"Things come very tough to me," Curry says. "I don't learn easily. That's why I was an offensive lineman." A smile takes its well-worn place on his handsome face, but his eyes remain locked on his questioner. It's a riveting stare. "I'm serious. I needed the repetition a lineman gets in practice. It took me three years to become an established Little Leaguer. It took me four years to start in high school football. I was in the fourth game of my fourth year before I started here, and when I got to the NFL, it was four or five years before I found myself. There were things here I should've done better earlier, like game management, program management, staff selection, recruiting, the whole matrix that is this job.
"There's a story about Thomas Edison. He was working on the light bulb, and he had gone through something like 14,000 experiments, and someone asked him if he ever got discouraged because he had failed so many times. 'Those weren't failures,' he said. 'Those were 14,000 things that don't work.' "
Curry, who attended theology school for a year after college, has a strong sense of right and wrong and an almost evangelical sincerity about him. "I went to theology school with all the answers and left with none," he says. "I haven't had the illusion that I was holier than thou since I was 22."
A lot of folks around the ACC might question that assessment, particularly after his speech last May. Predicting that the Yellow Jackets would win the league title was the tamest thing he said. "Right before I went up to speak," Curry says, "my wife, Carolyn, asked me, 'What are you going to do?' I said, 'I'm going to light this place up.' She said, 'Oh, no!' "
After guaranteeing the ACC title, Curry said, "What we're doing here is a lot more important than winning games. Let me tell you about the opposition. They cheat, they're vicious, they're dishonest, and they corrupt young minds. They will cheat and sacrifice young minds with drugs [steroids] or whatever it takes to win. We have identified the enemy, and it's more than a game. If you stick with us, we not only will catch them, we'll bring them to their knees."
Curry says now, "You have to understand the context of the remarks. This was 500 Tech people. I was excited. I wanted to get them going." The row his talk started amazed him. "It was flat-out distorted by some people, and I was amazed by the reaction," he says. "I had said the same things many times before. I don't regret it at all. Any attention we can bring to the problem is good." He still refuses to name names. "It would be unethical," he says. "We have forums provided for us by the NCAA. But don't ask me to say everything is wonderful and nobody is cheating."
Curry's idealism helped him land one of the best defensive coordinators in the country. A year ago 41-year-old Don Lindsey was fed up with college football. He'd been a part of the defense for four national championship teams—one as a graduate assistant at Alabama and three as defensive coordinator at USC—but in November he left Arkansas after three seasons, sick of the constant pressure to win and of recruiting kids who didn't have a chance to graduate. "I spent 16 years of my life thinking that the world would stop if there wasn't football," says Lindsay. " 'The ball doesn't have air in it! Oh no! The Russians are gonna come get us!' "
Lindsey spent four months relaxing and looking into business ventures before being slowly reeled in by Curry. "Bill's persuasive because he's a good man," says Lindsey. And Lindsey, on the evidence, is a good coach. "We couldn't slow down the Little Sisters of the Poor last year," Curry says. "This year, with the same guys, there's been a big difference."
Lindsey's stunting defense is built around one linebacker, usually the best athlete, called the Strike or, occasionally, the Bell Cow. "Defense is recognition and reaction," says Lindsey. "If I know where they're going to run the football, that's where I put that person." His current Strike is 6'4", 232-pound junior Pat Swilling, who had a game-high 13 tackles against Clemson.
The Tigers gained 375 yards, most of them in the second half, when quarterback Mike Eppley ran the option to perfection and tailback Stacey Driver rushed for 95 of his 131 yards. With 10:36 to play, Clemson had made up the three-touchdown deficit, but Tech didn't fold. "There's a lot more leadership this year," Whisenhunt says. "Last year we were a great first-half team, and then we'd get beat in the second half. We beat North Carolina and Auburn in the first half, and we lost both games."