From gridiron to golf course: Former FSU quarterback now golf coach at Matanzas
Thad Busby fell in love with golf when he picked up a club for the first time at 24 years old.
It was the self-reliance of the game that drew him to it.
Busby, a physical education instructor at Indian Trails Middle School, was made the head coach of Matanzas High School’s boys golf team before the start of the 2018 fall season.
But his time on the golf course is a step back away from the chaotic and brutal game the sports world bests knows him for.
Busby was a former starting quarterback for Florida State during the 1990s.
He was initially drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the fourth round of the 1993 Major League Baseball Draft out of high school. But he didn’t want to give up the chance to play for legendary Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden.
Busby threw for 5,916 yards and 46 touchdowns in his time at FSU. He started at QB in 1996 and 1997, losing only two games. He led the Seminoles to the Sugar Bowl in both seasons, losing to the Florida Gators in ’96 and crushing then-No. 10 Ohio State 31-14 in his final season.
Busby went undrafted in the 1998 NFL Draft but was picked up by the San Francisco 49ers. He was cut from the team before the last preseason game. He was given another shot at the NFL in 1999, this time with the Cleveland Browns, but didn’t make the team. Busby played for the Arena Football League’s Tampa Bay Storm in 2000 before stepping away for good.
Busby, who has lived with his wife, Katie, in Ormond Beach since 1998, served as an assistant football and baseball coach at Seabreeze High School from 2000 to 2015.
It was at Seabreeze where Busby formed his first connection to Flagler County — through Robert Ripley.
FOOTBALL LEADS TO GOLF
Ripley first met Busby 14 years ago back when Ripley was an assistant football coach and baseball coach at Flagler Palm Coast High School, and Busby was a quarterbacks coach at Seabreeze under longtime Sandcrabs coach Marc Beach. Ripley and Busby met through Beach. They started to hang out and quickly formed a close friendship.
“One of the ongoing jokes between us is that he’s my all-time favorite Florida State quarterback,” joked Ripley, an avid Florida Gators fan. “But that’s a quality man, a quality educator and a quality coach.”
Busby was also the most athletically gifted man Ripley had ever seen.
“Running a football, throwing a football, hitting a golf ball, hitting a baseball — I’ve yet to see something he can’t do,” Ripley said. “He was that guy that when he hit a ball in the air, it wasn’t coming down for a while.”
After 15 years of coaching football at Seabreeze, Busby tried to get away from the game. But Ripley was able to convince him to join his staff at Matanzas.
“I told him that we could use him,” Ripley said. “He could make us better. He could help us win.”
“You can tell he’s an athlete. He bombs it, and he makes it look so easy. I’ve never seen a guy hit it that long.”
Matanzas golfer Erik Libby
Busby agreed and became the quarterbacks coach at Matanzas High School for three seasons under Ripley. In those three seasons, the Pirates never had a losing record and advanced to playoffs twice. Before Ripley, the Pirates had never been to the postseason at all.
But to Ripley — who, after four seasons, stepped down from coaching Matanzas football in November 2017 — Busby was more than a coach: He was one of his closest friends.
Considering Busby was part of the most successful seasons in school history for football, Ripley said, “I think he’s going to find a way to make golf fun and make golf important at Matanzas.”
COMMITTED TO THE TEAM
Erik Libby first met Busby shortly before the start of the Pirates boys golf team’s 2018 season. Libby, who plays the No. 1 spot for the Pirates, played a round of golf with Busby.
The junior was amazed with what he saw.
Libby, a long hitter in his own right, was getting outdriven by his 44-year-old new head coach. Throughout the round, Busby had crushed several drives up to 330 yards.
“You can tell he’s an athlete,” Libby said. “He bombs it, and he makes it look so easy. I’ve never seen a guy hit it that long.”
The atmosphere around the team is much different from past years, said Libby, now in his third season. Their scores are getting lower match by match. The Pirates lost to crosstown rival Flagler Palm Coast after shooting a 194 total in their season opener on Aug. 21. The Pirates totaled 177 against Creekside on Monday, Sept. 10.
Busby has made practices more competitive. Team members are always competing with each other during putting and chipping competitions on the practice range. The losers are forced to do pushups.
“He’s serious about us wanting to get better,” Libby said. “He’s committed to this program, and he wants us to thrive. Guys are getting a lot better. There’s something to be excited about.”
The Pirates still have a long ways to go before Busby is satisfied. But for now, the team is improving, and Busby has finally landed in the spot he’s coveted for almost a decade.
And he plans to stay for as long as possible.