Coker To Succeed Davis at Miami

Monday, February 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — Spurned by Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez, Miami stayed home to find its new coach, hiring Larry Coker on a permanent basis Saturday to run one of the country's top programs.

The 52-year-old Coker signed a three-year contract to replace Butch Davis, who resigned Monday to take the head coaching job with the Cleveland Browns.

A university source, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Coker's deal is worth $650,000 annually.

``Even if there had been 500 people, I knew I was going to get this job,'' Coker said.

The Hurricanes' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach since 1995, Coker emerged as the leading candidate for the job when Alvarez pulled out of contention Friday night. Alvarez, highly coveted and strongly courted by the Hurricanes, agreed to a contract extension with Wisconsin, saying he plans to finish his coaching career with the Badgers.

Coker was tabbed the Hurricanes' interim coach Monday and received strong endorsements from Davis, Miami players and several others, including Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt.

But he never was Miami's top choice. Athletic director Paul Dee made offers to Alvarez and Wannstedt before turning to Coker.

Best described as honest, sincere and extremely laid-back, Coker briefly lobbied for the head coaching job. Then he went back to work, spearheading the Hurricanes' recruiting efforts in a week filled with uncertainty.

Coker was recruiting in Arkansas on Friday night when Dee called him and told him he needed to travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with Miami's president-elect Donna Shalala.

She approved, and Coker became Miami's first coach in more than 25 years to be hired from within the current staff. Assistant coach Carl Selmer was promoted to head coach in 1975.

``It's a great decision by the university,'' defensive tackle Matt Walters said. ``There was a lot of concern on the team about continuing on with what we've been building. We have a national championship in our sights, and I know coach Coker is the man who can get us there.''

Coker's rise to the top wasn't easy.

He had been the focus of much criticism for Miami's offensive struggles in recent years. Just five months ago, following a 34-29 loss at Washington, fans were calling for Coker's resignation.

Somewhere in the next 10 games — all wins — that ceased.

With Coker's offense, Miami set the school record for scoring, averaging 42.6 points per game. The offense also produced 460.8 yards per game and ranked fifth nationally.

Quarterback Ken Dorsey thrived, completing 58 percent of his passes and throwing 25 touchdowns and just five interceptions.

``This is exactly what the players wanted and I know we're all extremely happy about coach Coker being named the new head coach,'' Dorsey said. ``He's the best man for the job, not just for our offense, but for the entire program.''

After returning to national prominence after NCAA sanctions, the Hurricanes finished 11-1 last season. They beat Florida 37-20 in the Sugar Bowl, just missing a shot at the national championship.

Coker takes over a team that should again contend for the title. The Hurricanes are expected to return six starters on offense and eight on defense.

``This allows us to keep going where we left off with coach Davis,'' left tackle Bryant McKinnie said. ``It also allows us to continue with the system we have. That helps the younger players who are learning our system to make an impact, instead of starting over with something new.''

Coker was hired by Davis in February 1995. Although Dee said he would have preferred someone with head coaching experience on the college or pro level, Coker's only stints as a head coach came at two Oklahoma high schools, Fairfax from 1970-76 and Clarmore in 1977-78.

Coker was running backs and quarterbacks coach at Tulsa in 1979, then he was promoted to offensive coordinator in 1980. He also coached at Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Miami. All his coaching jobs were on offense, except for a defensive backs job in 1993-94 at Ohio State.

``He's the man we wanted and he's the man who can keep us on the right track,'' center Brett Romberg said. ``Coach Coker will do great things at UM, and I'm excited about being a part of the start of his head coaching career.''