|« Nicholls State looking for turnaround in spring drills||White prevails over red as Dayton spring wraps up »|
Incarnate Word will lean on Kennan's experience as it makes transition to Division I
When Larry Kennan left the NFL Coaches Association in December 2011 to head the fledgling football program at the University of the Incarnate Word, he said he couldn’t resist returning to his first love.
“I’ve always thought of myself as a coach,” Kennan said then. “It’s who I am.”
Kennan, who won a Super Bowl ring as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Raiders and helped establish the NFLCA in 1998, hadn’t been a full-time coach since he was the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator in 1997.
Kennan became executive director of the NFLCA in 1999, and drew the respect and admiration of coaches throughout the NFL for his dedication as an advocate for them. He enjoyed his job so much that he figured he would stay with the coaches’ organization until he retired.
“I never thought I would coach again,” Kennan said.
I recalled those words as I watched Kennan walk the sidelines during UIW’s spring game Saturday at Benson Stadium. To watch Kennan work with players is to see a coach who relishes the opportunity to be a positive influence in their lives.
As the Cardinals start the transition this season from Division II to the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Division I-AA, Kennan faces the daunting task of shepherding the program through more growing pains.
UIW, which started playing football in 2009, has gone 12-30 in its first four seasons.
After being in the Lone Star Conference the past three years, the Cardinals will move into the Southland Conference on July 1.
“We’re excited about the move,” Kennan said. “It’s already helped our recruiting.”
Kennan has just about seen it all as a coach
UIW will play an SLC schedule in every sport but football at the start of the 2013-14 school year. The Cards will compete as a football independent this season before playing a league schedule in 2014.
While UIW games will count in the standings, the Cards will not be eligible for postseason competition until the 2017-18 school year.
“We don’t want to scare them by telling them how tough it’s going to be,” Kennan said, responding to a question about his players’ mindset as they step up to FCS competition.
“There’s something to be said for young guys that don’t know any better. Let’s act like we don’t know any better and just go play.”
Even-tempered and cerebral, Kennan commands respect with his experience but is refreshingly void of ego for a coach with his credentials.
At 68, Kennan has just about seen it all in his profession. He was a high school and college coach before getting hired by the Raiders in 1982.
A year later, Kennan was quarterbacks coach under Tom Flores when the Raiders, who played in Los Angeles then, rolled past the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII.
He coached with five NFL teams – and led the London Monarchs to the championship of the World League of American Football in 1991 – over the next 14 seasons before he put away his whistle.
Then fate intervened.
Cards went 2-9 overall, 1-7 in LSC in Kennan’s first season
The head coaching job at UIW, where Kennan’s youngest son has been an assistant coach since 2007, opened up when Mike Santiago resigned with three games left in the 2011 season.
The opportunity to work with Kyle Kennan, who coaches the Cards’ wide receivers, and help UIW make the transition from Division II to Division I proved too good to pass up.
Although the Cards went 2-9 overall and 1-7 in the Lone Star Conference in their first season under Kennan last year, he still has a gleam in his eyes when he talks about his players and the future of UIW football.
While most people his age are settling into retirement, Kennan still relishes the challenge of putting together a team and the daily grind of college coaching.
“I really enjoy what I’m doing,” Kennan said after Saturday’s spring game.
Led by lineman Robby Horton and cornerback Chavis Barron, the defense beat the offense 50-39 before a sparse crowd at Benton Stadium.
Horton finished with three sacks, including one for sack, had a quarterback hurry and also blocked a field goal. Barron had a game-high seven tackles and broke up a pass.
Linebackers Nick Ginn (2), Jamaal Ojo (1) and Ivan Resendiz (1) also recorded sacks.
Taylor Woods and Trent Brittain rotated at quarterback through most of the first three 12-minute quarters and Jake Cardenas ran the offense in the fourth period.
Woods completed 11 of 22 passes for 116 yards and directed two scoring drives. Cardenas raised some eyebrows with his performance, hitting 8 of 10 passes for 110 yards, including a 40-yard scoring strike to Brandon Yates.
UIW schedule includes two-time FCS runner-up Sam Houston
The three quarterbacks were a combined 24 of 45 for 263 yards, one TD and one interception.
“We feel good about what we’ve done this spring,” Woods said. “We still have a lot of work to do, but we’ve come a long way.”
Dorian Williams led all rushers with 63 yards on nine carries and a TD, but the offense netted only 52 yards on 36 carries because of the yardage it lost on sacks.
Wide receiver Casey Jennings had five catches for 64 yards and fellow receiver Clint Killough had five for 55. Yates finished with three receptions for 55 yards and the TD.
Kennan was upbeat after the game.
“I like this group of guys,” Kennan said. “They have improved dramatically since the start of spring practice. We are way better right now than we were at any point last year as a team. We have good leadership, even though we have a lot of young guys.
“We’re going to get a good group of freshmen in, and I think we’re going to be a fun team to watch next fall. We’ll make a few mistakes, but we’ll play like crazy.”
UIW opens its season at Central Arkansas on Aug. 29. Central Arkansas is one of three SLC teams the Cards will play this season. UIW plays at Sam Houston State on Sept. 21 and at Southeastern Louisiana on Oct. 5.
Sam Houston, which beat the Cards 54-7 last year in Huntsville, has lost in the FCS title game each of the past years.
UIW also will play Houston Baptist and Abilene Christian (twice), two schools that also are moving into the SLC this season.