JJ’s Journal 1.11.16

InsideRunnerSports’ JJ Perez offers his thoughts on several UTSA-related topics.

JJ's Journal entry for 1.11.16

Larry Coker
UTSA said goodbye to legendary Head Coach Larry Coker last Tuesday afternoon. Mark me down as one of the many who were surprised and shocked to hear the news. On Wednesday, I attempted to reflect on Coker’s legacy while at UTSA. You can read that column by clicking here. On Friday, we reported on some additional details of Coker’s departure. You can read that story by clicking here. Regardless of what happened, how it happened, and when it happened, Coker’s tenure at UTSA will forever be part of the story of Roadrunner Football. One day, we’ll see the name Larry Coker on a field or on a building or on a monument of some sort. I just hope that day comes sooner rather than later. 

The Coaching Search
Within hours of news breaking that Coker would not return, candidates began showing interest in the opening. Within 24 hours of the official announcement, we reported that 80 coaches had already reached out. Over the weekend, in-person interviews began. I won’t get into specific names because the process is expected to happen fast and things could change very quickly. You can visit the UTSAInsiders Forum for the absolute latest on the coaching search by clicking here. During her Tuesday afternoon press conference, Athletic Director Lynn Hickey said UTSA would be working with a search firm and would be making a hire within 10-12 days. Sticking by that timeline, that means there should be hire between Friday, January 15 and Sunday, January 17. UTSA certainly has their back against the wall from a timeframe standpoint. National Signing Day is two weeks from Wednesday and the contact period on the recruiting calendar begins this Thursday. UTSA still has work to do with this year’s recruiting class. The 2016 recruiting class currently stands at 11 with a handful of spots remaining open, including at least one quarterback. To say whoever is hired will need to hit the ground running is an understatement. 

Candidate Qualifications
I mentioned several times last week that I felt like that there may be up to a dozen or more coaches who were more than qualified to become the next UTSA Head Coach. You can visit the UTSAInsiders Forum to see the latest on the names being discussed by clicking here. Again without discussing specific names, the profile for the new coach, in my opinion, has to include these three things: 1) Texas Ties. The Lone Star State is fertile recruiting ground. A coach who is known and respected by Texas high schools will be important. 2) High energy. This does not necessarily mean a young coach but one that has passion and is outgoing. This can be boiled down to personality. This will be important both on and off the field. 3) Significant coaching experience. UTSA will be hard-pressed to find a candidate with FBS head coaching experience. But candidates with significant history as a coordinator would be something very high on my list. I’d also look long and hard at certain candidates with long-time position coaching history from large programs. Whoever is hired likely will not check all of the boxes, either mine, the fans or whatever qualifications UTSA’s administration actually have. But the right here will be the one who checks the most and falls within budget. 

Head Coach Salary
Speaking of budget… How much will UTSA pay their next head coach? That is the elephant in the room or the million dollar question or whatever idiom you want to use to describe the topic. Larry Coker earned $400,000 this past season and was set to earn $425,000 next season. Coker’s total contract following his extension was five years, $2.25 million, that’s an average annual salary of $450,000. Texas State hired JMU Coach Everett Withers last week paying him $3.5 million over five years. His 2016 salary will be $650,000 with a $25,000 increase each year after that (that’s an average annual salary of $700,000). Without having any specific budge information, I would think that UTSA does not want to pay as much for their head coach as Texas State did for theirs. The consensus is that Texas State overpaid. It was widely reported that several of their top candidates turned them down. So Texas State may have been in a different situation than what UTSA is in. But from UTSA’s standpoint, funding is tight. There are various reasons for that but the biggest is that UTSA is still a startup program that has just finished year five of football. In the end I would think it’s fair to expect there would be some sort of increase over Coker’s contract amount but it’s hard to say how much. 

Staff Retention
During Hickey’s press conference last week, she mentioned that the administration would do all they can to highlight the current member’s of UTSA’s coaching staff to whoever is hired. The remaining coaches on staff: Eric Roark, D-line; Jeff Popovich, CBs; Mike Markuson, O-line; Charlie Reeve, TEs; Tony Jeffery, WRs; and Polo Gutierrez, RBs. In modern college football, the existing staff is normally let go when a new head coach is hired. That’s typical. But this is an atypical scenario because of the timing being so close to National Signing Day. A lot of times a coach likes to surround themselves with position coaches they have worked with before. So I’d say that whether or not a member of the current staff remains will largely depend on if they have had a past relationship with the new head coach. When Everett Withers arrived at Texas State last week, he brought a majority of his staff with him. That’s usually how these things go. Additionally, I’m not too sure UTSA needs to be in a rush to fill in their staff. The rush right now is finding a head coach in time for National Signing Day. Other positions can be filled can following NSD. Regardless of what happens, the current members of UTSA’s coaching staff deserve the same reverence as Coker. Many of these coaches helped shape the program into what it is today, something from nothing. They’re as much a part of UTSA’s history and the legacy left behind as anyone else. 

UTSA Basketball
The Men’s basketball team went 0-2 over the weekend vs two very good teams, UAB and Middle Tennessee. UTSA’s record is now 3-14 overall and 1-3 in Conference USA play. It’s hard not to describe this season as anything but a disappointment. The roster is filled with some talented players but many of them are very young and simply don’t know how to win CUSA-level basketball games. It’s a difficult spot to be in because the players have fought hard and the team has been in games they had no business being in. But significant scoring droughts and poor defense has ultimately led to their downfall. UTSA plays one game this week, a Saturday matchup afternoon matchup vs UTEP at the Convocation Center. Tip off is at 3pm. UTEP and UTSA have had a nice rivalry in recent seasons. In addition, the Convo is getting a little upgrade. Anew scoreboard and video board is being installed and could be ready by this game. This should provide fans with a better in-game experience. The game itself should be one of the more entertaining games of the season. 

NFL Playoffs
Being a follower of the Dallas Cowboys, I don’t have a “horse in the race” for this year’s NFL Playoffs. But being an avid fan of football, I have to watch the NFL playoffs. I’d argue that the NFL Playoffs are one of the more exciting events in all of sports. I think it has to do with the parity in the league and the fact that it’s a one and done tournament. Obviously the popularity of the Super Bowl is as main-stream as you get. But to me, the three weeks leading up to it is far more exciting than the actual Super Bowl. One of the most exciting days of the year for me is Championship Sunday, when the AFC and NFC crown their best. This past weekend was Wildcard weekend. For the first time ever, every road team won during the Wildcard Weekend. This upcoming weekend is another one of my favorites, the divisional round. Anything can happen, which makes the sport so great. On Saturday, I predict a New England over Kansas City and Arizona over Green Bay. On Sunday, I predict Carolina over Seattle and Pittsburg over Denver in the upset. 

Closing Thoughts - Year of Change
The Chinese calendar marks 2016 as the year of the monkey. One of the things that is often associated when describing the year of the monkey is “great unexpected fortune.” For UTSA, this will be a year of significant change. It’s a new era that I don’t think anyone expected this time last week. I’ve written several times in the past that often time’s things do not play out exactly the way we envision them. Sometimes things are better, sometimes things are worse, but rare is it that it happens the way we thought it would. Larry Coker was supposed to take UTSA to a bowl game and then ride off into the sunset. That will not be the case. But what Coker has left behind is far greater than anyone with reasonable expectations could have imagined. A brand new locker room, a modern weight room, on-campus practice fields, and so much more in-terms of legacy and program stature. From nothing to something in just five short years. So while 2016 has started some unexpected news, maybe it will eventually turn into “great unexpected fortune.”

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