Coker set to build UTSA program

SAN ANTONIO -- Larry Coker's national championship ring from Miami sparkled while he fumbled to form the Texas-San Antonio spirit hand signal on his first day in charge of the Roadrunners program.

He's got plenty to learn at UTSA, a long way from Miami in just about every sense.

Eight years after leading the Hurricanes to a BCS national title and more than two years after they fired him, Coker returned to college football Friday with a raucous welcome at UTSA, which plans to kick off its first season in 2011.

The school has an enrollment of about 28,000, more than three times the size of Miami's student body, but still has no football facilities, no schedule and no players.

What the school has for now is a headline-grabbing hire who made it clear he isn't just taking the first job that came along.

"This wasn't just my only opportunity, so I've got to take this," said Coker, adding he was offered offensive coordinator roles at major colleges and jobs in the NFL. "We've got such a great opportunity to build here, and really do it from the ground up and do it the right way."

Coker was 60-15 in six seasons at Miami and won a national championship in 2001, his rookie year as a head coach. After being fired in 2006 following a tumultous 6-6 season, he went to ESPN and worked for two years as a college football analyst.

UTSA students and supporters decked in orange and blue jammed a campus ballroom to welcome Coker, who entered over the blare of a marching band and the yells of a full cheerleading squad. One sign in the crowd read, "World Series of Coker -- We're All In."

Coker's letter of agreement outlines a five-year deal with an annual base salary of $200,000. The contract still needs to be reviewed by the UT System Board of Regents, and UTSA athletic director Lynn Hickey said she will push regents for a seven-year deal.

Hickey said Coker wasn't selected simply to put a splashy, known name behind an unknown program, though she acknowledged it may have looked that way Friday.

"This is not a splash call," Hickey said. "This is a call for someone who has the maturity and the experience and the values to build something from scratch."

Coker's final year at Miami in 2006 was marred by problems both on the field and off. Most infamous was a sideline-clearing brawl during the Florida International game that resulted in the suspension of 31 players.

Coker, whose name has been linked to coaching jobs elsewhere, said in 2007 that it only took "about 30 seconds" before the FIU brawl came up in job interviews. Hickey said she had "frank discussions" with Coker about the fight, but that the more people she called the better she felt about Coker's ethics and values.

"In the one thing in talking to people, he was not let go because of the fight. That was not the end of his career," Hickey said. "They didn't win some games and made a change. So I felt very, very comfortable."

Coker spoke several times about building high-character athletes at UTSA, and disputed the negative characterization of his former Miami players.

"It was a bad situation, some outrageous behavior, but we moved on from it," Coker said. "But again I want to say those were not bad kids. There will be [disciplinary] issues here I'll have to deal with, but hopefully not many."

San Antonio has been without a conspicuous football presence for some time. There are about 1.3 million people in the city, making it the largest in the country without either an NFL or Division I football team.

The Roadrunners plan to play in the Alamodome, the 65,000-seat downtown stadium built in 1993 that never attracted an NFL franchise as the city hoped.

UTSA plans to play an independent schedule in 2011 before joining the Southland Conference in the Football Championship Subdivision in 2012.