The University of Miami may not have the budget to pay coaches top dollar or a recent history of success one would imagine enticing enough to make outsiders believe this is a place the best football leaders in the country want to be.
But there is something about The U (no matter what it is lacking right now in a 19-19, three-year span of ordinary football) that still makes it an extraordinary place for coaches to want to be. I believe its because it's a place where all the right ingredients are in place to hit the game-winning home run and be the hero.
That's exactly what new defensive coordinator John Lovett meant when he used the phrases "very thrilled," "very fortunate," and "very lucky," to describe his feelings about getting the job. Lovett, 58, has been in a lot of other coaching huddles. Auburn. Clemson. Mississippi. And most recently, Butch Davis' up at North Carolina, a team most could argue is in a much better position than UM to succeed having won their last two meetings against the Canes.
But coming to UM? No way Lovett was going to pass that up, no matter how hard it was to walk into Davis' office and tell him he was leaving for another team in the ACC. The same could be said for offensive coordinator Mark Whipple. This is a guy who won a Super Bowl with Pittsburgh, was in line to move up the coaching ladder with a Philadelphia Eagles team that was in the NFC Championship game. But then, The U came calling. Didn't Bill Young say the same things a year ago before he returned home for the only job that was really better?
Lovett told us he's been eyeing the Canes a long time -- even before he stopped delivering furniture or driving a zamboni during hockey games at Mount Union College when he first got into coaching.
"When I was a coach, one of the first places I visited was the place," Lovett said. "I visited Dave Campo, who had just taken a job here. I was at the University of Maine. He said come down here and talk some football. They had just beaten Oklahoma, won the national championship that year Because of that trip I also met Tommy Tuberville. Coach [Butch] Davis was working here at the time. I made a lot of good contacts. Every time you looked when I was a young coach, this was the U. They always had terrific players, were in the hunt for a national championship. It was a place that `Geez, it would be great to coach here someday.''
> Lovett has his chance now and he knows he'll have to act fast with less than two weeks before the start of spring football. He told us he still hasn't familiarized himself with the players and only recently started to watch film. The good news is he's going to make UM's transition to a fourth different coordinator in four seasons as easy as possible. Instead of learning a new language, Lovett said he'll try to keep the same terminology for most of the stuff he's implementing. "I'd rather one person learn it than 50 people learn it," he said. "To me that makes a lot of sense."
> His defense will also not stretch beyond the playing limits of his player's talents or smarts. "It'll be similar to what they've done here," Lovett said. "We'll base out of a four-man front, play some zone coverage, man coverage, some type of pressure. It's not like we'll come in and change the whole scheme, be blitzburg. It'll be in that format and style. Every place I go I try to find out what the guys we have can do and cater to them. If you don't have corners that can cover, defensive ends that can play inside, you have to adjust the personnel you have to make it fit, be successful."
> Credit special teams coach Joe Pannunzio for helping bring Lovett over. Lovett said the two are old friends and after Pannunzio asked him if he was interested, he passed it on to Shannon who did the rest.
> While many of us think Randy Shannon might have a bigger hand with UM's defense in light of him telling us he might just do the job himself, Lovett expects to be running the show on his own. "Obviously everything we do I'll run by him, especially if it's something different," Lovett said. "I've worked for Tommy Tuberville, Butch Davis. Both those guys were defensive coaches. Neither really meddled in what I was doing. The big thing all of these guys want is they want to make sure what you're doing fits in their philosophy and that the kids are playing fast and hard."
In all, we got a chance to speak with four players Thursday: offensive tackle Jason Fox, linebacker Sean Spence, kicker Matt Bosher and defensive end Eric Moncur. We didn't learn a whole lot beyond the fact they're very excited about taking on what will be a very challenging start to the 2009 season. But there were some brief thoughts, notes to pass along.
> For starters, Canes fans need not worry about Sean Spence getting a big head after his big freshman season. The kid said his father, a Miami Northwestern assistant coach, still calls him every week to remind him where he came from and what he needs to work on. Spence said he's definitely taking on more of a leadership role with Glenn Cook gone, teaching fellow freshmen like Arthur Brown, Jordan Futch and Ramon Buchanon what he learned last year. Spence also told me he's gained six pounds of muscle from end of last season and is now weighing 213.
> Fox is stepping up his game, too. Fox said he can't believe he's already a senior (neither can I) and Spence said he's noticed Fox taking more of a leadership role in the weight room, getting on other players and holding them accountable. With several offensive linemen gone and several newcomers, Fox said he knows its going to be a challenge to fill some holes. When asked if he thought prep school recruits Brandon Washington and Jermaine Johnson might be able to help right away, he said it was up to them and their work ethic.
"I remember the first game I started at Florida State – it was an experience for me seeing the change in the speed of the game," Fox said. "If players don't see the field right away it's mostly learning the offense. The game is so complex. It takes as much time in the film room and studying the play book as anything else. It's harder than people realize. It can be extremely challenging to an incoming freshman who is not only trying to learn football, but get adjusted to college life. It's a whole out of body experience."
> As for Moncur, he said he was really worried he might not get a chance at a sixth-year of eligibility. ACC rules require players to wait until the end of the season to file for medical redshirts. Moncur's return next season should be a great influence on Adewale Ojomo, Allen Bailey, Marcus Forston and the rest of the talented linemen UM has.