March 1, 2005
CORAL GABLES The most popular recipe for success in the ACC is to take care of your home court and steal some wins on the road.
This is a formula most thought wouldn't work in 2004-05 at Miami, where a first-year head coach took over an on-campus arena that hadn't possessed much of a hostile atmosphere during its brief existence. Before this season, the two-year-old Convocation Center had hosted only one sellout, and that was its opener against North Carolina in 2003. At every other home game, UM struggled to meet half of its venue's capacity.
"I remember last year it looked like an open gym, like people were coming to watch their little nephew play or something," said sophomore guard Anthony Harris, speaking of the Hurricanes' 2,545 average home attendance. "It was sad."
That sparse crowd was the lowest number of attendants since the 1990-91 season, and it was one of the factors that led to the removal of coach Perry Clark last year.
One season later, add the nation's most-tradition rich conference to a winning team, and Miami's game tickets are becoming a hot commodity, one that even has peaked the interest of some local celebrities.
Miami's average home attendance during the regular season was 4,303, which might be small stuff to the rest of the league, but it was downright impressive to UM officials who still are footing the bill for their new building. It marked a 69 percent increase over last season's attendance figures.
UM recorded five sellouts this season and had an average attendance of 6,378 in conference games, a 95 percent increase from its Big East average of 3,270 last season. The regular season wound up with Miami's fourth-highest attendance average since the school's basketball program was resurrected in 1985.
"We're in the ACC and have a nice, new arena, and we're putting out a good product, so there's no reason we can't fill the seats," said first-year head coach Frank Haith, who was warned not to take the Miami job by some of his college basketball confidants because of the program's lagging fan support.
The fact that Miami is fielding a competitive team helps, but that formula hasn't been a guarantee for big crowds in the past. Senior forward Will Frisby was part of UM's 2001-02 team. That year the Hurricanes set a school record with 24 victories and were ranked as high as No. 12 in the nation, yet they couldn't draw people to the now-vacant Miami Arena.
"I remember when we went to the NCAA Tournament," Frisby said. "Everyone kept saying, If you win, they will come.' Well, we won and we won, and they still didn't come."
UM may learn next season if its increased fan base had a lot to do with the novelty factor of its conference change. If not, and it's more of a sustainable trend, school officials likely will make a push to increase the seating capacity from 7,000 to somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 by adding seats to the upper deck.
There already have been conversations with the city of Coral Gables, which initially limited the arena's capacity because of traffic issues that no longer seem to be a concern. There is talk that the seating increase could happen by the start of the 2006-07 season, but Haith said he's in no rush.
"We have just the right size arena, 7,000 seats is good," said Haith, who has changed the side of the court UM's bench is on so the opposition has to shoot into the student section in the second half. "I like the fact that it's a hot ticket, and a tough ticket to get."
Football: Injuries, Position Moves
Several key Hurricanes will sit out spring practice, which will begin on March 8 and run sporadically for five weeks before concluding with the spring scrimmage on April 9.
Tackle Eric Winston, the projected anchor of UM's offensive line, will be sidelined while rehabbing the torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments he damaged in his left knee during the Georgia Tech game on Oct. 2. He will participate in conditioning work, with the expectation that he'll be cleared for contact in the fall.
Other potential starters likely limited to non-contact work include tailback Tyrone Moss, tailback Andrew Johnson and tight end Greg Olsen, who each underwent offseason procedures to alleviate lingering injuries.
Moss, who rushed for 957 yards and scored 11 touchdowns in his first two seasons, recently underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery. Johnson suffered an ACL injury during Peach Bowl preparation and won't be cleared for running until the fall. Olsen broke his left wrist against N.C. State on Oct. 30, but playing two games after that slowed the healing process to the point where the wrist still hasn't fully recovered.
Their absences, along with the lack of bodies at certain positions, prompted position moves this spring for four young Hurricanes. In each case, a player will be returning to a position he played in high school.
George Timmons, who redshirted last season while working as a cornerback, will move to running back, where he rushed for 1,253 yards on 109 carries and caught 19 passes for 301 yards in 2003 at Lake City (Fla.) Columbia. Timmons' move will provide UM with four healthy tailbacks the others are redshirt freshmen Charlie Jones and Derron Thomas, plus rising senior Quadtrine Hill to compete for playing time this spring.
Chris Zellner, who also redshirted as a freshman, will be moved from defensive end to tight end. He was rated the nation's No. 3 tight end by SuperPrep as a prep senior, after catching 19 passes for 399 yards and four touchdowns at Sarasota (Fla.) Booker. His presence there will help ease the absence of Olsen. Without Zellner's move, veteran Buck Ortega would have been the only scholarship tight end on the active roster until the fall.
The team's fastest player, freshman cornerback Terrell Walden, will be moved to receiver. UM's coaches hope Walden, who tore his ACL last spring and spent the entire 2004 season rehabbing, will replace some of the speed the team lost with Roscoe Parrish's early NFL departure.
Perhaps the most significant move of all was that of James Bryant, who played linebacker last year but will move to fullback this spring. He is one of the team's most physical athletes, but he failed to break into the two-deep rotation last season. He worked with the scout team as a linebacker and fullback from time to time, and during his stints on offense he received rave reviews, which brought about the move.
Because Hill, who has started 19 games at fullback, could end up as Miami's starting tailback in 2005, UM's coaches knew they had to prepare someone to take over the first-team fullback spot. Bryant, who was one of Miami's top-rated recruits in 2003, rushed for 950 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior fullback at Reading (Pa.) High.
Running backs coach Don Soldinger long has coveted the services of Bryant. The signing of four linebackers this year, along with the expected emergence of a healthy Willie Williams (a 2004 signee), prompted coach Larry Coker to make the move so he could get one of the team's top athletes on the field. However, it is believed that Bryant prefers to be a linebacker and might consider transferring if he doesn't find a significant role soon.