December 7, 2005
CORAL GABLES -- Last year, without a doubt, it was Miami's players who let the coaches down. Too many of the Hurricanes were immature, unfocused or undisciplined with their assignments, and on many occasions they obviously lacked commitment.
This year, however, it was the coaches who spoiled the season, keeping Miami from playing in the ACC title game and extending the program's two-year BCS drought.
The talent -- albeit not spectacular as with past UM teams, but pretty darn good -- was there. The leadership last season's squad was lacking also was present. But the play-calling, halftime adjustments, optimal usage of talent, and overall development of players was absent at costly times in 2005.
Here's some evidence: Fullback James Bryant, receiver Lance Leggett, cornerback Devin Hester, linebacker Willie Williams, running backs Andrew Johnson and Derron Thomas, and offensive linemen Derrick Morse and Andrew Bain were some of the better athletes on this year's team. Yet all played minimal roles this fall.
The first two, sophomores Bryant and Leggett, were can't-miss players destined for stardom, even according to the UM coaches themselves. Sure, they had their struggles catching passes this season, but whose job is it to get them out of their funks? One way or another, that's a challenge for the coaching staff.
Miami's offensive line was erratic for most of the season, allowing 32 sacks, which tied with Duke for the most in the ACC. The problem may get worse next season, considering that four of this year's starters were seniors, and UM spent little time grooming Morse and Bain, two of the more physical players on the team.
The usage of the team's personnel also was suspect. Johnson initially intended on redshirting this season because of the ACL injury he suffered last December, but coach Larry Coker convinced him to play at midseason after watching him make a few big runs on the scout team. Coker wanted to have another option in case one of UM's tailbacks suffered a serious injury, which Tyrone Moss did, tearing an ACL against Virginia Tech.
But Johnson was used sparingly from that point on, even though Coker routinely praised him for his effort and showing in practices. That raised the question: If you're going to waste Johnson's redshirt, why not use him for more than the 14 carries for 97 yards he received this fall? When Hester was sidelined for two weeks because of a hamstring injury, why wasn't Johnson used in the Hester packages, considering that Coker insists he is a comparable athlete?
Coker's record (53-8) certainly warrants more support from fans than he presently receives, but he also has to take ownership for the team's shortcomings over the past two seasons, which have kept the Hurricanes from meeting their minimal goal (a league title). Then he must do something about it, whether that means making a change on his staff or taking a more hands-on approach with the offense, which clearly has been holding the team back.
There has been a significant drop-off since Dan Werner replaced Rob Chudzinski as the offensive coordinator. However, it's not Werner who should shoulder the burden for Miami's deficiencies on an offense that lacks creativity and consistency.
The bottom line here is that coaching should never spoil a season, but when you factor in why Miami lost to Florida State and Georgia Tech by a total of seven points, that's the most logical explanation of all.
If Coker wants to preserve his legacy and shut up his critics, which he almost did this season until losing to Georgia Tech, he must find the antidote to the disease that recently has caused his program to slip. This year's team mantra was "No Excuses." There's no reason Coker should be immune to the same philosophy he asks his players to live by.
ORANGE BOWL REQUIRES UPGRADE
The Orange Bowl has stood frozen in time for decades, but it now appears that the 69-year-old stadium could receive more than a facelift in the coming months.
Renovating the dilapidated facility has been discussed for more than three years, but the concept was put on the backburner while the Florida Marlins major league baseball team pursued a stadium near downtown Miami.
With that deal derailed, city officials turned their attention to the venue that houses the Hurricanes. An early December meeting between city and UM officials represented another key step toward determining whether the facility will be renovated or torn down to rebuild a 65,000-seat stadium on the same site.
According to city manager Joe Arriola, the main issue involves an engineering study of the stadium, which will decide whether damage sustained during Hurricane Wilma makes investing in the existing structure unwise.
"I think the idea of keeping the steel frame and doing a complete renovation is a sound one, but before I make that decision I want to have assurances that everything is copasetic in there," Arriola said. "What makes more sense? If the difference between building a new stadium and fixing the other stadium is $10-$15 million, I'd be nuts not to do a new stadium. If the difference is $50 million, then it's a different story."
The Hurricanes will play in the Orange Bowl next season but might need to relocate to Dolphins Stadium for the 2007 and 2008 seasons.
According to UM athletic director Paul Dee, the safety of the Orange Bowl was never an issue. City engineers looked at the stadium in the aftermath of Wilma and decided the structure was safe to host the team's final three home games. The only serious damage sustained was to the lights, which need to be replaced by the start of next season, Dee said.
Apparently, though, all parties now are concerned about the long-term health of the building.
"This is about possibly making the facility strong enough to go another 30 years, whether that's rehabilitating it or building a new facility," Dee said. "We have to find out where we are, but it's going to take a few conversations."
Atop the list of topics UM is interested in discussing is funding. According to Dee, city officials have raised $80 million through bonds and the sale of the Miami Arena. Now the issue is how much more is needed for the stadium, and where will that money come from?
Dee said UM, which pays rent to the city just like any other tenant, has talked to Dolphins Stadium officials recently, but never about the prospects of a temporary move. That stadium is more interested in attracting UM as a permanent resident, and if the Orange Bowl isn't upgraded with the addition of luxury boxes, better concession stands and a replay screen inside the stadium, the Hurricanes might seriously consider relocating 11 miles to the north.
Miami is paying off its on-campus basketball venue, which recently sold its naming rights to BankUnited Center, and this fall started a three-phase renovation project for Mark Light Field, its baseball stadium, which still needs an additional $1.8 million to be completed.
In late November, UM officials visited Kansas to observe its fund-raising strategies, with the goal of putting together a fund-raising drive of their own. But how much of the money raised will go to the Orange Bowl is a discussion that hasn't taken place.
"The bottom line is we need to find out what has to be done physically and financially," Dee said, "to make the place safe and comfortable."