"I coach them hard, but I coach them hard in a positive direction."
Along with his solid reputation as a defensive guru, Torbush is even better known as a decent, Christian man that cares about his players. But he isn't the least bit reluctant to admit that he gets after his charges on the practice field. "One reason I'm so talkative and intense on the field is I want them to do things right," he explained. "They're not all going to have the same ability. They're not all the same size. They're not equally fast. They don't have the same football ability. But (each player) can be the best that he can be.
"I want them to feel good about themselves when they leave this university--that they got the most out of their ability--that they graduate and become a good person. If they do that, then I've been a success."
From movies and television, fans carry an image of the stereotypical football coach, screaming and yelling at athletes during practice. But being intense is not the same thing as being abusive, and Torbush's players know the score. "They understand that I'm trying to make them better," he said. "Once that's done, let's move on. Let's not worry about what just happened. Get on to the next one."
Moving forward quickly and not dwelling on past mistakes is important for any teacher, but Torbush knows that part of his job continues even after the final whistle has blown. He explained; "Most of us don't like discipline, but we respect it and appreciate it. I think a big part of my coaching is you need to develop a relationship with those guys off the field as well as on the field. If all you're doing is staying on them about the things they're doing wrong, which I do a bunch during practice, then it's not enough. So when you get them off the field you need to love them around the neck.
"I know that sounds simple. But when you've got a relationship with your players where they know he's trying to make me better, then they may not like (the discipline), but they'll accept it."
Torbush's coaching philosophy has developed over a 28-year career that has included stints as high school coach, graduate assistant, defensive assistant, defensive coordinator and head coach (at North Carolina). But before he began coaching, Torbush was a star athlete.
And the competitive fire still burns.
Recently retired Tide Safeties Coach Ron Case provides insight. Long-time friends, the two first met when Case was a volunteer coach at Carson-Newman and Torbush was an incoming freshman. "He was a small-college all-american in football and baseball," Case related. "When he came in as a freshman, he started immediately. Back in that day we had guys that played downhill--hard against the run. Carl was an off-season guy. He always reported in shape with a great attitude about the game of football."
"Of course I was a lot bigger then," Torbush said, thinking back almost 30 years ago. "I was six feet and about 225 pounds. I enjoyed (playing linebacker) and enjoyed practicing. I think I was intense and played hard and was a pretty good athlete. I played cornerback in high school up until my senior year at an all-black school, so that ought to tell you I could run a little bit.
Torbush graduated high school in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1972, which was right in at the beginning of integration efforts in the South. And there is no doubt his experiences then have made him a better coach today. "A lot of people don't know this about Carl, but he was the only white guy on the team at an all-black school," Case said. "He attended Austin East in Knoxville, which was the black school back then. He started and was the captain of the football, baseball and basketball teams."
A small-college All-American linebacker, Torbush was an even better baseball catcher, playing minor league ball for the Kansas City Royals. "You always get better with the years," he said. "But I was pretty good."
But whether playing or coaching, intensity has always been a part of Torbush's makeup. Case explained; "Off the field he's a good person and will do anything in the world for you. But on the field you had better be doing your work and doing it right."
"I understand making physical mistakes," Torbush said. "The players will get blocked sometimes. But when they line up and they're not sure about their responsibilities--that's probably when I get the loudest. I'm not only frustrated with them; I become frustrated with myself."
Certainly some coaches allow their emotions to get the better of them, raising their blood pressure and gradually eating away at their enjoyment of the game. But Torbush is doing what he loves.
"All of us go through some middle age reflection," he said. "At a certain point you think ‘What else could I do or would I want to do if I weren't coaching?' And other than owning a sports memorabilia shop, I'm not sure I could be as happy doing anything else as I am right now coaching."