November 24, 2006

Larry Coker fired following 6-6 season

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -Larry Coker's tumultuous and disappointing season at Miami ended with his dismissal as head coach.

Coker was fired Friday, a move that was expected for weeks and came one day after the Hurricanes finished a 6-6 regular season by beating Boston College, snapping a four-game losing streak and becoming bowl-eligible.

Coker will coach the team in a bowl game, if Miami is invited, athletic director Paul Dee said.

"We all recognize Larry's contributions to this program and all that he's accomplished," Dee said.

Coker said after the game he expected to remain at Miami "a long time." But less than 12 hours later, despite a 59-15 record and two appearances in the national championship game, he was gone - doomed largely by 12 losses in the last three seasons, and no conference titles or major bowl bids since 2003.

He had three seasons left on a contract that paid him about $2 million annually.

There are plenty of potential candidates to replace Coker, including former Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez, who is close with Miami president Donna Shalala; Rutgers coach and former Miami assistant Greg Schiano; and Tulsa coach Steve Kragthorpe.

Former Florida coach and current South Carolina boss Steve Spurrier said earlier this week that he expects to be back with the Gamecocks next fall for his third season - trying to rebuke a story that identified him as Miami's top choice for the job.

Miami entered this season as the favorite to win the Atlantic Coast Conference championship, and was mentioned by some as a contender for the national title - even after a 40-3 loss to LSU in the Peach Bowl last season. Shortly after that game, Coker fired four assistant coaches, saying the program needed new ideas.

But things began spiraling out of control quickly this season.

The Hurricanes lost 31-7 at Louisville on Sept. 16, falling to 1-2 and out of the national-title mix, needed a last-second interception just to beat winless Duke, and then matched the school's longest losing streak in nine years. Also, senior defensive lineman Bryan Pata was shot and killed outside his apartment complex on Nov. 7, adding more torment to a team already reeling from its on-field issues.

Through it all, Coker's public persona was calm and collected. He repeatedly said he was the right person to lead the Hurricanes and, somehow, never seemed overly bothered by the incessant speculation that this season would be his last at Miami.

"Coach Coker is a smart guy, a wonderful guy, a passionate guy," Miami cornerback Glenn Sharpe said Thursday night after the regular-season finale. "A lot of guys were playing with him in their minds."

Coker came to Miami on Feb. 10, 1995, hired by then-coach Butch Davis to be the Hurricanes' offensive coordinator. And he had six often-rocky years as the guru behind Davis' offense, with perhaps the most stormy time before now coming in September 2000.

Miami lost at Washington 34-29 and Coker was the target of widespread ire by fans, some of whom faxed letters to local media outlets demanding he be fired. A "Fire Coker" rally was supposedly scheduled at the school's baseball field, but no event took place.

And by the end of that season, Coker was revered.

The 2000 Hurricanes averaged 42.6 points and 460.8 yards per game, ending the season with 10 straight wins after that loss in Washington - and things kept rolling for nearly two more full seasons.

Davis resigned on Jan. 29, 2001, to become coach of the Cleveland Browns. About a week later, after Miami reportedly offered the job to Alvarez and then-Miami Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt, the Hurricanes ultimately turned to Coker - who had never been a head coach beyond the high-school level.

He went undefeated and won the national championship in his first season, then ran his winning streak to 24 the next year and got the Hurricanes back into the national-title game - where they lost in double overtime to Ohio State, 31-24.

It was the final time Coker would play for the national crown with the Hurricanes. Miami went to the Orange Bowl and beat Florida State to end the 2003 season, then settled for consecutive Peach Bowl trips that capped 9-3 seasons in 2004 and 2005.




 

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