By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
In South Carolina sports lore, no program is more revered by African Americans than the South Carolina State University Bulldogs. And, not many coaches are as beloved as Oliver “Buddy” Pough.
When the Bulldogs face Delaware State on Saturday, Oct. 20 at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium, it’s quite possibly the last homecoming game for Pough, who’s not expected to return to the sidelines next year.
“Well, we haven’t officially called it quits yet, but my contract is done,” Pough told NNPA Newswire this week.
He said it’s been an up and down experience, first playing for and then coaching at his Alma Mater. Like he’s well-known for, Pough’s characterization of an “up and down” experience is modest.
He’s spent nearly 30 years at South Carolina State as a student, athlete, assistant coach and head coach.
“We won 16 Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference championships since the conference started in 1970,” said Willie Jeffries, a former Bulldogs head coach and college football hall of famer.
“That’s more than triple the championships of the next school in line and Buddy is responsible for 12 of those championships,” said Jeffries, Pough’s mentor.
“Buddy played in two of those championship seasons, he participated in four as an assistant coach and he’s won six himself as head coach,” Jeffries said.
Pough entered this year, his 17th and possible final season as head coach of the Bulldogs, with an impressive 120-64 record, including 94-33 in the MEAC.
At least a half dozen of his players have gone onto the NFL.
His overall conference record at South Carolina State trails only Jeffries.
“He’s nine wins shy of the record and I was hoping he would stay on and break the record,” said Jeffries, who dines weekly with Pough and the two serve on several boards and committees together.
“I would view that as keeping it in the family.”
Pough said he hasn’t completely closed the door on a return, but as of now, he doesn’t expect to be back.
“I’ve had the opportunity to head one of the most important part of our university,” Pough said.
“Football in South Carolina is pretty big stuff and you, as head coach, are given the responsibility that’s so near and dear to people so you want to do the best job possible, respect the institution and uphold the tradition.”
Prior to taking the reins at South Carolina State, Pough spent five seasons as an assistant at the University Of South Carolina (USC), the last three as a running backs coach under legendary coach Lou Holtz.
During his stint at USC, he helped build the Gamecocks into one of the top offensive teams in the Southeastern Conference.
USC made back-to-back appearances in the Outback Bowl in 2000 and 2001. Before going to USC, Pough was one of the top high school coaches in the Palmetto State, leading Fairfield-Central to a perfect 15-0 record in 1996 and claiming the Class AAA state title, according to the school’s website.
He earned South Carolina High School League Coach-of-the-Year honors for his efforts, the first of such three honors. Pough also had coaching stints at Keenan High in Columbia, where he built the Raiders into one of the top Class AAA teams in the state.
In his final two seasons (1973 and 1974) as a player for South Carolina State, the Orangeburg native and former offensive lineman helped the Bulldogs to a 15-7-1 record, a league crown and back-to-back postseason appearances seasons.
After graduating in 1975, he joined the staff at nearby Orangeburg-Wilkinson High (1976-79), before returning to his alma mater as an assistant coach in 1979.
The Bulldogs made consecutive trips to the Div. 1-AA playoffs (1981 & 1982) during his tenure as an assistant.
“I’ve tried to encourage young men to do good in school and to be good and respectable citizens and to give back to the community,” Pough said.
“That’s my most important role here which is to encourage these young me to be good citizens and I never sugar coat anything,” he said.
Those are traits Jeffries helped to instill in him.
“When my father died in the 1980s, Coach Jeffries became that person that I leaned on the most,” Pough said.
“We are still close. He’s in and out of my house and I’m in and out of his. It’s been a special relationship that’s lasted since we met in the early 1970s when he was head coach and I was a sophomore payer.”
Jeffries continues to be Pough’s biggest supporter.
“I want him to stay. I don’t know that there’s a coach out there that’s as good a football coach as Buddy is,” Jeffries said.
“He came up under me and I could always depend on him. He was a starting offensive linemen for me and he played real well. He majored in mathematics and that told me that this was a smart kid who was a stickler for detail.”
Jeffries called Pough a great technician who’s fantastic at teaching the fundamentals of football.
“He coaches his coaches,” Jeffries said.
Pough said his love for Bulldogs football at times has him fantasizing about his playing days.
When told that NNPA advertising executive Steven Larkin recalled a key block he made as a player to help the Bulldogs win a title, Pough laughed.
“I think I was a lot better player in my mind than I actually was,” he said.
“I was a short fat offensive linemen who probably should have just been happy to be out there. I had a great time and if I could go back to college and play at South Carolina State, I would.”
Pough has become a community treasure and, among the many honors and accolades, he was just named as one of the 12 individuals featured in the 2019 South Carolina Department of Education African-American History Calendar sponsored by AT&T.
The calendar annually honors 12 individuals who have made significant contributions to South Carolina and their professions, and serve as role models to the students and citizens of the state.
“My most important thing is the relationships I’ve had over the years with other coaches, and my players,” Pough said. “I’ve had a great relationship with faculty members, teachers … you rub off on the association that you have.”
If this is his last hurrah as head coach, Pough said he knows the ideal way to say goodbye.
“I want to win the rest of my games, that would be great,” he said.
“But, what I want most is for us to play as good as we can and for all the guys to do good in school. I want to continue treating guys the right way as we go off into the sunset.