S.C. State coach Buddy Pough built legacy on respect for leadership and tradition
‘I’ve had a great ride,’ says winningest head coach in Bulldogs football history
Oliver “Buddy” Pough, the winningest coach in South Carolina State football history, pushed along for over two decades at the university before he received his flowers after a career-defining bowl win in 2021.
On Thursday, Pough revealed that he would retire at the end of the 2023-24 season. He spoke after a morning practice ahead of MEAC/SWAC Challenge matchup against Jackson State University on Saturday.
“I wanted to let you all know before the season got underway,” he said. “No one is running me off. It’s my decision. When you have done something for 47 years, it’s a bit tough to give it up but it’s time. I will be all right.
“I’ve had a great ride here at S.C. State and I will continue to care about each one of you the rest of my days,” he said. “Now, let’s go out and have a good season.”
It is fitting Pough will kick off his farewell tour against Jackson State. Just over two seasons ago at the Cricket Celebration Bowl in Atlanta, his Bulldogs defeated Jackson State coach Deion Sanders and the Tigers with a 31-10 blowout victory.
Pough spoke with Andscape about what it means to be part of a legacy of leadership at S.C. State alongside legendary coach Willie Jeffries and four NFL Pro Hall of Famers.
“It means going the extra mile to make sure you are creating a successful environment,” Pough said. “It means making sure we learn of the people and traditions of the Bulldogs before us.”
During a career that began in 2002, Pough won two national Black college football titles and was named national coach of the year twice. He has an overall record of 146-87, and a 112-42 conference record. His teams won three Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference titles outright (2008, 2009 and 2021), and shared the title in five seasons (2004, 2010, 2013, 2014 and 2019).
Keshia Campbell, the acting director of athletics at S.C. State, said her relationship with Pough dates to 2002, when she was the women’s basketball coach.
“He had mentioned [retirement] before, but I guess now that the reality has come and it’s verbalized … it made it more emotional for me,” Campbell said. “He’s a pillar of the Orangeburg community and the state of South Carolina.”
She described Pough as a personable man, deeply entrenched in his community who “had a difficult time saying no to anybody.”
“There are times where he will need something, I think, and won’t ask necessarily, because there are bigger needs or priorities for other [athletic] programs,” she said. “He’s maintained himself within the community as a person that younger coaches feel comfortable approaching.
“He and his family have made sacrifices, and if you’re serious about coaching, it takes time, time away from your family, time away from things that you might enjoy outside of coaching.”
Another more formal retirement announcement came later Thursday alongside Jeffries at the Orangeburg Touchdown Club’s weekly meeting. It was a reminder of the good fortune the Bulldogs have had in leadership for decades – and what Campbell described as the “daunting task” that lies ahead in finding a replacement.
“I spoke with [S.C. State president Alexander] Conyers earlier, and we are going to extend our efforts to a search firm,” Campbell said. “It will be done in the most succinct manner as possible to decide on a candidate.
“What I do know is that we have a coach in place right now, and his name is Oliver ‘Buddy’ Pough. And I don’t want any other names or anything to overshadow that.”
Campbell is no stranger to working with historically Black college and university coaching greats, nor is she unfamiliar with replacing a legend. During her tenure at Hampton University, she worked for Joe Taylor, the Pirates’ all-time winningest football coach.
A potential candidate might be former S.C. State defensive coordinator Jonathan Saxon, who is currently a co-defensive coordinator at Wofford College. Saxon created the Bulldogs defense that stymied the high-powered Tigers in the 2021 Cricket Celebration Bowl.
In the meantime, Campbell said, university officials will plan to make Pough’s victory lap a memorable one.
As for the coach himself?
After this season, Pough said, he plans to set up shop at the site of perhaps his biggest win, Atlanta, “getting on the A-list waiting list for Braves season tickets and hanging out with family until they get tired of me.”