Larry Coker had a hunch Barry Sanders might do something special in 1988.
“We were getting ready to play Texas A&M in our second game in Stillwater,” Coker recalled this week. “A good friend of mine told me, ‘Boy, you're really going to miss Thurman Thomas.' I said, ‘Yeah, you don't lose a guy like that without missing him.'
“But I said, ‘The Sanders kid has really looked good. We'll find out today.'”
And folks found out all right, with Sanders gashing a touted Aggies defense for 157 yards and two touchdowns and adding a 61-yard punt return for another score in a 52-15 rout.
As Oklahoma State's offensive coordinator in 1988, Coker was at the controls of Sanders' romp to the Heisman Trophy. He was in on the decision to throw Mike Gundy into action as a freshman quarterback, too. And he played a part in what was then OSU's best span of football in program history.
It was a seven-year stretch in what has become a fantastic journey that now includes a football startup project at Texas-San Antonio — OSU's opponent Saturday.
And Coker, an Okemah native, remembers his Stillwater stint fondly.
“We had some great success,” Coker said. “We won 10 games there two years in a row and I don't think they had done that before. But the greatest memories are the players we had and the coaches I worked with.
“I was with Jimmy Johnson and his staff. I really enjoyed my time with Pat Jones. And then you look at Barry Sanders and you look at Thurman Thomas and Mike Gundy and Hart Lee Dykes, some marquee names, and some others. There were just great, great people there. And it was a great place to live.”
Coker's coaching career didn't start in Stillwater, yet it might have taken off there.
His work with some of OSU's best offenses led him to Oklahoma — in a bold move — and on to Ohio State and Miami, where he eventually earned his first head coaching gig and led the Hurricanes to a national title in his first season, becoming the first rookie coach in 53 years and only the second ever to lead his team to the title.
Coker was a part of three 10-win teams with the Cowboys.
“Oklahoma State had been a competitive program, but we were really trying to step it up,” Coker said. “Once, maybe twice we had a chance to play for the Big Eight championship and go to the Orange Bowl. We didn't get it done. We had some really competitive games.
“I think it really regenerated excitement in Oklahoma State football. And Oklahoma State fans, they're some of the most loyal fans in the world. Whether you win all the games or are not winning all the games, they seem to be right in your corner.”
Coker said the decision to pull the trigger on Gundy in 1986, pushing aside veteran Ronnie Williams, was the call of Jones.
“I had some input, but it was Pat's decision,” Coker said. “He kind of had a gut feeling that Mike was a guy who was special. And Pat was right. He was right.”