Coyer Part II: On Iowa State
AMES, Iowa -- Former Iowa State defensive coordinator Larry Coyer has coached at nine different schools and for seven different pro teams, most recently for the Indianapolis Colts from 2009-2011. He was defensive coordinator for three NFL teams.
Coyer was defensive coordinator at Iowa from 1974-77 and at Oklahoma State in 1978 before heading to Iowa State, where he coached from 1979-82 and later in 1995-96. Iowa State head coach Earle Bruce was going to hire Coyer after the 1978 season but instead took the head coaching position at Ohio State. His Cyclone replacement Donnie Duncan hired him and Coyer was headed to Ames.
Iowa State had posted three straight eight-win seasons from 1976-78 and the Cyclones played in the 1977 Peach Bowl and the 1978 Hall of Fame Bowl. Iowa State fans were riding high as the Duncan era began.
"The student body would come in early - thousands of fans there - and we'd walk the field," Coyer said. "I'm not sure anybody had anything like it. Earle had started it, the student body was amazing. Different than any place you had ever been. It was brutally cold for some games, but everyone was still there."
In 1981, Iowa State played host to Iowa for the first time since 1934. Iowa had a very good team that would win the Big Ten Conference and play in the Rose Bowl. But the day belonged to Iowa State.
"There's room for both schools in the state, and I think it's healthy that there's a division," Coyer said. "Whether it was a wrestling match or a basketball game, it was healthy. The football game was beyond that. When they came back here, we had taken a lot of guff. They said our stadium wasn't first grade - not up to their level. We took it personal. The end zone seats were the only place Iowa fans were to be seen. I remember coming into that game, it was electric."
Iowa State won the game 23-12 and then tied Oklahoma 7-7. The Cyclones were ranked 11th nationally at one point during that 1981 season.
"(Iowa) went to the Rose Bowl, but we had a better team that day," Coyer said. "They were not close to us that day. And we tied Oklahoma that year, missed a field goal to win it. I don't know if it's been done since, but we were good. Tying Oklahoma was a huge game.
After the 1982 season, Duncan resigned. The Cyclones had struggled late in the season after several strong starts.
"Our kids worked their butts off," Coyer said. "But you had to play so hard to win. We had to go to San Diego State, Tennessee, and Texas (before they were in the league). We played some football teams dead even. But we struggled to win in some games. The Big Eight Conference was really tough."
Coyer has fond memories of two Iowa natives who made their mark as standout Cyclones.
"Shamus McDonough was a great athlete," Coyer said. "Typical Iowa guy, just a good ol' boy. He was very lovable and a great football player. You knew he was going to try professional football, but he was going to come back to Iowa, because he's an Iowa guy.
McDonough earned first-team All-Big Eight Conference honors at defensive tackle in 1982.
"(Offensive lineman) Bruce Reimers from Humboldt, Iowa was another Iowa guy," Coyer said. "I'm not sure anyone had anybody better (between Shamus and Bruce). That was the secret to Iowa State - good athletes."
Reimers is an Iowa State Letterwinners Hall of Fame honoree. The offensive guard went on to enjoy a long career in the NFL.
Coyer returned to Iowa State in 1995 to be defensive coordinator on head coach Dan McCarney's first staff. Ultimately, McCarney was the man for the job after what Coyer said was his conversion. McCarney had played at Iowa and coach there under Hayden Fry.
"Dan was a staunch Hawkeye," Coyer said. "His dad was a police chief. His sister may have been the biggest hawk fan I saw in my life, until Dan came (to Iowa State). He became a convert. I had just left the (New York Jets), got let go. That was a shocker. I just called him (Dan) and he said come over. It was different, a different deal. The Big 12 was a different deal. Things hadn't progressed as quickly at Iowa State as they needed to have progressed. We were behind other schools. Mac was the perfect guy. He was the guy - beyond energetic and sold on the program."
The 1995 team was seriously undermanned after going 0-10-1 in 1994.
"We still had great kids, just not great athletes," Coyer said. "We had Troy Davis, but defensively we were not the same. But still, we pulled out some games, like Oklahoma State. We played Iowa tough, could have beat them."
Coyer got to work against Iowa State all-star running back Troy Davis everyday in practice. The two-time 2,000-yard rusher and Heisman Trophy runner-up amazed Coyer.
"He had this sense of cutting back," Coyer said. "It's like he had eyes in the side of his head. Of all the backs I'd seen, he was the best. Period. He was like Barry Sanders. His last game against Missouri (in 1995) when they beat us, it was the greatest exhibition of football I had ever seen, a one-man half. He almost, by himself, allowed us to win that game. He was incredible. He was the same in practice as he was in the game, just a great kid."
Friday: Larry Coyer gushes about Paul Rhoads.