If anybody knows every pothole and construction zone on I-85 in Upstate South Carolina, it’s Bobby Lamb.
He spent 29 years as a quarterback, assistant coach and head football coach at Furman University in Greenville, just 80 miles up I-85 from his parents’ home in Commerce, Ga..
Many times, he drove right past exit 21 to Anderson.
“I’ve been down 85 a million times in my life,” Lamb said. “But I never knew what they were doing over here at Anderson University.”
Lamb is fully aware of what’s happening at Anderson University now, and he will be a major part of the school’s future. The former Furman and Mercer coach was hired last week as the first football coach at Anderson, an NCAA Division II school of almost 4,000 students in the long Upstate shadow of Clemson University and its powerhouse football program.
It’s a combination of a homecoming, completing a circle and a second chance to build a program from scratch for the 58-year-old Lamb. He spent last season as an analyst at Louisiana under his former QB at Furman, Billy Napier, after eight seasons at Mercer.
“This is a wild, wild moment for me,” Lamb said at his introductory press conference on July 13. “I’ve been in a lot of situations, but to see the outpouring of support of a community that wants to start football is incredible.”
The Anderson job comes at the right time for Lamb, personally, as well.
His elderly parents are still in Commerce, and a daughter lives not too far away in Chattanooga. Son Taylor is the offensive coordinator at Gardner-Webb just up the road in Boiling Springs, N.C., where he works for Bobby’s nephew, head coach Tre Lamb. Bobby’s in-laws also live in the Upstate.
“The older you get, the more you appreciate your roots and where you are from,” he said. “In Anderson, we are almost dead in the middle between my parents and my in-laws.
“We are going to be able to take care of our parents while building a program here in the Upstate, so we’re kind of back to our roots.”
Anderson University, founded as Anderson College in 1911, grew out of a Baptist school called Johnson University, which began in 1848. It was a women’s-only college until 1931, and became Anderson University in 2006. Noted alumni include author Sue Monk Kidd (“The Secret Life of Bees”) and former Major League Baseball players Rob Stanifer and Erskine Thomason.
In 2019, Anderson announced its intention to start a football program beginning in 2024. Attorney Melvin Younts, a 1950 Furman graduate, made a gift of $3 million to the school to get the program started, and earlier this year, Spero Financial agreed to a 25-year deal with the school for $1 million for the naming rights for the field at Younts Stadium.
The next step was to hire a coach, and Anderson’s search led to Lamb, who already had built one program from scratch at Mercer, where he coached from 2013-2019 and led the Bears’ transition from non-scholarship football to the Southern Conference.
“Anderson is making a tremendous commitment to Division II football,” said Lamb, who was 67-40 in nine seasons at Furman and 41-39 at Mercer. “I will use the blueprint that we had at Mercer. Obviously, we did some things well and we did some things wrong.
“Here, we’ll build on all the things we did well and correct the things that didn’t go well. I think it’s a comparable school, in that Anderson is a really good academic school and has a lot to offer, just like Mercer.”
Mercer won a record 10 games for a Division I start-up in 2013, but never broke above six wins as a SoCon member, going 4-8 in Lamb’s final season in 2019.
The Trojans’ first game is set for Sept. 7, 2024, and Anderson will play in the South Atlantic Conference along with state schools Limestone and Newberry. Lamb plans to spend the next six months meeting folks and raising money before beginning to hire a staff in January and prepare for the Trojans’ first recruiting class in 2023.
Anderson joins a busy marketplace in South Carolina college football, and will become the 16th college program in the state. Six of those are at the FCS level, including Furman, Wofford, The Citadel, Charleston Southern, Presbyterian and South Carolina State, and six on the Division II level, including another start-up program at Erskine.
Division II schools can offer up to 36 scholarships, compared with 63 for FCS programs and 85 at the FBS level.
“It’s a crowded market in a small state,” said Lamb. “And it’s amazing to see what Limestone has done, and what Erskine did in its first season. Obviously, we will be battling for a lot of the same student-athletes in the state.
“We’ll start our recruiting inside out, from the Anderson area first,” he said. “But we want to expand into Georgia, North Carolina and Florida, a lot of the same places we went when I was at Mercer. We will be a Southeast recruiting area team, and I think there’s enough to go around.”
One thing Lamb can promise recruits: Playing time, eventually. The first two recruiting classes will form the foundation for the first four years of Anderson football, starting in 2024.
“Our sales pitch would be, come play at a Division II university, and you are the first one in line,” Lamb said. “If we sign a receiver in 2023 and he comes on campus, he’s the first one in line. You have an opportunity to start and play four years of college football.
“There’s not a lot of them out there that play four years of college football. You come here, and you’ve got a chance to play some football.”
And Lamb wants to see the Trojans’ schedule some of the FCS schools in the state, including his alma mater.
“We are going to have eight conference games and two non-conference games,” he said. “And I want to play an FCS team in one of them. Hopefully, somebody in the state here will let us come play.”
One of the people Lamb plans to visit soon is Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. Anderson is smack-dab in the middle of Tiger country, and Lamb thinks that can help the Trojans.
“Obviously, we are not going to play games the same time Clemson plays,” he said. “Whatever time they are playing, we’ll find a different time to play, maybe on a Thursday night.
“But I want to meet with Dabo and discuss different situations of how they could help us. It’s Clemson country at the end of the day, but we hope to use Clemson as a positive for us.”
‘Gives me chills’
Anderson is a growing school with big ambitions — it is already the state’s largest private school — and has probably received more publicity in the last week than in the last 10 years as word of Lamb’s hiring leaked out.
That’s what football can do for a school.
“We’ve been told in the last couple of weeks that we have the worst kept secret ever,” said Bert Epting, the school’s vice president for athletics. “It was never supposed to be a secret, we never had that plan. But it’s neat to see the relevance a sport can bring.
“Someone wanted to break a story about Anderson University. How cool is that, that we have become a story to break.”
That profile will peak again when the Trojans play their first game on Sept. 7, 2024.
“Football will bring new traditions, enhanced school spirit and increased alumni connections to our school,” Lamb said. “And for those three hours on Saturdays, we’ll gather together and cheer for the black and gold.
“It gives me chills just thinking about it.”