Around Coral Gables, getting the chance to talk to Hurricanes coordinators is special. It comes around maybe two or three times a year. Tuesday, UM coach Randy Shannon -- joyful from his team's 3-1 start, made offensive coordinator Mark Whipple and defensive coordinator John Lovett available for us. Here are some highlights from their 20-minute conversations.
> WHIPPLE WANTS MORE: For all the excitement and joy Canes fans have over the offense, Whipple certainly sees things differently from his angle. Unlike Randy Shannon, who could care less about stats, Whipple doesn't like the fact UM has been outscored this season 102-99 and he wants to start seeing his unit perform better.
"We have a long way to go. Offensively I don't think we're very good, honestly," Whipple said. "This morning everyone wants to talk we're 3-1. We've been outscored. The bottom line is stats are stats. We're 85th in the country in offense. Jacory [Harris] is [third] in the ACC. I don't see any of the guys playing that well."
"JJ played great last week, the offensive linemen at times, the receivers at times, Jacory at times. Mike James played pretty well [against Oklahoma]. The tight ends at times. It's just been inconsistent. It's probably my expectations at times. We don't get this look on this play, Jacory you have to go here. Or there's this little detail - with Aldarius Johnson, you have to run a route this way. Coaching, it doesn't seem I have had the time to get it where we need to be. It's only four games, but the players' expectations are like mine - we have to get a lot better."
> BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS: Whipple said he has developed a great relationship with quarterback Jacory Harris, similar to the kind he had with Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh and Donovcan McNabb in Philadelphia. But he says he's probably been harder on Harris than his previous two Pro Bowl quarterbacks.
"He's young, he can handle it," Whipple said. "Each guy's different. It wasn't a time to get on him when he made a bad read and threw an interception the first one [against Oklahoma]. Then he needed a `You're fine, you just missed the read, go on.' There's other times I haven't been that nice. It goes back and forth. We have a good relationship. When he plays well, it's good. When I call good plays it's good. We have a good understanding."
> HAVING PATIENCE: Whipple said the toughest thing for him has been reminding himself he's dealing with young players new to his system -- including Harris.
"I just have to remind myself it's only his fourth or fifth start in this offense," Whipple said. "If I see something from the sideline, he didn't see it's because we didn't have it in practice. Then in the film room, I'll say `You get this look, here's what I'm thinking on a third and 12 call.' That takes time with any coach or quarterback. We're just building on that. It's fun, and I have to do a better job with all those things - the receivers, what is [Leonard] Hankerson running; Mike James is a little different than [Graig] Cooper who is different than JJ. It's a little bit of a jigsaw puzzle. We're getting there, but not as fast as I'd like it to be."
> AJ HIGHSMITH UPDATE: Whipple said he thought it was a good idea his son, Spencer, transferred to UM to run the scout team because it frees up freshman A.J. Highsmith to learn the offense better. UM coach Randy Shannon said he'd like to get Highsmith playing time this week against Florida A&M as long as it's "meaningful minutes."
"We want to play AJ, but we want him to run the offense," Shannon said. "When the opportunity comes that he can run the offense and execute it like we want to, we'll play AJ. But we won't do it for him just to hand the ball off."
Shannon said Highmsith has become more comfortable with the offense and is no longer fumbling snaps.
> LOVETT STILL FEELING HIS WAY WITH HIS NEW DEFENSE: For all the up-and-down play his defense has had through four games, John Lovett talked a lot Tuesday about amount the work that has gone into getting everyone on the same page. His philosophy ultimately was to change UM's defense built around a scheme under Bill Young to a scheme built around what his players could actually do.
"What we tried to do here was they had a lot of pieces to the puzzle here. We had fixing of things schematically we needed to do. What we wanted was to play to the players' strength, give them a package they can execute," Lovett said. "On the other hand there were some wrinkles that needed to be added. But then there was terminology - what I call something - what [defensive backs] coach Wesley McGriff calls something and what the players calls something might be three different scenarios depending on how many years they'd been here. That was mixing of things that had to get ironed out. That was in the spring, we'd go out there and it's `That's not exactly what I thought.' How do we communicate that? We worked our way through that. Then it was taking what those kids knew, refining it and getting them to play fast.
"I'm still trying to learn their language and those guys are learning mine As much as I could I tried to make the language for the players what they understood and as user-friendly as possible."
> LOVETT SAID INJURIES HAVE HAMPERED FORSTON: Defensive tackle Marcus Forston has had a rough season to say the least. He's made three starts and had more offsides penalties Saturday against Oklahoma (3) than he has tackles (0) all season. But Lovett said Forston would be playing much better if he wasn't playing injured.
"I don't know the extent of all his injuries - I'd like him to be paying faster, harder, better, but everyone has pain tolerance in dealing with injuries," Lovett said. "He has several things bothering him, and how he deals with that will determine how he plays. He's a really good player. You see flashes of what he can be."
There was a lot more discussed during their time with the media. Susan Miller Degnan will have a feature on Lovett in Wednesday's paper. Barry Jackson will have plenty more of his buzz on Lovett too. Look for complete audio interviews and video highlights from today's press conferences -- including from players to be available on MiamiHerald.com later tonight.