Saturday, Dec 17 at 12:42 AM
When newly hired Incarnate Word football coach Larry Kennan left coaching in 1998 to help establish the NFL Coaches Association, he figured it was only a matter of time before he took another full-time coaching job.
But Kennan, who was introduced as the Cardinals’ new coach Friday at a news conference, turned out to be such a natural as an advocate that his former peers voted him the NFLCA’s executive director in 1999.
“I never thought I would coach again,” said Kennan, 67.
Still, Kennan missed the daily grind of coaching more than he let on. He helped prepare quarterbacks such as Tony Romo and Eli Manning for the NFL draft and tutored high school and junior high quarterbacks, but it wasn’t the same as being part of a team’s coaching staff.
Then fate intervened. The head coaching job at the University of the Incarnate Word, where Kennan’s youngest son has been an assistant since 2007, opened up in October when Mike
Santiago resigned with three games left in the season.
The opportunity to coach with Kyle Kennan, live in the same city as his two grandsons, and help UIW make the transition from Division II to Division I proved too good to pass up.
Kennan applied for the job and wowed UIW athletic director Mark Papich and the search committee with his long, impressive resume as a college and pro coach.
Kennan started the next chapter in his career Tuesday when he accepted UIW’s offer to be the Cards’ next head coach. He flew to San Antonio on Wednesday night and spent most of Thursday meeting with UIW officials, who hired their coach 30 days after starting their search.
“I’m really elated to be here,” Kennan said after he was introduced by Papich. “This press conference is not about me. A football program is about ‘we.’ It’s about us and there are a lot of people involved in it.”
Santiago went 10-18
Kennan’s understated manner contrasts markedly with Santiago’s fiery personality.
The official line is that UIW and Santiago mutually agreed to sever ties, but the coach was ostensibly let go because his relationship with his players and coaching staff had become increasingly strained.
Sources close to the program said Santiago was forced out after complaints of his purported verbal abuse of players and assistant coaches during practice and games “reached the boiling point,” as one source put it.
Santiago, hired as UIW’s first coach in 2007, went 10-18 in nearly three seasons. Santiago was an assistant under Kennan at Lamar for three years (1979-81).
The Cards kicked off their inaugural season in 2009, going 5-5 as an NCAA Division II independent and 3-8 the next year when they joined the Lone Star Conference.
The Cards were 2-5 when Santiago stepped down and lost their last three games under interim coach and defensive coordinator Todd Ivicic, finishing 2-8 overall and 2-6 in the LSC.
Ivicic, UIW offensive coordinator Tony Marciano and Smithson Valley High School head coach Larry Hill were finalists for the job.
Ivicic and Marciano and the rest of Santiago’s coaching staff are under contract through the end of the 2012 season. Kennan said he probably will retain every member of the staff and maybe hire another coach.
Kennan: ‘We’re going to have a blast’
Kennan hasn’t coached with a team since 1997, when he was the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator. He left coaching the next year when he was demoted.
Although 14 years have passed since Kennan was a full-time coach, he said he’s never really stopped being a coach.
“I think there are two things a head football coach is,” Kennan said. “One, you’re a leader because you’re leading a group. You don’t forget how to be a leader. I know how to lead people. I know how to rally people to do things right.”
Kennan addressed some of the players who were in the audience at Friday’s news conference.
“I’ll give you my best shot every day if you give me yours,” he said. “There are going to be a whole new set of high expectations here. I’m going to ask a lot of you. We’re going to work harder than you’ve ever worked and we’re going to have a hell of lot of more fun than you’ve ever had playing football.
“We’re going to have a blast. We’re going to act the same when we win and when we lose. It’s about playing the game properly and playing with class and dignity.”
Kennan praised UIW president Louis Agnese, who pushed to add football to UIW’s athletic program in 2007. Agnese also has spearheaded the campaign to move the Cards from Division II to Division I in all sports in the next few years, a proposal that was approved by the UIW board of trustees recently.
“He’s had this vision for this university for 25, 26 years,” Kennan said, referring to Agnese. “He had enough vision to start football and now he has the vision to make it a Division I program. I believe I’m the guy to help us get there, but I can’t do it alone.”
UIW looking to land in Southland Conference
The Cards’ football team would compete in the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Division I-AA.
UIW will play in the LSC for one more year as it makes the transition to Division I. The Cards already have started making overtures to the Southland Conference for membership.
Kennan planned to return to his home in Alexandria, Va., this weekend before returning to San Antonio on Jan. 2 to begin meetings with his coaches.
Kennan, was offensive coordinator at Nevada Las Vegas and SMU before becoming head coach at Lamar in 1979. After three seasons with the Cardinals, he started his pro career with the Los Angeles Raiders in 1982.
Kennan won a Super Bowl ring as the Raiders’ quarterbacks coach in 1983 and coached with five other NFL teams before leaving coaching after the 1997 season.
Born in Pomona, Calif., Kennan started his coaching career at the University of La Verne (Calif.), his alma mater, in 1966.
Kennan spent the first seven seasons of his NFL career with the Raiders (1982-88) and coached with the team again in 1996. He also had stints with the Denver Broncos (1989), Indianapolis Colts (1990), Seattle Seahawks (1992-94), New Orleans Saints (1995) and New England Patriots (1997).
Kennan was head coach of the London Monarchs in 1991 and led the team to the World League of American Football championship.