September 27, 2005
CORAL GABLES -- It took eight months to negotiate and upward of a month to sign, but Miami coach Larry Coker finally has a new contract.
According to sources, the five-year deal, which will pay Coker $1.75 million this season, will increase annually by at least $100,000 in each year he remains at the helm. It's believed that Coker's new contract rivals those of Florida State's Bobby Bowden, which reportedly is worth more than $2 million annually, and the new deal Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer has on the table.
"It's signed, sealed and delivered, and I'm very pleased about that," said Coker, who is 46-7 at UM. "This is the place I'd like to be, and I want to be here for a long time."
Coker has been putting his own stamp on the program over the past couple of seasons, as he has been evolving as a coach. However, he has a persistent little cluster of detractors who criticize every move he makes, and who seemed to be resentful when he was given an extension before anyone could see the outcome of this season.
In fairness, every UM coach not named Jimmy Johnson faced the same skeptics at one time or another. Coker just has the privilege of leading Miami during the internet age, when message boards and chat rooms can add massive amounts of fuel to any negativity.
But don't expect Coker to be run off anytime soon.
"I want to coach here for a long time," Coker said. "No matter what I'm making, I'm not going to coach beyond the point where I'm energetic, where I can't give all I've got to recruiting and coaching and raising money for the university."
Coker probably won't ever get a fair shake with some Miami supporters unless he wins another national championship. But fans don't factor in what could have happened if he was never named head coach. It's unlikely that the two people who were offered the job before him -- Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez and former Miami Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt, who now leads the Pittsburgh Panthers -- would have won UM that national championship in 2001, even with all the talent the program had at the time.
Coker, who brought continuity to that staff, was the right person for that job, at that time. The problem is, he's having a hard time proving to the naysayers that he's the right person for it now, and that he is more than just a caretaker for such a storied program.
Injuries Cause Cornerback Shortage
Heading into this fall, Miami's secondary was considered not only one of the deepest units on the team, but one of the deepest in the nation. Three games into 2005, UM appears to be running out of players to cover wide receivers.
Glenn Sharpe, Anthony Reddick and Carlos Armour already are sidelined for the season because of knee injuries. During UM's recent 23-3 win over Colorado, the Hurricanes lost two more members of their secondary.
Senior cornerback Marcus Maxey, a starter who leads the team with two interceptions, sprained his left ankle in the first half against the Buffaloes while making a tackle. His replacement, true freshman Randy Phillips, injured his left knee in the third quarter. While Maxey might be sidelined for only a couple of days, and an MRI hasn't yet been taken on Phillips, there is some concern that the Hurricanes' most promising young cornerback could be lost for an extended period.
The run of injuries left UM with only three healthy corners -- Kelly Jennings, Devin Hester and true freshman Bruce Johnson -- to finish the fourth quarter of the Colorado game, and two of them weren't fully healthy. Hester has been limited by a turf-toe injury that's making progress but isn't fully healed. Jennings is recovering from a separated shoulder that affects his ability to tackle.
Johnson initially was going to redshirt this fall, but it appears that he'll be needed to cover the many spread offenses UM faces in the ACC. There also is a possibility that Rashaun Jones, a sophomore who has been limited by a shoulder injury he suffered in the spring, could begin to see some action.
As a result of UM's cornerback shortage, expect Brandon Meriweather to be used as a cornerback in the nickel package, while Greg Threat and Lovon Ponder fill in for him at strong safety and freshman sensation Kenny Phillips mans the free safety spot.
If the Hurricanes' secondary suffers another injury, three offensive players who began their UM careers as cornerbacks -- Terrell Walden, Tanard Davis and George Timmons -- might be asked to switch back to defense.
Walden is a speedy receiver who's primarily used on the scout team because of Miami's depth at that position. Davis, a former walk-on who played cornerback for three years, is presently a receiver but would move back in a heartbeat. Timmons, a redshirt freshman who was moved to tailback in the spring, is valuable to UM as the scout-team tailback, but the continued progress of Andrew Johnson (recovering from an ACL tear) could free up Timmons for another move.
Hester Remains In High Demand
Want to know the lengths Hester and the Hurricanes will go to have the junior play his usual 60-plus snaps a game on defense, offense and special teams?
In Miami's triple-overtime win over Clemson, Hester left the game early in the second half because his body was severely cramping. Dehydrated, he was taken to the locker room, where he was given two intravenous fluids (one in each arm) in under 10 minutes. That allowed him to return to the field, where he was used primarily as the boundary cornerback.
"They were putting pressure on it," Hester said, putting his two hands together, imitating the squeezing motion the trainers use. "Sometimes you have to do what you have to do."
Miami's coaches are beginning to question whether too much is on Hester's plate. In an attempt to get the most out of their speedy three-way player, the Hurricanes began to scale things back against Colorado.
Because UM's is thin at cornerback, don't be surprised to see receivers Sinorice Moss and Darnell Jenkins fielding kickoffs and punt returns. At the moment, Hester is needed more as a cornerback and valued more on offense, where he provides the team a spark almost every time he touches the ball. He's gained 45 yards on three carries this fall.
"I want to get him more," UM offensive coordinator Dan Werner said, "but I'll take what I can get."
Werner said he has eight special plays in the offense with which both Hester and the coaches are comfortable. Hester ripped off a 36-yard run in the first half of the Clemson game on a play when he reversed field, making something out of nothing.
Hester tried to do it a second time in the second half, taking a pitch from quarterback Kyle Wright and heading to his left before being cut off by two defenders. Hester then turned back to his right and seemed in danger of being tackled for a loss before unloading an improvised pass to fullback Quadtrine Hill for an apparent 33-yard gain.
Unfortunately for Hester, Miami was penalized for having an ineligible receiver downfield, negating the gain. Because the play was a called run, the UM blockers didn't concern themselves with their typical responsibilities on passing plays, which include avoiding penalties for being downfield.
"I was a little upset about the pass," Werner said. "He's got to know, when we call a play running outside, he's got to get what he can running outside. If it's a two-yard play, that's not bad. You can tell his mentality is, I only get about four or five plays, and I've got to score every time.' I told him, You can't have that mentality, or you're not going to play on our side. You've got to be smart and do what you're coached to do.'"
The one good thing the bad pass showed the coaches is that Hester, an option quarterback in high school, has a pretty good arm. Now UM is working on more plays where he'll have a chance to use it.