Posted on September 1, 2012 at 2:58 PM
Saturday, Sep 1 at 2:58 PM
Larry Kennan was winding up his 12th year as executive director of the NFL Coaches Association last December when an opportunity came along that he couldn't pass up.
Kennan hadn't been associated with a team since 1997, when he was offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, but he felt compelled to return to what he calls "my first love."
Kennan applied for the head football job at the University of the Incarnate Word and was the runaway choice to succeed Mike Santiago, who resigned with three games left in the 2011 season.
Eight months later, the Cardinals are set to play their first game under Kennan, whose resume includes a Super Bowl title as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Raiders.
"I'm really excited," Kennan, 68, said Friday. "I told the team that they don't need to try to be perfect because you can't be. If you try to be perfect, you always come up short. I know I'm not going to be perfect. I'm going to mess up a few calls I send in, and that's just the way it'll be. But what the heck. Everybody makes mistakes."
UIW, which played its first game in school history three years ago, begins its final season in Division II when it plays Texas College at 7 p.m. Saturday at Benson Stadium.
The Cardinals next year will move to the Southland Conference, which plays in the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Division I-AA.
New Braunfels grad Rhodes will start opener at QB
Kennan has said time and again since taking the UIW job that "coaching is coaching," regardless of whether it's in the NFL or at the high school level.
"I've always enjoyed the teaching aspect of coaching," Kennan said. "That's always been my first love. It's been great to get back into it and be around players every day."
Three former FBS players --- outside linebacker Dravannti Johnson (Texas), quarterback Zach Rhodes (SMU/Louisiana-Monroe) and Marcus Wright (Georgia Tech) --- also will be making their debuts with the Cards. All are seniors and transferred to UIW this summer.
Rhodes, a former New Braunfels High School standout, will start at quarterback.
"He's a very athletic guy," Kennan said. "He's maybe one of our better athletes. He can run. He's not a great thrower, but he throws the ball well. He's also got some experience. We're going to start a 22-year-old guy rather than an 18-year-old guy."
Freshman Taylor Woods, who has looked sharp in preseason workouts, also will get considerable playing time, Kennan said.
The Cards are counting on Wright, a 2008 Reagan graduate, to give them the breakaway threat they've lacked in their first three seasons.
Wright rushed for 7,099 yards at Reagan, ranking him among the most prolific running backs in San Antonio high school history. He finished with 3,374 yards and 45 touchdowns as a senior, when he set the area's single-season rushing record.
Cards' defense making transition to 3-4 alignment
"He seems to have gotten a lot of his timing back," Kennan said. "But we'll know more about that tonight when we go full speed."
Wright will split time with steady senior Trent Rios, the Cards' leading rusher in each of the past three seasons.
"We know what we've got in Trent," offensive coordinator Tony Marciano said. "He's always going to be there. We've got to find out what Marcus can do."
Johnson was redshirted as a freshman and played at UT for three seasons (2009-11). His best season was in 2010 when he started five games, finishing with 23 tackles (16 solo), one sack and two tackles for a loss.
The season opener also will mark the debut of Brian Gamble as UIW defensive coordinator. Formerly the Cards' defensive line coach, Gamble changed the team's defense to a 3-4 alignment in the offseason.
"One thing we really wanted to instill in the guys was not only our scheme but a mentality in the way we want to play," Gamble said. "We talked about four things. The first one was toughness, and that's being mentally tough and physically tough.
"We also want to play with a lot of enthusiasm, and we want our players to be accountable. The last thing is that we want our players to develop a mentality. All the real good defenses have a swagger, a mindset. I told the guys that swagger is not just throwing on a bunch of wristbands and wearing a visor. It's earned by knowing you outworked your opponent."