UM sweetens deal for Coker

Amid doubters that questioned the handing over of the football program to someone with no prior head coaching experience, University of Miami president Donna Shalala and athletic director Paul Dee turned their cheeks and went ahead with the hiring of Larry Coker a year ago.

The move paid off as Coker became only the second rookie head coach to win a national championship in his first season-the first since Bernie Oosterbahn in 1948- as he guided the Hurricanes to a fifth national championship and the third undefeated season in school history which concluded with a 37-14 victory over Nebraska in the Rose Bowl.

End result: Not only will Coker be in charge of the Hurricanes until at least the middle of the decade, he will do so with a thicker wallet.

National title aside Coker now joins the millionaire's club in the state's college football coaching ranks along with FSU coach Bobby Bowden and Florida coach Ron Zook as Shalala and Dee announced this past Monday that Coker has agreed on a contract extension through the 2006 season.

The extension reportedly will double Coker's annual salary, beginning with the 2002 season. Coker was originally contracted to a three-year deal with annual earnings of $400,000-450,000 a season after being selected as the nineteenth coach in UM history last February.

Swatch it- there's a new deal in place.

Under his previous contract, Coker would have earned $550,000 in 2002. Instead, Coker will earn a salary of $900,000 without incentive bonuses that include additional income for bowl victories, additional championships or any post-season individual honor. Coker, who will receive yearly raises of $100,000 until the contract runs out, will be making $1.3 million a season by 2006.

"I'm extremely gratified to know that President Shalala and Paul Dee and the Trustees believe that our program is going in the proper direction. I never dreamed we would fail when Paul offered us the opportunity for this job," said Coker at an afternoon press conference, Monday, Feb. 4, to announce the contract extension. I'm very appreciative that the administration decided to extend my present contract. I'm looking at it as an opportunity."

Last February, Dee was left without a head coach after Butch Davis resigned and departed for the Cleveland Browns of the National Football League. Dee initially made inquiries about Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez and Miami Dolphins head coach Dave Wannstedt, among several others, to become UM coach. But he settled on Coker, who had been with the Hurricanes since 1995 as offensive coordinator.

Dee couldn't be happier and doesn't regret the decision to promote Coker, who recently earned the Bear Bryant Award as National Coach Of the Year by the National Sportswriters Association and shared National Coach of the Year Honors by the American Football Coaches Association..

"We're extremely pleased to have been able to extend coach Coker's contract. We have five challenging seasons ahead and I am glad that he (Coker) is our leader," said Dee. "We have a really good guy for another five years, and he has a tremendous opportunity to keep this going."

"There is nothing not to like about Larry Coker. He's steady, he's approachable, he's fair and he's knowledgeable. Larry's demeanor is constant and his players all understand what he is trying to accomplish and react well."

Coker, coming off his 32nd year as a college coach, including 22 seasons as an assistant at the collegiate level, made an additional $50,000 as part of a bonus incentive for coaching the Hurricanes into the Bowl Championship Series No. 1 vs. No. 2 national championship game. Coker will reportedly have the same clause in the contract extension that was agreed upon.

Coker's rise to head coach of the national champion Hurricanes has consisted of many stops along the way. Prior to coming to the University of Miami, Coker was an assistant at Tulsa, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Ohio State.

Before landing in Tulsa as quarterback and running backs coach in 1979, Coker got his first taste of head coaching at FairFax High School in Oklahoma from 1970-76. From 1977-78, Coker held the same post at Claremore High School in Oklahoma. Coker has said in the past that he barely made over $6,000 yearly as a high school head coach.

But success has never been far as 13 of the teams Coker has been on as a college coach have made bowl appearances, winning 11 of those games- including 5-0 at Miami as assistant and head coach.

"That's one of the reasons coaching at Miami is so much fun. Because of all the expectations that come with the job," Coker said. "I want to win just as bad as the people associated with this program do. It's a perfect situation."

A fit that Coker hopes remains intact until he can't do his job anymore. Unlike his predecessors, Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Erickson and Butch Davis, Coker has no interest in coaching in the National Football League. Coker wants to be at Miami for as long as they want him- hopefully, a long time, he says.

"I haven't played or coached in the NFL and I don't have a desire to coach in the NFL. I enjoy college football and everything that comes with it. I enjoy academics and recruiting. I like all the things that make some coaches leave from college to the pros."

I'm concerned with where our players live and with their families. Some of those things NFL coaches don't have the desire to deal with." Coker relishes the high expectations of coaching at a school like the University of Miami and is enjoying the rewards that are coming his way after all the years of hard work he has devoted to the profession.

"I've always tried to do a good job wherever I was and in whatever I was doing," said Coker. "I'm finally glad I've been given the opportunity."

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