THE MPC COMPUTERS BOWL:
Miami (6-6) vs. Nevada (8-4), Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
By Omar Kelly
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
December 21, 2006
CORAL GABLES Miami wasn't particularly enthused to face a marquee program (LSU) in last year's Peach Bowl, played in the hot-spot city of Atlanta, and it showed in the 40-3 drubbing by the Tigers. But don't be surprised if the intensity is ratcheted up a few notches for Nevada, which will meet the Hurricanes on Dec. 31 at the MPC Computers Bowl in Boise.
While the opponent and location aren't too attractive by Miami standards, there are too many subplots for UM's coaches not to get the attention of their squad. It will be Larry Coker's final game with the Hurricanes. Their new leader, promoted defensive coordinator Randy Shannon, plans to use the bowl as a dress rehearsal for next season.
Shannon already has taken over the team, changing the way the Hurricanes meet and conduct practice. Could it be long before his high-intensity, in-your-face approach carries over to the field, injecting attitude and confidence into this season's lifeless team?
Nevada is expected to be physically overmatched, so if UM can bring the focus, preparation and accountability that have been missing this season, the Hurricanes actually might play up to expectations for a change.
"The mood of the team is just trying to go out there and win another one," senior center Anthony Wollschlager said. "Just because Coach Coker is not going to be the coach next year, it doesn't give you a free pass to say, Hey, we don't need to play well this game,' especially with the new coach watching."
This will be sophomore quarterback Kirby Freeman's fourth career start. If he fares well, it's likely that he and two-year starter Kyle Wright, who broke the thumb on his throwing hand in early November and remains sidelined, will battle it out for the starting spot in the spring. But that's only if Freeman can pique the new staff's interest, and a bowl win certainly would help in that regard.
Freeman has led the Hurricanes to only one victory this season, the 17-14 win over Boston College that made Miami bowl-eligible. However, his play and skill-set show that he has plenty of intangibles that could make him the quarterback of the future.
That's exactly what this bowl game represents for the Hurricanes, who likely will have 18 starters returning next season, if linebacker Jon Beason and tight end Greg Olsen don't leave early for the NFL. It's about building for the future.
"This is a game that we need to have to build our confidence," Freeman said, "and we can't take Nevada lightly, because this is their chance to make a name for themselves."
After the game, the program officially will be turned over to Shannon, a Miami native, former UM player and long-time assistant. His challenge rebuilding a dynasty is an enormous one, but his familiarity with the program just might provide him a head start.
While most of the team will return next fall, and the 2007 recruiting class is shaping up well, talent isn't the only issue UM must address.
The football team is the university's biggest marketing instrument, and a return to prominence is critical, but it's as if the Hurricanes are playing the game with one hand tied behind their back because of the lack of available resources and facilities.
That's why UM president Donna Shalala, who spearheaded a billion-dollar fundraising campaign for the school, has called for a "six-month fundraising sprint to secure commitments from our supporters/donors to finance competitive coaching contracts and build and renovate first-class facilities and programs."
Since winning the national championship in 2001, UM has renovated the football team's locker room and made a few other aesthetic improvements to the football facilities. But that's it.
UM athletic director Paul Dee said the school has spent nearly $100 million over the past 10 years on athletic facilities including the construction of an on-campus basketball arena and renovations to the baseball stadium but he acknowledged that the climate of college sports dictates that more is needed.
Atop Dee's wish list is an expansion for the Hecht Center, which houses the entire athletic department. UM is raising the funds needed to double the academic support center and medical treatment areas. Dee said that, because of space limitations, both struggle to serve all of UM's 325 scholarship athletes.
Dee recently created a list of priority needs for his department and submitted it to the administration. When asked how much the school needs to raise, he curtly responded: "There's never enough."
"I promise you this. As soon as we've done the last thing on the list, there will be a new list," Dee said. "It depends on what's enough. You want to be conscientious about the money you're spending. I don't think we should be opulent. I could say a few places where there are hand carvings on every chair. You have to determine where the value of that is. I think we're competitive (with our facilities), but there hasn't been a facility yet to win a ballgame.
"Players win ballgames, and our ability to recruit good players and good coaches will make the difference."
Another lingering issue is the Orange Bowl. While the stadium has tradition, it's in desperate need of more than a facelift. A renovation project that was supposed to start in 2002 keeps getting delayed.
UM is in a tough position with the city of Miami, which wants the Hurricanes to chip in millions to close the funding gap for the proposed $120 million project. The Hurricanes would prefer to be treated as a tenant, which is what they are. Shalala has taken over the discussions herself.
According to John A. Paccione, senior vice president of Jones Lang LaSalle, which is overseeing the Orange Bowl renovation, the city has $84 million to work with, and renovation is expected to begin next year, with completion scheduled for August 2009. Talks about how much UM will contribute should heat up this summer.
The pay scale for assistants also has been a problem, and could cost UM the services of offensive line coach Mario Cristobal, who is being pursued by Florida International to become the Golden Panthers' head coach. Shannon also faces a crucial, and potentially expensive, hire at offensive coordinator.
When long-time assistant Art Kehoe was fired in January, he was making $140,000 as UM's assistant head coach/offensive line coach. When Mississippi hired Kehoe a month later, his salary, as merely line coach, increased $40,000.
These are all issues Shannon must work with and/or around, and his willingness to do so probably allowed UM's administration to determine that he was the right man at the right time for the top job at his alma mater.
DE Baraka Atkins, DT Kareem Brown, SS Brandon Meriweather, P/KO Brian Monroe, DT Bryan Pata (deceased), PK Jon Peattie, OC Anthony Wollschlager
WR Ryan Moore (2005 starter), RB Tyrone Moss (2005 starter), OL Alex Pou
2007 Returning Starters^
Pos. Name Ht./Wt. 2007 Class
QB Kyle Wright 6-4/220 Sr.
RB Javarris James 6-0/202 So.
FB Chris Zellner 6-2/238 Jr.
SE Lance Leggett 6-4/188 Sr.
FL Sam Shields 6-0/177 So.
TE Greg Olsen 6-5/252 Sr.
LT Reggie Youngblood 6-5/305 Jr.
LG Andrew Bain 6-3/330 Jr.
RG Derrick Morse 6-4/326 *Sr.
RT Jason Fox 6-6/285 So.
DT Teraz McCray 6-1/300 Sr.
DE Calais Campbell 6-8/265 Jr.
LB Jon Beason 6-0/236 Sr.
LB Glenn Cook 6-0/215 Sr.
SS Kenny Phillips 6-2/202 Jr.
FS Lovon Ponder 6-0/207 Jr.
CB Randy Phillips 6-0/195 Jr.
CB Glenn Sharpe 6-0/187 Sr.
Special Teams (0)
- has utilized redshirt season
^ six/more 2006 regular-season starts
Other Tested Returnees
DS Ross Abramson (FG/PAT), FB James Bryant, TE DajLeon Farr, QB Kirby Freeman, WR Ryan Hill, WR Darnell Jenkins, RB Charlie Jones, WR Khalil Jones, WR Rashaun Jones, FB Jerrell Mabry, OT Chris Rutledge
LB Romeo Davis (2005 starter), LB Tavares Gooden (2004 starter), CB Chavez Grant, CB/KR/PR Bruce Johnson, DE Eric Moncur, SS Anthony Reddick (2004 starter), DS John Rochford (punts), LB Darryl Sharpton
Year BE/ACC Overall Postseason
1997 3-4 (5) 5-6 None
1998 5-2 (2) 9-3 MicronPC Bowl (W)
1999 6-1 (2) 9-4 Gator Bowl (W)
2000 7-0 (1) 11-1 Sugar Bowl (W)
2001 7-0 (1) 12-0 Rose Bowl (W)
2002 7-0 (1) 12-1 Fiesta Bowl (L)
2003 6-1 (1) 11-2 Orange Bowl (W)
2004 5-3 (3) 9-3 Peach Bowl (W)
2005 6-2 (2C) 9-3 Peach Bowl (L)
2006 3-5 (4C) 6-6 MPC Computers Bowl
ACC: 14-10 (.583)
Overall: 93-29 (.762)
Team 2006 Record^
Duke 0-12 (0-8)
Georgia Tech 9-4 (7-1)
N.C. State 3-9 (2-6)
Virginia 5-7 (4-4)
Florida International 0-12 (0-7)
Marshall 5-7 (4-4)
Texas A&M 9-3 (5-3)
Boston College 9-3 (5-3)
Florida State 6-6 (3-5)
North Carolina 3-9 (2-6)
Virginia Tech 10-2 (6-2)
Oklahoma 11-2 (7-1)
^ regular season only (conference)
NOTE: Finalized dates/times TBA.