Coyer Looks Back on Long Career
AMES, Iowa - Larry Coyer has seen it all. The legendary defensive coordinator has coached in eight different collegiate programs, including Iowa State, where he served a pair of terms as defensive coordinator. Coyer rose from a gritty West Virginia upbringing to coach an additional 19 seasons in the NFL.
There is little doubt of the national respect Coyer commands at both levels of football. He leaves no doubt about which has been the most personally rewarding as a coach.
"It's fairly simple," Coyer said. "College football is about developing student athletes. It's about building relationships. Professional football has nothing to do with that. It's performance-based only. Loyalty has nothing to do with it."
The life of Larry Coyer began in Greenbottom, W.Va.
"It's a little village out in the country on the edge of coal fields on the Ohio River," Coyer said. "My dad was a mill worker, educated through eighth grade, and my mother was a housewife with 15 in the family. We had enough boys to have our own baseball team."
Coyer found a niche in athletics.
"I went to Barboursville High School (15 miles from home), which is no longer there," Coyer said. "The elementary school had a number of good athletes, a lot of good football players. I was blessed to be there. It also had a good wrestling team, I still love wrestling."
Coyer had an exceptional senior prep season and was recruited by Mississippi, Michigan State and the local dark horse, Marshall.
"I went to Marshall," Coyer said. "(Marshall head coach) Charlie Snyder and my dad were a lot alike in their personalities. So I went to Marshall on two-thirds of a scholarship (everything but room and board)."
Snyder became a special mentor for Coyer.
"Dad passed away while in college, so I grew close to coach Snyder," Coyer said. "I remember when Buffalo was a big school, (future star AFL defensive lineman) Gerry Philbin was one of their players. We beat them 10-7. I remember beating Miami by making a touchdown save on the goal line."
His success brought him into a lifelong relationship with a college football coaching legend.
"When I was voted All Mid-American Conference, (future Michigan coach) Bo Schembechler came and presented me with the MVP trophy, just out of respect for how I played against him," Coyer said. "That relationship lasted until he died."
Like many college students, the end of his collegiate career snuck up on Coyer.
"We played Ohio University, which was a rivalry game, but as soon as the game was over I had a sensation of not really knowing what I was going to do," Coyer said. "Then it hit me that I needed to stay in athletics."
His future came down to one moment.
"The Vietnam War was going on," Coyer said. "I was drafted in 1964. (Marshall head coach Charlie) Snyder wanted me to coach the freshmen team so the university went to bat for me to stay. They literally got me off of the bus (headed toward Army basic training)."
In 1967, Coyer got his first full-time football coaching job as secondary coach at Bowling Green. His ties to Marshall would never wane, nor would his memory of those members of the Thundering Herd football program that perished in the crash of the team's plane crash on Nov. 14, 1970. A memorial plaque at the school reads:
"On Nov. 14, 1970, 75 people died in the worst sports related air tragedy in U.S. history, when a Southern Airways DC-9 crashed into a hillside nearby. The victims included 37 Marshall University football players, 8 coaches and administrators, 25 fans and air crew of 5. No one survived this horrific disaster."
"I knew a lot of the guys, almost everybody, Coyer said. "My brother was a fireman, he was at the scene. There was the athletic director Charlie Kautz who had coached me. I had helped recruit a lot of these players. Going back, I don't think my brother ever recovered. Nobody was recognizable because the plane flipped upside down."
It was a seminal moment for Coyer, a member of Marshall's athletic Hall of Fame.
"I was in Massillon, Ohio," Coyer said. "I was watching TV and it came over the news that the plane crashed. The funerals were every hour on the hour (8 funerals a day) for three days. It was a really bad scene. I'll never be over it. They made a movie about it. I never saw it. It was real, not a movie, and a very sad time for everyone involved."
Coyer's career took an uptick in 1974, when Iowa head coach Bob Commings hired him as the Hawkeyes' defensive coordinator. He has vivid memories of the Sept. 10, 1977 re-ignition of the Iowa State-Iowa series in Kinnick Stadium.
"I was on the sideline," Coyer said. "Earle Bruce was the ISU coach. They told me they could have sold 500,000 tickets for that game. It was a tremendous deal. I was blessed to be at Iowa State when the game came (to Ames) for the first time. I was blessed to be at Iowa, although I'm an Iowa Stater now. I'm not sure there was a bigger show than that day."
Coyer went to Oklahoma State as defensive coordinator in 1978. Then, with a slight hiccup, he became Iowa State's defensive coordinator for the 1979 season. The second part of his interview will be posted on cyclones.com Wednesday.