Aug. 7, 2010
By Jon Cooper
No one symbolizes the tradition of Georgia Tech football better than Randy Rhino.
Rhino is the second of three generations of football-playing Rhinos at Georgia Tech. His dad, Chappell played from 1950 through ’52, his son, Kelley played from 1999 through 2002, even his brother, Danny, played at Tech (1974-76).
Randy was so good that he’s being honored by the Atlantic Coast Conference as part of its 2010 Legends Class despite playing his entire collegiate career outside of the ACC (Tech was an independent during his years).
Regardless, the Yellow Jackets could not have a finer representative when the entire class is honored at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. on Dec. 3, the night of the ACC Championship Game. Rhino joins Joe Hamilton (2005), Marco Coleman (2006), George Morris (2007), Pat Swilling (2008) and Eddie Lee Ivery (2009) as previous Georgia Tech ACC Legends.
Rhino, a defensive back and punt returner is Tech’s only three-time First Team All-American, including being a Consensus pick in 1973, and he left with every school career punt return record — all but one, longest return, a 96-yarder, were broken by Kelley — and with 14 interceptions, still second in school history.
Rhino, who is a grandfather of three and the football team’s chiropractor, took time recently to talk about a number of subjects, including being a “Legend,” playing football on The Flats, and how he would have fared in today’s game and against Paul Johnson’s Spread Option Offense.
STING DAILY: What does it mean to you being named to the ACC Legends Team?
Randy Rhino: Legends. That always means you’re old, doesn’t it (laughs)? Tech was actually an Independent when I was here, so we weren’t playing ACC schools. It’s nice that they’ll go back into the pre-ACC that we were in to actually let some of us old guys participate in this. This is nice.
SD: What comes to mind when thinking back to your playing days?
RR: Being here now, how much things have changed over, we’re talking 30 years now, which is unbelievable. I can still visualize the way it was when I was here. We’re standing in an area where, I believe they called it either the swimming pool or the old Naval basketball gym, the A.A. was kind of up the hill, the old locker rooms are up underneath the stadium. I think the ghost of ‘Sarge’ is probably running around down there somewhere. ‘Sarge’ was our equipment guy back in the ’70s.
I can remember very well how things were. I sometimes will be in different areas and try and visualize what it was like back in the ’70s or what was on that spot. The stadium really hasn’t changed that much except for the old horseshoe that they tore down. I remember the track, they had that full track that went all the way around the stadium. There are some old, funny stories about that track because that was where we had to do our testing. There were stories of guys kind of hiding when they got up underneath that part of the stadium and waiting until the group came back around. I never did that (laughs).
SD: Talk about the Rhino family and its long tradition at Georgia Tech.
RR: My dad was here in the ’50s, he still tells me this story. The old swimming pool was right here. He still has nightmares. Back then they had this drown-proofing class at Georgia Tech that you had to pass before you could graduate and my dad could not swim a lick. He was petrified of water. There was this old guy, I think he was an ex-Marine, that taught that course. He called everybody “bloodsuckers,” and would scream at them. My dad is screaming at the top of his lungs just to reach for the edge and he wouldn’t let him. He says to this day he doesn’t know how the guy passed him because he still can’t swim.
SD: What are your thoughts on Paul Johnson’s Spread Option Offense?
RR: I don’t really consider it an old-time offense. My senior year was Pepper Rodgers’ first year so I had some experience against the Wishbone. Plus I played in the era of option football, with the Veer offense and Wishbone. I know Coach [Johnson] doesn’t like to call it the Wishbone. It’s a broken-down Wishbone. They take the backs and move them to Wings. My son, Kelley, played at Marist and they run an offense similar to that, so I was pretty familiar with it before Coach Johnson brought it here. It’s a great philosophy because you can get them out in pass routes but yet still run the option, the triple-option back in the other direction. It’s an offense that I love to watch when it’s really rolling. It’s fun, but then I sat through some games at Marist where it wasn’t rolling and it can be just as ugly.
SD: How much fun was it to play against?
RR: As a defensive back, it was absolutely the worst offense that you could play against. The Veer and the Wishbone were just brutal as a defensive back.
SD: Who were some of the best players that you played against?
RR: Being an independent, we were able to play some pretty unique schedules. We actually played Southern Cal the year off their National Championship (1973). That was Pat Haden at quarterback and Lynn Swann came in. I would have to say he was one of the top receivers that I ever played against. We played Pittsburgh [in 1974]. They brought a running back in that we had kind of heard about, a guy named Tony Dorsett. I think I missed about five tackles that day and I knew he was going to be something special. Anthony Davis, a lot of those guys off that Southern Cal teams that went on to be great football players, played Notre Dame coming off a National Championship [in 1974], Tommy Clements at quarterback. A lot of famous NFL guys.
SD: Did you ground Kelley, after he broke your records?
RR: (laughs) I imagine there are very, very few athletes that have ever gotten the thrill of having your own son break your records. You don’t hear that much. It was very exciting. Certainly his mother was pulling for every single record to get broken (laughs). I’ll never forget one day he was getting close to both of them, he said that he had decided that he was going to leave one in tact. He said that Coach O’Leary would have absolutely had a cow if he ever caught a football inside the 10, so my 96-yard [punt return] was one he said he was going to let me keep.
SD: Could you have covered Demaryius Thomas?
RR: Bay-Bay and I became very, very close friends. He spent a lot of time in my office and he and I would joke quite a bit and he’d always ask me how I would cover him. I covered some guys like him, but they were tight ends. Back in my era you never saw a guy like Bay-Bay at wide receiver. He would have played tight end back in those days. I used to kid Bay-Bay a lot when he was in his freshman and sophomore years that if he got any bigger they would move him to tight end. He would cringe whenever I’d say that.
SD: How would you fare in today’s college football?
RR: They wouldn’t recruit [me] as a defensive back anymore, with [my] speed. Now 4.7, 4.6 40s, that’s what, outside linebacker. Defensive end?
SD: Being such a prolific football player, overshadowed your baseball talents. What are some of your memories of playing baseball at Georgia Tech?
RR: I played baseball here at Tech my freshman through senior year and loved baseball. I coach baseball mainly now. I was a centerfielder here and played for Jim Luck. It kept me out of spring (football) practice (laughs). I only had to go to one spring practice. That was the neatest thing.
SD: Did you have any advice for Roddy Jones when he chose to play baseball in addition to football?
RR: He and I never got a chance to talk about it. It’s certainly a lot harder for somebody this day and time to do it and kudos to Roddy for even having the opportunity to do it because I can’t imagine trying to do it now.
SD: There were a whole lot fewer guys throwing 90 miles per hour when you played?
RR: I wouldn’t know what 90 miles an hour looked like. I was in that transition period, where my junior year. That was the first year colleges went to the metal bat. So I was a leadoff hitter. I hit one or two home runs my first two years and then the metal bat came in and I hit like six my junior year. So it really did make a difference. But I think it was much different then. More players probably, if they were going to be Major League players, went [to the pros] out of high school. College wasn’t as big in that day and time. I think one year we only played 30, 31 games. Georgia Tech will play that in the first month. I think Ty Griffin beat my career stolen base record (46) in one season (For the record, Griffin set the school-record with 50 in 1986).