February 7, 2006
CORAL GABLES -- It appears that the once-remote possibility that Guillermo Diaz will return to Miami for his senior season is growing.
UM coach Frank Haith recently asked Diaz if he planned to invite his parents for the team's final home game, against Florida State on March 5. Diaz told him, "Coach, I'm not a senior," hinting that he might not bolt for the NBA, as most expect.
Haith wants Diaz to do what's best for the player, and if that means entering the draft and testing the waters in the NBA pre-draft camps, Haith will support that decision. But after those camps, if Diaz decides that he'd be better off returning for one more year with the Hurricanes, Haith will welcome him back with open arms.
Put Diaz with point guard Anthony Harris and Siena transfer Jack McClinton (redshirting), and the Hurricanes could have another dangerous trio of guards next season. Diaz has played alongside Harris for the past two seasons, and he knows how talented McClinton is because he practices against the tough Baltimore product on a daily basis.
Diaz also knows that his own game still needs a significant amount of work. He must become a better on-ball defender and continue to learn how to work without the ball on offense. He's made improvements with his ball-handling and his shot selection, but he still struggles to make his teammates better. That's troubling, considering that he's projected by many as a point guard on the next level.
FOOTBALL STAFF: EXTREME MAKEOVER
The Miami football program recently filled two vacant coaching positions on defense but lost another of its offensive assistants, this time to the NFL.
Receivers coach Curtis Johnson accepted the same position with the New Orleans Saints, becoming the eighth assistant added to coach Sean Payton's staff. Payton and Johnson have been friends since their days together as assistants at San Diego State in the early 1990s. Johnson interviewed and accepted the position the day after signing day.
His departure means that UM will have only one returning assistant (Mario Cristobal) on offense next season. Head coach Larry Coker fired coordinator Dan Werner, line coach Art Kehoe and running backs coach Don Soldinger in the days following UM's embarrassing 40-3 loss to LSU in the Peach Bowl.
Coker replaced the two defensive assistants he fired this season by hiring former UM player and graduate assistant Clint Hurtt and former Wisconsin assistant head coach John Palermo. Both are expected to coach Miami's line, leaving coordinator Randy Shannon responsible for UM's linebackers.
Palermo, who played at Florida State, had coached the Badgers' defensive line since 1991, producing three All-America linemen since 1995, including end Erasmus James, the Big Ten's defensive player of the year in 2004.
Palermo left Wisconsin this fall after coach Barry Alvarez retired and named his defensive coordinator, Bret Bielema, his successor. Palermo was highly recommended to Coker by Lou Holtz, under whom Palermo worked at Minnesota and Notre Dame. Palermo also has experience instructing linebackers.
Hurtt's strength is working with the interior of the defensive line, which was his position at UM during the late 1990s and the spot he coached at UM for two seasons as a graduate assistant. Hurtt, who spent the past season as the defensive line coach at Florida
International, is well-respected in the South Florida community for the relationships he's built with local high school coaches. He's very young (27), and players relate well to him.
The additions gave the program three former Hurricanes on the coaching staff. Hurtt joined Shannon and Cristobal, who either will continue to coach the tight ends or work with the offensive line next season.
The exact jobs and titles of each assistant have yet to be determined. Coker said his focus is on finding the right people, then figuring out how they all fit.
"I'd like to get the best people as soon as possible," Coker said. "This is about this team and these players, making sure they have the best opportunity to be successful."
Coker's focus into mid-February was on filling the three vacancies on the offensive side of the staff. It's still unclear whether he'll name himself coordinator or bring someone from outside the program to run the offense. It's likely that whoever is named coordinator will double up, coaching UM's receivers, running back and/or tight ends.
Miami also is searching for someone to coach its special teams. If that position doesn't go to someone already on the staff, don't be surprised if Coker calls on one of his long-time friends in the industry, Patriots special teams coach Brad Seely, with whom he worked at Oklahoma State. There is some concern about UM's ability to afford Seely.
UM FINANCIAL NUMBERS TROUBLING
In a good year, Miami's athletic department turns a small profit, but sources said the Hurricanes' move to the ACC, the lawsuits the conference switch brought about from the Big East, and UM's numerous coaching changes over the past two years have created a rather significant deficit.
The bills just keep mounting at Miami, and athletic director Paul Dee and his staff are struggling to find sources of revenue to keep the program above water.
The Hurricanes are paying the last of their entry fees for joining the ACC, taking only two-thirds of the ACC's payout ($9-10 million) in each of the past two years. Fighting the Big East's lawsuit, which was settled last summer, cost UM more than $2 million in legal fees, and it's still unclear how much of the $5 million settlement will fall on the Hurricanes.
On top of that, UM still is paying for the final two years (about $1.5 million) of Perry Clark's compensation package, after the former basketball coach was fired in 2003. Then there's the final year of Ferne Labati's contract, and fighting the lawsuit UM's former women's basketball coach filed this fall, claiming that her removal was a result of age and sex discrimination. UM also must pay small salary portions for the five assistant football coaches who were fired this season.
In addition, the Hurricanes are paying for the renovations underway at Mark Light Field, UM's baseball stadium, which is close to completing its first phase of an $11 million renovation project. They also have to raise funds to pay for the start-up cost of adding another sport, women's lacrosse, which is needed to comply with Title IX's gender-equity standards.
The bottom line is that the athletic department is hemorrhaging financially, and the shortfalls are impacting all of the teams.
This fall UM officials visited Kansas to observe its fund-raising strategies, with the goal of putting together a much-needed money-raising drive of their own. Its success or failure could determine Dee's future as Miami's athletic director.