At the beginning of last football season some people wondered whether Larry Coker was the right man to replace Butch Davis as head coach of the Miami Hurricanes.
Coker’s resume was impressive enough – 22 seasons as a collegiate assistant coach, offensive coordinator of three different collegiate programs (Miami, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State), coach of such players as Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas, Eddie George and Edgerrin James. But something was missing: collegiate head-coaching experience.
Sure Coker had been a head coach before, but that was 23 years ago at Claremore High, a small school in Oklahoma. But Clamore High is no University of Miami.
Now that the perfect championship season is over, no one wants to admit they ever doubted Coker was the right choice for the UM football program, as he accomplished things no other man in college football history has ever achieved.
Coker was the first man in history to go 12-0 in his first season as a collegiate head coach. He was just the second head coach to win a national title in his first year. Bennie Oosterbaan did it in 1948 with Michigan, but he accomplished the feat by going just 9-0 without participating in a bowl game.
Despite all of Coker’s achievements, his biggest may be in the way he returned the Hurricanes to their glory without returning them to their old antics.
The Hurricanes of the late 1980s and early 1990s were not only notorious for winning but also for getting into trouble. They over-celebrated on the field and received plenty of negative publicity as a result.
Last year’s squad was similar to those teams only in their dominance on the field. Coker kept the Hurricanes focused on winning, while doing it with style.
“We don’t like to talk trash,” Hurricane wide receiver Andre Johnson said. “We do our talking on the field with the scores doing the talking for us.”
The Hurricanes shocked the nation, not only with their dominance, but also with their new “cleaner” attitude. The only time the Hurricanes disrespected their opponents is when they were down right dominating them on the field. The only time they got in trouble was…well it was almost never. Except for wide receiver Ethenic Sands’ unspecified run-in with the law early last year, the team was almost angel-like. Coker says the team’s character was hands down the most important aspect of their success.
“No doubt about it,” Coker said. “We talked about talent all along, but the thing that sets this team apart is their great character.”
The new character of these Hurricanes is a direct reflection of its head coach. Coker’s style of coaching is unlike any other seen in Coral Gables. His laid-back personality has been exactly what the Hurricane program needed.
He’s joked about himself and his players constantly when he is off the field. His attitude has kept players relaxed, easing the stress of being a football player at one of the most scrutinized universities in college football.
On the practice field he walked around like a hawk, eyeing everything that goes on – yet he took a back seat to his coordinators and assistant coaches during these times. Coaching up his own staff just as much as the players, he was the general of a well-machined army and the main concern was keeping the players focused and happy.
Despite the seriousness during practice, once the whistle sounded Coker was back to his old playful self. He often enjoyed dunks into the large garbage cans filled with ice water, which in the past were only home to the bravest of players who had the guts to stand freezing temperatures.
Coker also hired the perfect staff this year. There were plenty of concerns about the youth of the two new coordinators. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski is 33 and defensive coordinator Randy Shannon is 35. But no one was too concerned about their age after the Hurricanes defeated opponents by an average score of 43-9 during the regular season.
Coker knew that their coaching style and skills were much more important than their age or experience.
No one is concerned anymore about Coker’s inexperience either. Hurricane supports have all of their confidence in Coker now. Coker is “the man” in Miami. But more importantly, Coker has a new addition to his resume – head coach of the 2001 National Champions.