The fall of 2011 was unlike any other for Bobby Lamb.
Never has he coached so little football and watched so much.
“It was a delight,” said Lamb, who won’t have that luxury again as Mercer begins football practice in August and starts competition in the fall of 2013. “It’s been incredibly odd, but it has been very enjoyable.”
The timing of being a coach without a team couldn’t have been more perfect.
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The former Furman head coach got to watch son Taylor play every game as the starting quarterback at Calhoun and nephew Ben play as a Yellow Jackets wide receiver for Lamb’s brother Hal. And it was a long and perfect season, ending with a 27-24 overtime win over Buford in the GHSA Class AA championship game.
Calhoun hadn’t won a title since 1952, and Lamb said there were players on this year’s team who had grandfathers on that 1952 team. And Lamb, who resigned at Furman after the 2010 season and was hired at Mercer almost a year ago, got to watch a championship parade in Calhoun.
“We had Christmas come early,” said Lamb, who said he got to see about half of Taylor’s games while they lived in Greenville, S.C. “We won the state championship, beat a tremendous Buford team and celebrated basically the whole holidays.”
Lamb also got to visit his daughter Sallie at Presbyterian and take in a football game if he wanted, or go to Tennessee Tech where nephew Tre quarterbacked the Golden Eagles to a share of the Ohio Valley Conference title and their first trip to the FCS playoffs.
And Lamb was a football civilian, just watching college and pro football on weekends.
“That was huge,” Lamb said. “I really never knew what Sundays were like.”
It was an extraordinarily unique fall for a man who had been on the sidelines at Furman for every fall since 1982 as a player, assistant coach or head coach.
Then came January, and life returned to what Lamb knew. January is to college football coaches what April is to tax accountants.
“You get back from Christmas break, and it’s all jammed,” Lamb said. “People don’t realize. January is one of the most busy months for a college football coach.”
And it culminates with National Signing Day on Feb. 1, Lamb’s first at Mercer.
“I’m trying to have the same exact model we had at Furman from a recruiting standpoint,” Lamb said. “The difference is we’re dealing with financial packages instead of scholarship packages.”
Mercer is part of the Pioneer Football League, one of three conferences that doesn’t offer athletic aid. But FCS coaches have to do some wheeling and dealing anyway. FBS programs can’t split up scholarships -- using a one player, one scholarship model -- but FCS coaches can.
Lamb said FCS schools can spread out 63 scholarships among 85 players. But there is no such limitation for a non-scholarship program, since the aid isn’t athletics-based.
Lamb said he prefers the term “non-athletic aid” rather than non-scholarship, since plenty of aid will be available for Mercer football players.
According to its website, a year at Mercer -- with tuition and fees, room and board, personal expenses and books -- costs almost $44,900.
“We’ve got an incredible package,” Lamb said. “We have a tremendous amount of need-based aid and a tremendous amount of academic aid. Certainly the types of student-athletes we’re recruiting academically, if they can get in Mercer, then they’re getting a good bit of academic money.”
He cited one prospect who had qualified for more than $40,000 in general aid as well as from an engineering scholarship.
“The kid is a tremendous student and knows what he wants to do as far as engineering,” Lamb said. “But that’s about full (cost).”
Lamb and assistants Jeff Farrington and Carroll McCray will have a busier post-signing day few weeks than most schools. As a non-scholarship program, Mercer will have to wait a little longer than the average FCS school to see what the trickle down effect will be, what players won’t get the offers they may have expected or hoped for and start looking.
“I can’t tell you how many calls we got at Furman the day after signing day; ‘Coach, the kid got left out,’ ” Lamb said. “I expect us to get a lot of calls Feb. 2 and Feb. 3. The non-scholarship part of it may deter some calls, but we’ll get a good many.”
The only real difference for a non-scholarship program is how many players it can sign. Scholarship programs are capped at 25, but Lamb expects to have 40 to 45 signees by the middle of February.
He figures on signing 12 to 15 on signing day and then working the next two weeks on financial aid packages with other prospects.
The staff will host players and families on campus for the next four Saturdays, including after signing day.
And then Lamb and his staff wil play the waiting game. But considering how different his fall was, Lamb is more than OK with that. After all, he’s used to it.
“We’re out on the road Monday through Thursday, then back here to meet on Friday and plan our weekend,” Lamb said. “On the weekend, you’re entertaining, and during the week, you’re on the road.
“It doesn’t matter where you are.”