BARRY JACKSON BUZZ FOR SUNDAY
No, UM hasn’t landed everyone it wanted in this loaded Dade/Broward 2014 recruiting class. Elite running back Sony Michel picked Georgia. Premier receiver Ermon Lane chose Florida.
But to appreciate what the Hurricanes have accomplished this summer in building 2014 recruiting class ranked fourth by both ESPN and Rivals.com, consider everything working against them: The looming NCAA penalties. Nasty negative recruiting, from schools in Florida and the SEC, according to a former UM assistant.
And Michel cited two other issues: “What concerned me was Miami’s facilities,” Michel said last week, adding Georgia’s are nicer. “They should be more up to par. And the fan base is not too big, not what I would expect.”
Make no mistake: Weak attendance is a turnoff for some UM recruits, so much so that UM asked not to be given any Thursday night home games so that all the empty seats aren’t exposed to the nation.
But UM’s facilities should not be a deterrent now; the newly christened Schwartz Center is a beautiful building, a huge upgrade over the Hecht Center. Even so, UM simply cannot compete with a few schools such as Oregon, with Nike pouring money endlessly into facilities there.
So how has UM overcome those obstacles to assemble terrific recruiting classes under Golden? We spoke to 10 of the 13 Dade/Broward Class of 2014 players orally committed to UM, plus several coaches. Here are a half dozen factors they cited:
### Players love the personal attention from Golden and his staff, easier now that the NCAA has relaxed rules regarding contact on social media.
Booker T. Washington’s Chad Thomas, rivals.com’s No. 11-rated defensive end, said Golden has sent him a quotation before practice most every morning the past two months.
“I know it’s just for me because he’ll say, ‘I know this one is appropriate for you this day,’” Thomas said. “He sends me quotes from NFL stars, like Ray Lewis, or people who made it in life. They’re not even dealing with football, just life. I don’t get that from other coaches.
“Coach Golden will make sure my day is going right, asks me what I’m doing today. That’s how I know it’s a coach that cares about you.”
Miami Northwestern three-star defensive end Mike Smith said UM linebackers coach Micheal Barrow “sends me motivational speeches and letters on Facebook. He quotes a lot of scriptures from the Bible. That’s different from other schools.”
### Several players cite Golden’s honesty and straight-forward approach.
“Coach Golden is different from all coaches,” Hialeah Champagnat four-star defensive tackle Travonte Valentine said. “He’s not going to play with you. He took me in his office, locked the door and said, ‘I’m going to be real with you.’”
Said three-star St. Thomas Aquinas center Nick Linder, brother of UM guard Brandon: “He’s a real guy. He’s not two-faced. He’ll talk to you like a friend. You know he has your back.”
Four-star Miami Central running back Joseph Yearby said Golden “says really how it is. Don’t sell [players] dreams. Don’t sell them a lie.” Miami Central four-star offensive tackle Trevor Darling said Golden “is an easy guy to talk to. We talk about practice, life, how his family is.”
Booker T. Washington defensive end Demetrius Jackson said he was drawn to Golden because “he’s a God-fearing man and so am I. That’s a connection we have. He’s a family man.”
### Golden interacts effectively with recruits’ parents. Miami Northwestern three-star cornerback Ryan Mayes said: “My mom and grandmother were very happy, and that was a big deal, because it is hard to satisfy women, especially those two. So I know if they are happy, it’s a good choice. They liked the fact coach Golden is respectful and well mannered and has a goal in mind.”
### A skilled staff of recruiters, strengthened by the addition of personable offensive coordinator James Coley. “The staff is awesome – they’re great with the kids,” St. Thomas Aquinas coach Rocco Casullo said. “Al Golden spoke at our banquet and people were mesmerized.”
Miami Central and former Northwestern coach Roland Smith said this UM staff is “real good at building relationships. Coach Golden asked me to coach at his summer camps when I wasn’t coaching, and I so appreciate that.”
### UM’s small class size also was mentioned as a major lure for recruits. “I can’t focus in big classes,” Booker T’s Thomas said. “At Miami, I’m not going to be sitting with 100 people. It’s 30 people and the professor knows who you are.”
### Golden has embraced UM’s tradition, such as playing a Michael Irvin motivational speech while players were stretching before a recent practice.
Jackson said players on official visits are shown the program’s championship rings, Gino Torretta’s Heisman Trophy and more. So even though most of these players were 4 or 5 years old when UM last won a title, the program’s rich history still resonates, as does the fact UM has sent so many players to the NFL, which Golden emphasizes.
“UM produces good defensive players, and they have their degrees,” Jackson said.
Valentine said he “did my research” on the great UM teams in the 1980s and “I can bring that back, build up what Ray Lewis started. After my [former] Florida and Louisville commitments, I said, ‘Man, let me stop making mistakes and come to Miami.’”
### FYI: Of UM’s 25 oral commitments, seven are in ESPN’s top 200 and 11 in the top 300.
### Though Dwyane Wade said he intends to stay with the Heat beyond next season, he left open the possibility he might opt out of his contract, which would pay him $20 million in 2014-15 and $21.5 million in 2015-16 if he does not opt-out either summer. It’s possible he could take less money in exchange for more years.
“We’ll see,” he said of the opt-out. “It’s about doing what’s best. We’ll sit out down. You have to figure out what’s best for your individual self and what’s best for the team and then you come up with that answer.”
### Turns out, Alex Rodriguez has donated only $1 million of the $3.9 million he pledged to UM’s baseball park in 2003, but athletic director Blake James said he’s not behind in his payments. “Right now, A-Rod made a tremendous commitment to us,” James said Friday. “Our commitment is his name on the stadium. If we feel that needs to be addressed, we’ll address it.”
### Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said Joe Philbin “is a joy to be around and… doesn’t have a whole lot of highs and lows, which I love. He’s even-keeled.” But he also has told him team he wants that personality from them – he was happy when Caleb Sturgis did not celebrate his 58-year field goal. (What would have been the harm in that?)
So essentially he wants a team that’s not too emotional or expressive and players who are quiet conformists who say nothing controversial, particularly interesting or discuss anything but some (only some) football issue.
Players generally like him, but some wish he was more tolerant of free spirits and players who show personality and speak candidly. One Dolphin said a lot of players were fined last season for assorted minor violations.
“If you’re just 30 seconds early to a meeting, he will point at his watch,” the player said. Among his other rules: shoes must be tied at all times, players must wear Dolphins gear in the facility and the locker-room must be clean. “What upsets him is if they have to go over the same stuff twice with you.”
Please see this column on MiamiHerald.com for Dolphins-Texas postgame notes.