When Lynn Hickey interviewed for the Texas-San Antonio athletic director job in 1999, UTSA President Ricardo Romo asked her if the school should consider adding football.
Hickey told him no.
“It was cost prohibitive,” Hickey said. She told Romo, “Be good at what you've got.”
Hickey got the job. And a year later realized she had said the wrong thing.
The top-selling T-shirt in the university bookstore proclaimed “UTSA football still undefeated.” The largely commuter school of 16,000-17,000 students had no identity and little campus life.
On Sept. 7, Texas-San Antonio, in its third season of football and its second of Division I-A, hosts Oklahoma State in the Alamodome.
Football is part of a Roadrunner success story. The Texas Legislature has declared UTSA an emerging Tier I university. Enrollment is up to 31,000, with many of those students now living on campus. The school has almost as many students from Harris County (Houston) as Bexar County (San Antonio). And UTSA football, while nowhere near undefeated, has drawn as many as 57,000 fans to the Alamodome for a game.
“We didn't have any identity,” Hickey said. “Football has helped us change our persona. In Texas, kids grow up with football.”
Hickey said UTSA once was a “but” school. As in, I go to UTSA, “but” I'm saving up to go somewhere else.
And it was a bunch of Oklahomans who made the buts disappear.
* * *
When UTSA played its first game ever, Sept. 3, 2011, the city of San Antonio got quite emotional.
Sports radio callers were moved to tears as they discussed the launch of the program. As Hickey walked through the pregame tailgating, she got marriage proposals.
When UTSA's spanking-new marching band, 250 musicians strong, took the field, “people were blown away,” Hickey said. “It's been fun. It's a dream thing. How many people get a chance to build this? We've established a game experience for these students.”
The Roadrunners won that inaugural game 31-3 over Tahlequah's Northeastern State, their coach's alma mater. Such symmetry seemed fitting.
Hickey, 62, grew up in the Green Country town of Welch, where she was Lynn Sooter and scored 2,654 points in high school basketball. All four of her siblings were collegiate athletes, including brother Mark, who played basketball at OU.
Hickey went to Ouachita Baptist, then got into coaching. She was on the OU women's staff in 1977-79, then Hickey became head coach at Kansas State (hired by DeLoss Dodds) and eventually Texas A&M (hired by John David Crow). Hickey became an associate athletic director at A&M.
Hickey's Oklahoma ties are deep. When Hickey's mother was 19, she was a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in Hitchita, halfway between Henryetta and Checotah in eastern Oklahoma. Among her students were Bill Self Sr., who became a longtime executive director of the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association and father of the Kansas basketball coach.
Bill Sr.'s brother, Jeff, rented a pasture outside Hitchita from the family of Brad Parrott.
Parrott grew up in Midwest City, went to then-Central State University and became a sports writer for the Oklahoma City Times. Parrott entered the corporate world, eventually made vice president at Southwestern Bell and retired from what is now AT&T, joining Hickey's staff as an associate athletic director for external affairs. Parrott spearheaded the fundraising and corporate/civic partnerships that made football possible at UTSA.
When Parrott was with the Times, he once covered a Luther-Fairfax playoff game. Fairfax that night was coached by Larry Coker, who had grown up in Okemah, just down the road from Hitchita.
Today, Coker is head coach at UTSA. His career has included stops as offensive coordinator at Tulsa U., OSU and OU, and six years as head coach at Miami, where his Hurricanes were 60-15 overall and 2001 national champions.
Coker's defensive coordinator is Neal Neathery, who grew up in Stillwater and whose father was an OSU professor and Coker's Sunday school teacher during his Cowboy days.
More OSU ties for UTSA: both Roadrunner basketball coaches are OSU graduates. Rae Rippetoe Blair was a Cowgirl player and assistant coach. Brooks Thompson was a star under Eddie Sutton.
And Coker's defensive line coach, Eric Roark, played at OSU from 1979-82 for Jimmy Johnson.
* * *
When Hickey got serious about adding football, she went to see San Antonio business leader Red McCombs, who once owned the Minnesota Vikings.
Hickey asked McCombs if she should raise a certain dollar amount before compiling a staff. “He said, ‘You need to hire a coach.'”
Hickey and Parrott bantered about candidates. They thought Spike Dykes, who had coached Texas Tech from 1987-99, would be the perfect candidate. Great guy. Personable. Excellent resume'. Unassuming enough to work in a trailer for a few years, before the facilities would appear.