Former Claremore High School football coach Larry Coker, who went on to fame in the NCAA football ranks, will be inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame at the Riverwind Showplace Theatre on Aug. 6 in Norman.
Coker began his coaching career at Fairfax and was there from 1971-76. During that time, he led Fairfax to two state championships.
Coker became the Zebras' head coach in 1977 and stayed for a two-year stint, compiling a record of 17-7.
In his first year in Claremore, Coker won 11 of 13 games, won a conference championship and took the Zebras to the state playoffs. During that year, the Zebras beat the likes of Broken Arrow, Tulsa Union, Pryor, Sapulpa, Jenks, Owasso and McAlester.
Rick Burke, Pastor at Cedar Point Church in Claremore, was the starting center for Coker’s first team. Coker came in with a long winning streak at Fairfax and the Zebras opened the season at Bartlesville.
“None of us knew what to expect,” Burke said. “The first game, we lost to Bartlesville to end his winning streak. The next Monday, he was the same guy. I never saw him get upset with an official or humiliate any of his players. If I ever disappointed my mom, it was the worse thing ever. Coach Coker was like that ... you didn’t ever want to disappoint him.”
In the three years previous to Coker’s arrival, the Zebras had won a total of nine games. After that first loss in 1977, the Zebras rattled off 11 straight wins.
“We played Broken Arrow and blocked an extra point and won 14-13. We won 11 straight games,” Burke said.
The streak ended in the playoffs to Stillwater, however.
“I think we fumbled three times in that game,” Burke said.
The next season, the Zebras went 6-5 and finished as the conference runner-up. The team made the playoffs, and collected more pelts from Broken Arrow, Owasso and Bartlesville Sooner.
In only two years at Claremore, Coker certainly left his mark on the program and on Burke.
“He’s impacted my life still to this day,” Burke said. “He knew the game. I learned so much in just that one year. We all liked to win, but he taught us so much more than that.”
Coker was born in Okemah and played football at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah.
After his high school coaching days, he was an offensive coordinator at Tulsa, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and a defensive backs coach at Ohio State.
After serving as the Miami Hurricanes offensive coordinator from 1995-2001, Coker became the head coach and led his team to the 2001 national championship, becoming only the second coach since 1948 to win a national title in his first year at a school. He was named the AFCA Coach of the Year, Big East Coach of the Year, won the Bear Bryant Award, the Big East Conference championship. He was 60-15 in six years at Miami.
After being fired from Miami in 2006, Coker later took a job at the University of Texas at San Antonio where he compiled a 26-32 record in five years.
He finished coaching in 2015 after a 3-9 season at UTSA. His career coaching mark is 86-47.
Coker will be going into the 2018 Hall of Fame as part of a strong class consisting of Oklahoma Athletic Director Joe Castiglione, BMX legend Mat Hoffman, All-American center at Oklahoma Ken Mendenhall, rodeo pioneer Bill Pickett, Jenks legendary coach Allan Trimble, and Oklahoma State and Major League Baseball player and MLB manager Robin Ventura.