Football practice has begun at UT-San Antonio, but the preparations are far from over.
There is so much to do to get ready for its inaugural season, coach Larry Coker has taken on many different jobs. He is coach, yes, but he is also ambassador, salesman and architect all wrapped up as the face of a program eagerly anticipating its arrival in 2011.
“It’s been very hectic, very busy, but it’s been a very good busy,” Coker said in a telephone interview.
Four seasons removed from his job as Miami head coach, Coker has settled in just fine at San Antonio. When he became head coach of UTSA in 2009, he saw great vision for football in South Texas, and the opportunity to start a program from the ground up.
Of course, he probably did not envision working out of modular buildings and holding practices at a high school field while plans are drawn up to build a football complex. But those are minor details. The important piece is building tradition at a program that has high hopes to move from FCS to full FBS member within a short three-year window.
That is why you may have heard UT-San Antonio as a potential candidate to join the WAC as that conference anticipates its next move. But WAC talk aside, what goes into building a program makes the days and hours tick away.
“We bought one of those clocks that shows the hours, minutes and days,” said athletic director Lynn Hickey, who helped push to add football to the UTSA athletic department. “It goes so fast, so Coach Coker when he first got here, I made him take the clock with him because it made me too nervous.”
Given the recent reports of athletic departments sinking further into financial trouble, Hickey is taking a risk adding football, the most expensive sport to run. The school is in the middle of a $15 million fundraising initiative to make improvements to its athletic facilities. But Hickey believes there will be a return on the investment.
The school will play its home games at the Alamodome, and both she and Coker say the excitement throughout San Antonio has grown.
“When I took the position here, the school president asked, ‘Should we add football?’” Hickey said. “I said, ‘No sir, it’s cost prohibitive. I spent 15 years at Texas A&M, I knew what big-time football was. But after being here a year, and understanding the needs not only of this campus but of this community and all of South Texas, for us not to go forward would have been the wrong thing.
“Are you taking some chances? Are you throwing the dice a little bit? Maybe, but the response we’ve had has been outstanding.”
Hickey said the best-selling T-shirt on campus reads, “UTSA football, still undefeated.”
For Coker, the business of getting down to football has just begun. He signed his first recruiting class in February and finally has a chance to coach them up with his complete staff. His recruiting area is primarily in the state of Texas, and though he tries to downplay his accomplishments, the prospective players are thrilled to play for a coach who won a national championship with the Hurricanes in 2001.
But of course, that comes with heightened expectations when UTSA begins play next season. Coker is ready for that, but more than anything, he cannot wait to lead his team out onto the field for the first time.
“People assume you hire a national championship coach and you're going to win immediately, so those expectations have to be tempered,” Coker said. “I haven't had to do that yet because we haven't started playing, but I’m sure I will have to at some point.”