October 25, 2006
CORAL GABLES -- Remorse was apparent in the days that followed Miami's brawl with Florida International, but regret wasn't.
Miami's players had plenty of opportunities to say that they regretted storming the field during the controversial melee with neighboring FIU upon seeing holder Matt Perrelli get body-slammed, but not one Hurricane questioned whether he'd rush the field again.
While most admitted that some of the acts (swinging helmets, stomping opponents) caught on video during the UM-FIU brawl were regrettable, charging the field to defend a fallen teammate wasn't.
"As a team, you have to protect each other, have each other's backs," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "You're a family, you protect your family. Sticking together was a big thing."
As painful as the media "feeding frenzy" that came from the brawl was, players said rushing the field was a show of unity, one this battle-weary team felt it needed to unify itself heading into a tough stretch of ACC games.
The Hurricanes have been in self-defense mode for this entire season, enduring one distraction after another. They know they may be playing for a lame-duck coach, according to a team leader, who explained the melee as a "knee-jerk reaction" and a sign of the team's frustration.
The tension even heightened in the week that followed, as winless Duke took a suspension-depleted Miami team to the wire in the Hurricanes' 20-15 win. UM safety Willie Cooper, playing in place of the suspended Brandon Meriweather, stepped in front of a short Thaddeus Lewis pass in the Miami end zone as time expired.
Even though the Hurricanes had pulled off a win against the worst team in the conference, the post-game atmosphere felt much like a loss, and it likely will continue to chip away at the team's already-shaky confidence level.
Quarterback Kyle Wright described Duke's final drive, which started from the 11-yard line and ended up at the six with three seconds left in the game, as the worst he'd felt this season. That was pretty telling, considering all of the drama UM has gone through this fall.
"I did have faith in the defense, but at the same time the way our year has gone you can't help but think Duke might beat us," Wright said. "I don't know what would have happened if we lost that game."
Wright's sentiments perfectly illustrated the fact that UM's players have started to expect the worst. These Hurricanes clearly need a psychological lift, before the entire team turns into damaged goods.
Sticking together may be their only hope at this point.
"I believe that, in any time of adversity, you have to have each other's backs," said center Anthony Wollschlager, a team captain. "No matter if it's a fight, game or conversation."
MOORE SITUATION STILL SENSITIVE
Senior receiver Ryan Moore participated in a Sunday conditioning workout on the day after UM's brawl-marred game against FIU.
Coker clearly had plans on letting Moore, suspended indefinitely since August for an altercation he had with a woman leaving a campus party, return to the team that week. Coker wisely put those plans on hold, likely to avoid the negative attention the timing of his decision would have had.
Two days later, when confronted about Moore's practice participation, Coker initially lied. The coach then retracted the statement, when confronted with the facts, saying he changed his mind about Moore's return because his legal situation hadn't been officially resolved yet.
The state attorney's office expected to charge Moore with two misdemeanor counts that week but failed to do so, keeping UM's most experienced receiver in limbo. He's expected to enter a pre-trial diversion program that will impose community service hours and probation, but it hasn't come down yet.
Coker contended that he can bring Moore back to the team at his discretion.
"The university didn't suspend Ryan Moore. I did," said Coker, who does have a history of being a stern disciplinarian. "Hopefully, he'll be back soon."
Moore's return would provide the Hurricanes with an emotional lift, especially considering his popularity among the players. But how much of a boost he'd bring to UM's offense isn't clear, because of his level of conditioning.
Moore is a talented possession receiver, one who contributed 82 receptions for 1,205 yards and nine touchdowns in his first three years. That type of player at least would help Wright in the passing game. Moore has the best set of hands on the team, and he is fairly reliable in his route-running, which hasn't been the case with some of the younger receivers who are playing this season.
HAITH NEEDS ANTHONY, ANTHONY
When Frank Haith took over UM's basketball program, one of the more impressive projects he completed during his first season was picking Anthony King and Anthony Harris out of the proverbial trash heap.
Not only did Haith and his assistants turn the two sophomores into contributors, they turned them into starters.
Now that both King and Harris are seniors and the only returning starters on UM's young team, Haith is going to need his two Anthonys to transform themselves into leaders and consistent offensive contributors.
Harris, who will enter his third season as UM's starting point guard, needs to be reliable on and off the court. That will be a challenge, considering that the one consistent thing about his game is that it's been erratic.
Haith is optimistic, pointing out that there isn't another player on his team who worked harder on his game in the offseason. Harris did so despite a disappointing end to last season, when he lost confidence and was replaced as a starter by 2005-06 newcomer Denis Clemente.
"I've made it clear to him. He doesn't need to be Rob Hite or (Guillermo) Diaz for us to have a great team," Haith said. "He needs to play within himself, and consistency over a long haul is something he has to bring."
Haith has encouraged King, who averaged 8.8 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game last season, to be more demanding and aggressive. Ideally, UM would like its offense to work inside-out, but to make that plan successful King must become a consistent double-digit scoring threat.
"Everyone wants to score, but I realize I've got a laid-back nature and that needs to change," King said. "This season I've got to tell people how I want it and where I want it."