October 23, 2007
CORAL GABLES Miami coach Randy Shannon would not go as far as saying the word. But with the current state of the Hurricanes' program, he knows it may be time to consider this a rebuilding project.
"I'm not going to use that word," Shannon said. "I think right now the only thing you've got to worry about is now. You have players you have to coach to win games. You can't look ahead."
And why not? Shannon has all the reason to look to the future.
The Hurricanes have received 19 verbal commitments for next season. The list includes Pompano Beach (Fla.) Ely cornerback Patrick Johnson, who is rated the No. 1 defensive back in the country according to most scouting services. Also in the class are five players from Miami Northwestern, the nation's top-ranked prep team. The collection of talent is so impressive that ESPN already has deemed it the No. 1 recruiting class. Yet there is more to come.
The incoming talent expects to improve because Shannon's top selling point is immediate playing time. Even though the coach cannot comment on recruits under NCAA rules, he let his intentions be known after a 33-27 loss at North Carolina on Oct. 6. After the Hurricanes fell behind 27-0 at halftime and lost in Chapel Hill for the second consecutive time, Shannon basically said that next year's incoming recruits should plan on playing immediately.
It was a sign of a coach ready to overhaul a program that has declined in recent years. Just a few seasons ago, the Hurricanes were playing for the national title in consecutive years, winning in 2001.
Now Miami hasn't reached a BCS bowl since 2003 and has been out of the championship picture for the last three seasons. The Hurricanes suffered back-to-back 9-3 campaigns before finishing 7-6 last year.
The 5-3 start this season is fine by the standards at most schools. But not Miami. At UM, nothing less than perfect or near perfect is acceptable. Shannon has made it no secret that he wants to live up to those expectations because he's satisfied them before as an assistant coach and player with the Hurricanes.
This is his chance to cleanse a program that was infected with a losing virus the last few years. The cure is bringing in new talent, and that's exactly what Shannon is doing. If next year's class contributes, it could mean the start of a trend. Top players will see that they are given an opportunity to play right away, and give the Hurricanes the talent needed to compete at the national level.
Shannon said recently that he spoke to recruits who attended the home game against Georgia Tech on Oct. 13, another loss. He used it as a chance to sell his strategy.
"I told some of them, If you come in with the mindset of being ready to play at the University of Miami, you'll play, but don't come to the University of Miami if you're not ready to play," Shannon said. "That's how I feel."
BEST YOUNGSTERS EARNING TIME
Recruits can look at this season to see that Shannon isn't making false claims.
Freshman running back Graig Cooper and freshman cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke have played often. Cooper is the team's leading rusher, and Van Dyke has started two games. Freshman guard Orlando Franklin and freshman tailback Shawnbrey McNeal also have received extensive action.
"I see DeMarcus Van Dyke, a true freshman, playing," Shannon said. "But to me, they're football players. It's the same thing with the offense. I can't see that Orlando Franklin is a true freshman or (Jason) Fox is a true sophomore or the two tailbacks are a true sophomore and a true freshman. I can't see that. ... The only thing I see are football players that are good. I can't see it when everybody says, Hey, when you play a bunch of young guys, you're going to have mistakes.'"
Shannon said the impact has been positive on recruiting because they see he really means it when he says they can play early in their careers. It's common for coaches to promise playing time, but it's different when they have examples to show.
"It's been great," Shannon said. "Those guys feel they can come in and play. They see the young guys are playing. Some, they promise you'll play and you never see freshmen play. At Miami, you see all the freshmen playing. I think the players we have committed are seeing they can come in and play right away. They see the games, say, OK, this guy's here, but they're starting a freshman at this position, maybe I can go in and take the other position.'"
The Hurricanes also received another nice recruiting tool with their last-minute victory Oct. 20 against rival Florida State. The schools, along with Florida, often go after the same prospects, and it's safe to say that more than a few were in attendance at Doak Campbell Stadium or watched on television.
Early playing time, coupled with the scene of the players celebrating with the crowd in the end zone after the 37-29 win, should be convincing enough for recruits to at least consider Miami.