Posted on April 14, 2012 at 12:54 PM
Saturday, Apr 14 at 1:25 PM
SAN ANTONIO -- Five months ago, Larry Kennan was finishing another year as executive director of the NFL Coaches Association.
On Saturday night, Kennan will be rooting for both teams when the University of the Incarnate Word plays its spring football game at Benson Stadium.
"I'd like to see some big plays on offense and defense, turnovers on the defense and get some big plays on offense," Kennan said Friday. "I want to see guys flying around and having some fun."
"That's what we've stressed all spring. You know it's crazy to do this and not have some fun doing it."
The Black-White game starts at 6 p.m. and concludes spring training for the Cardinals, who finished 2-8 overall and 2-6 in the Lone Star Conference last year.
UIW has competed in NCAA Division II in its first three seasons, but has been given the go-ahead by the university's board of trustees to pursue membership in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA).
Kennan took over the UIW program last December, returning to full-time coaching for the first time since 1997 when he was offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots. He succeeds Mike Santiago, who resigned with three games left in the 2011 season and was replaced by defensive coordinator Todd Ivicic.
Kennan won Super Bowl ring with Raiders
Kennan, 67, hadn't coached in college since he was head coach at Lamar in the early 1980s.
"It's been a learning experience for me," Kennan said. "I know how to do this because I've done it before, but I've relied on the coaches to help me with a lot of things. I'm not a control freak. I like to delegate. I like to ask questions.
"We have really good coaches and they help me with the logistics of it, like how many hours we can practice. I can set the tempo of what I want practice to be, but I need them to help me with a lot of stuff. And they have."
Kennan was a college assistant coach at Colorado (1969-71), Nevada-Las Vegas (1973-75) and SMU (1976-78) before becoming head coach at Lamar in 1979. He joined the Los Angeles Raiders' coaching staff in 1981, and won a Super Bowl ring as the Raiders' quarterbacks coach two seasons later.
Kennan coached a total of eight seasons in two stints with the Raiders (1982-88, 1996). He also was an assistant coach with the Denver Broncos (1989) , Indianapolis Colts (1990), Seattle Seahawks (1992-94 and New Orleans Saints (1995). He was head coach of the London Monarchs in 1991 when they won the World League of American Football, and was named WLAF Coach of the Year.
Cards have gone to 3-4 defense
"This is as good a group of guys as I've ever worked with. There's nobody who's a pain in the butt. They just want to play and they want to be good. I've met with the seniors many times and told them, in no uncertain teams, 'This is your team.'
"What I want is for them to leave here after next season leaving here with a really good feeling about their football experience. I know they appreciate it and they're taking some leadership roles."
Kennan said he's been impressed with the work ethic his players have demonstrated this spring.
"We've thrown a lot of stuff at them and they've responded well," he said.
While the Cards' offense remains a work in progress, the team has shelved its 4-3 defensive alignment and gone to a 3-4 under new defensive coordinator Brian Gamble, who coached the defensive line the past three seasons.
Former defensive coordinator Todd Ivicic, who is also associate head coach, is now the Cards' running backs coach.
Kennan praises tight end, safety
"Our offense is going to be what we do best," Kennan said. "We know we can run the ball. Our goal this spring was to have a better passing game and we've worked on that. It's not there yet, but we need to play to our strengths.
"If our starting quarterback can really throw it and our receivers are pretty good at getting open, we'll throw it. We'll do a lot of play-action stuff because we are a good running team."
Kennan likes the way the defense has taken to the 3-4 defense.
"I told Brian Gamble today, 'You guys look a lot better on defense.' They've learned how the new scheme well and they've learned how to run to the ball. You see it all the time."
Kennan praised junior tight end Caleb Kocian (Judson) and sophomore safety Devin Haywood (Roosevelt) for their consistently solid play this spring.
"Caleb is a much better receiver than I thought he was," Kennan said. "He runs routes really well and he runs full speed, and he can catch. He's a big target. He's had a great spring.
"Devin has really stepped up his game. He's done a nice job of assuming a leadership role by example. He's done a really good job of working hard and getting better."