When Frank Wilson took the UTSA job, he knew it would not be a quick turnaround. He was just the second head coach at a program that started playing college football in 2011. Wilson didn’t lose sight of his long-term goals after early success. After a disappointing three-win season in 2018, nothing has changed.
“When I came here, I wanted to do something unique,” Wilson said. “To build a program that can stand the test of time.”
Wilson had opportunities to leave. He took the youngest program in Texas to its first bowl game in 2016. A year later, the Roadrunners beat a Power Five opponent, produced first round NFL draft pick Marcus Davenport and sent its defensive coordinator to Nick Saban’s staff at Alabama. None of those successes prevented the Roadrunners from dropping to just three wins and posting a historically poor offense in 2018.
For all the talk of process and continuity, there hasn’t been much in San Antonio recently. After a strong 2017 season, there was major staff turnover. Defensive coordinator Pete Golding and tight ends coach Ricky Brumfield each earned Power Five opportunities. Defensive line coach Bo Davis headed to the NFL. Offensive line coach Ryan Pugh is now the offensive coordinator at Troy. The only two members of the 2017 staff left on campus are offensive coordinator Jeff Kastl and defensive coordinator Jason Rollins. Neither were coordinators back then.
“There was a tremendous gap to be filled,” Wilson said. “We’ll have turnover every year, but hopefully not at that level.”
All the inconsistency showed up on the field. Losing top playmakers like Davenport, Dalton Sturm and Josh Stewart hurt. Likely starting quarterback Frank Harris went out in spring camp with a torn ACL too. The offense finished bottom three nationally in almost every category. The defense dropped from No. 5 nationally to No. 96 in total defense. UTSA quickly went from a conference title contender to bottom tier in the conference.
“We were young, and we struggled at the quarterback position,” running back B.J. Daniels said. “A lot of people lost faith at one point. We had to come back strong.”
There’s some level of staff continuity heading into 2019. The roster is a different story. Five out of UTSA’s six all-conference nods are gone, and the only returner is longsnapper Grant Merka. The top four tacklers on defense are out, including both linebackers in Rollins’ base 4-2-5 system. But heading into year four, this is where the Wilson roster transformation is supposed to take shape.
The 2017 recruiting class was considered a consensus top three group in Conference-USA. The other two have been solidly top half. Nine players from the 2019 recruiting class — including seven three-star prospects — arrived on campus early for spring practice. For a program that prides itself on development, these are where the results have to show up.
“They’re guys that we’ve recruited, they’re guys that we developed,” Wilson said. “You can only believe that our best team is before us this upcoming
season and beyond. We’re going to surprise people next season — put that in the magazine.”
There are both short- and long-term fixes to be found. Wilson added two quarterbacks to the mix in the 2019 recruiting class, and Harris is finally healthy. Four out of five offensive linemen are back. Six defensive starters are back, including almost every defensive lineman who contributed a season ago. With key home games against Army, UAB and FAU, there will be plenty of opportunities to make statements.
There isn’t a roadmap to sustained success at UTSA. No one has done it before. The program hasn’t existed long enough. And for that reason, gauging how far along Wilson is in the program building process is difficult.
But for a second, forget the outside noise, the hype, the national attention Wilson got after his first few seasons. Wilson took the UTSA job because he wanted to build an FBS program from the ground up in a major city that is starving for good football. That’s an opportunity not many coaches get. He wants to do it right.
“Sometimes you go into a program and it has rich history and you follow in the tradition of great people,” Wilson said. “Our program is so young that we’re able to be the trendsetters and history seekers all in one. That’s something I truly covet.”
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