Rudy Hubbard grew up in Hubbard, Ohio, near the steel-mill towns in the northeastern part of the state. The town wasn't named after Rudy's forebears. They were black mill people. Rudy's father worked in the mills all his life, and when Rudy got out of high school he planned to do the same. "The big thing in my town was to graduate, get a car and get a job," he says. "That's what I wanted, too."
He's gotten his cars. His first was a '56 Plymouth with holes in the floorboards. Now he drives a van and a courtesy car. He's gotten his jobs, too. After a career at Ohio State as a running back, he was hired by Woody Hayes as an assistant coach in 1968. He stayed at Columbus six seasons before moving to Tallahassee to become head coach of predominantly black Florida A&M.
Hubbard has found out that just as no two cars run the same, neither do two jobs. In his rookie coaching season at Ohio State, the Buckeyes were undefeated and won the national title by beating USC in the Rose Bowl. The response from the Buckeye rooters was overwhelming. "They were unreal," says Hubbard. "They sent us clocks, radios, boxes of fruit, glassware, silver platters, trophies, cases of beer. They had parades. It was fantastic."
Ten years later, after Hubbard coached Florida A&M to a 12-1 record and the Division I-AA national championship, the Rattlers received no clocks; in fact, they barely got the time of day.
"We got rings from our athletic department and plaques from the NCAA, and that was it," says Hubbard. "I thought we had finally turned the corner, but we hadn't."
Last Saturday afternoon in Florida State's Doak Campbell Stadium, the Rattlers again came to the corner and then stampeded around it. The occasion was a game with the University of Miami, an intrastate Division I school with a fat football budget and more than twice the enrollment of A&M. The 1-2 Hurricane came to Tallahassee with the 10th-ranked defense in the nation against the run, one that had allowed opponents an average of just 97.7 yards rushing a game. The Rattlers not only beat Miami 16-13, but they ran for 296 yards and two touchdowns. And so it is that Florida A&M is now 4-0, has won its last 11 games in a row and 28 of 29, and is ranked No. 1 in I-AA.
"We've got the hottest program in the country," Hubbard says. "If you say USC—because it's tops in I-A—is the hottest, I disagree. Where can they go from where they are now? We can play some I-A teams and win and keep going up. The bottom line is winning, and we're winners."
That wasn't the case when Hubbard took over at A&M. He had gone to the school thanks to a card game. Hubbard had received an invitation to be interviewed for the head coach's job while at Ohio State in 1974. He was weighing his options at a coaching convention in San Francisco that winter when he got into a poker game. One of the players was an A&M assistant who ended up losing a bundle to Hubbard. Rudy decided to pay A&M a visit, collect his money and talk about the vacant head coach's position at the same time. He got the job but not the cash.
"I took the job because it was challenging," Hubbard insists. "Where else could I have gone at Ohio State? I had recruited the best ballplayers [ Archie Griffin, Pete Johnson, Leo Hayden, John Hicks, Neal Colzie], and we had won a national title. What was left?"
When Hubbard took over at A&M the Rattlers had won only 21 of 43 games in the previous four years, and the recruiting budget was $5,000, about what Hubbard had been spending in a couple of months' worth of phone calls at Ohio State. A lot of things have improved since then. "Now our budget is whatever we need," Hubbard says. "We don't go overboard, but we're able to do what needs to be done. We went from operating in the red to turning a profit. We've been on regional and national television and we have a booster club that's raising more money than ever before."