“Larry Coker has been at the pinnacle of the college football world, and he got there by paying his dues and working extremely hard for many years. He’ll bring that same kind of energy to UTSA. They are lucky to have him,” Head Coach Mack Brown of the University of Texas Longhorns football team said about the first-ever head football coach at UTSA.
Coker has led college football players for 30 years, and was named the Roadrunners’ head football coach on March 6, 2009. The Roadrunners started their new football tradition with a proven winner leading them. UTSA finished their inaugural season 4-6, but the excitement for football is here to stay in the Alamo City. When Coker was asked for his reason for coming back to coach college football, he responded, “Two things I missed: one was the competition, and the other thing was camaraderie and relationship with the players and coaches.”
Coker made his biggest impact while he was at the University of Miami from 2001 to 2006. During his tenure, the Hurricanes were consistently in the national spotlight and contenders for the national title. In 2001, Coker led the Hurricanes to the College National Championship in Coker’s first season as a head coach. That was the first time a rookie head coach had accomplished that feat in 53 years.
Coker finished his career at Miami with a record of 60-15. He has coached players who have not only advanced to the NFL, but have also become elite talents and leaders for their respective franchises. Some of the players on Coker’s 2001 championship roster for the Hurricanes were Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson, Carolina Panthers tight end Jeremy Shockey and Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed. A couple of Coker’s players also played recently in Super Bowl XLVI: safety Antrel Rolle for the Super Bowl Champions New York Giants and the New England Patriots’ defensive tackle Vince Wilfork.
From all of the former players that have been coached by Coker, it is perhaps New Orleans Saints’ linebacker Jonathan Vilma who has been most outspoken about the coach’s influence.
Vilma graduated from Miami with a degree in finance and continued his football career in the NFL. He was named the 2004 Defensive Rookie of the Year and later helped the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV. Vilma credits his current success to the lessons he learned from Coker, and not all of them were on the football field.
“He’s been a big influence, more so, a leader. He let me develop as a person and as a man. He let me develop as a player. Coaches can be overbearing and force the issue on a team,” Vilma said. “The best thing about Coker was that he cared about you on and off the field. That’s one thing he wanted guys to understand. Yes, we can be one win away from the championship, but it’s important to get your degree and get a job when you graduate.” It’s truly a simple message for Coker’s players. Football is something these players do; it is not who they are entirely.
One of the trademarks of Coker’s teams is that his players shine on the field and in the classroom as well. In his career, 73 student-athletes have earned academic all-conference distinctions. Coker continues to push his students to succeed in the classroom.
“I think the biggest thing that I’m proud of is the fact that we did graduate our players at Miami. My last recruiting class there was tied with Notre Dame with a 100 percent graduation rate,” Coker said. “I’m very proud of that. I have more players playing in the NFL than any other coach out there. But the fact of the matter is that most of my players aren’t playing in the NFL. The graduation part is a very big part of it,” Coker said.
The coach believes that his players should represent the very best of what a university has to offer and become the best people they can be.
“They should expect that they are going to graduate. They are going to do the right things, and also we are going to win championships. We are going to represent the university well,” Coker said.
UTSA wide receiver Andrew Hall said, “The coaches emphasize not only hard work on the football field, but in life and in school. I really appreciate that from them. Every time after practice, Coach Coker would come talk to us as a group. He always tells us to be the best on the field and the best off the field.”
Coker enjoys the energy that UTSA students and San Antonians have brought when they watch these young men take the field.
“The city is awesome; it has been a great experience. The university has been so supportive, and we really appreciate that. I enjoy walking through campus and talking with the students; it’s a lot of fun for me,” Coker said. However, people can expect even bigger things to come for UTSA’s football team.
“I see us going to a very high level and very well. We will be a Division I football team. I see us being very competitive in Division I. Competing and winning bowl games; that’s what I see in five years. I would love to see a UTSA championship ring on my finger,” Coker said. “I’m very honored and privileged to be here. It’s been one of the greatest moments of my life to have the opportunity to start up this program. Hopefully, we will see it come to fruition where we expect it to be.”
Championships and students graduating: that is what Larry Coker is all about.