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Coker gets the call to coach Hurricanes

Miami stays in-house, removing the interim coach title from its former offensive coordinator.

By JOE FRISARO

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 4, 2001


CORAL GABLES -- In Larry Coker's first stint as a football coach, his teams won two championships and enjoyed a 30-game winning streak. But that was in the early 1970s at Fairfax (Okla.) High School.

The University of Miami promoted Coker on Saturday to replace Butch Davis, with the expectations of contending for national championships.

After 21 years as a college assistant, Coker's big break came a day after Barry Alvarez accepted more money to stay at Wisconsin. Coker's three-year deal is worth about $700,000 a season.

"It's just an awesome honor," said Coker, 52, named interim coach after Davis left for the Cleveland Browns on Monday. "Maybe it was just a gut feeling, but I really felt this was the proper fit. I was the right guy at the right time."

With national signing day Wednesday, athletic director Paul Dee wanted a coach in place.

Coker, a Weleetka, Okla., native, spent Friday recruiting in Arkansas. He was at a fast food restaurant when Dee called to ask if he wanted to travel to Washington, D.C. Saturday morning to interview with UM's next president, Donna Shalala, who replaces the retiring Edward T. Foote on June 1.

"We made not just a good decision, but the right decision," Dee said.

Dee dismissed reports UM offered $20-million over 10 years to Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt, a former Hurricanes assistant, though he admits he discussed the position with Wannstedt's agent, Nick Christin.

In the upcoming days, Coker likely will promote tight ends coach Rob Chudzinski to offensive coordinator. Dolphins linebackers coach Randy Shannon, an ex-UM assistant and player, is the likely choice as defensive coordinator.

If Coker did not get the Miami job, he was ready to accept a standing offer to join Davis in Cleveland. Greg Schiano, Miami's defensive coordinator before taking the Rutgers coaching job in early December, was ready to hire Chudzinski as offensive coordinator.

Coker was the players' choice.

"The whole time the players feared a new coach would come in and eliminate all the position coaches," said offensive lineman Bryant McKinnie, who declined turning pro to stay at Miami his senior season. "Yeah, the players are happy."

Coker said the coaching transition created doubts for many recruits. By maintaining stability, the Hurricanes picked up oral commitments from linebacker Leon Williams of Brooklyn, N.Y., and defensive lineman Orien Harris from Newark, N.J.

Unlike former UM coaches Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Erickson and Davis, Coker said he has no aspirations of coaching the NFL.

"I want to stay ... a long time," Coker said.

Coker called the plays for a Miami offense that averaged 42.6 points this season, and scored a school-record 469 points.

He has not ruled out calling plays next season.

Before joining Miami in 1995, Coker was at Ohio State, where he coached defensive backs two seasons and quarterbacks one year. He was offensive coordinator at Oklahoma from 1990-1992. He also was offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State (1983-1989) and Tulsa. Two years ago, Coker turned down the chance to be head coach at Tulsa.

"Larry felt this was the right job for him," said his wife, Dianna Coker. "We just felt this was going to work out here. If it didn't, we were ready to take the job in Cleveland."

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