He served as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State back in the late 1980s—then moved over and filled the same role for the Cowboys’ bitter rivals at Oklahoma. He was defensive backs coach for Ohio State under coach John Cooper, helping the Buckeyes to a Big Ten title in 1993, then became the Buckeyes’ quarterback coach in 1995.
Finally, he moved on to Coral Gables, where in the early 2000s he presided over the football powerhouse down at the University of Miami, racking up a spectacular 60-15 record over the course of six seasons. His 2001 Hurricanes, widely regarded as one of the best teams to ever take the field, won the national title. The 2002 Hurricanes, every bit as as deep and talented as the 2001 group, fell just short, losing to Ohio State in one of the best bowl games ever played. Coker was 4-2 in bowls, 5-2 against Florida State and 3-0 against Florida. He was a two-time Big East coach of the year and won national coach of the year honors in 2001.
All of that success wasn’t good enough for administrators at Miami, though: They fired Coker in 2006 (and, it could be argued, the ‘Canes have never recovered).
Now, after a two-year hiatus from coaching that saw him do some commentary work for ESPN, Coker is back in coaching once again, facing the most unique and possibly the most daunting challenge of his long and winding career. As the new (and first) coach at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Coker is charged with literally building the Roadrunners program from scratch—and, eventually, transitioning it to college football’s Football Bowl Subdivision.
Coker took a big first step in that direction earlier this month, when he welcomed his first recruiting class—26 players, mostly from the San Antonio area (an untapped recruiting market, according to Coker), who bought into the coach’s vision for the program and don’t mind waiting a little while until their first collegiate action. The Roadrunners, you see, won’t play their first game until 2011.
I recently caught up with Coker to chat about his new recruiting class, UTSA’s path to the FBS and more.
So I have to ask: What was your recruiting pitch this year?
We really didn’t have anything to pitch. We weren’t even going to have football for their first year. We didn’t have our entire staff in. But we could tell recruits that we were going to a great home stadium, because we’ll get to play at the Alamo Dome, and that we’ve got great high school football in the area [which will help keep the program competitive], and that 30,00 students voted overwhelmingly to support he program. Plus we could tell them, ‘You know, you’re not going to the scout team–you’re going to get coached and get the opportunity to play.’ That’s the kind of stuff we were talking about. We also talked about being in a great city.
Did they buy it?
I think they thought it was a good deal. The parents, too. They know they’ll get the chance to get stronger, get coached, get fundamentally better. I think they really bought in and bought into the advantages. It’s not a year without football, really. It’s a year without games.
Where are you looking for players? Are there areas of Texas that you think you can sneak into?
I don’t think there are many secrets in Texas. But I think San Antonio a very under-recruited area. We signed 16 of our 26 players from the San Antonio area.
UTSA has come right out and said that the plan is compete for a couple of years in the Football Championship Subdivision and then move up to the FBS. Do you have a roadmap for getting there? Is it a very clearly defined route?
I think we have a road map, sure. But I’m also sure there will be bumps in the road and curves in the road. At the start here, we’re not going to join a league. We’re going to be independent. But we got six home goes each year for the next two years, which I think is a good thing for us. After that … we’ll eventually get to the FBS.
So if UTSA is aiming for the FBS, does the school have a specific league in mind—someplace you think can get into and compete well in?
I’m sure there is. I don’t know how strong of a possibility that is. Of course, there has to be an opportunity. There has to be an opening. And there has to be something that we can contribute. I think we can do that, not just in football but also in men’s basketball.