Curtis Luper is TCU’s first African-American offensive coordinator, yet that isn’t even the first thing that comes up when talking about his career.
He played next to two Pro Football Hall of Fame running backs in college. He served in the United States Army. At 51, he’s in the process of getting his doctorate, and he already has a national championship. So don’t expect this new role to intimidate him.
“The transition has been really smooth,” Luper told DieHards.
After a career in football filled with interesting twists, it might be his smoothest transition in a while.
Ground game to ground control
Luper played running back at Oklahoma State from 1984-87. He had earned All-State honors as a senior at Sherman (Texas) High, but those accolades didn’t mean much in college. That’s because the two backs ahead of him on the Cowboys’ depth chart were Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas.
“And there was only one ball, so I think they would get it before me,” Luper said, laughing.
Still, he developed a good relationship with both backs. He said he and Thomas still talk every week.
In 1988, with one year of eligibility left, Luper decided to enlist in the army. At age 22, he “wanted a different path,” and his stepfather had served in the military for 20 years. Luper served four years and worked as an air traffic controller, which he called “one of the most gratifying things” he has done.
“If I was not coaching, then I would be controlling traffic somewhere,” he said. “It was that fulfilling. It was challenging.”
— Curtis Luper (@CoachLoop) May 29, 2017
Luper returned to college in 1993 to play his final season at Stephen F. Austin under his former high school coach, John Pearce. That time he had no trouble getting on the field, running for 1,054 yards with 9 touchdowns and helping lead the Lumberjacks to the playoffs.
That season actually started to give Luper the desire to coach. At age 27, he was playing alongside 18- and 19-year-old teammates and said he was “kind of coaching them and not even knowing that I was doing it.”
“That was the beginning of a love for a profession,” he said.
After a brief stint with the Houston Oilers in 1994, Luper returned to Stephen F. Austin as a graduate assistant in 1995. Though he took that position intending to get his master’s degree, he’s still coaching 23 years later.
‘A title will not define me’
Luper came to TCU in 2013 after four years as running backs coach at Auburn and was on staff for the Tigers’ 2010 national championship. After serving as TCU running backs coach since 2014, Luper was promoted to co-offensive coordinator in February to serve alongside Sonny Cumbie. That made him one of just 13 black offensive coordinators in the Power 5 this season.
“There are too few of us,” Luper said, referring to African-American coordinators. “But you have to make sure that if you’re the running back coach at TCU, which I am and I was, that you’re the very best running back coach you can be. And then the opportunities will come.”
He gives a lot of credit to TCU coach Gary Patterson for giving coaches those opportunities. The Frogs have had two African-American coordinators since 2015: Luper and former co-defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross. Both coaches were hired and later promoted by Patterson.
The new role means a lot for Luper, but it’s not everything. A coordinator makes more money. He has a better chance of becoming a head coach, something else Luper said he’s thought about during his career.
But that’s not why he got into coaching.
“A title will not define me, nor will becoming a head coach or not becoming a head coach,” Luper said. “That will not define me either. What will define me is the impact that I have had and that I will have on the guys that I coach, and the players I interact with daily, annually. There’s a long, distinguished list of college graduates, young men that are productive Americans that I’ve impacted.”