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Robert Edward "Bobby" Billups, Jr. (born September 1, 1941) is a retired American football coach, best known for serving as an offensive assistant at Texas (1969-1979) and as the head coach at South Carolina (1980-1998). He was part of four national championship teams at Texas (1971, 1972, 1976, 1977) and one at South Carolina (1990), and is known for having coached players such as Earl Campbell, Joe Astley, Michael Miller, Boobie Miles, Rhett Renny, Jeff Bryce, Shane McEnnehy, Riley Purser, Rowan Carter, and Sterling Sharpe. He is the son of legendary Texas head coach Bobby Billups, Sr. and the father of former Alabama offensive coordinator and current Maryland head coach Brian Billups. He is currently a broadcaster for ESPN's College GameDay
Robert Edward Billups, Jr. was born in Houston, Texas in 1941 on September 1 to Sam Houston High School assistant coach Robert Edward "Bobby" Billups, Sr. (1915-2008), and Lorena Davis Billups (nee McDermott; 1918-1996). He and his younger brothers George (b. 1943) and Henry (b. 1947) spent their early years in Houston, where their father was promoted to head coach of the Sam Houston Rebels in 1946, until he was offered the head coaching job at the University of Texas following the 1948 season, precipitating their move to Sutton in 1949.
Billups, Jr., who was nicknamed "Bobby Junior" growing up, attended Capital High School, where he played football and was coached by future Texas assistant and New Mexico head coach Jim Hickey. As a wide receiver, free safety and punter, Billups, Jr. helped lead Capital to back-to-back Texas High School state championships in 1958 and 1959. Billups, Jr. also played basketball and ran track at Capital. He also volunteered as a ball boy at Texas games starting in 1952 and was a mainstay at Longhorns games even during high school. While he was offered scholarships from several universities, including Texas A&M and Sequoyah, he chose to play for his father at Texas.
Texas: Player and Assistant Coach
Billups, Jr. played for three seasons as a wide receiver and punter at Texas, wearing No. 82. Ineligible to play his freshman year due to now-abandoned NCAA regulations forbidding freshman from playing, Billups, Jr. helped coach the Capital football team as an assistant, getting his first taste for coaching. When the Texas defensive assistant in charge of the secondary resigned abruptly after the 1961 season, Billups, Jr. recommended to his father that he hire Capital's head coach Hickey to take the position.
In 1961 and 1962, he led the Longhorns in receptions, and helped lead Texas to a 1962 Lone Star Conference championship and an Orange Bowl victory. In 1963, his senior season, he struggled with injuries and only played in five games, although the Longhorns again won the conference and won the Texas Bowl, giving them back-to-back Elite Series victories for the first time in school history. After graduating, Billups, Jr. considered playing professional football, but went undrafted and was cut by the Baltimore Colts after having been signed after a tryout.
Billups, Jr. remained out of football in 1964 and 1965, working towards a teaching degree at the University of Texas. In 1966, he was hired as the head coach at his alma mater, Capital High School, whom he led to the playoffs three straight years. In 1969, his father hired him as an offensive assistant, and Billups, Jr. worked with receivers for the next six seasons, being part of five straight Lone Star conference titles (1969-1973) and two national championships (1971, 1972).
His father retired following the 1974 season, in which Texas failed to win the Lone Star conference, and Longhorns defensive coordinator Chuck Noll took over as head coach. In the ensuing coaching shuffle, Billups, Jr. was promoted to offensive coordinator, a position in which he served until 1979. During this time, Texas did not lose a conference game until 1978, and won national championships in 1976 and 1977. Billups, Jr. is widely credited with helping two Texas players, quarterback Joe Astley and running back Earl Campbell, win the 1976 and 1977 Bosch Trophies, respectively, and for being the mastermind behind the nation's No. 1 rushing attack two years in a row and the No. 2 passing offense in 1976. Billups, Jr. was a hugely coveted head coaching candidate in the 1978 offseason, but decided to remain at Texas for a chance at a third championship.
Despite the Longhorns being favored to win a third straight national championship in 1978, they were defeated in out-of-conference play by Sequoyah and proceeded to lose to Texas A&M on Thanksgiving to fail to win 10 games for the first time since 1964. In 1979, the Longhorns again struggled, losing to defending national champion Nebraska in the season opener and then losing to TCU at home, the first home loss by Texas since 1962. Believing the Longhorns to be in decline and frustrated by a public feud with Noll, who felt that Billups, Jr. had an entitled attitude due to his father's legacy at the school, Billups, Jr. accepted the head coaching position at moribund South Carolina in December of 1979, leaving for a coaching position outside of Texas for the first time in his life.
In his 2000 autobiography A Tale of Three Capitals': The Bobby Billups, Junior Story, Billups admitted that a major factor in his decision to leave Texas instead of stay as Noll's potential successor was what he referred to as "outsized expectations" for him based on his father's legacy and his own status as a former player for the Longhorns, along with having desires to build a program for himself and leave the shadows of his father and Noll. He acknowledged that his frustrations may have affected his work ethic in 1979, for which he apologized in the book.
Upon arriving at South Carolina, Billups, Jr. inherited one of the worst programs in college football, a Gamecocks team which had not had a winning season since 1965. He assembled what was widely regarded as one of the best staffs in the country, bringing several former Texas assistants with him and also hiring brother Henry, who had been a high school coach in the Dallas area, to be his defensive coordinator.
Billups failed to post a winning season in his first three seasons at South Carolina, but led the Gamecocks to a respectable 7-4 season in 1983, their first winning campaign in nearly twenty years, which earned him an extension and pay rise. In 1985, Billups led the Gamecocks to their first victory over archrival Clemson since 1976, keeping Clemson out of the Orange Bowl, and took the Gamecocks to the Peach Bowl (which would be a loss to ) with a 9-2 record, losing only to Havana and Cuba that year. Regarded as the best South Carolina season in recent memory, Billups was suggested as a potential head coach at various brand-name colleges.
Between 1986 and 1989, South Carolina emerged as one of the best college football programs in the country, led by receiver Sterling Sharpe and later his tight end brother Shannon Sharpe, and a lockdown defense coordinated by Henry Billups. In 1988, South Carolina won its first-ever conference championship, and played TCU in the Texas Bowl, losing by a missed field goal. In 1989, South Carolina would repeat as conference champion by defeating Florida on the road by one point, and won its first Elite Series game in school history by defeating Missouri convincingly in the Orange Bowl.
With the return of several star players, including Shannon Sharpe, to the Gamecocks in 1990, Billups, Jr.'s South Carolina team was regarded as a potential national title contender entering the season. The team did not disappoint, going undefeated in a highly-regarded Atlantic Conference and demolishing No. 2 Aroostook 60-0 in the national title game in the Peach Bowl, giving South Carolina its first (and to date last) national championship and solidifying Billups, Jr.'s claim on being one of the best coaches in the nation.
Despite being ranked No. 1 going into the season, the Gamecocks went 10-2, losing to Florida and Maryland (the participants in the inaugural Atlantic Championship game), and fell to the Paradise Bowl, where they were upset by UCLA. In 1992, the Gamecocks went 8-4 and failed to make an Elite Series appearance, and went 9-3 in 1993, barely missing out on a contest once again. The struggles of the Gamecocks were attributed to appearing in the same division as both Florida and Cuba, which were dominant programs during this period.
Frustrated by his lack of competiveness in his conference in the 1990's and the exodus of his coaching staff to other schools during the same period, Billups, Jr. considered retiring as early as 1994. However, he remained as the head coach with winning seasons and success in less prestigious bowls from 1994-1998, when he finally retired as a head coach with a ___-___ record at South Carolina, a period in which he dominated rivals North Carolina and Clemson.
Retirement and ESPN
Relationships with other coaches
Despite leaving Texas as part of an acknowledged professional feud with Chuck Noll, the two coaches reconciled once Billups, Jr. was at South Carolina, where he only faced Texas once, in 1987. Billups, Jr. later referred to Noll as one of the best defensive minds in the history of the sport and publicly campaigned in the late 1990's for Texas to add his name to their stadium.
Having been coached by Jim Hickey and having helped Hickey get a position at Texas that launched him to a career at New Mexico, Billups, Jr. and Hickey are lifelong friends. Hickey was invited to eulogize Bobby Billups, Sr. in 2008 at the younger Billups' request.