Whisenhunt did a little bit of everything in college

Bill Curry remembers Ken Whisenhunt's college days and isn't surprised by his success in the NFL.

Updated: February 1, 2006, 1:27 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

DETROIT -- It was Nov. 8, 1980, and coach Bill Curry's hapless Georgia Tech team was hosting a powerful and undefeated Notre Dame club.

Lengthening the odds of an upset, Curry lost his starting quarterback in the first quarter and, as he recalled Sunday evening, his No. 2 signal caller limped off the field for good in the second quarter -- with the Yellow Jackets backed up to their own 4-yard line.

At which point Curry turned to a callow freshman from Augusta, Ga., who came to Tech as a walk-on but earned a scholarship early in the fall practices. The freshman was Ken Whisenhunt, the current Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive coordinator. Whisenhunt had never so much as taken a snap at quarterback in a scrimmage for Georgia Tech.

He was an excellent player for us, won five letters, because he earned an extra year because of an injury. And we probably weren't very fair to him, because we had to play him wherever we needed him. His best position clearly was tight end, but we lined him up at fullback, wide receiver, quarterback. I don't know, but maybe that's helped him now in understanding the [synergy] of all those positions.
Bill Curry, Ken Whisenhunt's college coach

"I looked right at him, to see if his eyes were buggin' out or not, to see if he was ready to do this," Curry related. "And I told him, 'Now look, Ken, just run the ball yourself on the first play, try to get us a little bit of room, and then we'll get the plays to you after that.' And he looked back at me as if he was about the calmest guy in the whole place."

With the freshman Whisenhunt playing most of the contest, Georgia Tech battled Notre Dame to a 3-3 tie at Bobby Dodd Stadium that day, certainly among the few highlights of what would conclude as a 1-9-1 season. But asked on Sunday evening to recall a signature moment from Whisenhunt's campus career, Curry, an ESPN college football analyst, conjured up the events of the Notre Dame game from a quarter century ago.

Ironically, the tie game helped propel Tech's most bitter rival, the University of Georgia, to the top of the polls and an eventual national title. But what stuck out the most for Curry are the recollections of how Whisenhunt calmly managed a contest in which he completed "a few passes" and never lost his cool.

"He did a great job," Curry said. "He was an excellent player for us, won five letters, because he earned an extra year because of an injury. And we probably weren't very fair to him, because we had to play him wherever we needed him. His best position clearly was tight end, but we lined him up at fullback, wide receiver, quarterback. I don't know, but maybe that's helped him now in understanding the [synergy] of all those positions."

In Whisenhunt's first two seasons, Curry noted, the Yellow Jackets had a combined record of 2-19-1. Through the tough time, though, Whisenhunt persevered.

"Ken has overcome adversity, a lot of adversity, really," Curry said. "The knee injury he had in high school, other injuries during his career, all sorts of things. But I think that it's all made him a better person and a better coach. I always kid him that I didn't do a good enough job talking him out of coaching. He had a degree in civil engineering and was just one of the brightest people you'd ever want to meet, but football was in his blood. But he was going to be successful whatever he did."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.

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