Most people in these parts (and many others) have never heard of the University of Incarnate Word, the opening opponent for the Central Arkansas football team.
Hardly anyone knows anything about the coaching staff from the San Antonio private school, which will play a full Southland Conference schedule next year.
Yet, when the Cardinals visit Conway next week, there will be some visiting stars on those stripes — those in possession of a Heisman Trophy and a Super Bowl ring.
It will mark the first appearance of a Heisman Trophy winner at UCA. An assistant on the UIW staff is Ricky Williams, who won the Heisman in 1998, breaking Tony Dorsett’s all-time NCAA rushing record at the time.
Williams had a checkered NFL career with the New Orleans Saints, the Miami Dolphins, the Baltimore Ravens and spent some time in Canada after early retirement because of a violation of the NFL’s drug policy. He got into trouble because of marijuana use, which was apparently directly related to his struggles with clinical depression and anxiety.
His life more on a even keel, Williams, a now a certified yoga instructor, wanted to get into coaching, and with the recommendation of both Texas coach Mack Brown and former Dolphin and current Alabama coach Nick Saban, he is the newest member of the UIW staff.
He also serves as an analyst on the Longhorn Network so he won’t be on the sidelines for every game but he’s set to be in Conway.
“He gives us instant credibility,” said UIW coach Larry Kennan, who is trying to brand his fledgling operation for the second-year football program.
Kennan, a 40-year coaching veteran (30 in the NFL) has credibility of his own, even after he left coaching in 1998 to become executive director of the NFL Coaches Association. A former head coach at Lamar, he has served as offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, the Oakland Raiders, the Seattle Seahawks and the Indianapolis Colts as well as the head coach on the London Monarks when they won the World Football League title. He has a Super Bowl ring when he was quarterbacks coach for the Raiders for Super Bowl XVII.
He’s known as a quarterback guru. During his career in the NFL and with the coaches association, he has coached or tutored Drew Brees, Tim Couch, Chad Pennington, Tony Romo, Byron Leftwich, Eli Manning and Alex Smith.
So what is he doing at Incarnate Word?
“This job is exactly what I want to do to finish my coaching career,” he said during Southland Conference Media Day. “I wanted to coach again. And my son (Kyle) is an assistant. I get to build a program at a strong academic institution on a beautiful campus in a great sports city.”
And he’s approaching things from a five- to six-year plan to make the Cardinals extremely competitive in NCAA FCS.“We had to get some transfers and junior college players but I don’t want to go for the quick fix,” he said. “I want to find quality people who can fit the academic requirements of our university and are hard workers and coach them that way.
“I want to get a little better players each year. I want players who feel the excitement of what we’re doing. I want to build a foundation of good football in a great city with a great campus.”
Having a Heisman winner on the staff is part of that.
“If we can get recruits to campus, we have a chance,” he said. “A lot of players don’t even know we’re a four-year school. The challenge is not enough people know who we are or what we are.”
The Cardinals played their first future Southland Conference opponent last season and lost to Sam Houston State, 54-7, in their second football game in history. In the season finale, Abilene Christian, a new member of the SLC but NCAA Division II at the time, defeated them, 24-7.
But Kennan is patient and passionate after the gradual building process.
“I’m coaching and teaching and having a blast every day,” he said.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)