10 Questions With: Incarnate Word head coach Larry Kennan
The Johnny Cash song "I've Been Everywhere" isn't about the coaching career of Larry Kennan, it only feels that way. A career that began on the high school level in 1967 has taken him to assistant spots at Colorado, UNLV and SMU, a head coaching post at Lamar, and assistant coaching jobs with the Los Angeles Raiders, Denver Broncos, a head job with the World League's London Monarchs and more assistant stints with the Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints, Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots. After all that, he spent 13 years as the first executive director of the NFL Coaches Association. He's now back into coaching, leading the Incarnate Word program as it transitions to Division I after just four season as a Division II program.
We caught up with Kennan about a career that has brought him a Super Bowl ring, a World Bowl title, a career as an executive in Washington, D.C., and now back into the college game after a 30-year absence in this week's installment of 10 Questions With. (If you know a coach that you think would be an interesting subject for future installments, see the bottom of this post.)
1. You were the executive director of the NFL Coaches Association from 1998 to 2011. How did you get that job?
I was one of the original members of the Coaches Association when we formed it in 1997. We piddled around for a little over a year and weren't making much headway. I had a job coaching with the New England Patriots and I didn't like the way I was being treated so I quit. They owed me a year's salary, so the officers of the Coaches Association asked me to go to (Washington) DC to establish an office there because Gene Upshaw, who I'd coached with the Raiders, was the executive director of the Players Association. So I did that thinking I would do it six or seven months and then go back into coaching and they'd get somebody else to do that job. It ended up I was there almost 14 years. I realized the coaches needed a lot of helping and I was willing to do that. So, in essence, I gave up my coaching career because the coaches asked me to be their leader.
2. How did you go from executive director of the NFL Coaches Association to head coach of a then-Division II program in San Antonio, Texas?
When I was in DC working, I got invited on a number of occasions to Georgetown University, which is right there in DC, to speak to groups of people and talk about a variety of things. I got to thinking I would love to be the head coach at Georgetown University, it's a beautiful place in a nice city. I thought it was never going to happen because I'd been out of coaching for a while. In the meantime, my son was the first assistant coach ever hired by Incarnate Word, and so he was there from day one of the program. I got to know a lot about it because I had come down to visit he and my grandkids. Over a year ago when the head coach left with three games left, I decided it'd be a good deal to go help my son become the head coach. It turned out that he didn't have enough experience for what they were looking for and I knew they were getting ready to go to Division I so I said, 'Let me look into this.' They showed a real interest in me and the athletic director showed an interest in me from day one. He said, 'If you're half the man your son is, I know you'd do a great job for us.' It happened very quietly because we were in the middle of negotiations with the NFL on some real issues and I couldn't come out and say I'm looking at this job because it would have really messed up the negotiations.
3. How have you used your NFL experience in coaching and recruiting at Incarnate Word?
I've got a Super Bowl ring from the Raiders in '84 and I hadn't worn that ring for a long time. I started wearing it to impress moms and dads and kids. One of the quarterbacks we signed in our first recruiting class, when I called him I said, 'You don't know me from Adam but go online and check out the quarterbacks I've worked with and I think you'll have an interest in looking into us.' He told me later that once he read my resume that if we offered him a scholarship he was going to sign with us. He had several offers from much bigger schools than us so all that has helped. I've got 40-something years experience, 30 of it in the NFL, so if I haven't learned a lot then I'm not very smart.
4. Once you took the job, what was your recruiting strategy after spending 13 years out of coaching and, before that, 30 years in professional football?
I said to (my assistants) the first staff meeting we had after I was hired, 'Look, this is a whole brand new deal. We've got to raise our standards dramatically. We've got to go after better players than we've been going after because obviously we're not good enough. We've got to go after primarily freshmen, we're not going to go after a bunch of transfers and shortcuts. We want quality people but we need better players so let's up our standards.' Our freshman class is considerably better than the other classes we've had. The class we just recruited is probably 50 percent better than that first class. The difficult part of it is, people just didn't know who we were. Once you find out that we have a really outstanding school academically, it's a beautiful campus in a great city, there's a lot of pluses. We recruit against teams that are in Canyon, Texas, Wichita Falls, Texas and Nacogdoches, Texas, we're in San Antonio which has a lot of draw for a lot of people.
5. Incarnate Word only began playing football in 2009. Is the program ready for the transition to Division I?
It certainly won't be easy. Next year we play an independent schedule and then the following year we're in the Southland Conference. We will play six games against teams that will be in the Southland Conference the following year, so we're going to know a lot more about it next year. I think the sky's the limit. We have a great university in a great city. We're in the process now of deciding how to go about getting the resources to be in Division I. The money's there, the president is behind the whole thing, so we have a chance. In two or three years we should be a very good team in the Southland Conference.
6. You mentioned playing a pseudo-Southland schedule in 2013. How did you fill out the rest of your schedule for your season as an independent?
We had two or three already on the schedule. Central Arkansas was on the schedule from two or three years ago, we open with them. Southeastern Louisiana was on the schedule. The rest of them, we just started calling people. Abilene Christian is going through the same thing we are so we're actually going to play them twice next year, home and home, because we needed games. We just filled in our 11th game, Sam Houston State. We just worked at it. It wasn't easy because it's hard finding people when you're not in a conference.
7. Where do you see the Incarnate Word program in five-to-10 years?
What I said (when I was hired) was we should look at a 6-to-10 year plan of becoming Division I. The president liked that idea. I see us being a highly competitive team. At some point we need to prove that. We'll be better next year, we'll be better the year after that. Whether we're good enough to compete at the highest level in the Southland Conference remains to be seen but I feel good about our chances.
8. San Antonio was a dormant football city for a long time, but with your program starting in 2009 and UTSA kicking off in 2010, how supportive has city been of college football?
It's a really good football city. We're a small university that hasn't really marketed ourselves very well, we need to do that better. The local players are beginning to really like us and we're signing some good players from the local area. We're seeing the benefits. San Antonio is a great sports town and a great football town. There's plenty of fans to go around.
9. You won a World Bowl title in 1991 as the head coach of the London Monarchs. What was that experience like?
As an American team, we had four English players on the team. It was the most difficult job I've ever had because we moved the team from Orlando, Florida to London, England and played two weeks later. The most dramatic thing was, we made a 17,000-mile, 17-day road trip. We flew to the States and played San Antonio, flew to New York and played, flew to Sacramento and played them and then flew home and played about three days later. We flew commercially, we didn't have a charter. You think about loading a 65-man travelling squad, and a lot of our guys are 300-pound linemen. The logistics were awesome. We had a great coaching staff, three or four of those guys are coaching now in the NFL. It was a really fun experience, probably the No. 1 experience I've ever had in coaching.
10. Your son Kyle is the wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator at Incarnate Word. What's it like working with him?
It's unbelievable. We've always been close. He was the youngest. He got to go to training camp with me for seven, eight, nine years. I helped him get the job at Incarnate Word in the beginning. It just all fit. My wife may not have wanted to go except for the fact that her youngest son and two grandkids were in San Antonio. It's beyond words what it's like. His office is right next door to mine and I get to walk in and tell him I love him and I'm proud of him. What a cool thing that is.
As we mentioned above, we're interest in speaking with any coach with an interesting background or perspective across all levels of football. If you know someone that would make a good subject, email [email protected].