January 24, 2006
CORAL GABLES -- The Miami Hurricanes don't plan on scrapping their pro-style offense, but the recent addition of Todd Berry as quarterbacks coach likely means that UM will incorporate a bit of the trendy spread offense into the arsenal.
Berry, who spent six seasons as a head coach at Army and Illinois State and the past two years as the offensive coordinator at Louisiana-Monroe, has run a version of the spread offense in most of his college stops.
Coach Larry Coker's goal for next season is for UM's offense to be more explosive, complete more high-percentage passes and protect the quarterback better. He was especially troubled that UM struggled to get the ball to its playmakers last season, a problem that contributed to the dismissals of four assistants (three offensive) after the devastating 40-3 Peach Bowl loss to LSU.
"The main thing I want to do is be an attacking, explosive offensive football team," Coker said. "We have those types of players, and we need to do those things on the field."
With Berry in the fold, Coker said he will turn his attention to recruiting before continuing his search for a new offensive coordinator. But he didn't rule out holding the position himself, if a suitable candidate doesn't surface.
Coker has been advised to take his time in assembling his new staff and search for the right mix of assistants. According to several sources, last year's group had too many personality clashes, and that ultimately led to differing philosophies and some staff discord.
"I want staff chemistry," Coker said. "I want guys that can really contribute."
Coker has a long history with Berry, whom he coached as a quarterback at Tulsa and mentored as a young assistant. (Ironically, Berry's career blossomed more quickly than Coker's did.) In regard to the opening up of the offense, Coker said Berry brings energy and fresh ideas.
"You can't stay the same," Coker said. "You stay the same and people catch up. They understand your schemes and they game plan for those things, and it makes it very difficult. We have good players, but we also have to give those players advantages with proper matchups."
Miami has four more assistant spots to fill and likely won't do it until after the Feb. 1 national signing day. Outside of an offensive coordinator, the Hurricanes still are searching for someone to coach their running backs, offensive line, special teams, defensive line and linebackers.
Coker said there's a possibility that tight ends coach Mario Cristobal will end up handling UM's offensive line, and that defensive coordinator Randy Shannon will wind up coaching the linebackers.
"I would like to get it done as soon as we can, but I don't want to get it done too quickly and not get the best candidates that we can get," UM athletic director Paul Dee said. "The most important thing we can do right now is take our time."
Dee instructed Coker to see "how the dust settles in the world of coaching changes." Dee was referring to the NFL, where nine teams changed (or are in the process of changing) head coaches just in the past month. That means numerous NFL assistants, including some with ties to UM as a former player or assistant, may be available in the coming weeks, after the new pro staffs are assembled.
"We want to make sure we've had the opportunity to look over all the available people that we might be able to attract here at the University of Miami," Dee said, "particularly to run our offense."
Assistants on other college teams also shy away from exploring other opportunities while recruiting high school prospects, fearing that negative recruiting could hurt them before signing day. So there's a possibility that other college assistants will show interest in February. It's also likely that the Hurricanes will wait until after the wave of NFL interviews at the Jan. 28 Senior Bowl.
However, waiting does come at a price. While UM has secured most of the commitments that were made before the staff overhaul, the prize recruit of the class, Pennsylvania quarterback Pat Devlin, opted to visit Penn State (the school his parents attended) and Virginia in the final two weeks before national signing day. Now there's some doubt that he'll sign with Miami, the school he committed to back in July.
For his part, Coker doesn't seem too concerned, perhaps because of his formidable record of landing top-notch talent late in the recruiting game.
"One of the best recruiting classes we had since I've been head coach, I had been the head coach for five days, but we signed Kellen Winslow, Frank Gore and Roscoe Parrish," Coker said of the three former UM standouts, who since have moved on to the NFL. "Those are guys who weren't even coming to Miami. The University of Miami will be able to recruit."
ATKINS, MOORE BRIGHTEN FORECAST
While the Hurricanes lost underclassman Devin Hester to the NFL draft, UM managed to keep two other juniors -- receiver Ryan Moore and defensive tackle Baraka Atkins -- who are arguably more valuable to the team.
Both Moore and Atkins have been starters for most of the past three seasons, and the Hurricanes will need them next year, for their on-field contributions and their leadership as well.
Each must become an even better leader, considering that it's the veterans who set the tone for the team's offseason work ethic. Generally speaking, the better a player's NFL draft stock, the more pull he has around Greentree Field.
"Both players are excited about the opportunity to come back for the chance to compete at a high level," Coker said, "and improve as individual football players."
Moore, who caught 28 passes for 464 yards and four touchdowns in 2005, was suspended for the Peach Bowl after violating an unspecified team policy. The violation didn't jeopardize his eligibility for next season. With Sinorice Moss graduating, Moore likely will become Miami's featured receiver if he stays healthy and out of trouble.
Some scouting services rated Atkins as one of this year's top defensive linemen, because his athleticism and frame (6-4, 280) make him ideal for a 3-4 scheme. Next season he'll likely help form the ACC's best defensive tackle tandem with rising senior Kareem Brown, who had a break-out season in 2005.
HAITH THINKING BIG AFTER VERDEJO
At one point, the Hurricanes were the frontrunner to land Jesus Verdejo, a sophomore guard who left Arizona in December. But it appears that the athletic shooting guard became a casualty of UM's often-inflexible admissions department.
Apparently, there were some red flags found on Verdejo's transcripts, and the high school teammate of Hurricanes shooting guard Guillermo Diaz eventually decided to enroll at South Florida, where he'll try to help the Bulls become competitive in the Big East.
While losing Verdejo was tough, considering that his scoring ability and size would have been assets next season, the Hurricanes have plenty of shooters on the roster.
UM coach Frank Haith, who remains one of the only ACC coaches still actively recruiting high school seniors, still wants to find another big man who can work with his back to the basket. Among the possibilities are 6-11 Tyronne McNeal of South Carolina, 6-10 Phil Jones from North Carolina (prep school) and 6-10 Hamady N'Diaye of California.