dooley was waiting on Goff for a year in 1978, and then he headed to South Carolina where he was a full-time assistant for three seasons.
Goff was back in his beloved Peach State by 1981, having proven himself a great recruiter with the Gamecocks. He backed it up his first year on Dooley’s staff as the recruiting coordinator.
Goff signed 10 of the 30 players in the Bulldogs’ class that year. This, at a time that required him to fly via private plane to get all the signatures in person on National Signing Day.
Kirby Smart, Ray Goff and Mike Griffith on DawgNation
“Things were a lot different back then,” said Goff, understating his accomplishment in typical fashion.
When Dooley retired from the coaching ranks after the 1988 season, Goff was a hot item. Boosters loved his ability to recruit, and there were fears South Carolina might hire him if the Bulldogs didn’t.
Dooley was a legend who left the sidelines on his own accord. But even Dooley failed to record a 10-win season the final five years of his coaching career, all coming after Herschel Walker’s departure into the professional ranks.
Goff managed one 10-win season during his seven-year head coaching run. The Bulldogs capped off the 1992 campaign with a 21-14 Citrus Bowl win over an Ohio State team quarterbacked by ESPN lead analyst Kirk Herbstreit.
While Goff was known as a running quarterback during his playing days — he once led Georgia to victory over Auburn without the Bulldogs throwing so much as one pass — the teams he coached had a different personality.
Goff recruit Eric Zeier was the SEC’s all-time leading passer when he finished his Georgia career in 1994. Zeier, now the radio color analyst for the Bulldogs’ games, set 67 school records and 18 SEC marks in Goff’s offense.
Alas, Goff was fired one season later, his final team finishing 6-6 with a 34-27 Peach Bowl loss to Virginia, leaving him 46-34-1 over his head coaching career.
“Didn’t do a good enough job, not going to blame anybody else,” Goff said. “We recruited the kids, it was our job to coach them up.”
Kirby Smart, a redshirt freshman on Goff’s final team, said there was a qualifier to that final disappointing season.
“A lot of that had to do with injuries,” Smart said. “Robert Edwards, who was probably one of the best athletes that I’ve ever been able to play with, went down with an injury and so did (quarterback) Mike Bobo.
“That year he had some really bad luck with injuries. But man, he signed a lot of good kids.”
To Smart’s point, Edwards went out for the season with a fractured foot after the second game of the year. In the fourth game, Bobo suffered a fractured knee.
Hines Ward, who had moved from receiver to running back when Edwards went down, was then moved to quarterback when Bobo was lost for the season.
On the other side of the football, Georgia lost nose tackle Travis Stroud to a knee injury after the third game.
Goff offers only kind words and focuses on the positives of what he remembers as a wonderful opportunity to be the head coach of Georgia football.
“I met a lot of great people in the state, a lot of coaches and a lot of players,” Goff said. “Just the people at the University of Georgia. I can’t tell you how much impact that they’ve made in my life.”
No doubt, but Georgia fans can tell him how much impact he made in their life each time they look to the sideline and see the visored head coach Goff once recruited and signed out of Bainbridge, Ga.
Ingles OTB, Kirby Smart and Ray Goff