Larry Coker compiled a 60-15 record at Miami, including a national championship in 2001 and an appearance in the national championship game the following year. He was the first rookie coach to do so in over 50 years and first since Walter Camp to win his first 24 games. In addition, Coker was an assistant at Tulsa, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, and Ohio State. In 2009 he was hired as the very first coach in UTSA history and along with his staff is slowly organizing the program from scratch in preparation for their first season in 2011. The Roadrunners are expected to become a full fledged FBS team by 2015.
Sean Mitchell: Why do you feel so many programs are interested in playing UTSA right off the bat?
Larry Coker: I think they try to see where we are and where we’re headed. I also think that San Antonio is a great destination city–it’s a great place to come and play. We have the seventh largest city in the country with no football and we play in the Alamodome, a 66,000 seat stadium. Plus I think it’s also a chance for them to showcase their team so they can have a chance to recruit Texas.
SM: What programs have expressed interest in playing the Roadrunners?
LC: We have several. I really can’t go into those who have expressed interest until we can get a signed contract and get those people on board. We have several Southland schools that we’re playing that’s in the league. We have a contract with Arizona, a contract with Arizona State and a signed contract with Baylor. So we’ve [scheduled] some really premiere schools–schools from the Pac-10 and Big 12, plus we’re talking to several others. So it won’t be long before we have those contracts in and we can announce the schedule.
SM: Yeah, I read about Baylor and Arizona State.
LC: There’s gonna be some be some other schools within the next few days we’re gonna announce also: some Pac-10 schools, some Big 12 schools and some conference USA schools. We think we have something pretty good going here.
SM: How do you feel recruiting has come along so far? How soon do you think you’ll be FBS competitive?
LC: Recruiting has come along very well. We’ve worked very hard to recruit Division 1 quality athletes and we think we’ve done that. We’re about to go back out in the Spring to examine another recruiting class. We’re gonna play some Division 1 teams [FBS] in 2013 so we’ve gotta work very hard to become competitive as we can and we think when we play we’re gonna be competitive.
SM: Are you making great recruiting ties within Texas?
LC: I think we are. We signed 26 players in our first class and 25 were from the State of Texas. I think 16 were from the San Antonio area. The one player from out of state is from Colorado and his grandparents live in Kerville [a suburb of San Antonio] and he grew up and San Antonio. There are a lot of ties to Texas and if we do a good job of recruiting the State of Texas, working from San Antonio out then we have a great chance to have a good program here.
SM: How much are you looking forward to getting started with Northeast (Okla) State, your alma mater?
LC: We’re looking forward to them and our first game because Northeastern gave me a great opportunity–I had the honor to play earn a scholarship. Then to have the chance to play them is gonna be a great deal, especially to have them down here at the Alamodome. So they’re a challenge, they’re a good program and it’s gonna be a lot of fun to get ready to play them.
SM: How close is UTSA to meeting the requirements of FBS or are you already there now as far as what you can control?
LC: What we can control is a vision and we are there with a vision. But as far as having all the pieces of the puzzle put in place we’re not there yet. There’s a number of things we’ve been working on as far making sure we play enough FBS teams and we’ve got to show the NCAA we can draw an FBS type crowd. We’ve got the vision but we’re a long way away from having the plan put in place.
SM: Have you been in contact with any conferences and if so what’s been the reception they’ve given you on possible membership and timetables? Do they give you a list of objectives to be met before they’ll consider your membership?
LC: We’ve reached out to different leagues but there’s been no invitation extended. I think the thing we have to do is just make sure we do our job and show that we’re a viable program, that we have the attendance that’s needed and that we’re a school that’s attractive to other schools to play in other leagues. That’s not just in football but also in basketball because that’s such a huge draw in any league.
SM: Until now San Antonio was the third largest market (behind Milwaukee and Sacramento) that lacked FBS college or pro football. How excited, in your opinion, is San Antonio to have a high level of football ready to begin play since the city obviously lacks pro and major college football? Do you think it’ll be a case of initial excitement that wanes once the novelty wears off or will UTSA football be here to stay as a major event in the Alamo City?
LC: UTSA football is here to stay. I think it needs to be here to stay at a high level and that’s our job to get the program to that and coaches to coach that way and players to play that way. But UTSA football is here to stay it’s gonna move onward and upward I have no doubt about that.
SM: Fast forward 10 years from now…What will UTSA football be like and what will it have accomplished?
LC: Well it’s all conjecture, I wouldn’t venture to guess. I know this: 10 years from now we’ll be a strong program, a viable program and when we look back on the previous 10 years we’ll say ‘wow, look where we started and look where we are now,’ as far as competitiveness and as far as our facilities.
SM: Wouldn’t it be fun to get fast tracked to the big time like South Florida?
LC: They fast tracked it but it was about a ten year fast track. They had a ten year program but they actually did it in eight. So it wasn’t really quite as fast as some people think. I’m really familiar the South Florida program. We did a lot of research [about them] and Lynn Hickey, our athletic director, did as we started this program. I think they are great model for us and any start up program because of the facilities they’ve built and also the competitiveness they have in the league that they’re already in. I did a game for ESPN as an analyst and at that time they were second in the country, so they’ve done a great job with their program.
SM: What do you feel is the hardest part about starting from scratch?
LC: The main thing is all the unanswered questions you don’t know and I think raising the money to build facilities and to fund the scholarships. Especially now, even though San Antonio is a very generous community but again we all know there are some hard times out there and money is not flowing as freely as it has in the past. So I think raising money for facilities and scholarships has been the hardest part so far.
SM: How are people (recruits and other contacts) responding to the fact that you coached Miami to back to back national title games and what affect is that having on the program?
LC: It’s having a huge effect because I think what it does is brings credibility to the vision we have to have Division 1 football. I think recruits, families and people will see that and they want to be apart of that. There’s a reason I’m here, they know that and I think they want to get involved with that type of program. It’s had a tremendously positive effect.
SM: How big a role does academics play in all of this?
LC: It plays a huge role because when we go out and the first thing we talk about is whether or not a player will be eligible and if they have great character. I think now through the NCAA, with the rules of the APR and all those type of things you get penalized for using players that come in on scholarship and aren’t successful. So we have to make sure we bring in the right type of kids and we do a good job academically once they get here.
SM: In the coaching profession, who do you/did you admire the most, making biggest influence on you?
LC: I think you have a lot of influence growing up. I think Bud Wilkinson, the legendary coach at the University of Oklahoma, was one. And obviously Jimmy Johnson and John Cooper are two head coaches I admire that I coached for.
SM: To end, who is the best player you’ve ever coached (as a head coach, coordinator or otherwise?
LC: Barry Sanders, that one’s easy. I had Barry and Thurman Thomas both but Barry was just a special talent.
SM: Is there anything else you want to state about the program?
LC: There is a lot of excitement here in San Antonio. You probably don’t sense that so much in Houston obviously, you have a lot going on there. But football is really a buzz here and we’re excited about where we are. We know we have a long way to go, it is a process. It’s a marathon not a sprint and we’re in the middle of a marathon right now and we’re moving forward.