IRVING, Texas — Larry Coker remembers Bill Blankenship as smart. Tough. A team guy. Well-respected.
Blankenship remembers Coker as a teacher. Patient. Humble. A leader.
Here's what makes this such a good story. Neither has changed much since the halcyon days of 1979.
Blankenship's Tulsa Golden Hurricane host Larry Coker's Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners on Nov. 2 at TU's Chapman Stadium.
It's not their first intersection.
Thirty-four years ago, Blankenship's final college season as a player and Coker's first as a college coach, they rendezvoused with TU football.
Coker was John Cooper's quarterback coach. Blankenship was Coker's quarterback.
Make a list of the classiest coaches in our state's football history, the most-respected and well-liked. No matter how exclusive your list, Blankenship and Coker likely are to make the cut.
“I think I'm a better coach today because I played for Larry Coker,” Blankenship said.
They are sons of Oklahoma. Grew up in the eastern Oklahoma towns of Okemah (Coker) and Spiro (Blankenship). Coached multiple state high school champions (Coker two at Fairfax, Blankenship three at Tulsa Union). Spent that solitary season at TU, when Blankenship started six games and the Hurricane went 6-5.
And now they again share a field, for one solitary game. Texas-San Antonio is just coming into Conference USA, Tulsa is just going out. TU heads to the American Athletic Conference in 2014.
Tulsa will be a heavy favorite — TU is picked to win C-USA's West Division; the Roadrunners, in just their third year of football, are picked last among seven teams.
“I'm a little fearful of it, tell you the truth,” Blankenship said Wednesday during Conference USA Media Day. “He's forgotten a lot more football than I'll ever know.
“Hopefully, we get ahold of them before they get the program built completely, because he's got that thing going in the right way.”
It's a little bit of a reunion season for Coker, who was fired by Miami in 2006 despite a 60-15 record and the 2001 national title. UTSA also plays Oklahoma State, coached by Mike Gundy, Coker's quarterback at OSU in 1986-89.
“It is a little odd,” Coker said. “It's kind of a pleasure. It's going to be tough, I know, Bill's got a great team coming back.”
Blankenship returned to his alma mater as a coach in 2007. He became head coach in 2011 and is 19-8 in two seasons, with a Conference USA title last season.
“Bill was extremely smart,” Coker said of Blankenship the player. “An outstanding student of the game. One of those guys, he was tough, he was smart, he was a team guy.
“Really had a lot of respect. Which I think he does now. He made his teammates better. Now, he wasn't fast. Coach Cooper went to the veer when Bill came in, and that wasn't his best offense. But Bill was an outstanding competitor.”
Blankenship on Coker: “I was a pup, and I guess he was a pup, when he was coaching me.
“He was a great teacher. He was very patient. I was a fifth-year senior, he was a first year coaching us. He was not too proud to ask questions of the veteran players and say, ‘well, how did you do this last year?' But he didn't back away from leadership. I just really valued being able to play under him.”
And now Blankenship coaches against Coker in what some will see as a routine Conference USA game, but others will know as a game of Oklahoma coaching pride.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.