Larry Coker is making his return to college coaching at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He is not inheriting a program of tradition and championships, he is building a program from scratch. UT-San Antonio will begin playing FCS football in 2011 with hopes to move on to FBS a few years after that. The Roadrunners have brought back Coker to coaching in the hopes he will ignite college football in a big city in a state where football is king. Coker and San Antonio hope that he can rekindle that magic he had for a few years in Coral Gables.
Coker had been a lifetime assistant at schools like Oklahoma, Ohio State, and was the offensive coordinator at Miami under Butch Davis. When Davis left for the Cleveland Browns following the 2000 season, the players lobbied for Coker to get the job. At that point how could the administration argue with the players' desires? The 2001 Hurricane team is regarded by many as the best college football team of all time. Coker led the Canes to an undefeated season and national championship. He went 31-1 to start his head coaching career. It started to go downhill from there however. The recruiting slipped, losses mounted, and Coker began to feel the heat. In his final season, 2006, the Canes lossed defensive player Bryan Pata to murder and had an on-the-field brawl with FIU. The brawl is one of the first things people point to when they accuse the U of being "thugs". Coker was fired after the final game of the regular season after amassing a 60-15 record (that's an .800 win percentage).
I firmly believe that Coker got a bad shake of things. Current head coach Randy Shannon was the defensive coordinator on the team but the problem was with the offense. Coker never found a suitable replacement for himself, and the Miami offense turned anemic. Shannon was drowning in the same predicament until he hired Mark Whipple in the offseason. The Canes offense has seen a resurgence so far this year. It is hard to gauge how Coker is remembered by the Miami faithful. He should be remembered for guiding the ship to success after Butch Davis fled. Yet most will see him as the coach who let Miami slip into mediocrity in the middle part of this decade.
When I was at Miami and waiting on line for tickets to the 2003 Fiesta Bowl Coker came by and thanked the fans and provided pizza for us who were waiting in the rain. No one ever doubted Coker as a person and that will be a big strength for him as he builds the program. I will be rooting for the Roadrunners when they start their program up in 2011.
The hiring of Coker is similar to what Georgia State is doing with their start-up football team. They begin play next year with NFL and college coaching veteran Bill Curry at the helm. What better way to introduce football to these big urban areas than by bringing in a coach with the experience and credentials to succeed. Many more programs are entering the football fray in these instances, like Charlotte who will begin their college football in 2013. The addition of these big names might bring along bigger expectations from teams that are coming out of nowhere, but Jim Leavitt has been able to bring South Florida out of obscurity to rankings in the polls so the future may be coming quick.
Coker, Who Won It All at Miami, Starts Over With Nothing [NYT]