SAN ANTONIO — UTSA head football coach Larry Coker announced Wednesday that he has hired Jeff Popovich as an assistant coach. He will tutor the program’s cornerbacks and his appointment is effective immediately.
"Jeff is a great addition to our defensive staff," Coker said. "He has a solid coaching background and I'm looking forward to working with him again. Jeff gained valuable NFL experience with Tampa Bay and Atlanta and he also was a three-time Big East All-Academic Team member as a player at Miami. We are excited to bring him aboard in time for spring drills and I'm sure he is equally excited to start working with our players."
"I am truly honored to have the opportunity to work for Coach Coker again," Popovich said. "He is an amazing coach and person who has proven to be successful at the highest level.
"The opportunity to write history at UTSA is exciting. I’ve had the chance and been successful in helping build a program from the ground up into a championship team that went to two bowl games. Seeing what is already in place here at UTSA with the commitment from Dr. Romo, Mrs. Hickey and the administration plus the opportunity to work with these phenomenal coaches is something I had to be a part of. I am extremely excited to hit the field immediately."
Popovich spent the last six seasons as an assistant coach at Florida International (FIU), where he mentored the defensive backs, served as the program’s pro liaison and was the special teams coordinator during his final year.
He tutored the Panthers secondary to eight all-conference awards and helped the unit emerge as one of the best in the Sun Belt Conference. FIU led the league in pass efficiency defense (13th FBS), touchdown passes allowed (4th FBS), scoring defense (14th FBS) and sacks (15th FBS) and ranked second in the Sun Belt in interceptions and pass breakups in 2011. The Panthers also were first in the conference in total defense, rush defense, scoring defense and turnover margin a year earlier and they twice set the program’s single-season interception record with 15 in 2008 and again two years later.
Popovich took over the FIU special teams in 2012 and provided an immediate impact.
The Panthers ranked second the Sun Belt in kickoff returns (17th FBS) and kickoff coverage and were third in punt returns. Additionally, Richard Leonard ranked seventh in the NCAA in kickoff returns and earned conference and national special teams player of the week accolades in November after a 100-yard return for a touchdown.
The Tucson, Ariz., native also was named one of the nation’s top recruiters at a non-Bowl Championship Series (BCS) conference program by Rivals.com in 2012. He helped lead FIU to the program’s first back-to-back bowl appearances in the 2010 Little Caesars and 2011 Beef O’Brady’s Bowls.
Popovich began his coaching career as a graduate assistant under Coker at Miami (Fla.) where he worked with the defensive backs and special teams during the 2005 and ’06 seasons. The Hurricanes led the NCAA in pass defense and pass efficiency defense in 2005 behind NFL draftees Devin Hester, Kelly Jennings, Marcus Maxey, Brandon Merriweather and Kenny Phillips. Miami also made a pair of bowl appearances (2005 Chick-fil-A/2006 MPC Computers) during his tenure.
A four-year letterwinner from 1996-99 at Miami, Popovich turned into a major contributor on special teams and in nickel packages on defense. After starting his career as a receiver, he moved to defensive back and was a standout on special teams coverage units and as a holder. He saw action in all 48 games (11 starts) and recorded 154 tackles, three fumble recoveries, one interception and one forced fumble. He was a three-time Big East All-Academic Team selection and an Academic All-America candidate.
After graduation, Popovich played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the 2000 preseason and for the Atlanta Falcons in 2001. He also was a member of the 2001 Barcelona Dragons squad that played in the World Bowl.
He got his first taste of coaching as a student coach at Miami during the 2000 season, helping the Hurricanes to an 11-1 record, a Big East Championship and a 37-20 Sugar Bowl victory against Florida.
Prior to his collegiate career, Popovich was a star quarterback and defensive back on the football team and a record-setting track & field athlete at Sabino High School in Tucson.
Popovich earned a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from Miami in 2000.
He is married to the former Lara Hargreaves and the couple has two daughters.