PEELER: Remembering Rein, 1979 ACC Title Team
BY TIM PEELER
RALEIGH, N.C. – Curtis Rein wonders just how successful his older brother could have been.
When NC State hired Robert Edward "Bo" Rein to replace his mentor Lou Holtz after the 1975 football season, he was barely 30 years old, the youngest head football coach in the nation.
After struggling his first season, he led the Wolfpack to back-to-back bowl victories in 1977 and '78 and the 1979 ACC championship. Shortly after the Wolfpack beat Duke in the regular-season finale – and the Wolfpack was inexplicably left out of post-season participation – the 34-year-old Ohio native accepted the head coaching position at LSU, one of the view times in history that an ACC football coach left for a football factory.
The personable, intense coach was positioned for success with the rebuilding Tigers.
Then, less than two months after taking the job, on a short hop from Shreveport, La., to Baton Rouge, Rein was traveling on a small plane that soared to 40,000 feet and lost contact with air-traffic control. As it slowly and eerily cruised over Raleigh and Williamsburg, Va., where Rein had been an assistant coach to Holtz at William & Mary, the plane was intercepted by the U.S. National Guard.
The military pilots could see no signs of life in the cockpit of Rein's Cessna Conquest and watched as it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean after running out of fuel. No wreckage was ever found, and the bodies of Rein and pilot Louis Benscotter were never recovered.
It was an unfathomable end to a life that had been filled with success as a college football and baseball player during his playing days at Ohio State and as a college football coach.
"The potential was just unlimited," says Curtis Rein, who was a wide receiver and punt returner for his older brother for three years at NC State. "About a week after the plane crash, I talked to Darrell Moody, one of his assistants, and he said 'Bo had the most incredible way of putting the defense in a bad position.'
"Every week, we had about 12 to 16 new plays that the other team hadn't seen. The defenses had no clue what we were going to do because we changed every week. We probably weren't the most talented team, but we were a tight team that hung together."
As part of a 30-year reunion of the '79 ACC championship team hosted by NC State associate athletics director David Horning, who was an outside linebacker on that squad, Rein's players and former coaches remembered the late leader of the Wolfpack. They gathered for a banquet Friday night at the Embassy Suites in Cary and were recognized during Saturday's game against Clemson at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Curtis Rein was there, along with his daughter, Caroline, and son Bo, who is a freshman pitcher on the North Carolina A&T baseball team. His older sister Marcy was there with her daughter Ellen. And the late Bo Rein's daughter, Linnea, who lives in Colorado, came to represent her family.
The focus of the event wasn't about Rein. It was that hard-luck team, which won its first four games and rose to No. 14 in the Associated Press poll. At Auburn, after taking an early 14-0 lead, the Wolfpack defense lost five starters to injury on one play and was never the same the rest of the game. After beating Maryland 7-0, the Wolfpack suffered its only ACC loss of the season, to arch-rival North Carolina. But it redeemed itself with a stunning victory at Clemson the very next week.
Placekicker Nathan Ritter booted three field goals and the Wolfpack defense – coached by defensive coordinator Chuck Amato – stopped the Tigers on the goal line on four consecutive plays to seal the victory.
After losing to George Rogers and South Carolina the next week, the Pack suffered what might be the most disappointing home loss in school history. After taking a 7-6 lead over Penn State with a little over a minute to play, the Pack allowed the Nittany Lions to convert a fourth-and-26 with one second to play, and placekicker Herb Menhardt booted a 54-yard field goal that bounce off the left upright and through the goal.
That loss not only cost the Wolfpack a spot in a major bowl, it kept Rein's final team out of post-season play all together. While UNC, Clemson and Wake Forest were invited to bowls, the ACC champion Wolfpack stayed home.
Just days after the regular season ended, Rein was lured to Baton Rouge.
"The thing about Bo was that he did an excellent job of getting people to do the things they were capable of," said Moody, who was Rein's quarterbacks and running backs coach at NC State. "If that player could do one thing well, he would find a way to put him into position to do it. You didn't have to be a complete player to be effective."
"He did a lot of changing personnel, which you didn't see a lot of back then."
Rein learned under several masters. Early on, he played at powerhouse Niles McKinley High School, coached by Tony Mason. Following his death, the Niles McKinley football field was named Bo Rein Memorial Stadium. In college, he played for Ohio State's Woody Hayes, with Holtz serving as his backfield coach.
Rein was a dual-sport athlete, helping the Buckeyes win the only College World Series championship in school history. He was named to the all-CWS team in 1966 and '67.
Rein was drafted by both Cleveland Indians in baseball and the Baltimore Colts in football, but a ruptured Achilles tendon and hamstring injury ended his playing careers.
Holtz immediately hired him as an assistant when he became the head coach at William & Mary in 1969 and brought him along to NC State in 1972. For one season, Rein was the offensive coordinator for Arkansas under Frank Broyles, helping the Razorbacks win the South West Conference championship and the 1976 Cotton Bowl. When Holtz left State to become the head coach of the New York Jets, Rein returned to Raleigh as the nation's youngest college coach.
What would have happened at LSU? Moody believes that his former colleague would have been just as successful as he had been in everything else he touched.
"Bo would have fit in well at LSU," Moody said. "He was personable. He met people well. He didn't have a big ego. He loved to be around people.
"I was fortunate enough to play for Earle Edwards as a player here at NC State. He did more with less than any coach in the history of the ACC. But I also think that Bo doesn't get enough credit for what he was able to accomplish while he was at NC State. He was an excellent, hard-nosed football coach."
One who was missed when his players – the last NC State team to win an ACC title – gathered to remember that championship season.
You may contact Tim Peeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.