Buddy Pough: Living the dream

Head Coach Buddy Pough. S.C. State Media Day  at Oliver Dawson Stadium.
Head Coach Buddy Pough. S.C. State Media Day at Oliver Dawson Stadium.

S.C. State football coach Buddy Pough's rise up the wins list at his alma mater has caught the eye of the guy at the top.

That would be Pough's mentor and former coach, the legendary Willie Jeffries, who has taken note of last season's MEAC championship and this season's 3-0 start.

"He's about to catch me," Jeffries said. "I told him, 'Slow down, son.'"

Pough, who is 60-24 in his eighth season, has a long way to go to Jeffries' 122 victories. But if it were up to Jeffries, Pough will break his record one day.

"I couldn't think of a better fellow to do it," Jeffries said. "I hope he stays around to become the winningest coach."

Pough, an Orangeburg native who played for and coached under Jeffries, returned in 2002 after five seasons as an assistant at USC -succeeding Jeffries, who gave Pough his backing.

"It was like a dream come true," Pough said.

He's still living the dream as the Bulldogs are back to the place where Jeffries had them in his heyday. Last season S.C. State went 10-3 and made it to the FCS playoffs for the first time since 1982. This year's team is favored to repeat as MEAC champs.

"I've been fortunate we've had some success here," Pough said. "It's been tough at times because this is a place where there are expectations. It's been fun, but it hasn't always been easy."

Pough says this year "could be our best team yet," and it is a team that has USC coach Steve Spurrier concerned.

"Watching them on tape, they look pretty good. They've got good athletes at all the positions, a well-coached team," Spurrier said. "Buddy Pough and his guys do a super job down there."

An assistant under Brad Scott and then Lou Holtz from 1997 to 2001, Pough knows all about SEC athleticism. More importantly, he got an opportunity that helped lead him back to S.C. State.

"Carolina will always have a special significance for me. I had resigned myself to coaching high school football for the rest of my life," said Pough, the coach at Keenan (1989-93) and Fairfield Central (1994-96) before Scott tapped him to join his staff. "They gave me an opportunity that a lot of guys wouldn't have expected to get. I appreciated that."

Retained by Holtz after Scott was dismissed following the 1998 season, Pough was the only coach that experienced both the 1-21 record of 1998-99 and the 17-7 record and two Outback Bowl wins of 2000-01.

"I saw about as low of a low you could see and about as high as a high could be," Pough said.

Those final two USC seasons helped build his credentials when S.C. State's job opened up. Combined with his tenure at a city school like Keenan and his undefeated state championship season at Fairfield Central in 1996, his resume was complete.

Pough's personality matches his record. Funny, caring and demanding all are words that describe him. Keenan athletics director David Mesimore, who served on the committee that hired Pough at the school in 1989, still remembers those qualities.

"He was easily the best candidate for the job," Mesimore said. "We could tell right away he was one of the chosen few who was good at this job."

Pough kept after his players on the field and in the classroom. Mesimore said Pough, a math teacher by trade, made sure his colleagues informed him of any grade or behavorial issues they had with his players.

"He wanted the kids to do the right things, and he expected them to do the right things," Mesimore said. "He's one who could demand that and his kids would still love and respect him."

Jeffries likes how Pough has maintained many of the traditions that he began at S.C. State, such as making the players learn the words to the alma mater. But he believes Pough's personality is what makes him so successful.

"If you're around him for a while, you'll like him," Jeffries said.

Pough is looking to renew some old acquaintances at Williams-Brice Stadium this weekend. While at Keenan, he helped raise funds for the football booster club by having players and parents work the concession stands, where he became widely-known. He still remembers joining the Gamecocks as a coach and one of his former concessions friends asking him to fill a hot dog order.

"Even now, I could still get in there and hawk Cokes," he said with a laugh.

Saturday, however, he will be focused on beating USC. He knows the USC staff well, especially former co-worker Brad Lawing and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, who coached Pough's oldest son Bud at The Citadel.

And Pough also knows how fickle the coaching business can be. He was let go as part of the staff when S.C. State fired Bill Davis after the 1985 season.

"We left for health reasons," Pough jokes now. "The alumni got sick of us."

It's safe to say that nobody in Orangeburg is looking to push out Pough these days. He is more than fine with that.

"I think I'm where I want to be. I'm home," he said. "Everybody treats me well. But you've always got to keep working at it."

Jeffries, who got a visit from Pough on Monday at his first rehab session after hip replacement surgery, hopes his protege keeps working a long time.

"It makes me so happy to see him doing well," Jeffries said. "As he does well, the school does well."