September 26, 2006
CORAL GABLES -- Miami coach Larry Coker began this season knowing that his team needed to be in contention for its first ACC title for him to retain his job. Despite the Hurricanes' 1-2 opening record, he'll get that opportunity.
Athletic director Paul Dee is standing firm on his plan to assess Coker's performance after the season, even if the Hurricanes -- recently embarrassed 31-7 at Louisville -- suffer additional losses that make a 2006 ACC title impossible.
"Over the years, I've learned to do what you think is the right thing to do. You can't succumb to all the pressures or how it's going to affect you or your career," Dee said. "You just have to make decisions based on what you think is best for the institution, and I think that's what we're doing."
If UM fails to achieve its conference title goal, the administration likely will terminate Coker's contract, exercising what sources said is a buyout that's just shy of $2.5 million. But there is a possibility that Dee might not be the man who leads the search for Coker's replacement, whenever that becomes necessary.
According to another source, there has been some discussion among Board of Trustees members about forcing Dee into retirement or moving him to another department if Coker is ousted. The source said there is some feeling that the athletic department could use new direction, and a new AD's participation in the selection of the Hurricanes' next football coach would be preferred.
Despite health concerns -- he had a mild heart attack in the summer of 2004 and underwent a heart procedure last spring -- Dee is adamant about finishing his contract, which runs through June 2010. He has held his position since 1993, and his goal is to see the Orange Bowl renovated, the Hecht Athletic Center (which houses UM's student-athlete center) expanded, and the football team regain its "level of excellence" before stepping aside.
"If it's up to me, I'm not planning to retire, but if it's up to others, who knows? There is a lot more talk out there than there is reality behind it," Dee said. "I don't know what people are saying about me and to whom, but from where I sit and from what I'm being told, a lot of this stuff is spinning beyond what the reality is."
While Miami president Donna Shalala issued a statement of support for Dee, she also said his performance will be evaluated at the end of the season, just like all of the university's other senior administrators. While the athletic department is running at a deficit, a lot of that has to do with UM's departure fee for exiting the Big East, the ACC's entry fees (which includes two years of only two-thirds the conference payout) and the settlement of the Big East defection lawsuit.
If Dee still is running the athletic department when Coker is fired, don't expect Butch Davis to make a return. As much as Dee is grateful to Davis for helping to re-establish UM as a football dynasty during its probation era in the late 1990s, the two had a constant power struggle during Davis' tenure. It ultimately ended with a very ugly split, when Davis left for the NFL's Cleveland Browns less than two weeks before signing day in 2001.
TEAM NEEDS BRYANT'S TOUGHNESS
Miami junior James Bryant is putting his dream of becoming a middle linebacker on hold to fill a critical need for the Hurricanes at fullback.
Bryant, a SuperPrep All-American from Pennsylvania, came to Miami to play linebacker two years ago but was forced to play fullback last season. As it turned out, the position was fitting for the hard-hitting physical specimen.
After Bryant returned to his desired position last spring, he couldn't rise past third on the depth chart, mainly because he lacks the instincts for linebacker.
When starting H-back Chris Zellner suffered a high-ankle sprain against Louisville, UM coaches asked Bryant to reconsider going back to offense, and he caved when he factored in how much pressure quarterback Kyle Wright has been under because of the team's inability to stop zone blitzes.
Bryant said he needed to learn the new offensive scheme and reacquaint himself with the position, but he doesn't believe either will be too challenging. Wright noticed an immediate difference in his first practice.
"I threw him a flat route (pass)," Wright said, "and he turned it up and ran like 30 yards and looked like a natural."
While Bryant's tough, he's also called "insane" by his teammates and coaches. But they love his intensity. If used right, he could become a tremendous asset to Miami's offense as a lead blocker and maybe as a pass catcher, if he proves that his hands can be counted on.
While fairly unpredictable, Bryant, who was suspended for the first two games for violating various team rules, epitomizes the toughness this Miami team desperately needs a lot more of on offense.
When asked if the position switch will stick, Bryant was unsure.
"Who knows," said Bryant, who gained eight yards on his lone carry and caught two passes for 44 yards last season. "You can plan a pretty picnic, but you can't predict the weather."
HOOPS: SMALL FORWARDS CRITICAL
Miami hasn't had a true small forward during the Frank Haith era, until this season, and Haith believes that position will be critical to his team's success.
Returning starter Anthony Harris and Siena transfer Jack McClinton will help fill the scoring voids left by Rob Hite and Guillermo Diaz in the backcourt. But UM is going to need someone to fill that third backcourt spot, hitting open jumpers, rebounding and providing solid defense on the wing.
Sophomores Brian Asbury and Adrian Thomas, and newcomers Lawrence Gilbert and Fabio Nass, each brings something different to the table.
Asbury, who will open fall camp as the projected starter, has the best all-around skills, but he needs to get tougher mentally and physically. He had a difficult freshman season, shooting only 20 percent from the field, and that shook his confidence.
Thomas is an undersized small forward who Haith believes can be a dominant defender. The
6-7 banger spent most of his prep career playing around the basket, but UM has enough big men to fill that role now.
Nass, a 6-10 juco transfer, has three-point range but is rail-thin. There is concern about his ability to defend smaller wings and thicker post players, but he should be able to stretch the field.
Gilbert, one of the Hurricanes' more promising freshmen, has a solid handle and a good mid-range shot, but he's still slowly learning the college game. The sooner he gets it, the more he's likely to become UM's missing ingredient, because he has the skill set to make an immediate impact.
"Lawrence (Gilbert) is a multi-talented player who can do a lot of things on the basketball court," Haith said. "He can score, rebound, pass and defend. He has excellent court vision for a player his size and makes everyone around him better."