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by | College Football Insider

Rules of Engagement: Coker reinvents himself out West, far from his glory days


Larry Coker coached UTSA to its first WAC win last week over New Mexico State. (Getty Images)  
Larry Coker coached UTSA to its first WAC win last week over New Mexico State. (Getty Images)  

No one likes a comeback story more than the "Rules of Engagement" committee, which is why Texas-San Antonio coach Larry Coker tops this week's list.

RULE NO. 64: Reinventing yourself is a lot of fun.

Coker, 64, coached six seasons at Miami and won a national title before losing his job after a 6-6 season, but he also coached junior high school ball in Oklahoma in the 70s.

Just like back then, Coker sometimes feels galaxies away from the bright lights he was under with the Hurricanes.

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And he likes it that way.

A Roadrunners football program that launched four years ago and won't be bowl-eligible until 2013 is off to a 5-0 start entering this week's game with Rice. UTSA won its first Western Athletic Conference game last week over New Mexico State. It will join Conference USA next year.

"My personality as much as anything is I don't have to be at the big time," Coker said. "I feel new. I feel energized. I don't feel old for sure. I enjoy coming to the office and I enjoy recruiting. It's sort of reinventing yourself."

Recruiting against automatic qualifiers might always be a challenge at UTSA, but Coker said certain things about leading an infant program have been easier than expected.

There's enough talent in the San Antonio area that other Texas schools can't get to. He's had a few players sign with UTSA because of his success at Miami, he said.

Hiring good coaches wasn't too difficult, and UTSA is the city's main sports attraction in the fall, until the Spurs come around. Game-day attendance is above 30,000.

There are a handful of generous boosters who are helping with facilities. And flying to games = baller status.

"We charter United to fly. It's the same as what Texas flies," Coker said. "It's first-class travel."

The Roadrunners have played too many Football Championship Subdivision teams this season to make a bowl game, which can be a little deflating for players. But Coker has plenty of time.

"Just trying to do it the right way, surround myself with good people, and build something," said Coker about the best way to start over after losing a big job. "We have a good plan here, where we started from. We've escalated that plan."

RULE NO. 850: (Tallahassee area code): A Monday press conference can be therapeutic for head coaches, and Jimbo Fisher needs his therapy.

After yet another curious loss to North Carolina State -- the Seminoles are 1-8 as a ranked team on the road against underdogs since 2005, per CBSSports.com College Football Blogger Matt Hinton -- Fisher vented in this glorious, lengthy press conference.

Fisher spoke of having no regrets about play-calling, trusting the process and looking at the broader scope of a 12-game season.

He also dropped this rhetorical question...

"How many undefeated seasons have they had around here? How many?" (One, in 1999).

Of course going undefeated is difficult, but reaching into the Bowden era to curb the displeasure with last week's loss probably isn't the right way to go. Fisher talked for about 42 minutes, and he talked fast, and that's a lot of room for saying something that won't win in the court of public opinion. Watching the video, it was almost like Fisher was giving himself a pep talk after a deflating loss.

Whether Fisher likes it or not, going undefeated is likely the only chance the ACC has at its first BCS title game appearance since 2000 -- naturally, FSU's last appearance.

The ACC just doesn't have the clout for a one-loss team to sneak into the title game. There would have to be a colossal meltdown in the top 10 for the Seminoles to hold out hope.

When Miami wins three conference games but gets trounced by Kansas State and Notre Dame, that's not a good look for the entire league. Miami, Duke and Maryland are the only undefeated ACC teams in conference play.

RULE NO. 10.5: Playing good defense doesn't have to be difficult -- just ask South Carolina.

The Gamecocks give up 10.5 points per game, fourth nationally, and defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward makes the success sound easier than warming up a Hot Pocket.

In the 35-7 win over Georgia last week, Ward said the only change he made was dropping into "a little more zone" in the second half when the Gamecocks had established a four-score lead.

Otherwise, the orders are clear-cut: Settle into a 4-3 and control the line of scrimmage.

"We're very simple with what we do down here," Ward said. "We feel we can play with anybody if we do the little things."

With an otherworldly monster such as Jadeveon Clowney off the edge and defensive backs that can cover, simple seems to make sense.

But Ward isn't over-managing his talent, which could go a long way if the Gamecocks see a West Virginia-style offense in a bowl game.

RULE NO. 1,386: Embrace the Big Ten's new formula (at least for a year). High on drama, low on national prowess.

The Big Ten's disappearance from the coaches' poll (Ohio State ineligible) is eye-popping, but I think the lack of dominance is exciting. Makes for intriguing matchups.

Ohio State-Michigan State and Penn State-Northwestern were among the most entertaining games of the last two weeks. If Ohio State slips, five or six teams could realistically win the division.

Coaches fighting over game tape? Gold. Embrace the mediocrity.

RULE NO. 0: College football will end the season with at least one winless team.

Tulane is sitting on 380-plus days since its last win and ranks in the 120s nationally in at least three major statistical categories. Southern Miss, coming off 18 consecutive winning seasons, is curiously sitting on zero. Expect the Golden Eagles to squeak out a few.

UMass and Eastern Michigan also are in the mix here.

RULE NO. 680: We should retire the term "beast mode." It's run its course.

RULE NO. 783,961: The game-day windbreaker, worn by half the SEC coaches for some reasons, adds a good five pounds. Not a good look.

RULE NO. 227: Miami's still not back. Not yet.

RULE NO. 9,401: October is slightly important for Gene Chizik.

RULE NO. 257,601: October is slightly futile for Frank Spaziani.

Jeremy Fowler is a national college football insider with CBSSports.com. Fowler joined CBS in 2012 after covering the Minnesota Vikings for the St. Paul Pioneer Press for two seasons and covering the Florida Gators for the Orlando Sentinel for two years. Fowler is also a contributor to the CBS Sports Network.

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