Proper alignment from Damphousse, Coryell set up Texas State for on-field success

Photo by Aaron Meullion

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SAN MARCOS – Texas State president Dr. Kelly Damphousse has two images saved on his iPhone that remind him how far the Bobcat football program has come in the two seasons he’s been on campus, and to motivate him to finish the job. One of those images is a graphic with every FBS program to never reach a bowl game. The other is a graphic of all the FBS teams to never win a bowl game.  

Texas State joined the FBS ranks in 2012 as members of the WAC. The program only finished one season with a winning record – 2014 under Dennis Franchione. And that team wasn’t invited to a bowl. 2014 was also the last time the program won more than four games. Everett Withers went 7-28 in three seasons in charge from 2016-2018. Jake Spavital finished his tenure 13-35.

Enter Damphousse. The search committee provided six bullet points that Texas State wanted in its next president during the hiring process in the spring of 2022. One was to raise the national brand of the university. The last was to fix football, even though that’s not exactly how it was phrased. 

“It was phrased as a ‘president who understands the value of athletics,’ but I knew what that translated to,” he said. “If a rising tide lifts all boats, football is that tide. When I met with the search committee, I said if we can fix football, that will take care of a few bullet points, including the one about raising our national recognition.” 

Damphousse considers himself the cheerleader of the university. He spends most of his time before games at tailgates and the student section asking one simple question to anyone he spots – are you having fun? The answer used to be no, if Damphousse could even find a student to ask. The last game of the Spavital era probably had 500 students in attendance. Maybe. 

“We know that retention and graduation rates is a lot of dependent on their engagement with the university – are they making friends, having fun, are they engaged outside of the classroom?” Damphousse explained. “I tell student groups, ‘just give me six Saturdays a year to make a lifetime of memories.’” 

Not enough of those memories were fond, so Damphousse and athletic director Don Coryell fired Spavital and went in search for a coach who could build a buzz. The pair wanted a young, offensive-minded coach who’d help pack the stands, win games, and rebuild relationships across the state of Texas. They found that candidate in G.J. Kinne, a former Texas high school football legend with NFL chops and a high-flying offense. 

Kinne was the head coach at Incarnate Word, an FCS program in San Antonio, in 2022. He led Cardinals to a 12-2 record and the FCS semifinals in his only season in charge. His quarterback, Lindsey Scott, set records en route to claiming the Walter Payton Trophy, essentially the Heisman of FCS football. Kinne, who recently turned 35, checked every box. He was young and offensive-minded. He was exciting. And his father was a former member of the Texas High School Coaches Association. 

“I told coach Kinne, ‘I’ll get them to the first game, you get them there the other five games by scoring some points and being exciting,’” said Damphousse. “We averaged 4,000 student sections this year.”

Coryell usually watches home games Sunday on replay because he’s too busy shaking hands and talking to alumni to fully appreciate the on-field product. That’s not always the case for away games because he’s typically afforded more peace and quiet to sit back and watch his Bobcats. That wasn’t true in Week 1 during the upset win at Baylor. Coryell was in a self-described fog during that game. When he watched it back with his wife the next day, Coryell said it was like watching it for the first time. 

“This job is so much more fun when football is thriving,” Coryell said about being an athletic director. “I love Sundays now because I’m responding back to congratulations text instead of the other side of it. My problems now are trying to get back to everyone who texted me.” 

The upset win over Baylor was a sign of things to come. Texas State went 7-5 in 2023 and were invited to a bowl game for the first time. A win against Rice in the First Responder’s Bowl on Dec. 26 on SMU’s campus would give the program its first eight-win season at the FBS level. In an age where the cool thing on social media is to downplay the importance of bowls, the Bobcats aren’t pretending like this isn’t a big game for a program on the edge of real momentum.

“This is as big as it gets for us,” Coryell said. “I mean, this is a big game. We’ve never done this before. For us, this is a playoff game. The excitement and gratitude for being in this spot is real. We want to get to eight wins and be bowl champs.” 

Don’t expect this to be a one-hit wonder story, either. Damphousse and Coryell see this as a long-term project. Reaching a bowl game is the baseline expectation moving forward. Construction is under way on a $37-million-dollar South Endzone project that includes a new weight room and patio. Phase 2 of the plan starts after the 2024 season. 

“I always felt like this place, even when I was at Arkansas State, could be great,” Damphousse said. “That is where I see us now. The chance at making the 12-team playoff gives everyone a shot, and that changes everyone’s ambitions.”

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