When the No. 21 Ragin' Cajuns visit Appalachian State, Bobby Lamb has inside knowledge

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

Among Bobby Lamb’s prized pupils when he was quarterback coach, and later  coach at Furman, is now the man he works under, UL coach Billy Napier.

His son is a high-profile former Appalachian State quarterback Taylor Lamb.

So when the No. 21 Ragin’ Cajuns and Mountaineers get together Friday (7:30 p.m., ESPN) in Boone, North Carolina, the elder Lamb – who was let go late last year after nine seasons as coach at Mercer, and for the past nine months has quietly worked on Napier’s support staff – will watch two of the nation’s top programs with unique appreciation.

At Furman – playing QB himself from 1982-85, working 14 seasons as an assistant coach from 1986-2001 and then nine seasons as head coach – Lamb got his fill of Appalachian State, which, until jumping into FBS play, also was an NCAA Division 1A/FCS program.

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He knows well what ex-Mountaineers coach Jerry Moore, who won three straight national championships there from 2005-07, did before handing off to Scott Satterfield, who's now Louisville’s coach.

He’s seen Appalachian State fans’ “love for football.”

“They’ve got a great culture,” Lamb said, “and I think Coach Napier has brought that same type of culture … and has built it up here in Louisiana.

“You’re looking at two great programs going head-to-head once again, and it’s just unfortunate that App has won four games in the last two years.”

UL 'would love to do something about that'

UL is 0-8 all-time against Appalachian State, 0-4 under Napier including two regular-season losses and two Sun Belt championship game losses in 2018-19.

“There’s just so much respect when you’re talking about App State and what they have, what they’ve done,” Lamb said, “and I know Louisiana would love to do something about that this week.”

Napier’s regard for Appalachian State is genuine.

“Everybody has great respect for the tradition and history that they’ve had,” said Napier, who as Furman’s quarterback was on the losing end of App State’s famed 2002 Miracle on the Mountain. “They’ve certainly been the standard in our league for a while now.”

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Bobby Lamb, Mercer's head coach at the time and now the assistant to UL coach Billy Napier, celebrates during a 2017 game at Auburn.

But Lamb knows, evidenced by long talks with his son Taylor, about Cajuns tradition too.

He recalls a 2014 chat when Taylor, the SBC Freshman of the Year after taking over as starter that year, was preparing for back-to-back late season road games against Arkansas State and UL.

“I’m like, ‘Well, both those programs are great programs. In my mind, it’s going to be difficult to go in there and win those two games,’ " Bobby Lamb said. “Lo and behold, they did.”

Appalachian State won its final six, beating UL 35-16 and finishing 7-5 that first FBS season. By 2018, it had its first Top 25 appearance. The Mountaineers have won five straight bowl games, including the last two New Orleans Bowls.

Taylor Lamb – now Gardner-Webb’s quarterback coach after two seasons as a South Carolina graduate assistant – started his final 49 college games, going 36-13 and finishing as the Sun Belt’s career touchdown pass leader.

Bobby Lamb watched while simultaneously working at Mercer, maintaining his respect for UL the whole while.

“Louisiana always came up as the one in the West that you had to really go get,” he said.

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'Billy would tag along'  

Out of work earlier this year, Lamb texted Napier.

Their relationship goes far beyond their Furman days, which included a national title game appearance Napier’s junior season.

“His dad,” Lamb said of the late Bill Napier, a longtime Georgia high school coach, “would bring his whole team to our quarterback/receiver camp, and Billy would tag along.”

When Bill Napier lost his battle with ALS in 2017, Lamb reunited with his ex-QB at the funeral.

When he contacted Napier last January, UL was preparing for its LendingTree Bowl win over Miami (Ohio).

 “He said, ‘Hey, let me hit you back after this bowl game and we’ll talk about it,’ ” the Augusta, Georgia native said. “Lo and behold, he said, ‘Yeah, c’mon out here.’ ”

Bobby and wife Allyson arrived during an official visit recruiting weekend.

“We … just fell in love with the place, fell in love with the people,” he said. “And as soon as the weekend was over, I told my wife, ‘We’re gonna do it.’ ”

Bobby Lamb started in February with the new title “assistant to the head coach.”

“Which means I used to tell him what to do all the time; now he tells me what to do,” Lamb said with a laugh.

Napier’s assistant coaches accepted him right away.

“They would say, ‘Coach, can you go in there and talk to Coach Napier about this? Because you know what? You’re the only one that really can call him Billy,' ” he said.

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'A fly on the wall'

Off the field, Lamb – who does respectfully call his old quarterback “Coach Napier” in work settings – helps with academic affairs.

On the field, he’s not allowed to coach hands-on because he’s not a full-time assistant. But he does meet with the quarterbacks and help break down film.

Mostly, though, Lamb said he’s “been a fly on the wall.”

Even old coaches never stop learning.

“It’s been a very rewarding trip for me and my wife, just to see … another successful program and how Billy really runs (it),” he said, adding the “quality of the people” Napier has surrounded himself with impresses him the most.

“It’s really a low-maintenance operation here because of the people he has.”

What’s next for Lamb?

Ideally, he’ll be a head coach again. He’d entertain offensive coordinator job offers.

And if Napier, who’s reportedly spoken with South Carolina about its opening, moves on, Lamb would consider following the star pupil.

For now, though, he’s simply savoring the experience and awaiting a trip to the field where son Taylor once starred.

“It’s a little bit different,” Lamb said, “but I’ve really enjoyed it, because we (he and Napier) have been away from each other for so long.”

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