Larry Coker: Will He Make the San Antonio Roadrunners the Next Boise State?

Lake CruiseAnalyst ISeptember 30, 2010

Ex Miami Hurricanes head coach Larry Coker now heads UTSA's new football program
Ex Miami Hurricanes head coach Larry Coker now heads UTSA's new football programDoug Benc/Getty Images

Three years ago, Boise State University was a blip on the college football radar, and then the team visited the Statue of Liberty (the one in Tempe, Arizona that was revealed at the 2007 Fiesta Bowl).

Down by a point in the game’s overtime period to Adrian Peterson and the Oklahoma Sooners, quarterback Jared Zabranksy faded back to pass, but he handed the ball behind his back to running back Ian Johnson who blew untouched into the end zone for the game-winning score.

Johnson’s successful two-point conversion, via the old-school Statue of Liberty trick play, sent the Boise State bench into blissful bedlam.

Cinderella had arrived to the NCAA Bowl Championship Series (BCS) as Boise State, from the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), had embarrassed the celebrated Big 12 Conference.

After the digital scoreboard showed the final score (43-42, Boise State), pandemonium broke out in the stadium and television cameras soon caught the famous footage of Johnson behind the sideline proposing to his cheerleader Cinderella (Chrissy Popadics).

She gave him the answer he wanted, and they remain married to this day. 

With an upset victory and a certified future marriage happening to their upstart program in one day, the Broncos were certified by the Sooners.

“They should be up there playing for a national championship and hopefully they get some more looks in the future,” said upset Sooners linebacker Zach Latimer.

The BCS committee, and the rest of the nation, took keen notice of the Sooners endorsement.

From 1990–92, University of Texas-San Antonio head coach, Larry Coker, was the Sooners offensive coordinator, and they won two bowl games while he was at the helm of the offense.

Before then, he was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State from 1983–89.  Among his pupils, there, were acclaimed tailbacks Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders.

Sanders won the 1988 Heisman Trophy under Coker’s tutelage.

Most Texas football observers believe that current UTSA tailback, Chris Johnson, from San Antonio’s East Central High School, is viewed by some to be every bit as good as Tre Newton, the starting Texas Longhorns tailback, and the son of former Dallas Cowboy Nate Newton.

Johnson is reportedly not enrolled in the fall semester.  He could return for the spring 2011 term.

For years, San Antonio has produced some of the best tailback talent in the nation, and one NFL superstar: Priest Holmes came out of the San Antonio high school system.

Built along the lines of Holmes, the UTSA’s Chris Johnson (5’9", 200 lbs.) is an extraordinarily bruising speed burner with fiery feet, dominant leg strength, grand patience, elusiveness, vision, tenacity, and burst. 

He was reported to be Coker’s first UTSA commitment.

Johnson’s verbal agreement served notice to the Big 12 that Coker’s recruiting power is still strong; Johnson snubbed both Colorado and Iowa State.

To back that triumph up, Coker nabbed Madison (San Antonio) High School standout, Troy Williams, who backs up blue-chip recruit Aaron Greene.

Greene and Johnson were neck and neck in the race for best overall running back in the San Antonio metropolitan area, in the eyes of most high school football water cooler reporters.

By far, Texas high school football is more discussed than the remnants of the most powerful and memorable hurricanes that have blown in from the Gulf of Mexico into the San Antonio vicinity.

Coker guided the Tulsa Golden Hurricane offensive backfield, in 1970, before he was promoted to offensive coordinator in 1980.

In his six seasons with the Miami Hurricanes, he compiled a spectacular .800 victory percentage (60–15).  Only the University of Florida’s Urban Meyer owns a better winning percentage among active major college football coaches. 

“The U” won their first 24 games under Coker’s grizzled guidance.  This feat made him the first head coach to do it since the legendary Walter Camp did it in 1888–89.

The 2001 national championship belongs to Larry Coker, and he won it in his first season at Miami as the head coach.  He was the second coach in NCAA annals, and the first one in 53 years to do so.

Twice he was named National Coach of the Year (2001, 2002). 

UTSA is a budding Tier I academic university, and school officials hired coach Coker for his winning and his outstanding record of producing student-athletes.  His 2005 Hurricanes graduated all 21 players, a higher total than any other program in the nation, according to Coker’s bio.

A coach for some 36 years—14 years as the head Oklahoman in charge—teams he’s coached have compiled a 14–4 record in bowl games.

As a coach at Miami, he has taught some of the biggest names in that school’s football history: 

Ken Dorsey, Frank Gore, Edgerin James, Andre Johnson, Willis McGahee, Bryant McKinnie, Santana Moss, Clinton Portis, Jeremy Shockey, Sean Taylor, Ed Reed, Antrelle Rolle, Jonathan Vilma, Reggie Wayne, and Kellen Winslow II.

Other prominent players he’s coached include Hart Lee Dykes, Mike Gundy, Joey Galloway, Eddie George, Terry Glenn, Bobby Hoying, and Orlando Pace.

The pace of his winning record as a head coach matches up with the best of them.

Coker was hired by UTSA on March 6, 2009, giving him a full two-and-a-half years to field a team before their first game.

With nine all-Texas and 28 all-district (Texas) players in his first recruiting class as of now, he is off to a first-class start.

The Roadrunners won’t have a shot at the BCS national championship in their first season—UTSA will start play as an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) program in 2011—but the school is optimistic that soon enough it will start play in the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A).

Last week (September 22), UTSA spokespersons announced that a three-game series agreement had been signed with Oklahoma State, starting in 2013 at the 65,000 seat Alamodome.

The Roadrunners open play on September 3, 2011 at the Alamodome with a clash against Coker’s alma mater: Northeastern (Okla.) State University.

Born in central east Oklahoma in tiny Okema (population 3,038), Coker has a special appreciation for the Thlopthlocco Tribe—his hometown is their federal quarters.  The tribe makes up about 22 percent of the Okema population. 

About 25 percent of the city’s population lives below the poverty line, including 38 percent of residents under age 18.  At age 18, Coker was a defensive back at Northeastern State.

He became Fairfax (Okla.) High School’s head coach only one year after he matriculated from college in 1970.  From there, he moved to Claremore High School, also in his native state, to serve as their head football coach from 1977–78.

As one of the most respected head coaches in college football, Mack Brown, Joe Paterno, Bob Stoops, and Jim Tressel have given Coker public votes of confidence.

As Paterno put it, the “great adventure of college football” has started at UTSA.

Boise State should enjoy their shine while it lasts.  Larry Coker and the UTSA Roadrunners are coming for their spot, and the way it looks now, it’s only a matter of time before they get it.


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