January 3, 2005
CORAL GABLES Miami basketball coach Frank Haith is encouraging his team to
dream, and dream big.
The Hurricanes have won eight in a row, and they're one win away from putting
together 10 wins on the season. Some so-called experts thought the 10-win mark
might be a stretch in 2004-05 for a talent-depleted squad led by a first-year
"We're building a resume, talking about playing in the postseason, and I don't
mind our players dreaming like that," Haith said. "Yes, these are games we should
win because we're better than most of the teams we've played. But these are
the games that prepare us for the battles ahead, and we've handled the challenge
on almost every occasion, when other teams have stumbled against the same caliber
Miami did stumble once, losing to South Carolina State in its second game
of the season. But Haith said that loss did more good than bad, because it taught
him how much he could push his players and showed him how well they would respond.
UM came back from that loss to lose to Xavier in overtime, before upsetting
Florida in Gainesville and blowing out UMass at home.
The administration has been thrilled with the job Haith's accomplished so
far, and no matter what the outcome of upcoming games in a conference Miami
athletic director Paul Dee calls "murderer's row," the consensus is that the
hoops program is headed in the right direction.
Only two UM players, senior forward Will Frisby and former walk-on point guard
Brandon Okpalobi, have been a part of a Hurricanes team that made it to the
postseason. Frisby, who redshirted two years ago because of a broken foot, was
the only one to play regularly for the 2001-02 team that lost to Missouri in
the first round of the NCAA Tournament. He believes the Hurricanes have enough
talent to get back this season.
"For the returning players, we haven't done anything in the past two years,
so this is sweet," junior guard Eric Wilkins said. "We're enjoying our success,
but it's pushing us even harder because we see a light at the end of the tunnel."
Getting the Hurricanes to the postseason NCAA or NIT would do wonders
for the team's morale and recruiting. It also could help boost the fan base,
primarily the anemic student support. Since the Hurricanes opened their on-campus
arena in 2003, UM hasn't fielded a winning team, further stifling the fan base
Administrators Tightening Budget
This is belt-tightening time for the Miami athletic department.
UM's expensive move to the ACC, coupled with the football team's failure to
reach a lucrative BCS bowl for the first time since the 1999 season, has triggered
a thriftier-than-usual period under Dee, a man already perceived as one of the
most cost-conscious athletic directors in the nation.
The Hurricanes received $1 million from the ACC for their trip to the Peach
Bowl, a far cry from the $4 million the program used to receive from the Big
East for getting to a BCS bowl. Asked before Miami's 27-10 victory over Florida
whether UM's expenses would exceed $1 million for the team's trip to Atlanta,
"Not when Paul Dee makes the budget," he said. "We're going to learn what
belt-tightening is. You have to go with what you've got. We're willing to spend
when we (make) a lot of money. When you don't have it, you have to (tighten
Dee said the most important thing was to make sure players and coaches had
an appropriate experience in Atlanta. UM brought 102 players, including every
walk-on, which is typical. But the cutbacks began right after that. For example,
the school's band and cheerleaders were bused to Atlanta, arriving a day before
the game. And per diems for staff members were cut back.
Fortunately for UM, the ACC has a much bigger annual payout than the Big East,
which means Miami typically will make significantly more money on the back end.
But for their first two seasons in the league, the Hurricanes will receive only
a two-thirds payout from the conference, as part of the school's entrance fee.
"Down the road is where we'll see the benefit to joining the ACC financially,"
Dee said. "And believe me, there is a benefit."
The ACC's payout for the 2004-05 academic year has not been determined yet,
but the early estimates are for those with full shares to receive more than
$10 million each. That means UM could pull in about $7 million. If ACC expansion
hadn't happened, and had UM not earned the Big East's BCS spot (a possibility,
considering the Hurricanes lost to Virginia Tech in the regular-season finale),
then UM would have been looking at a total Big East payout of roughly the same
There is hope that the ACC basketball season will provide a boost to the athletic
department's revenue, and season-ticket sales are up from last year for both
the men's and women's teams. The men's team has 3,277 season-ticket holders,
up from 2,681 last year. Individual game sales also have improved, although
they have yet to meet
expectations. An early win or two in conference play could provide the boost needed, because South Florida sports fans love winners, and the Hurricanes play an exciting brand of basketball that features a trio of athletic guards who are fun to watch. Coker Contract Worth Watching It's rare for college coaches to have fewer than four years left on their contracts, mainly for recruiting purposes. That explains why Larry Coker's agent, Jimmy Sexton, recently began preliminary negotiations regarding a new deal for the Hurricanes' coach. Whether one will get done before next season is anyone's guess, but everyone agrees that the program will be coming to a crossroads in 2005. Coker, who is 44-6 in four seasons at Miami, has never lost to either Florida or Florida State. He won a national championship in 2001. His teams have been to three BCS bowl games, and he has a 3-1 overall bowl record, but there is some grumbling from the UM fan base that he's merely a caretaker for Miami's storied program. Next season will present Coker and his staff with an opportunity to either shed that image or reinforce it. In December, Coker, who makes roughly $1.4 million a year and has three years left on his existing deal, seemed envious when talking about the $2 million contract Urban Meyer signed with Florida. Several other elite college coaches signed in recent weeks for similar amounts. Dee said he's kept an eye on the escalating salaries college coaches have been receiving, but he didn't seem in too much of a hurry to get a deal done. That may be because he's interested to see what 2005 brings in UM's second ACC season, with a roster filled with players Coker and his staff recruited.