Fresh off back-to-back, razor-thin FBS losses, Furman opens Southern Conference play Saturday when it hosts Mercer at Paladin Stadium — and a very familiar face will be leading the visiting Bears onto the field. Mercer head coach Bobby Lamb was a player and former head coach at Furman, and once a year he and his childhood buddy and Paladin teammate, Furman coach Clay Hendrix, hold a reunion on the gridiron.
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There’s no denying the obvious connection, as the two head coaches were a part of some great Furman football teams from 1982-85, including playing together in a national title game in ‘85. The relationship goes even further than college teammates or coaches, as the two Commerce, Ga. natives literally grew up together in the same neighborhood. They played on the same football teams and became fast friends. It was a friendship forged over football, the highs of winning, the lows of defeats and transitions, and centered around the elements that make both men and programs so successful–Faith, Family and football.
The offensive duo of Hendrix and Lamb suited up for Bobby’s father, Ray Lamb, during their time as high school preps at 2A Commerce High School. Lamb and Hendrix shared their first of many championships together there, with the 1981 2A state title being one of the significant moments during their time shared on the sidelines as both players and coaches.
Lamb was an all-state quarterback, and without many programs in existence in the state of Georgia outside of the two power five programs in the state–Georgia Tech and Georgia–the two friends headed about 2.5 hours north on I-85 to play for Dick Sheridan at Furman.
The quarterback Lamb and the offensive guard Clay Hendrix were a part of three SoCon title winning teams, a national runner-up in ‘85, and were part of a senior class that compiled one of the best four-year runs in Furman football history, with a 39-11-1 record by the time the two finished their respective careers, including an impressive 21-4-1 mark vs. SoCon competition during that span suiting up in the Purple and White for the Paladins.
One of the more memorable wins during that span for the duo as players was knocking off Georgia Tech in 1983, as Lamb and Hendrix helped the Paladins to the 17-14 upset win. Interestingly enough, it was the last FCS opponent to defeat the Yellow Jackets until this past Saturday, when The Citadel went to Bobby Dodd Stadium and sprung the upset, 27-24, overtime win.
Hendrix and Lamb served on the same staff as Paladin coaches from 1988-2006, with the two serving as assistants on the same staff from 1988-2001. Hendrix served as Lamb’s offensive line coach from 2002-2006 before leaving for Air Force to become offensive coordinator and associate head coach following the 2006. Lamb, of course, spent nine seasons as head coach of his alma mater from 2002-10. From 1988-2006, the two friends were part of some pretty special moments for Furman football, including the school’s lone national championship.
During their time on the Furman staff together, the two honed their skils as coaches, as Lamb remains one of the more well-respected quarterback coaches in the nation, despite the fact that is no longer his responsibility. During Lamb’s time at Furman, the Manning brothers–Peyton and Eli–attended the Furman quarterback camp, as did former Texas quarterback Major Applewhite and former Georgia Tech standout QB Shawn Jones, who led the Yellow Jackets to a 1990 share of the national title, also camped at Furman’s quarterbacks camp.
Hendrix on the other hand, is thought of as one of the more well-respected offensive line coaches in the country, despite that no longer being his primary coaching responsibility. During his time at Furman, Hendrix honed his skills and gained his knowledge as an OL coach from former Furman offensive line coach and current Clemson offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell. He took those talents to Air Force for nine years, adding to his knowledge and nuances of line play under the leadership of current Falcons head coach Troy Calhoun.
Now the two find themselves on opposite time for the third time since Hendrix took the head coaching job at Furman in Dec. of 2016. So far, Furman has won a pair of close games against his good friend Lamb, taking a 28-21 win over the Bears at Paladin Stadium back in 2017, while posting a 35-30 win in Macon last season. While it’s a unique situation, coach Hendrix said it’s not as awkward as maybe it was back in that first meeting in 2017.
Well it is unique and we’ve kind of been down this road a couple of times now, but I don’t feel the same way I did about as maybe I did two years ago. I think two years ago it was much tougher than it is now and now it’s kind of both you know doing our thing and I just thinkk its a big big conference game,” Furman head coach Clay Hendrix said.
With Mercer’s 48-34 loss to a good Austin Peay team Saturday night in its home opener, and Furman’s back-to-back losses to FBS opponents, it ratchets up the pressure with Mercer stepping back into conference play, and for the Paladins, commencing their 2019 league slate.
In many ways, the two teams come into the matchup having taken on the personality of their respective head coaches. Mercer comes in with one of the most polished, accurate and prolific passers in FCS football, while Furman sports its strength offensively in a seasoned, talented, and deep offensive front. It would be much of what you would expect out of former high school and college teammates that played quarterback and offensive guard, respectively, during their time spent together as players at both levels.
Prior to the season, Lamb called Riddle one of the best quarterbacks he has coached since coaching former Florida Gator transfer quarterback and Parade All-American Ingle Martin at Furman. What I witnessed that first week at Western Carolina added plenty of credibility to that statement, as Riddle tossed four scoring passes in the opening half to put the Catamounts almost completely out of the game by halftime.
Lamb, who was also one of the better quarterbacks in the history of the Furman football program, will bring with him a talented quarterback of his own into Saturday’s contest at Paladin Stadium, in redshirt sophomore Robert Riddle. All Riddle has done this season is lead the nation in touchdown passes thrown.
Like Martin, Riddle has a gunslinger, Ingle Martin-like mentality. He has thrown a nation-leading 11 touchdown passes this season, but has also thrown three pick sixes this season, including a couple last week against Austin Peay. Riddle is young, but confident, and like Martin, he is from the state of Tennessee, having attended the prestigious McCallie School. The offense for the Bears is centered around Riddle, but Tyray Devezin is also a big weapon out of the backfield for the Bears.
Furman on the other hand sees its offense centered around its talented, deep offensive line, and have taken on the personality of Hendrix–an old-school football type with a new school approach to running the football. The Paladins are physical up front, much like many of those offensive lines he was a apart of at Furman. Bo Layton, Reed Kroeber, Andy Godwin, Cole Neely and Jordan Harris comprising the talented offensive front for the Paladins. In fact, many feel that this offensive line for the Paladins is as deep as it and talented since the early-mid 2000s when Lamb was the head coach in Greenville.
Saturday’s clash offers once again a unique setting for the two friends and head coaches that spent so much time on the same sidelines, however, maybe not as awkward as the initial meeting between the two head coaches on opposing sidelines a couple of years ago. There’s no doubt that the two friends have built to contenders in the SoCon title race in 2019, and Saturday’s meeting will go a long in deciding that.
“We certainly spent a long long time on the same sidelines and I mean more than you can imagine. You know I think he’s [Bobby Lamb] done a really good job with that program and they’ve got a good football team and they have got weapons. The two years I have been here we were fortunate to win two really close football games. We talk every couple of weeks and a lot of times it’s just a text and I think he watched some of the Georgia State game and I got a text after the game but we haven’t spoken this week and we probably won’t speak again until pre-game,” Clay Hendrix said.
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