A bullet and high school football deep in East Texas brought the current head coaches of UTSA and Texas State together nearly 20 years ago.
Jeff Traylor and G.J. Kinne first met head-to-head on an East Texas football field in 2005 when Kinne quarterbacked his Canton squad past Traylor’s Gilmer program, 61-58, in the first round of the Class 3A Division II area round playoff game. Kinne, 34, calls the 430-yard and seven-touchdown passing performance in that win over Gilmer in November of 2005 “one of the best days of my life”. And that’s not only because of the win over the state-ranked team.
Seven months earlier, Canton’s head coach and Kinne’s dad, Gary Joe Kinne, was shot by a single bullet in the abdomen from a disgruntled parent – Jeff Doyal Robertson – inside the school’s locker room.
Kinne was in second period and was confused, alongside his classmates, as to why the school was sheltering in place. This was before Twitter and widespread social media. Thirty minutes into the shutdown, a police officer came into the classroom and asked Kinne to come with him. Like most teenagers, his immediate thought was that he did something wrong. It was much worse.
“He tells me that your dad was shot and need to come with me,” Kinne recalled. “They throw me in the back of the cop car and lay on top of me for the 100-yard drive from the school to the fieldhouse. The thing I remember most is the blood. The good news was that I got to see him on the stretcher before they care-flighted him out of there and to a hospital in Tyler.”
Kinne was later told at the police station that his father was dead, but that turned out to be untrue and Gary Joe made a slow, painful recovery that caused Kinne to make countless road trips back and forth between Canton and Tyler, where his father was recovering over the summer. Gary Joe returned for the first practice and the first game. He was in attendance for 13 of the 14 games that Canton played in that season, including the upset win over Traylor’s Buckeyes.
The second meeting was at a Dairy Queen in Gilmer, TX in the spring of 2006. Gary Joe took a job at Baylor, his alma mater, as the linebacker coach after the 2005 run. That left Kinne without a home. There were too many memories in Canton, not all of them were good. Kinne’s mother and stepfather had moved to Gilmer and Gary Joe was a long admirer of the Traylor-led program in the town. The only problem? The Buckeyes had a quarterback in Jamel Kennedy.
“I was at that Dairy Queen like, ‘We sure we want to do this?” Traylor said. “I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to meet with parents like that back then; I was young. I was trying to head off a problem. I was really trying to talk him out of it, but no one believes that.”
The whole family attended the DQ to discuss details with Traylor. A meeting that later caused Traylor to be brought in front of the UIL with questions about Kinne’s eligibility. The UIL unanimously ruled in Kinne and Gilmer’s favor.
“If was trying to be unethical, we surely wouldn’t have met him at the Gilmer Dairy Queen, I would’ve met him somewhere out in the boondocks.” Traylor said. “From then on, if any kid moved to Gilmer, they met with the high school principal and enrolled, and then we went to the Dairy Queen – in that order.”
Not many teenagers are mature enough to walk into a rival locker room – one you upset in the state playoffs months earlier – and win a job. But that’s exactly what Kinne did at Gilmer. He became an instant leader on an undefeated regular season squad, throwing 47 touchdowns to only one interception. Kinne rarely played in the fourth quarter, something that likely cost him state records as a quarterback. As did an upset loss in the first round of the playoffs to Texarkana Liberty-Eylau, 39-36. Kinne’s brother stayed in Gilmer and eventually won a title with Traylor.
Kinne became close friends with Traylor’s son, Jordan, and was even in Jordan’s wedding over the offseason. It is no mystery as to why Kinne and Traylor forged such a tight bond. And that’s continued through Kinne’s rise in the coaching ranks. Traylor calls Kinne “one of my own kids” and the UTSA head coach did everything he could to help his former quarterback land the job at a rival institution right up I-35. The next meeting between the two is on Saturday when Texas State travels to the Alamodome to take on the Roadrunners.
“I made every call he wanted me to make. From the president to the AD to whoever,” Traylor said. “He’s good for kids. He’s good for people. He’s the whole package. I know I’m not supposed to say that because I’m competing against him, right? But I’m rooting for him, and I’ll be supporting him every week except for one.”
The two talk every week. Usually, more than once. Neither of them is sure how game week will play out in terms of communication. Most coaches don’t enjoy competing against their friends. It is even harder to play against a father figure or an adopted son. Traylor, who is in his fourth season at UTSA, has the advantages in this first matchup. He’s the favorite, but Kinne’s upset him before. The young pupil might even try to steal an advantage.
“I’d imagine we don’t talk as much on game week, but who knows?” Kinne guessed. “I might call him just to see if he’ll tell me anything.”
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