Bartender? Pitchman? Miami Hurricanes’ Mark Richt found his calling (eventually)

University of Miami football coach Mark Richt speaks during the 16th annual YMCA Inspiration Breakfast at Office Depot headquarters in Boca Raton. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

BOCA RATON — When they introduced Mark Richt as the keynote speaker at the 16th annual YMCA Inspiration Breakfast, they ran down his list of accomplishments — the number of games he has won, his coach of the year honors, how often his teams have finished in the top 10.

Then it was Richt’s turn at the microphone, and considering he was speaking at the Office Depot Global Headquarters, just up the road from his childhood home, the memories came rushing back of his long road to his current position as football coach at the University of Miami.

Only they weren’t exactly the kind of memories you’d expect.

There was the time he got fired from one job. And the time he got fired from another. And another and another, with each failure punctuated not with regret, but a self-deprecating wisecrack.

And that was just his efforts to find his place in the real world. As a quarterback, he always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, cheated out of his dream by guys with names like Jim Kelly, John Elway and Dan Marino — or as Richt likes to call them, “Lucky.”

Why, it got so bad that at one point, even Richt’s agent wanted nothing to do with him.

UM coach Mark Richt, who grew up in Boca Raton, with a friend (Sebastian) at the 16th annual YMCA Inspiration Breakfast at Office Depot headquarters in Boca. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

“True story,” Richt said. “I was fired from my agent.”

That, too, drew laughs, with some in the audience undoubtedly wondering when he’d get to the part when, rather than making sure the door didn’t hit him on the way out, he was kicking it open on the way in.

It was about the time he was scrubbing down Rhett Butler’s bar in Delray Beach — the coveted 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. shift — that he decided to write to coaches asking for a chance. Florida State’s Bobby Bowden hired him as a graduate assistant, but not for the usual reasons.

“I found out later, because the arch enemy of Florida State is Miami, he figured I knew the Miami system and I might have a Miami playbook and if I came and brought my Miami playbook, maybe it could help them beat Miami,” Richt said. “So Coach Bowden, the first day I met him when I got on campus, he said, ‘You got that playbook, Buddy?’ I said, ‘No, sir. They don’t let us keep them.’ And he looked so sad. So I’m thinking I’m about to get fired, right now. I was thinking quick. I said, ‘Coach, I got it all right here,’ ” and pointed to his temple. “So I survived Day 1.”

Bowden later inspired Richt to become a born-again Christian, far removed from the “cocky jerk, truthfully,” he was at Boca Raton High. When Richt committed to the Hurricanes, he was certain he’d be starting as a freshman, would be a star within a year or two, and bolt for the pros. But one day he was in then-coach Lou Saban’s office and glanced at a newspaper that reported UM also was landing a Pennsylvania kid named Jim Kelly. He quizzed Saban, who had been assuring Richt that he was the only QB they were pursuing.

“He looked me dead in the eye and said, ‘Somebody’s got to back you up,’ ” Richt said.

“My whole life, my whole identity, was football. But what happened was Jim Kelly started living my life. He’s the one who started as a freshman. He’s the one that became All-American. He’s the one that became the first-round draft pick. … He was lucky.”

Richt ended up signing a free-agent contract with the Broncos. The ink hadn’t dried when Richt saw a news flash on the TV in his Denver hotel room.

“Here comes Lucky John Elway,” Richt joked.

Richt was so naive, he didn’t know what it meant when a few days into practice, he was told coach Dan Reeves needed to see him and he should bring his playbook.

“Dan Reeves proceeds to cut me and I broke down crying, I’ll be honest with you,” Richt said. “And then Coach Reeves started crying a little bit with me. I was the first guy that got cut that year. He goes, ‘I hate this part of my job.’ ”

Heading out of the elevator, bags in hand, “snot bubble still on my face,” Richt encountered veterans who were just arriving, one of whom looked in wonderment and said, “Dang, man, you got cut already?”

Thus began a recurring chore when he arrived home. He’d pick up The Boca News, check the want ads, and take the first reasonable thing that came along. The gig as an insurance agent wasn’t bad until the day he arrived to find crime tape lining the parking lot and his boss getting handcuffed and hauled off. “So that was the end of my insurance career.”

He sold gym memberships. Parked cars at the Boca Raton Resort & Club, which had him dashing to the parking lot to retrieve so many vehicles for $5 tips that he knew he was in great shape, so he managed a free-agent deal with the Dolphins.

“I hung around like a month,” Richt said. “It was amazing.”

Then Don Shula told him he’d rather have Marino, Don Strock and Jim “Crash” Jensen as his quarterbacks.

“What do you think I called Dan Marino?” Richt joked. “Lucky Dan Marino. I think I was the fourth-best quarterback in the world. I just never got my chance.”

He picked up The Boca News. Got hired as a bartender. Got fired as a bartender.

Finally, Bowden opened the door to a whole different world.

All Richt had to do was not get fired his first day.

[Spring practice schedule released]

[How did Miami players fare at the NFL combine?]

Malik Rosier isn’t ready to give up his job and has fought through shoulder pain to prove it

Malik Rosier, who has won 11 of 13 career starts as Miami’s quarterback, leads the Hurricanes against Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl Saturday night. Good stuff, right?

Malik Rosier of the Miami Hurricanes rushes against the Pittsburgh Panthers on November 24, 2017 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Not good enough for many fans who were over the moon about Miami’s 10-0 start and are now seeking someone to blame for those consecutive losses to Pittsburgh and Clemson to end the regular season.

Let’s begin by blaming Clemson for being the No. 1 team in the nation and the defending national champion. Proven power like that has a tendency to rend the sturdiest game plan.

The Pittsburgh clunker is harder to swallow, a 24-14 road loss during which Rosier was briefly benched in favor of backup Evan Shirreffs. That day would have been N’Kosi Perry’s time to shine if he weren’t in the final stages of a true freshman season that has been all about learning and redshirting. Next summer, coach Mark Richt will have his choice of Perry or new signee Jarren Williams or, what, more of Malik?

My advice is don’t count Rosier out so quickly. He’ll fight like a demon to keep his job in 2018, even though his comments on the matter during a Thursday Orange Bowl media session were borderline angelic.

“If N’Kosi or Jarren come in and beat me, then my cap’s off to them,” Rosier said. “I’ll support them the whole way. I’ll help them in any way I can…You can ask N’Kosi himself. I want him to be as great as he can be because if there’s no competition I won’t get any better. The only way I can grow is if someone pushes me to be better.”

That’s the voice of a leader, protecting against division within the team and projecting a little, too. If you want to be starter for Miami at any position, prove that there’s no better option. If you want to suit up for Miami, period, prove that you belong.

Expect Rosier to do just that on Saturday night, taking on the No. 6 Badgers with an eye toward firming up his relationship with Richt. The coach chose him last summer based on the fullest grasp of Miami’s offense system. Now, with a bruised throwing shoulder refreshed by three weeks free of continued pounding, it’s time for Rosier to demonstrate his full grasp on Miami’s future, too.

Don’t bet against it. This guy has been hurting since the North Carolina game on Oct. 28, when he briefly left a tense 24-19 road victory so that the possibility of a broken collarbone or some other disaster could be ruled out.

“They said ‘If you can throw, throw, and if you can’t, just let us know,’ ” said Rosier, who popped a couple of Aleve and returned to complete a career-best passing day of 356 yards.

He’s been letting the Miami training staff know pretty much every day since with a steady discipline of early-morning treatments on his sore shoulder, sometimes calling him out of bed at 5:20 a.m., followed by class and practice and often two more hours of treatment in the evening.

Richt surely couldn’t spare Rosier with games against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame coming on consecutive weeks in November. Already the Hurricanes had lost leading rusher Mark Walton to season-ending injury and eventually they would lose prime receiving targets Ahmmon Richards and Chris Herndon, too.

“Everyone says that the body follows what your mind says,” Rosier said. “It was one of those things where I was going to have to suck it up and play or I was going to just have to give the job up. I’m not ready to give the job up.

“That Sunday and Tuesday practice before the Virginia Tech game I could barely pick up a ball, my shoulder was so sore and, like, damaged.”

Makes sense, then, that Rosier’s passing night against the Hokies was nothing special, with three balls caught by Virginia Tech defenders and only 10 by his teammates. The answers came in different ways, however, with the quarterback rushing for 84 yards and one touchdown in Miami’s 28-10 victory. Matter of fact, Rosier caught a gadget pass from Braxton Berrios for 17 yards, too.

This guy’s not backing off. Wisconsin’s players certainly expect a strong performance from him. Badgers linebacker T.J. Edwards compares Rosier to Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, the only quarterback to beat Wisconsin this year, with the distinction that Rosier is “a little more dynamic” as a running threat.

Encouraging, but Rosier is more excited about the zip he says has returned to his passing since the hard contact of the regular season ended.

“You can tell (in Orange Bowl practices) that my arm is feeling better,” Rosier said. “Some of the throws that I was underthrowing, now I’m hitting the guys in stride.”

So says the man with 25 touchdown passes and just 11 interceptions this season. Good stuff, but there’s always the notion that Perry’s arm, described by Berrios as “by far the strongest on the team,” would be greater.

Can’t kill all that with a win over Wisconsin, but it would keep the talk going and, fair or not, that’s probably the best Rosier can ever hope for around here.

Can’t say that ACC title game disaster was a total dead end, not when Miami clearly is on the right route

CHARLOTTE, NC -Braxton Berrios of the Miami Hurricanes looks on against the Clemson Tigers in the second quarter during the ACC Football Championship at Bank of America Stadium on December 2, 2017. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – You’ve got to be in it to win it. That’s what Miami will take out of Saturday night’s 38-3 collapse in the ACC Championship game, a stage no other Hurricanes team had reached.

There’s no need to think much more about it. Some teams, like Clemson, are built to win national championships, and maybe even to string a few of them together. They start out good and get better as the season goes along, a product of talent and depth and consistent coaching.

Miami should get there soon, if the 10-2 season still in progress counts for more than a shiny new Turnover Chain tradition. I think it does, because of all the fearless freshmen and sophomores out there making plays, and because Mark Richt, a landslide winner in the ACC Coach of the Year voting, is only two years into this project himself.

“I don’t think we’re a team that can line up and just impose our will,” Richt said, as he’s been saying all along. “We’re not there yet. We’ve got some more recruiting to do. We’ve got some more development to do. We’ve got some guys that can play against anybody in America but I don’t know that we’ve got enough of those guys yet.

“In time we’ll catch up to the measuring stick.”

He’s talking about Clemson, which put on Richt the worst postseason drubbing of his career. While the Hurricanes are proud, and rightfully so, of the 15-game win streak they built at the zenith of this season, the Tigers have beaten 11 Top-25 opponents in a row. That’s carrying a big stick, all right, and whoever draws Clemson in the national semifinals will feel it.

So chalk this humiliating loss up to experience, the kind that Florida State and Florida didn’t get this year. They’re starting over with new coaches at both of those places. Meanwhile, the worst you can say for Miami is that the Hurricanes are playing in the Orange Bowl and will open next season in the AP Top Ten.

That may not equal the mountaintop moment of a College Football Playoff appearance, but injuries to touchdown makers like Mark Walton and Ahmmon Richards and Chris Herndon would have made it difficult to make any noise there anyway. Malik Rosier needed those guys on Saturday night the way a sailboat needs a breeze.

He and Miami were dead in the water instead on Saturday, with 64 yards in total offense by halftime and almost as many punts overall (9) as first downs (10).

Clemson’s defense was too powerful. Dabo Swinney’s head start on Richt in stacking and developing of championship players at every position was too great. Four Clemson players rushed for touchdowns, for example. Miami hasn’t had anybody rush for a touchdown in the last two games, including that streak-breaking surprise of a loss at Pittsburgh.

Still, a sizable crowd of UM fans stayed at Bank of America Stadium to see it through. More than 20,000 Hurricanes fans reportedly bought tickets in South Florida to see this game, contributing to a sellout of 74,372 that ranked second in the history of this championship game.

They stomped around uptown Charlotte like they owned the place, which is what every committed fan base for every major program does at title time.

This, too, is a significant development, a sign of real investment and not just an occasional dip into the old Hurricanes memorabilia drawer for a big-game party or two.

Think of Howard Schnellenberger’s original construction project at Miami. That first national championship season was five years in the making, and even then it began with a demoralizing 28-3 loss to Florida.

The celebration of this season lies in the fact that the Hurricanes kept that lightning in the bottle for as long as they did. They got past Virginia Tech and Notre Dame without cracking. They won the close games that too often had slipped away. They beat FSU, for crying out loud, and won the Coastal Division, finally scratching an itch that never should have lasted through this many coaching regimes.

“This season has still been a success,” linebacker Shaq Quarterman said. “You’ve seen what’s happening. Year One. Year Two. It’s only gonna get better.”

Not exactly smack talk, but straight talk. The Hurricanes need to keep that going or else it all becomes fool’s gold, like the 10-1 start that Jim McElwain had at Florida and the three-game losing streak that ended that season.

This is tricky business, and that’s why you can forgive Richt for passing on a late fourth-and-inches and taking a short field goal to avoid the first shutout in ACC championship game history. Three points is all that Kent State and the Citadel managed against Clemson in a couple of cupcake games this season. Recruits need to know that Miami, a team that means to win the ACC next year, is at least that competitive when their best players are going against Dabo’s best.

If there’s a gnawing question from this night that will echo throughout the offseason, it’s what Richt will do with his quarterback position. Rosier, who completed 14 of 29 passes with two interceptions and four sacks, ran out of gas at season’s end, but so did the rest of his unit. If Richt believes that N’Kosi Perry can bring more spark to the offense, he’ll make the switch in 2018.

Neither one is up to the level of Clemson’s Kelly Bryant, who completed his first 15 passes on Saturday and left the game early with 252 passing yards, but Bryant learned behind Deshaun Watson, who’s starting in the NFL these days, and Watson learned behind Tajh Boyd, who is second all-time in ACC career passing yards behind Philip Rivers.

Again, these things don’t happen overnight. Miami fans are never going to want to hear that, not after five national titles in no time flat and about a million first-round draft picks graduated to the NFL, but it’s so, and there is no shame in acknowledging it.

“We are the first team to win the Coastal and get to the ACC Championship game,” said defensive end  Chad Thomas, who was around for the miserable 58-0 loss to Clemson that cost Al Golden his job in 2015. “So we know what it feels like to be here and it won’t be a surprise when we are back. We just have to win. We have to dominate, play like ‘The U.’ “

Playing like Clemson, a defending national champion with a taste for more, might be the better template now, for Miami and for everybody else.

 

 

 

‘Magical’: Miami Hurricanes’ defense wallops Irish in chain wreck

Miami Hurricanes defensive back Trajan Bandy (2) wears the turnover chain in celebration of a pick six in the second quarter vs. Notre Dame. (Andres Leiva / The Palm Beach Post)

MIAMI GARDENS — It’s not enough that the University of Miami keeps swiping the ball from opponents. It’s not enough to see the turnover chain getting passed around faster than a baton in a relay race. It’s not enough that Ed Reed is hanging around all week and letting everybody know how big-time players show up in big-time games.

No. This has to be done with a certain panache, just like the old University of Miami teams did it.

And so, by the time the deafening noise inside sold-out Hard Rock Stadium was history and the No. 7 Hurricanes had blown out No. 3 Notre Dame 41-8, all that was left was to learn how this night was even more perfect than it appeared.

By late in the first half, if there was any doubt where this thing was headed, freshman Trajan Bandy returned an interception 65 yards for a touchdown and a pinch-yourself 27-0 lead. Given the final score and that it was just one of four interceptions by UM, it could have gotten lost in the shuffle.

But here’s the thing: The play was by special request from one UM coach. And it was predicted by another coach over the headsets just seconds before it occurred.

Apparently, when you’re completing your fourth consecutive game with at least four takeaways, things like this happen.

Coach Mark Richt, who calls UM’s plays, normally is on the offensive coaches’ line on his headset but happened to flip his switch to eavesdrop on the defensive guys just before the play.

Former Miami Hurricane Ed Reed on the sidelines during win over Notre Dame. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

“Trajan’s going to intercept this pass,” Richt heard those coaches say.

“And lo and behold … ,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. “But the credit goes to Mark, because Mark walked into our defensive staff room during the week and said, ‘Isn’t it about time you guys score on defense?’ And I told him, ‘You know how hard it is to go all this way and not score on purpose, just to save it for a big game like this?’

“So really, Mark gets the credit for reminding us to score.”

Who could blame the Hurricanes for feeling giddy? Notre Dame came in averaging 41.3 points and 324.8 rushing yards per game. It left with 109 rushing yards, averaging 3.0 per carry (well under its 7.0 average) and with 261 total yards, narrowly averting a shutout. Against an offensive line that has NFL scouts hovering every week, the Hurricanes had nine tackles for 29 yards in losses.

“I knew it was going to be magical,” said linebacker Shaq Quarterman, who had five tackles. “That’s exactly what it was.”

Miami defensive back Jaquan Johnson (4) celebrates after intercepting Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

In the end, it was hard to decipher what was more impressive: UM’s run defense or its pass defense. The four interceptions led to 24 points.

“They were struggling blocking our guys,” Richt said.

“I think they took offense to the assertion that we would have a hard time stopping the run game,” Diaz said. “I think that’s where it all began. I think early on, that was what set the tone, making us hard to run on. It’s always a formula — make it hard to run on, force the quarterback into making mistakes, and that’s what happened.”

It’s not anything pro football fans in Baltimore didn’t get used to back when Reed and another ex-Hurricane, Ray Lewis, were running the show for the Ravens. Reed attended practice last week and delivered a speech to the team Friday night. On Saturday night, he was right there on UM’s sideline, egging on players and fans to keep this thing rolling.

“Ed Reed is standing there,” Diaz said. “How does that not make everyone want to improve their play?”

By now, the nation has figured out that as soon as UM grabs a takeaway, out comes the “turnover chain,” a gaudy, 5 1/2-pound, 10-karat gold chain that has proven to be nothing short of a stroke of genius by Diaz. The Irish began the night with those gold helmets polished to a blinding luster, but the Hurricanes still shined brightest. Jonathan Garvin, another freshman, had an interception. Jacquan Johnson, who led UM with eight tackles, grabbed one. Malek Young? Step right up and claim yours.

“I think most people see our kids are just having fun with it,” Richt said of the chain. “They’re not trying to be anything but enjoying, celebrating something. People have a different way to celebrate a turnover. We’re not the first ones to do that. We’ve just got the best one.”

Diaz, a native Miamian who grew up seeing the Hurricanes beating a lot of teams by four touchdowns, will take it.

“To me, national order is restored,” he said. “This is the way a Saturday night in Miami should be.”

[Four ways the Canes dominated]

[What players, coaches said afterward]

[Live updates, commentary from the game]

[Exclusive images from our talented photographers]

Hurricanes can’t be lower than No. 4 after blasting Notre Dame 41-8

The least Miami can do now is to play for their first-ever ACC championship, which in the grand scheme of things is major progress.

And what’s the most that the 9-0 Hurricanes can do?

Well, they could dominate Clemson on Dec. 2 the way they did No. 3 Notre Dame on Saturday night, and then they could plow through the College Football Playoff field in the same overpowering fashion and then they could rule college football with an iron fist or a gold Turnover Chain or anything else that suits them.

MIAMI GARDENS, FL -Braxton Berrios of the Miami Hurricanes celebrates a touchdown during a game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Hard Rock Stadium on November 11, 2017. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

None of this stuff seemed worth saying or even picturing until Miami stretched its best-in-the-nation winning streak to 14 games and, in doing so, stretched the bounds of the wildest imagination.

How could the CFP committee place the Hurricanes anywhere lower than No. 4, within the potential brackets of the playoff field, with next Tuesday’s vote? What more could they want to see?

This wasn’t a last-minute squeaker against Georgia Tech. It was a 41-8 manhandling of the No. 3 team in the CFP rankings. The last time Miami did anything like this to the Irish it was a 58-7 humiliation of Gerry Faust’s final team, a lackluster 5-6 crew, in 1985.

[RELATED: Exclusive images from our talented photographers]

Saturday was supposed to be a battle of equals, of playoff contenders, and maybe it would have been a little closer if the game was played somewhere else. Hard Rock Stadium, however, is the place where another supposedly great Notre Dame got steamrolled by Alabama in the 2013 BCS title game, and it’s the place where Miami suddenly can do no wrong under second-year coach Mark Richt.

“We do have some quickness for sure,” Richt said after his guys limited Notre Dame star Josh Adams to 2.5 yards per carry, “but we’ve got some pretty big boys in there, too.”

That’s a combination that Virginia and Pittsburgh really shouldn’t be able to budge the next few weeks in the final regular-season challenges for Miami’s Coastal Division champions. It took a while longer than expected to wear that title, but everything is coming so fast now that it’s almost difficult to process it all.

What ABC’s national broadcast captured Saturday was a blast from Miami’s past and an overpowering whiff of the program’s rejuvenated future.

There will be waves and waves of great defensive players wanting to come to Coral Gables now to change prime-time games in the way this one was, with a 65-yard Trajan Bandy interception return for a touchdown and two more Miami picks converted into 10 additional points and a fumble recovery setting up one last touchdown in garbage time.

There will be fleet running backs, too, who want to be like Oxbridge Academy’s Travis Homer (146 yards on 18 carries against the Irish) and quarterbacks who want to want to step right into the lineup and win their first 10 starts like Malik Rosier has, and receivers who know that fourth down is as good a time as any for a pass to come their way once the Hurricanes get rolling.

That’s how it went in the third quarter of Saturday’s blowout, with Richt leaving the offense on the field on fourth-and-9 at the Notre Dame 36-yard line.

The score already was 27-0. The deed clearly was done. Rosier was cleared to throw for more, however, and Lawrence Cager is most definitely programmed to receive, so the two of them hooked up for a 28-yard gain on a floating pass and a leaping catch that stung like a bee.

Plays like that, and the 90-yard touchdown drive that it advanced, tell the rest of America what it doesn’t want to hear, that Miami will do whatever it wants whenever it wants.

Within the rules this time, for the Hurricanes were penalized just once for 5 yards against Notre Dame. Without further delay, too, for this is merely Richt’s 22nd game coaching at his alma mater.

Kelly, by contrast, has worked the Notre Dame sidelines for 100 games now, reaching a landmark that only Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz have hit before him. All those others won national titles for the Irish. Kelly was pushed off that path by Miami on Saturday and with cruel efficiency.

Can Clemson expect anything less than a frightening pulse of momentum from Miami in the ACC Championship game?

The Tigers are defending national champions, of course, and do not anticipate the Hurricanes or anyone else making them look foolish. There are no programs, however, more confident in their own traditions and talents than the Fighting Irish, who showed up at Hard Rock in helmets so boldly gold that it seemed they had been coated in Turtle Wax.

The Hurricanes bring the bling instead, with Hurricanes legend Ed Reed flashing a national championship ring for the cameras as honorary captain and the Turnover Chain being passed around like treasure among buccaneers as the game progressed.

“I knew this week it was gonna be magical,” said linebacker Shaq Quarterman, and a big part of that was the howling crowd of 65,303, a season high at home.

For hours on Saturday afternoon that mass of Miami fans filled the tailgate lots with charcoal smoke and champagne dreams. Afterwards they honked horns and slapped fives. They feel that “The U” is back, or at least that it’s almost there.

“We’ve got to get a ring first,” Quarterman said when asked for his view on that. “The standard is to get a ring.”

That last happened for Miami in 2001, when 6-foot-7 offensive tackle Kc McDermott was a kindergartner.

“This isn’t something that’s been just a one-year thing,” said McDermott, from Palm Beach Central High School. “it’s something that has taken years and blood, sweat and tears out of multiple classes of recruits.”

Richt and his staff have found the right guys and pushed the right buttons to finally stop the tears.

There will be blood, though. This Miami resurgence is just getting serious now, and with No. 1 Georgia going down and the rankings in shuffle mode, the search begins in earnest now to find someone who can stop it.

Miami Hurricanes vs. Notre Dame still a huge rivalry (as any dude can attest)

UM linebacker Shaq Quarterman (right) chases Notre Dame’s Torii Hunter Jr. during last season’s meeting, a 30-27 Irish victory in South Bend. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

CORAL GABLES — The fans are fired up for UM-Notre Dame. The players are fired up, too. But, Hurricanes left tackle Kc McDermott was asked, how can this be a rivalry when these teams no longer meet regularly? When the Hurricanes and Irish have played only four times in the past 27 years?

Faced with blasphemy, McDermott could hardly contain himself.

“There’s absolutely a rivalry,” McDermott said. “This is Miami-Notre Dame, dude. They did a ’30 for 30’ about this. This is a rivalry — there’s no questions about it.”

McDermott is right, dude. ESPN did do a “30 for 30” special on this rivalry entitled “Catholics vs. Convicts,” and if you’re too young to recall the meaning behind that phrase, just know that the Hurricanes weren’t the guys with the more flattering label of the two. And you should also know that to hype Saturday night’s UM-Notre Dame game at Hard Rock Stadium, ESPN is replaying that special so many times this week, you can’t avoid it regardless of how many Hail Marys you say.

UM offensive coordinator Thomas Brown will try. Having arrived at UM last season, he’s new to this rivalry but not ignorant to it. Although he managed to avoid mentioning the “convict” label specifically, he made it clear how much he takes exception to any derogatory terms about his players.

“I get irritated hearing some comments that people make about our players, historically, our players, currently, using the words like ‘thug,’ ” Brown said.  “That’s idiotic people. You don’t know our kids at all. Because they enjoy it, they show up and have a good time in a respectful way. We don’t get flags. We don’t do disrespectful stuff outside the football field. Judge us by that, instead of giving your own notion about what you think a thug is — because I could direct your attention toward the true thugs around this country that aren’t our guys at all.”

In this image from "Catholics vs. Convicts," Brent Musberger, who called Miami-Notre Dame in 1988, holds up the infamous t-shirt. (ESPN)
In this image from “Catholics vs. Convicts,” Brent Musberger, who called Miami-Notre Dame in 1988, holds up the infamous t-shirt. (ESPN)

Catholics vs. Convicts traces back to the heated 1988 meeting of these teams, when T-shirts with that slogan became a hot item in South Bend. The Irish won that meeting 31-30 but emotions ran so high that the schools decided to wipe the series from their schedules following the 1990 game.

At the time, no one would have questioned whether this was a rivalry. The schools had met for 14 straight years starting in 1972 and by the late ‘80s, the games were carrying extra meaning, not just in Indiana and Florida, but nationally.

UM coach Mark Richt needs no history lesson. He was a UM quarterback starting in 1978 and on Tuesday recalled memories of the rivalry.

Or at least he tried to.

“That’s a long time ago, when I was a player,” Richt said. “I got my heart broken in South Bend one time. Well, actually, one time I went there and got knocked out.”

Richt stayed upright for his final game in South Bend as a player. Not that he came away with a memory any more pleasant than before. Rather than a KO, Richt suffered something more akin to a 15-round split-decision defeat, 16-14.

“I think Blair Kiel was the quarterback and had, I think, a last-minute drive to set them in field-goal range to beat us. … Had a chance to win it. I remember checking to a quarterback sneak on third or fourth down and getting stuffed and gave them the ball and they got a chance to go down and score.”

That is how it played out. The Irish’s defensive alignment baited Richt into calling the audible. At the last second, the Irish defense shifted, which didn’t afford Richt a chance to kill the sneak call. Next thing Richt knew, Kiel was driving Notre Dame to the Miami 15, setting up the winning kick with 11 seconds left.

Today’s Hurricanes know little about those details. This is a need-to-know business, and with so many Hurricanes alums popping into town for this one, the most-pressing fact is being drilled into these Hurricanes.

“Once a Cane, always a Cane,” linebacker Shaq Quarterman said. “I know they’re looking down at us. Ed Reed was out here today, just watching practice. It’s a Canes family. So whenever it comes to Florida State or even the Fighting Irish, we have to win.”

Reed addressed some defensive players, so Brown wasn’t in the room to hear him speak. He didn’t need to be to know if the alums are “educating” the current players on the idea that Miami isn’t permitted to lose to Notre Dame.

“I can’t say personally I heard anybody say that,” Brown joked, “but I would doubt they didn’t mention a few words here or there.”

It’s a rivalry of streaks, like the 11 straight the Irish won from 1972-80, Miami’s four straight and six of eight starting in 1981, and Notre Dame’s current four in a row, including 30-27 last year in South Bend.

“It’s not a lot of great feelings between the two teams historically,” Brown said. “And I understand that. I understand why. But it’s a great matchup, two great football teams that take great pride in their programs.”

[Miami-Notre Dame thoughts give this Cane ‘chills

[Ed Reed helping Miami safeties this week]

[Updates from Richt’s press conference Tuesday]

Miami Hurricanes’ Mark Richt ‘dang sure’ going to test N’Kosi Perry

N'Kosi Perry (247)
N’Kosi Perry (247)

NCAA puts brakes on some Boca High welcoming plans for Richt

[Recruiting: Top TE Jordan commits to Canes]

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N’Kosi Perry, take your best shot.

University of Miami coach Mark Richt, speaking on Miami’s WQAM-560AM on Monday, confirmed that Perry, an incoming freshman from Ocala-Vanguard, will be given an opportunity to win a starting quarterback job that no one else has been able to nail down.

“I’m not saying N’Kosi’s going to be the guy but we’re dang sure going to find out what he can do,” Richt said.

Richt reiterated following the final scrimmage of the spring on Saturday, at Boca Raton High, that Malik Rosier and Evan Shirreffs are co-No. 1s in the race to succeed Brad Kaaya and that everybody else is vying to be No. 3.

Richt wouldn’t rule out a summer jump by Cade Weldon, Vincent Testaverde or Jack Allison, but the favorites for now are Rosier, Shirreffs and Perry, a dual threat as a runner and passer.

“I think the good news is we’ve got guys that know what they’re doing and they can function in this system and if they just clean up a few things with the accuracy here and there and a decision here and there, I think we’ll be fine,” Richt said.

Should Perry win the job, it won’t be just his unique skillset that affects Richt’s play-calling.

“You’ve got to do what he can do,” Richt said. “If you’ve got a younger guy, maybe you don’t throw the whole playbook at him.”

Among other noteworthy items:

  • Richt said sophomore Travis Homer “is doing a nice job” and is the backup running back to Mark Walton. Richt is pleased with Homer’s pass protection and improved ball security.
  • Richt singled out Santaluces’ Darrell Langham, who had eight catches for 57 yards and two TDs in the scrimmage. Langham was honored as UM’s most improved receiver in the spring. “He’s starting to play big,” Richt said of Langham, who’s listed at 6-foot-4, 220. “He’s starting to reach out and snatch balls.”
  • Richt said highly touted recruit Navaughn Donaldson, an offensive tackle from Miami-Central, has dropped more than 25 pounds since reporting. “He’s a massive guy,” Richt said. “He showed up at 380, but he’s worked. He’s in the 354 range or something like that.” Richt said coaches had Donaldson work with first-teamers who can help correct mistakes. “He’s done a nice job,” Richt said.
  •  DB Malek Young, who had two interceptions Saturday, has “proven he can play,” Richt said. “He’s proven he can be counted on. Everybody can see the picks. They can see the interceptions, but is he forcing the run properly? Can he make tackles? … I think he’s had a super, solid spring.”

NFL draft weekend will tell if Brad Kaaya left UM too soon

What a shame it would be if Brad Kaaya doesn’t go high in the NFL draft after skipping what would have been his senior season at Miami.

Sure, it would be tough on Brad, the Hurricanes’ all-time leader in passing yards and completions, but consider the continued indecision about his replacement in Coral Gables.

Mark Richt can’t name a starter coming out of the spring practice sessions and both Malik Rosier and Evan Shirreffs have been around long enough to show what they can do. Meanhwhile, top recruit N’Kosi Perry, a beanpole at 6-feet-4 and 178 pounds, doesn’t arrive on campus until next month.

MIAMI GARDENS – Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt with former Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya (15) and wide receiver Stacy Coley (3) at Hard Rock Stadium on September 1, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Kaaya may not have had the kind of blockbuster junior season that would have catapulted him into obvious first-round draft territory but he did throw 27 touchdown passes with just seven interceptions. That’s high efficiency, and it figures that he and Richt would have gotten more comfortable with each other if given another season to work together.

As it was, Kaaya got sacked way too much (25 times) which was partly the fault of Miami’s offensive line and partly his own. His footwork and his decision-making need to speed up before some NFL team is going to go crazy over him.

Depending on what you read in the pre-draft speculation chatter, Kaaya could slip all the way to the third-day developmental class, or some team might want to take him as high as the second or third round to school behind a certain starter.

Never that easy figuring out who should go and should stay. NFL scouts aren’t as adamant as they used to be about looking for quarterbacks from a pro-style offense, which diminishes any supposed bonus points that Kaaya might have earned at Miami. Also, there’s a drive to start first-round quarterbacks right away as NFL rookies, another relatively new trend, and Kaaya isn’t ready for that.

Overall, would staying with the Hurricanes for his senior season have gained Miami a few more victories in 2017 and pushed Kaaya significantly higher in next year’s NFL draft?

I’ll say yes to the first question and no to the second.

[Check this list if you think Dolphins have gone too long between titles]

[Russell Westbrook is a true stats machine, but nobody did it like Big O]

[Reliving Wilt’s 100-point night, with two Palm Beach County eyewitnesses]

 

Miami Hurricanes wrap up spring with no clarity in QB race

BOCA RATON — Mark Richt took a step back in time on a day when he wanted to take a step forward in his search for a quarterback.

Richt brought his University of Miami Hurricanes to his alma mater, Boca Raton High, for the final scrimmage of the spring.

Quarterback Malik Rosier (12) warms up before the Miami Hurricanes spring scrimmage in Boca Raton on April 22, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

 

NCAA puts brakes on some Boca High welcoming plans for Richt

[Recruiting: Top TE Jordan commits to Canes]

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He gave Malik Rosier a good look.

He gave Evan Shirreffs a good look.

And a few others.

And despite however much Richt may have squinted, he could not spot anyone taking a stranglehold on the job. He didn’t even find anyone with a slight edge.

“I did not expect to have a clear leader when it was done but I would have been OK with it,” Richt said. “But I think we’re right about where we thought we were. If I had to say how I’d pick ‘em right now, it’s just like I’ve got them going into this spring game, kind of a co-No. 1 thing and the rest of them are kind of co-No. 3s, just fighting for that No. 3 spot.”

For what it’s worth, the White team, which included the first-team defense, won the scrimmage 24-16 over the Orange, which included the first-team offense.

Quarterback Evan Shirreffs (16) warms up as Cade Weldon (17), Augie DeBaise (20) and Malik Rosier (12) look on before the Miami Hurricanes spring scrimmage in Boca Raton on April 22, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

With so much focus and emphasis on Rosier, Shirreffs and Jack Allison, the lack of clarity is best exemplified by their combined statistics: 26-of-50 (52 percent) for 344 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. Or the fact that after the scrimmage, UM opted not to make any QB available to the media. They each seemed to take one step forward and one or two steps back.

Rosier, on the Orange team, hit Christopher Herndon with a 23-yard scoring pass and threw a 72-yard TD bomb to Ahmmon Richards. But he threw two interceptions, including one returned 78 yards for a touchdown by Malek Young, a defensive standout with two interceptions. Rosier was 8-of-18 for 169 yards.

Shirreffs, also on the Orange team, broke a scoring drought on the fifth series of the day, leading a 82-yard drive for a field goal, but had the fewest yards of the three (75), on 7-of-17 passing, with one interception.

Allison, on the White team, had the best completion percentage (11-of-15) for 100 yards and a 6-yard TD to one of the offensive stars, Santaluces’ Darrell Langham (eight catches, 57 yards, two TDs).

Toss in a few fumbled snaps and a few sacks and you get the picture. Maybe Richt’s successor to Brad Kaaya was on the field somewhere; maybe he was in the stands, since incoming freshman N’Kosi Perry was said to be in attendance.

“I know you’re going to ask about quarterbacks and I don’t know what to say, other than I thought everybody competed well,” Richt said. “I thought there were bright moments really for all of them and there was probably a moment or two that they would like to take back.

“That’s typical — but you don’t want typical. You want somebody who will make good decisions on a consistent basis.”

The defense showed no mercy. On one play, defensive back Amari Carter, of Palm Beach Gardens High, clotheslined Dayall Harris after a short reception over the middle. On another, running back Travis Homer’s short run abruptly ended when he was body-slammed by linebacker Shaq Quarterman.

“You’re just trying to make a statement — that we’re here,” said Young, who estimated he had five interceptions in three scrimmages, two of which were closed to the media.

The offense got that message, but whether it received all the messages from coaches is another matter.

“There’s a few things offensively as far as just getting lined up,” Richt said. “It’s young guys, but we’ve been doing this all spring, had to babysit them a little too much.”

Stacy Searels, the always-blunt offensive line coach, seemed peeved at the missed center-quarterback exchanges.

“The center’s got to get the ball to the quarterback,” Searels said. “If we can’t do that, we can’t do anything. One of our scrimmages was really, really bad and today we had a couple. Any of them’s bad. But it has improved.”

Which isn’t to say there weren’t bright spots, in addition to Young.

Running back Mark Walton, who complained last week about inactivity this spring, had 11 carries for 65 yards (a 5.9 average) and looked every bit like the offensive workhorse he’ll be. Walton was upstaged on the stat sheet by junior TJ Callan, who had eight carries for 79 yards, albeit primarily against backups.

Richards looked like Richards, with four catches for 112 yards, and Langham looked capable of taking some pressure off Richards this fall. Dayall Harris added six catches for 70 yards.

Defensively, Carter was a menace with 10 tackles, and Quarterman and Sheldrick Redwine added seven each.

Richt decided to hold the scrimmage at Boca High because the final phase of renovations at Hard Rock Stadium made it unavailable.

“It was very nice to be here at Boca Raton Community High School, home of the Fighting Bobcats,” he said. “I had some wonderful moments here as a player. I ran into about four or five teammates before the game today and we all look a little bit different but we’ve got the same smile, the same friendship, same bond, so that was a blessing to see all those guys.”

Coach Mark Richt at the Miami Hurricanes spring scrimmage in Boca Raton on April 22, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

UNOFFICIAL SCRIMMAGE STATISTICS

White 24, Orange 16

Scoring plays

Badgley 23-yard FG                                                                      Orange 3-0

Herndon 23-yard TD pass from Rosier (missed PAT)             Orange 9-0

Young 78-yard interception return (PAT good)                      Orange 9-7

Langham 6-yard TD pass from Allison (PAT good)  White 14-9

Baeza 25-yard FG                                                                         White 17-9

Langham 4-yard TD pass from Weldon (PAT good)   White 24-9

Richards 72-yard TD pass from Rosier (PAT good) White 24-16

 

Passing leaders

Allison (White): 11 for 15, 100 yards, 1 TDs, 1 INT

Rosier (Orange): 8 for 18, 169 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs

Shirreffs (Orange): 7 for 17, 75 yards, 1 INT

 

Rushing leaders

Callan (White): 8-79, long of 24

Walton (Orange): 11-65, long of 17

Homer (Orange): 7-24, long of 12

 

Receiving leaders

Richards (Orange): 4-112, 1 TD, long of 72

Langham (White): 8-57, 2 TDs, long of 12

Harris (White): 6-70, long of 31

Herndon (Orange): 4-48, 1 TD, long of 23

 

Defensive leaders

Carter (Orange): 10 tackles

Quarterman (White): 7 tackles, 1 PBU

Redwine (White): 7 tackles

Bethel (Orange): 6 tackles, 1.5 sacks

Johnson (White): 5 tackles

Young (White): 5 tackles, 2 INTs

Norton (White): 4 tackles, 1 sack

Perry (Orange): 2 tackles, 1 INT

Miami Hurricanes’ Mark Walton on limited carries: ‘I don’t like being babied’

Mark Walton carries the ball against Florida State. (Getty Images)
Mark Walton carries against Florida State. (Getty Images)

[Defense dominates again in Miami scrimmage]

[Video: Talking scrimmage No. 2, spring storylines]

[Recruiting: Top TE Jordan commits to Canes]

 

CORAL GABLES — The University of Miami is trying to find a starting quarterback. Mark Walton gets it.

UM is thin at running back. Walton gets that, too.

The football? Walton isn’t getting that.

“I don’t like being babied,” Walton said of his lack of carries this spring.

Walton insisted he’s not frustrated but sounded every bit like a player who is following Tuesday’s practice.

“The running game, I can’t say too much because I’m on a blocking diet,” Walton said. “Blocking more than running the ball in scrimmages.”

How strict a diet? Think kale. After the Hurricanes’ second scrimmage, which was closed to the media, coach Mark Richt said Walton had “a couple carries for 4 yards.”

There are plenty of reasons. Richt needs time to evaluate his quarterback “pecking order.” The Hurricanes have only one other healthy running back (Travis Homer). And with Walton coming off a 1,117-yard season last year as a sophomore, it would appear he has proven he can run the ball.

“I hope so,” Walton said.

Richt confirmed the obvious: “Mostly wanted to see the quarterbacks in the scrimmages.”

As for Walton’s beefs, Richt didn’t seem at all concerned.

“We all know Mark,” Richt said. “It’s a given that he loves football. He wants to play. He’d carry it 50 times if you’d let him. Some guys are like, ‘Hey, 15 to 20 is enough for me, coach. I’m making business decisions.’ This kid just loves football. He loves trying to help us win.”

Considering Walton ran for 14 touchdowns in 2016, Richt has no doubt Walton can affect the win total in 2017.

“I’ve got no question in my mind what Mark is capable of doing and will do given the opportunity,” Richt said.

It’s unknown whether that opportunity will come in Saturday’s final spring scrimmage at Boca Raton High, which is closed to the public.

“I’m not saying we won’t give him a few totes here in the game,” Richt said.

Walton isn’t holding his breath.

“I hope I get some carries,” he said. “ … I don’t really think I’m going to play too much.”

For his part, Walton said he recognizes the emphasis on pass protection, especially with inexperience back there.

“As a running back, you’ve got to block, protect the quarterback,” Walton said. “If you can’t protect the quarterback, I don’t think you should be out there.”

So, what’s the issue?

“I wouldn’t say I’m frustrated,” he said. “I’m just — I’m not used to it right now. Just going through that state.”