Saturday, Aug 20 at 1:35 AM
Iconic San Antonio businessman B.J. “Red” McCombs gave the fledgling UTSA football program a much-needed boost Friday morning, donating $1 million to help with the construction of practice facilities for the Roadrunners.
McCombs, who made his pledge at a Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce breakfast to boost ticket sales for UTSA’s inaugural game Sept. 3 at the Alamodome, also challenged other business and civic leaders to raise another $2 million for the workout facilities.
The Roadrunners currently practice off campus at Farris Stadium, which is owned by the Northside Independent School District. Plans are on the board to build a football practice facility that will include two fields with lights at Park West, located near UTSA.
Estimates for the project have ranged from $2 million to $3 million.
“UTSA football is the next big thing in San Antonio sports, and it’s already here,” McCombs said before speaking to an audience that included Mayor Julian Castro and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff. “This is going to be a great thing not only for the city of San Antonio, but for South Texas.”
UTSA kicks off its first season against Northeastern (Okla.) State, the alma mater of Roadrunners coach Larry Coker, who attended the Chamber of Commerce event at Stonewerks Big Rock Grille at The Rim before going to practice.
“This is an exciting time for UTSA and for the city of San Antonio,” Coker said. “We’ve said from the beginning that we want to be San Antonio’s team.”
Coker talks about Miami scandal
It's been a tough week for Coker, who's had to fend off questions from the media in the wake of the scandal that has enveloped the University of Miami football program.
Coker was head coach at Miami for six seasons, from 2001-2006, compiling a 60-15 record and leading the Hurricanes to the BCS national title in his first year at the helm. He was fired after Miami finished the 2006 regular season 6-6.
Coker said in a statement released by UTSA on Wednesday that he has not been contacted by the NCAA about allegations that some of his Miami players received extra benefits from a former booster who is now in prison. Nevin Shapiro has said he gave 72 Hurricanes players and other UM athletes money and lavish gifts from 2002 to 2010.
Coker, who has denied any impropriety, spoke about the Miami scandal briefly at UTSA's football media day Friday afternoon at the Alamodome.
While Coker said the unfolding story in Miami hasn't been a distraction for the Roadrunners, he expressed empathy for his former school.
"I'm almost distraught with the situation there because I was there for 12 years," said Coker, a Miami assistant for six years before succeeding Butch Davis. "It's very hurtful. It really is. I'll be quite honest about that. I'm just disappointed about the whole situation.
"As I told our team last night, ‘It can’t be a distraction. I’m here. I’m where I want to be. It’s been five years since I’ve been in Miami and I’m your coach.' This is our team and that’s what we’re working for. We’re working forward now for UTSA."
UTSA athletic director Lynn Hickey, who attended Friday's breakfast and also was at media day, expressed support for Coker.
"It’s been a very tough week and I really feel for him," Hickey said. "What we want everybody to know is that we are very, very confident in the character and the values of Larry Coker."
McCombs: UTSA will fill Alamodome for opener
The mood at Friday's Chamber of Commerce was upbeat from beginning to end.
UTSA president Ricardo Romo, who with Hickey spearheaded the drive to bring football to the school, smiled as he made the rounds and shook hands with people attending the event.
“I’ve been talking to parents, I’ve been talking to kids and they are excited about going to their first game,” Romo said. “I hope they go all to all of them. But this is a first for them. I’ve told them that this is not only UTSA’s team, it’s the city’s team.
“I’ve told them, ‘When you guys cheer for us, you’re cheering for San Antonio.’ They love it. It seems like there’s a real buzz out there.”
McCombs told the audience that he will buy 1,000 tickets to the season opener. Never one to think small, McCombs predicted UTSA will break the NCAA single-game attendance record for a modern-day start-up program and fill the 65,000-seat Alamodome.
“We’re going to fill ’er up,” McCombs said.
South Florida set the current record of 49,212 on Sept. 6, 1997.
McCombs, 84, long has been one of the state’s most generous philanthropists. Although his step is slower these days, his enthusiasm for sports and passion as a booster for San Antonio haven’t waned.
Coker said McCombs’ sizable donation reflects how the city has embraced the UTSA football program.
“I’m not totally amazed or shocked because San Antonio has been great,” Coker said. “It’s a great city. To see the enthusiasm and excitement for our program, our school, and, more importantly, our kids, is a little bit overwhelming.”
“We want to do well for our students and the city of San Antonio, and we will, we will. If there’s any pressure on us, it’s to do that.”
Castro: ‘Exciting day for San Antonio’
Wolff called the addition of football to the UTSA athletic program “a game changer” that will fill a void on the city’s sports landscape.
“As people know, we’ve tried to bring professional football here, but it didn’t work,” Wolff said. “But you know, sometimes you’re very, very lucky when things don’t work. I think this is much more important than professional football. I’d much rather see UTSA built a first-class program.
“It not only will bring support for the university, it enthuses the alumni and it enthuses everybody in the city. Bottom line, all this goes back into education. You’re supporting football, but at the same time, you’re supporting a great university and the kids that are going there. It’s a win-win situation. That’s not the case in professional football. This is much better.”
UTSA will play its first season as an independent in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Division I-AA, before moving to the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly I-AA, and the Western Athletic Conference next year.
The Roadrunners will play six of their 10 games this season at the Alamodome.
Castro praised Romo and Hickey for their leadership in bringing Division I football to San Antonio.
“It’s an exciting day for San Antonio,” Castro said. “The fact is, we are a football town. You can see that any Friday night during football season at the high school games. But this is the first time that we have a high-division level NCAA football game at the Alamodome.
“We have a chance to fill it up, and I hope we do. It’s going to be great for the university because it’s going to help it move ahead. It’s going to be great for downtown San Antonio, and fantastic for fans who love football.”