EL PASO -- In less than 24 hours, the Miami Hurricanes will put an end to the 2010 season when they take on Notre Dame in the Sun Bowl. For UM interim coach Jeff Stoutland and his players, the game will mark the conclusion of what has obviously been a difficult month of change since Randy Shannon was fired.
As soon as the Canes board a plane back for South Florida after the game, the Al Golden era will officially commence. Stoutland, one of three assistants who will be retained, said he's thrilled at the prospect of coming back, not having to move his family to another city and starting over.
But this past month? Not an easy one. The 48-year old veteran offensive line coach hasn't had much free time to enjoy his first head coaching opportunity. Between running practices, travel and every other head coaching responsibility he's had, he's also had to recruit. Fun? Stoutland said he was going to spend about 20 minutes with his father and son Thursday afternoon to go and see Stoutland Street in El Paso before rushing back to the team hotel in time for Thursday's walk through.
His players, he says, have handled their challenges with class. Not once, Stoutland said, have any of his players come in late for curfew. He even gave them an extra hour on the first night in Texas and claims "they all came back early."
"[Finishing 1-0 as a head coach] would be special," Stoutland said. "That would be super special. Most importantly it will be more special for us as a group. This will really be the last time we'll all be together. It's an emotional time for a lot of people. Like I said, it could have gone either way. The guys could have said I'm doing my own thing, been late for curfew, not shown up to practice on time or missing team meetings. But I have to give credit to the players -- they stayed together."
Stoutland said he's spoken to Shannon nearly every day since he was fired. "He's a good friend of mine," Stoutland said. "He's not going to [give me advice]. I would have to ask him, say coach what do I do here? He has helped me along the way. I have asked him. But he's not the type of guy to call me every five minutes and start telling me what I should do. It's not his style. These players here are like his kids and he's close to them all. I guarantee you he's going to watch the game."
Golden, meanwhile, has been "very supportive" and Stoutland said he talks to him everyday.
"He shoots me a text or an email," Stoutland said. "He's very good about giving me a couple words of encouragement, motivation and stuff. He's pretty much kind of stayed away, let us finish things up. I respect him for that. But I do talk to him every day, most of it pertaining to recruiting."
The Hurricanes, who currently have six players orally committed to the 2011 class, have a lot of catching up to do on recruiting when the dead period officially ends Jan. 3. As tired or worn out as he might be, Stoutland is ready to tackle that challenge as well.
"The minute I land in Miami, my whole brain is going to flip and it's going to be a mad scramble for four or five weeks," Stoutland said. "I'll be excited about that too. It will be very, very challenging to build a great class together here in a short period of time. I think the coaches understand that and they're looking forward to that."
A FEW MORE NUGGETS...
> Don't underestimate the emotional lift sophomore tailback Mike James could provide the Canes. James, who left the team shortly after his mother died in a car accident Dec. 20, was scheduled to rejoin the team Thursday afternoon after being stuck in the northeast while visiting family. His mother's funeral is Friday morning -- the same time the Canes will be taking on the Irish.
"We're all looking forward to seeing him, embracing him," Stoutland said. "His words were 'All I want to do is play.' He was nervous he hadn't been here and maybe we wouldn't play him. I told him 'Mike, you practiced all the way up until the final day.'
"Mike [James] coming in today we'll bring us even closer together. He's a special kid. Some of you guys know Mike. His work ethic and his seriousness about the game, his leadership qualities, he brings a lot to our team."
> Stoutland has been telling reporters all week how focused and ready Jacory Harris has looked in practice, which is why it was no surprise he was named the starting quarterback Thursday.
But how different is Harris really? According to Stoutland, Harris is more confident than he's ever seen him. In fact, Harris caught Stoutland walking onto the field Wednesday -- instead of jogging -- and gave him a little lip for it.
"I was walking on the field and he ran by me and slapped me and said 'Hey coach are you ready for practice today?' I said 'I'm absolutely ready.' He said 'You don't look like you are.' I started chuckling. I said 'This guy, his confidence right now is different than it has been.'
"I think his decision making -- which is the key ingredient for a quarterback -- right now is at his best. Coach Whipple feels that way. We think he's a different player right now. We'll find out. We're going to see here in a couple hours."
Harris of course threw a boatload of interceptions last season -- including one late in the season finale when UM was driving for the winning score against USF, a game the Canes eventually lost in overtime.
"I think Jacory right now is really focused to me," Stoutland said. "He's a straight line right now. He's not up and down. He's excited, not too crazy. I think he's looking forward to the opportunity. To me, he's been really sharp. I've been saying that all week. His read and reaction stuff has been right on point. That guy is the conductor of the band. If that guy makes good decisions we got a really good chance here."
> Stoutland said he doesn't expect for the Hurricanes to look rusty at all Friday despite the long layoff or the altitude and conditions in El Paso. He said while the team struggled with the altitude a bit during their first practice, he's "run it out of them."
"That's why you have all these practices," he said. "I don't think anybody is rusty. We've been real competitive. Even though we don't run the same defense Notre Dame does, the speed factor, the ones against the ones, very important. Sometimes we'll go against each other and not even worry about the scheme."
> As mentioned earlier today, freshman All-American Seantrel Henderson will not start Friday, but will play. Jermaine Johnson will start in his place at right tackle. Henderson missed several bowl practices because of the flu and his conditioning isn't up to par.
"He's not totally [back] yet," Stoutland said. "He's made progress, but conditioning is the factor for me. We're in a different altitude as well. I think that's the fair thing to do. I have to assess it. I have to be fair to all players. The great thing about him is he'll be the first one to grab Jermaine Johnson, give him a head butt or give him a hug, I'll be right there for you."
> Expect to see an increased role for freshman tailback Storm Johnson. "He's put himself in position where you just can't look away from him," Stoutland said. "Every day in practice, he's making a play."
> As for the challenge of facing Notre Dame's defense, which has given up only 22 combined points in its last three wins over Utah, Army and USC, Stoutland said: "The front seven to me, especially the nose tackle -- that's where the defense really starts," Stoutland said. "Just the whole front seven. You can't negate the back end of it either. Those guys will come up and slam you -- very aggressive players. That's why we have to be able to establish the run and take a shot over the top because we do have some speed to get behind you."