Covering the University of Miami is totally different than rooting for it. Born and raised in this city, I grew up dreaming of one day wearing the orange and green myself and playing for Ron Fraser. I obviously wasn't athletic enough to do it, but covering this university in a journalistic profession is still quite a thrill for me.
That being said, as a journalist we've got to be impartial. It's the requirement. As reporters we can't be cheerleaders and we can't be bashers. Columnists get paid to do that. We've got to be fair and balanced. And I've learned how to do that now after 10 years on the job training. The U wins I do my job. The U loses I do my job. Still, every once in a while we're all human, whether our editors and bosses want us to admit it or not.
Saturday's basketball victory for the Canes and coach Frank Haith brought a smile to my face. I couldn't help it. Seeing a team give all it has left and finally being rewarded for it felt good. This Hurricanes basketball team probably shouldn't have won another game this season, and to be honest most figured they wouldn't. But the fact Haith was able to get the seven scholarship players he has left, a senior walk-on, and quite a frankly a team that has six kids learning on the job to win an ACC basketball game is quite an accomplishment.
I know as Canes fans, the bar is always set high. And many may not care about these little moral victories in a 10-15 season. But wins like Saturday's against N.C. State are why fans shouldn't be so down on Haith or the program. If Pat Riley was asked to win in the NBA game with only one veteran guard, one legitimate big man and five other first or second year players do you think he could beat anyone? Not likely. This team hasn't given up and Haith and his players deserve credit for that. And they deserve better support. UM's student section was filled with 40 people Saturday. That's not a typo. I counted it. And the BankUnited Center itself looked a lot smaller than the announced crowd of 3,099. I know the team is 10-15. But if U fans honestly want to send a message of support to potential recruits, only showing up for big games and when the team is contending for conference titles sends the wrong message. Be a fan all the time, win or lose.
That's the way it is around the rest of the ACC. Win or lose, fans show up in force. Two weeks ago, the Dean Dome was packed to the gills for UM. That would be these same Hurricanes who ended up losing by 41 points. And it stayed that way until the end. Sunday, with Miami leading by double-digits late, the BankU center was clearing out. Could the traffic on San Amaro Blvd really be that bad at 6 p.m. on a Saturday? Good grief.
Anyway, let's get back to football. After last week's big national signing day performance, coach Randy Shannon invited members of the newspaper and radio media out to a get to know each other lunch at Bernie's Steakhouse in South Miami. This is common practice by the way. The same happened with coach Frank Haith before basketball season when he took us to The Palms.
Anyway, as members of the media, we obviously have a different relationship with coaches than fans do. And Thursday's lunch was about how that relationship is going to develop with the new guy. For starters, I'll tell you that media access since I first starting covering The U in 2000 in a pinch hitting role has declined somewhat. We aren't allowed to watch practice beyond stretching anymore and we aren't allowed to walk onto the field again until after practice is over. So, if anyone is doing something great or if somebody gets hurt, or if somebody isn't out there because they've been suspended, we have no idea unless we do some creative digging with our questions.
Coach Shannon has always been the type of guy who regardless of how charming he seems on TV interviews, honestly didn't like to disclose too much information when he was the defensive coordinator. We asked him who he was going to start at middle linebacker and his response would be something along the lines of "I don't know yet or the guy who is ready." He told us Thursday he was like that because he didn't want to contradict what the head coach was telling us and what his position coaches told us. OK. That's fine. But that still doesn't make us (the media) feel too comfortable about him changing much now being the head man. And thus Thursday's lunch about that and what Randy's rules are.
For starters, don't expect him to be forthcoming about injuries. While coach Larry Coker at times would tell us specifics about injuries, Shannon cited HIPAA rules (the nationwide standards meant to protect the privacy of personal health information) will require him to not tell us specifics about player injuries. In other words, when we ask Coach Shannon about why a player was being carted off the field at the end of practice grabbing his knee, he'll tell us something like "He got a little nicked up on the bottom half of his body and we expect him to be out a while." Can't blame coach Shannon, after all there are rules and they are there to protect the future NFL draft stock of his players. But at least now if you see a quote like that in the paper you'll know why as well as why there are varied speculations as to how serious injuries are through various media reports. Shannon did, however, say when he finds out how long a player will be out, he will tell us about it.
As for other basics, our access will remain the same as before. Players will not be allowed to do interviews after Wednesday on weeks there are games on Saturday and a select group will be made available as usual on media day Tuesdays. Those are all good signs for us and you as fans who want to know what's going on with the team. As for Shannon, we all just hope he doesn't get too pissed off at one of us. He's been known to clam up into the "Yes, No" Shannon when he gets angry or is bothered by questions. Which is not good for you as readers or us as reporters.
Anyway, there were other interesting tidbits from lunch, most interesting tidbits into the recent recruiting class. Since it was an open lunch and we weren't not directly quoting Randy, I'm not going to include specifics. But there were a few funny stories that kind of show you Shannon's recruiting practices.
We asked him how often he gets treated to meals on trips. He said not once. And he said if he was, his general rule of thumb anyway is to enter a house and ask for a glass of water. He said when he is asked if he would like anything to eat, he usually will tell them he had a big breakfast or lunch. Since most houses he enters are of low-incoming families, he says his policy is to never make the family feel obligated to feed anyone.
As for entering those low-income homes, we asked him if he ever encountered a situation that rattled him, bugs, rats, etc. He said he's trained himself to ignore them. He said you can't go into a home and freak out because a bug has crawled on you. He said you must simply brush it off. Shannon, we all know, came from a rough upbringing. So, it's not hard for him to play cool. Anyway, it was interesting to hear some of those little stories and the tricks of the trade in recruiting.
Lastly, I just wanted to give coach Jim Morris some praise and his team for the sweep of UCLA this past weekend. The Canes 0-2 start against Mercer last week was a bit startling. But the team responded this week the way most expect them to play all season.
That being said, I'll open up the floor to you. If you went to a baseball game this weekend, which players have impressed you the most thus far and what do you think is the key to the season and getting back to Omaha?
Fire away on those questions and these relating to basketball and football.
For basketball: How important is it for your support of coach Haith to see the team continue to remain competitive? Does the team need to win a few more games for you to be happy with the effort? Or, has this 10-15 season just made you lose faith in the program altogether?
For football: What are you looking forward to most this spring? What are your first impressions of coach Randy Shannon? And after hearing from his new assistants, which hire do you like most?