March 21, 2007
CORAL GABLES Randy Shannon has spent his first few months as the Miami head coach pushing buttons.
The Hurricanes' former defensive coordinator wants to get under his players' skin and challenge them. He wants to create an atmosphere of discomfort, which he hopes will bring out the best in every player and coach.
Shannon said he doesn't plan to use a depth chart this spring, and he doesn't intend to create one until the week before the team's first game.
He said every position is up for grabs during spring practice, and that was apparent during the first few days of drills. Stars such as defensive end Calais Campbell and safety Kenny Phillips, two potential All-Americans, found themselves working with the second unit, backing up role players.
Even though UM returns 17 players who started seven or more games last season, Shannon stressed that everyone on the roster including the quarterbacks is on even footing. Everyone expects a heated but silent battle between incumbent Kyle Wright and Kirby Freeman, who replaced him because of a hand injury for the final four games of 2006.
Shannon has both quarterbacks under a gag order, preventing them from talking to the media until August camp. The coach said it's unlikely that he'll announce a starter until the week before the Sept. 1 opener against Marshall.
He wants them to push one another, and he's encouraged the young players to push the veterans. He even has chastised some for not doing so, attacking the complacent attitude he believes has hindered past UM teams. Shannon said he's searching for "winners and leaders," players who bring the same kind of intensity and intangibles to the team no matter what unit they're with that day.
"We don't need I' guys on the team. We need guys that are team-oriented," Shannon said. "As a defensive coach, I always tried to preach the team aspect. It goes all together. ... You're not looking for the quarterback to be the frontrunner everyone wants him to be. We want the whole team to be frontrunners, where we can all depend on each other and be leaders at every position."
Shannon, a noted disciplinarian, also has implemented a number of "Do Right" rules that he hopes will make his players more accountable to their school and to their teammates.
A player must live on campus for his first two years and is allowed to move off campus only if his grade-point average is 2.5 or above. If the average falls below 2.5, he must return to campus housing the following semester. There will be mandatory study hall hours for any player with a GPA below 2.5, and the worse the GPA the more time he'll be required to spend in study hall daily.
Shannon also has instituted a "no-guns" policy, trying to reduce the likelihood of violent crimes such as the two (including the tragic murder of Bryan Pata) that struck UM last season. A player will be kicked off the team if he's involved in an incident involving a gun, even if it's legally owned.
"When you have a firearm, there's a 50-50 chance you get hurt," Shannon said. "Road rage, next thing you know a weapon comes out (and) someone's going to get hurt."
The locker room also has been divided up to where players no longer share lockers with others from a similar position, or side of the ball. The meeting rooms also have assigned seating, forcing players to stray from their friends to forge relationships with others.
Shannon said he and his staff intend to treat all UM players like "first-rounders," pushing them to their potential. It's a strategy he learned from his former coach at UM, Jimmy Johnson.
"If you treat a player as a first-rounder, he'll be a first-rounder," Shannon said. "You have to treat that person as what you want him to be, not as what he wants to be. You never let an athlete settle for less. You always make them settle for what they need to accomplish, go after."
HAITH WORKING ON BLUEPRINT
Despite the disappointing record this year, there were some signs of growth from Miami's basketball team. Now UM is hoping that the misery of 2006-07 translates into lessons that accelerate the growth of a young team.
Throughout all the injuries, suspensions and off-court issues, the Hurricanes (12-20) won four games against Top 25 teams for the first time since 1998-99, and they put together an impressive showing at the end of the season that included a respectable run in the ACC Tournament.
"I really believe that the storm is over," said coach Frank Haith, who is 46-49 in his three seasons at UM. "I have to believe what we've gone through this past season will help them be better players, and help us be a better team."
Haith referred to sophomore starters Jack McClinton, Brian Asbury and Jimmy Graham, plus freshman forward Dwayne Collins, who will serve as the nucleus of the team for the next two years. And that doesn't include starting point guard Denis Clemente, a sophomore who finished the season suspended (violation of team rules), putting his future with the program in jeopardy.
At the center of the blueprint is Haith's plan to help McClinton, who was named to the All-ACC third team this season, become a better combo guard, playing the point more often.
"I know it doesn't seem like it sometimes, but Jack is a great ball-handler," Haith said, pointing to McClinton's surprising success as a floor general in the ACC Tournament. "He just messes around with it too much. But he's gotten better. What you saw late in the year is him being better at (ball-handling). He's worked on it."
Haith envisions that McClinton can become the next Randolph Childress, whom he helped coach while an assistant at Wake Forest.
Another building block Haith feels Miami needs to focus on this summer is making the pieces around McClinton more reliable.
While Asbury, UM's second-leading scorer, made a drastic improvement from his freshman season, he's still just at the tip of his potential. Asbury, who was usually an impact player on his home court but virtually invisible on the road, must overcome his inconsistent nature.
"Brian has to be able to get his shot off quicker. He has to be able to get into his shot quicker. He has to be able to be a more consistent shooter from three-point range," Haith said. "Those are areas, along with his ball-handling, he has to improve on. He's got to be better at handling it coming off ball screens."
Graham, a beefy post player, also hasn't been consistent about playing up to his talent level, which also was on display in the ACC Tournament. Haith knows he must find a way to tap into Graham's athleticism and strength.
"When teams see Jimmy out there, they get concerned and they should because of how physical he plays. We've just got to bottle it up," Haith said. "In practice he plays like that all year, but he's a different player come game time. Now it's a matter of getting it to translate to the court."