ATHENS – Ray Goff was a newly-minted assistant coach at South Carolina when he got a call to come home.
In this case, “home” was Moultrie, where Goff grew up and starred as a high school athlete before taking his talents to the University of Georgia as a quarterback. And the call was from his father, Jim Buck Goff, the longtime and well-respected director of the recreation department in Moultrie.
“He said, ‘Son, they’ve got an opening at Moultrie High School and they want to know if you’ll come back.’ And I said, ‘Dad, I’ll give you one answer: No,’” Goff recalled in a recent telephone conversation. “And he says, ‘Son, I thought you loved Moultrie.’ I said, ‘Dad, I love Moultrie more than anywhere in this world. I had a great childhood there and I have great friends there. But if I come to Moultrie, I’ll get fired someday, and then I won’t have a hometown to go back to.’”
That, Goff said, is probably the only down side of coming back to coach at one’s alma mater. There are far more advantages, including familiarity with the people and traditions, knowing your way around the state and having pre-existing relationships with the high school coaches with which you’ll be dealing.
But in today’s age of high-stakes college athletics, big pay and championship-starved alumni, there’s only one likely ending for any coach at any school.
“The odds are overwhelming that at some point in time in this game, you’re going to get fired,” Goff said. “I’m not harping on it, but it happens. And if it’s your alma mater that can be very difficult.”
A quarterback for the Bulldogs from 1973-76, Goff was the last alumnus to serve Georgia as its full-time head football coach. That is, until Kirby Smart (Class of ’98) was appointed the Bulldogs’ head man on Dec. 6.
Of the 27 head coaches Georgia has had, nine have been graduates of the university. That includes Bryan McClendon, who served as interim head coach for one month last month.
Goff was dismissed as the Bulldogs’ head coach before the end of the 1995 regular season, his seventh in that role. He’s still hesitant to talk in detail about that experience other than to say “it was tough.”
But he has long since gotten over whatever hurt he felt two decades ago. Goff still lives in Athens and has flourished in private business.
It just took a while.
“They have to do what’s right for them, and I understand that,” he said. “But it’s a very difficult thing for people when their heart and their soul and their passion is for their university and they say ‘we don’t want you anymore.’ That’s a tough pill to swallow. And that happens.”
That said, Goff expects Smart to excel at Georgia. And few people know Smart better.
Goff recruited Smart out of Bainbridge High School to come play defensive back for Georgia in 1995, and he has known him much longer than that. Goff’s relationship with Smart’s father, former high school coach Sonny Smart, goes back to his years as an assistant coach recruiting under Dooley.
“I’ve known his dad for a long time,” Goff said, drawing out the word long. “His dad coached in South Georgia with Ralph Jones and George Bobo. So I’ve known Sonny a long, long time. Great guy. His whole family, they’re just good people. And his dad was really an outstanding football coach. Kirby has been fortunate to have been around a lot of really good coaches since high school.”
In fact, Goff is proud to point out that five of his former players at Georgia’s whose fathers were high school coaches have gone on to succeed in the highest levels of football. Smart, Mike Bobo, Brian Bohannon and Will Muschamp have all become college head coaches and Travis Jones has won three Super Bowls as an assistant coach in the NFL.
And he believes Smart is exceptionally prepared to succeed at Georgia – quickly.
“Kirby knows the state of Georgia, his dad was a high school coach, he recruited the state of Georgia for Alabama. So if you were going to have a vacancy here, he’s a great guy to take it,” Goff said. “He’s got relationships in Georgia through his father, from recruiting for Alabama over here. You know, he’s a great hire in all those categories. And he really is a great person, too.”
The same was being said of Goff when he succeeded Dooley in January of 1989. And while his tenure got off to a slow start – Georgia went 10-13 those first two seasons – recruiting took off pretty quickly. Goff opened the 1990s by landing Andre Hastings, Garrison Hearst and Eric Zeier. That offensive triumvirate helped lead the Bulldogs to a 10-2 record and co-SEC East championship in 1992.
Hastings and Hearst left early for the NFL before the 1993 season, and injuries devastated the Bulldogs in 1994-95.
Today, Goff is like most any other successful alum. He shares a SkySuite with a couple of friends and attends every home game.
“I don’t criticize; I don’t say anything to anybody,” Goff said. “I just watch the game, and then I go home. It’s nice.”
Goff said he has had very good relationships with the coaches that succeeded him at Georgia. Jim Donnan reached out to him for advice in the first couple of years of his administration. And Goff became especially close to former Georgia’s most recent head coach, Mark Richt.
“I thought the world of Mark Richt,” he said. “I loved him and I think he’s a great football coach. Now that Mark is no longer here, I’ll pull for Miami. But I’m tickled to death that Kirby has come back. To have a Georgia graduate here, someone that I recruited and coached, I think it’s great and hope he does great.”
Goff said he has only exchanged a couple of texts with Smart so far. But he hopes to get together with him sometime after national signing day, just to offer his support.
“You know, he’s blowing and going right now,” Goff said. “He doesn’t need to take time out to talk to me; he’s working. But there’s a time and a place for everything, and when recruiting gets over with hopefully I’ll get a chance to sit down and talk to him and welcome him back.”
UGA’S ALUMNUS HEAD COACHES
- Kirby Smart (2016 – ) 0-0
- Bryan McClendon (2015) 1-0
- Ray Goff (1989-95) 46-34-1
- Johnny Griffith (1960-63) 10-16-4
- George “Kid” Woodruff (1923-37) 30-16-1
- M.M. Dickinson (1903, 1905) 4-9
- Robert Wilson (1894) 5-1
- Ernest Brown (1893) 2-2-1
- Charles Herty (1892) 1-1