John Roberts, who founded the Furman rugby team in 1998 and developed it into one of the nation’s top small college rugby programs, has stepped down as head coach.
Roberts compiled a career record of 188-64-1 and guided the Paladins to three national Division III championships, five South championships and two Southern Rugby Conference titles. In 2016, his Paladins were Division II national finalists.
Roberts, who worked 22 years in the University Communications office at Furman, has been named director of marketing and communications at Piedmont College in Georgia and will begin work there Feb. 12.
Mike Miller, who has served as assistant coach for four years, will oversee the Furman rugby team this spring. The university and the Furman Rugby Foundation will begin the search for a new head coach this semester.
Roberts will remain connected to the program as a special advisor to the team and as director emeritus of the Furman Rugby Foundation. The foundation was established in 2016 to support the program through scholarships and to enhance the Furman rugby experience. Roberts helped raise more than $500,000 for the program while serving as an unpaid volunteer coach throughout his 19-year career.
“More than the wins and championships, I will always treasure the close friendships that I’ve made through coaching,” said Roberts. “It’s been an honor to work with so many young people and to play a small role in their development. While I will always be connected to Furman rugby, I look forward to this new chapter in my life.”
In recognition of his role as friend, mentor and coach, the trustees at Furman named the Furman rugby pitch John S. Roberts Rugby Field in 2009.
“John Roberts created my connection to Furman. Without the Furman Rugby Club, I don’t know what my Furman experience would have been like, but I do know it would not have been as rich. It would have lacked deep friendships, the competition I loved, and a lifelong passion for a wonderful game: all of these I owe to John,” said Furman Rugby Foundation President Trent Emeneker ’02. “While I am truly sad he is leaving Furman, I am eternally grateful for his friendship, proud to have played under him, and joyful for him as he pursues this new opportunity.”
At Furman, Roberts worked with more than 250 Furman alumni, many of whom support the program through annual donations. He was honored as Recreational Sports Coach of the Year five times and made rugby one of the most popular spectator club sport for students, who often fill the stands for home games.
“John’s contributions to the Furman rugby program are immeasurable,” said Owen McFadden, Furman’s director of campus recreation. “It’s more than the wins and the championships. He has been a mentor to his players as well as an advocate for Furman and his program to both parents and alumni. He has built a program for continued success.”
Roberts’ contributions to the game go well beyond Furman. A graduate of the University of South Carolina, Roberts was president of the Gamecocks rugby team and has played for men’s teams in Augusta and Greenville. A lifelong ambassador for the sport, he served as coach of the Palmetto Collegiate All-Stars for three years. In 2011, he founded the Southern Rugby Conference and served as commissioner from 2011-14 and 2017-18. From 2010-13, he coached a high school team (the Greer Spartans). His high school coaching record is 34-18-1, with eight of those losses coming during the team’s inaugural season.
Through the years, Roberts has opened Furman’s rugby facilities to many events and teams. Furman has hosted USA Rugby’s Fall Championship series since 2013. Numerous South championships, men’s games, camps and high school games have been held at Roberts Field, making it one of the most popular rugby venues in the South.
“John Roberts has been a great friend of USA Rugby for many years,” said Rich Cortez, USA Rugby collegiate director. “Moreover, he espouses the values of rugby that we all hold so dear—integrity, passion, discipline and respect. With patience and persistence and a good dose of humor, John has helped many a player through adolescence to maturity in facing the challenges of the sport and whatever obstacles may await them in their daily lives. USA Rugby wishes John well in his future endeavors while knowing that Furman will miss him very much. USA Rugby also appreciates Furman University for allowing us to be part of the Roberts era at the university.”
Roberts is married to Brandis Timmons Roberts ’91. His son, Zach, is a member of the Furman class of 2017. His daughters, Maggie ’20 and Julianna ’21, are Furman students.