Old LU coaches soldier on
Published 11:46 pm Wednesday, November 11, 2015
By Dave Rogers
The News correspondent
Craig McGallion’s sudden departure this week as Lamar’s defensive coordinator may or may not end up being his retirement from coaching for good.
But if McGallion, 55, does coach again, he will be a mere babe among former Lamar football coaches.
Just ask the man leading Lamar’s red-hot opponent for Saturday, 71-year-old University of Incarnate Word head coach Larry Kennan.
The Lamar University head coach from 1979-81, the longtime NFL assistant coach is in his fifth decade in the business. And, surprisingly, he’s not the oldest member of that long-ago Cardinal coaching staff still going strong in the world of Xs and Os.
Wally Burnham, LU defensive coordinator in 1981, is in his mid-70s after starting his college career as a player for Bear Bryant at Alabama in the late 1950s. After working for coaching legends George Allen in the USFL and Bobby Bowden at Florida State, he is in his seventh season as defensive coordinator for Big 12 Conference member Iowa State.
And he is just one of six members of Kennan’s 79-81 staff still prowling the sidelines as a coach in college or professional football. Not bad considering only 10 men coached for Kennan in Beaumont, filling seven full-time jobs.
“It’s a pretty good group of guys that have been in the NFL or major college football all these years,” said Kennan, in his fourth year at UIW, his team coming off a 16-2 upset of two-time Southland Conference champ Southeastern Louisiana last week.
“I don’t have a great explanation [for his old coaches’ success], except I always thought I was a good evaluator for talent,” Kennan said.
“I thought they were really good coaches then, and time has proven me correct.”
Kennan’s original staff members were Carl Smith, offensive coordinator; Bob Finklea, defensive coordinator; John Payton, Dave Beckman, Mike Santiago, Johnny Barr and Kenith Pope.
Finklea, Beckman and Pope left after two seasons; Burnham came in as defensive coordinator. Brad Seely and Jeff Hanson were added to the staff in time for spring training 1982, just weeks before Kennan left LU to work for the Los Angeles Raiders, where he won a Super Bowl ring as quarterbacks coach.
Seely, 59, has won three Super Bowl rings as special teams coach for the New England Patriots. Smith, 67, has coached Seattle quarterbacks the past four years and won a ring with the Seahawks in Super Bowl 48.
Barr, 67 and defensive backs coach at LU from 79-81, is recruiting coordinator at Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are 9-0 and ranked No. 8 in the country in the latest College Football Playoff rankings. Pope, 63, coached defensive line at LU in 1979-80 and now coaches running backs for unbeaten University of Houston, 9-0 and ranked No. 24.
Hanson, 66, had played and coached at Richmond previously and rejoined that staff to coach there for nearly three decades, including a Division I-AA national championship in 2008. He coaches defense at Virginia State now.
Three of Kennan’s LU assistants have been retired for several years.
Beckman, offensive line coach for 79-80, left LU for a front office job with the Cleveland Browns. He was head coach of the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-cats in 1990-91, then athletic director at Cleveland State.
Finklea, defensive coordinator at LU in 79-80 after a long high school coaching career, left Beaumont to coach with former Tyler John Tyler mentor Corky Nelson at the University of North Texas.
Payton never left Beaumont. Lamar’s first African-American coach worked for four head football coaches before being promoted to assistant athletic director and retired in 2013.
“One of my best coaches was John Payton and my decision to keep him [from the previous LU coaching staff] was one of the best things I ever did,” Kennan said.
“He is a fabulous person. When we were down there [with UIW] last year, he talked to my team. The players really enjoyed hearing what it was like being one of the first black coaches.”
The coaching career of Santiago, 60, included head coaching Stephen F. Austin to a Southland Conference title and the kind of network connections that are frequent and strong in coaching.
Santiago left LU in 1982 to join Smith and Seely on the North Carolina State staff. He spent a year as an NFL scout after Beckman hired him. Pope, Seely and Barr were on the Oklahoma State staff together in 1987-88.
“Coaching is a fraternity,” Kennan said. “It’s who you know.”
It turned out that current Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll was also at NC State in 1982. Smith later worked for Carroll at New England in 1997-99 and at Southern Cal in 2004 before rejoining him in Seattle in 2011. Kennan said Smith helped him get hired by Carroll in 1997.
Santiago was the first head coach for UIW, which started football from scratch in 2007, taking the field for the first time in 2009. Of course, that led to Kennan playing the host role for Saturday’s 2 p.m. game against Lamar.
“I’d never heard of Incarnate Word until Mike called me, asking me to call the president on his behalf when he was applying to be coach here,” Kennan said.
“Because of our relationship, the first coach Mike hired at IWA was my son, Kyle. When Mike left, I tried to get Kyle the head coaching job. They said he didn’t have enough experience, and through the process, they offered me the job.”