With more than forty years of experience, Bobby Ross remains one of the few football coaches to have enjoyed success at both the collegiate and professional levels. In 1990, as head coach at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, he led the Yellow Jackets to an undefeated season and a share of the national title. Four years later he took the San Diego Chargers of the National Football League (NFL) to Super Bowl XXIX, where they were defeated by the San Francisco 49ers.
Robert Joseph Ross was born in Richmond, Virginia, on December 23, 1936. He played two years of collegiate football at the Virginia Military Institute, where he graduated in 1959. Ross coached high school football for several years before returning to his alma mater as an assistant coach. From there he joined the coaching staffs at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia; Rice University in Houston, Texas; and the University of Maryland in College Park. In 1973 he landed his first head coaching job, at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, where he compiled a 24-31 record over the course of five seasons. Ross served as assistant coach with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs from 1978 to 1981, leaving that position to become head coach at the University of Maryland. Ross earned recognition for his high-powered offenses at Maryland and led the Terrapins to three conference titles and four bowl games.
When Ross left Maryland in 1986 to become the eighth head coach at Georgia Tech, he inherited a team that had won just five games the previous year. Although Ross won only five games during his first two seasons at Tech, he turned the program around in 1989, finishing with seven wins and four losses. The 1990 campaign proved to be the high point of Ross’s collegiate career, as he led Tech to its first Atlantic Coast Conference title and a share of the national championship. Georgia Tech capped an eleven-win season with a decisive 45-21 victory over Nebraska in the Florida Citrus Bowl. With the only blemish on an otherwise perfect season being a tie with the University of North Carolina, Georgia Tech was crowned the national champion by United Press International (Colorado was ranked first by the Associated Press), and Ross garnered national coach of the year honors. Ross won eight games in 1991, ending his five-year tenure in Atlanta with a win over Stanford in the Aloha Bowl and an overall record of 31-26-1.
In 1992 Ross returned to the professional ranks as head coach of the San Diego Chargers, guiding the team to a division title in his first season. As a result, he was named the NFL’s coach of the year for 1992. The highlight of Ross’s professional career came in 1994, when he led the Chargers to their first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.
Ross left San Diego after five years and took over as head coach and vice president of football operations for the Detroit Lions. He led the Lions to NFL play-off appearances in 1997 and 1999 but resigned nine games into the 2000 season. In December 2003 Ross came out of retirement to accept the head coaching position at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.