Larry Little had no coaching experience when he was hired as the Bethune-Cookman football coach last January. But some felt he had been preparing for the job throughout his 11-year professional career.
"Larry was always interested in what was going on on the field," said Miami Dolphins Coach Don Shula, whose teams were in three straight Super Bowls in the early 1970s with Little at offensive guard. "You could see he was going to be a good coach someday. Always asking questions, always second-guessing me. He thought like a coach."
"I always caught myself acting like a coach on the field," said Little, whose Wildcats play Howard Saturday night in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. Bethune-Cookman is in Daytona Beach.
"I was always a teacher. But I just tried to help the younger players and teach them the things it took me years to learn."
Little has brought an air of professionalism to the already strong Bethune-Cookman program, and positive results were apparent in the first game. The Wildcats routed the University of the District of Columbia, 51-0, before 6,700, the largest crowd to see a home opener in four years.
Athletic Director Lloyd Johnson said he is impressed with the enthusiasm the program has generated.
"The name Larry Little means something in this state," said Johnson, who coached Little when he played at Bethune-Cookman during 1963-67. "People respect him, and therefore they respect the school. Bethune-Cookman football has never had support like this.
"Larry has only been here a short time, but the results are amazing. We have people asking us if their kids can come play for him."
One of Little's first acts was to surround himself with former pro players. Five assistants have NFL experience, and former Dolphin teammate Nat Moore has worked part-time with the receivers and running backs. Little also took his staff to a week-long coaching clinic run by Shula.
"I'm definitely a disciple of the Don Shula offense . . . but you can't play under Shula and not be a thinker, a motivator," said Little. "That's what made (the Dolphins) winners, and I hope to use that here."
Little took over a team which finished third in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and returned 35 lettermen and 16 starters. But the Wildcats also lost five of their last six games to finish 5-5. Although impressed with the overall talent at Bethune-Cookman, Little feels the players lack self-confidence.
"The program came in pretty good shape," said Little, who signed 25 recruits for this season. "We had some talent but it wasn't being used properly. These guys didn't know how good they could be. My philosophy is to get the most out of these guys. If we gave 100 percent and still lost, then I'd be happy."