With the University of Miami trailing Florida State 24-7 at halftime Saturday night, Melvin Bratton said he told a group of Hurricanes fans sitting next to him at Land Shark Stadium not to worry.
"I said this [expletive] ain't over," said Bratton, a running back on the 1987 National Championship. "This is The U. It's 0-0. We're never out of it."
But a little over an hour later, at the end of an embarrassing 45-17 beat down by the Seminoles, Bratton said he came to a sad realization: The U he played for isn't The U of today. What Bratton said troubled him and many other former Hurricanes -- including Michael Irvin, Gino Torretta, Dan Morgan and Leon Searcy -- wasn't that the Canes lost to Florida State. It was the way they lost, with a lack of leadership, urgency and fire from players and coaches up and down the Hurricanes sideline.
"You can blame the coach, you can blame the players. To me, it's a state of emergency right now," Bratton said. "Everybody needs to take control, take a step back and say 'What can I do better? Is it the coaching? Is it the weight room? Do guys need to spend more time studying, dissecting plays? I don't have the answer.
"But what I don't see is any urgency. I don't see that fight. And that is inexcusable."
Irvin and Torretta, who host radio shows on WQAM, have echoed those sentiments this week. Irvin went as so far as saying the program could use "one or two more thugs." He later clarified it to mean hard-nosed leaders on the field.
Although he pointed the finger at himself for Saturday's loss to the Seminoles, UM coach Randy Shannon said Tuesday the Hurricanes need some more vocal leaders on the field. But when asked if the coaches were urging that in practice, Shannon said: "No. [The players] have to do it on their own."
"The coaching staff and myself can demand a lot of them. We can get on them, push them, all the things we do. But like anything, when you have somebody standing next to you pushing you, it's a different voice, a different person talking to you, that helps out a lot," Shannon said.
"You don't just make a leader. I said this on the radio, talking to Michael Irvin. When I was here as a player it was Kevin Fagan, [John] McVeigh, Julio Cortes, Jerome Brown, Mike [Irvin] got involved. It started snowballing. When I started coaching, it was the same thing. Any great football team or really good football team always has leaders that demand stuff out of everybody on the team, not just a coach doing it. That's when you start developing what you need. We've got those guys, they're starting to come out. But we need them to voice it a little bit more."
Bratton said Shannon is right.
"I'm not saying these kids are soft," Bratton said. "But somebody needs to step up on offense and defense and be a leader. I don't see that on the sideline. You watch the game and keep waiting for somebody on the defensive side to go to the offensive side of the ball and say 'What the hell are you all doing?' Jerome Brown and those guys, when we screwed up, he would go check [Vinny] Testaverde, myself, [Alonzo] Highsmith. If we saw the defensive backs giving up long plays, we'd go to the defensive backs and say 'What the hell are you doing dog? Tighten your [expletive] up.' These guys don't hold each other accountable."
Searcy, who hosts the Canes4Life show on CBS-4 every Saturday at 11:30 a.m., said he sees a huge disconnect at the moment between alumni and the program. Searcy said it has become increasingly difficult for former players to reach out to current players, a trend he said began when Butch Davis took over the program in the mid 1990s. Fewer alumni, he says, are being granted sideline access on game day. Searcy believes connecting more former players with current players could help the young Canes, whom he said never had the opportunity to have mentors like Searcy and his teammates once did, become the vocal leaders Shannon is looking for.
"All this throwing up The U has nothing to do with these kids now," Searcy said. "It has to do with the guys who back in the day that got the University of Miami the reputation for whooping ass every Saturday. These kids don't have that same mentality. They don't have anybody talking to them about the tradition of the University of Miami. They don't have any old guys coming back. When I played at the University of Miami, the older guys had access to the field while we were playing. If we weren't getting it done, you got freaking Cortez Kennedy right there in the defensive huddle telling you what you're not doing. If the linebackers weren't getting it done, you had Winston Moss telling linebackers what to do. If they weren't getting it done in the secondary, Bennie Blades was saying 'Hey man you aren't coming off the edge.'
"That kind of access on the field where not only your coach is telling you something, but guys who have been to the NFL that you'll listen to are saying it too, that resonates. You're a running back. How are you not going to listen to Melvin Bratton, one of the best all-time running backs and fullbacks at the University of Miami. If you're a defensive tackle, how are you not going to listen to Russell Maryland? All that access to the game was a huge plus. It's not there anymore."
Aside from leadership, player development has become another growing concern. Bratton, who went to Miami Northwestern, said he's surprised some of the Hurricanes signed from the Bulls' mythical national championship team of 2007 still haven't been able to get on the field.
"Look at Sam Shields starting [for the Green Bay Packers]. Look at Bruce Johnson. Randy Phillips. Tavares Gooden. These kids didn't get drafted," Bratton said. "Let's be real. This is the NFL. There are only 53 people that can be on a roster. These kids at the University of Miami were part time starters, didn't make any All-American lists. But they can go to the league and dominate? Something is wrong. I don't know if it's coaching or if its scheme. But how can you go to the next level and start on opening day? Somebody isn't getting the best out of these kids.
"You want to have chemistry and allow the players on the field to be who they are. The Ray Ray Armstrongs of the world, when he came in there, the reason he wanted to go to Miami was because he fit the Miami mentality, Sean Taylor-type mentality, knock the [expletive] out of you. You can't pigeon hole those kids. You got to let them go.
"It's not like they don't have it in them. Go to the innercity. Go watch those Pop Warner and Little League football games. You got parents fighting, kids fighting. They know football is their way out. You go to the University of Miami now, it's like a country club."
> After giving up two long kick returns Saturday, Shannon said Tuesday the Hurricanes have made some personnel changes on their kickoff coverage and punt return teams. Running back Lamar Miller, who returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Ohio State, practiced full-contact Tuesday and should be back for Saturday's game at Duke after sitting out against the Seminoles.
> The Duke Blue Devils might be really good at basketball and only 1-4 on the football field, but Shannon said the trip to Durham this week won't be easy and he's asking his players not to "fall into a trap and just go through the motions."
"Offensively they do a great job of throwing the football around," Shannon said. "They're averaging close to 400 yards on offense. It's going to be a real challenge for our secondary and also our front guys to control the game and get after it a little bit. They have two quarterbacks they use; one is more of a scrambler. They run inside-outside zone in their run game, will try to establish that a little bit and also take shots.
"Defensively they blitz. They bring the corner blitz, free safety, Mike, Sam blitz, every blitz known to man to stop the run but also get you in bad, negative plays on first down. So we have to do a great job on first down of getting positive yards. Second and nine is positive yards; second and 10 is positive yards. You can't get in second and 15 or second down and 18."
> Shannon said quarterback Jacory Harris, who at the very least tweaked his groin against the Seminoles, ran well Tuesday at practice and looked "back to normal." Since Jacory is still unavailable to the media, here is what fullback Pat Hill had to say about his quarterback: "Coming into his freshman year, a lot of people were talking about how small he is. But he's a tough guy," Hill said. "He's battled through injury after injury. He continues to fight for the team. He battles through what good is said about him and what bad is said about him. He's a competitor, he's a fighter."