SUNDAY/MONDAY BUZZ COLUMN
It’s part of the rhythmic nature of sports: Time heals the hurt of a disappointing season; hope builds as the next one approaches. But much of the optimism has been drained from this University of Miami fan base, replaced by an atmosphere so full of anger that players and the head coach have begun to speak out about it.
Every week, there’s a new symbol of discontentment: from prominent former players calling for a coaching change, to Duke Johnson’s mother asserting half the team would transfer if it could, to a “fire Al Golden” sign popping up behind ESPN's set at the College Football Playoff, much like the one removed from Bank United Center during a UM basketball game.
Then four-star UM oral commitment Mark Walton announced that negativity is hurting UM's recruiting efforts.
Then a Canes fan paid for a banner to fly over AT&T Stadium before Monday’s championship game in Arlington, Texas, saying: “The U Part 3: [president Donna] Shalala/BOT [Board of Trustees] killed Miami football.”
And this, too, was telling: Michael Irvin said nobody can blame his nephew, four-star safety Tim Irvin, for committing to Texas because Tim Irvin “lives in Miami and hears how players are killing the coach.” (Irvin flipped to Auburn on Sunday.)
The negativity is wearing on people in the program. One UM coach who requested anonymity said it’s having a corrosive effect.
Golden said he’s aware of it but that commenting on the impact of it would do him no good. But he told canesport.com: “People are flat out cruel. I feel bad for the seniors. They got tired of it.”
That appears to be the case.
“It’s surprising and it’s hurtful,” departing linebacker Denzel Perryman said of fan anger in recent months.
Brad Kaaya said he didn’t expect this much negativity when he came here. Nor did he expect to be 6-7, presumably.
“We’re aware of it; it’s a tough environment, a small demographic that’s really vocal,” Kaaya said last month. “Some people can turn on you at any moment. For the last couple months, I’ve gotten all kinds of crazy stuff tweeted to me.
“I don’t look at it, and most guys ignore it because it gets in your head, especially a lot of the negative stuff, and will make you play bad. [My message] is we’re going to turn this around. I didn’t come here to be mediocre.”
His mother, Angela Means Kaaya, has become the voice of optimism on social media, railing against the negativity on Twitter.
Departing center Shane McDermott said some fan behavior --- including posting Golden’s home address on a web site --- has been “a little extreme, what they’ve been doing. But we need to perform better. I feel bad for coach Golden because he works his butt off.”
But Phillip Dorsett said the reason this team keeps losing is obvious to him: “When a play is called, everybody has to do their job. You can’t have one player doing their own thing when everybody else is doing what they’re supposed to do. There’s always something.”
Perryman blames "guys freelancing" for the underachieving.
Whereas Johnson’s mother says “kids are tired of this crap,” Duke Johnson says: “I wouldn’t say it’s all coach Golden’s fault. I wouldn’t put it all on him.” He said UM fans need to “relax.”
But Johnson’s mother is not alone in her concerns. Among complaints raised by several parents during conversations in recent weeks: lack of halftime adjustments; the defense playing too much soft zone; the read-and-react defensive philosophy; players being misused; defensive players being asked to learn too much (“the system is too sophisticated for a lot of these kids,” one said).
Offensive line coach Art Kehoe has a unique perspective because he was an assistant on all five championship teams. He has seen championship-caliber coaching up close.
“I don’t want to be an eternal optimist because we definitely have problems we’ve got to solve,” Kehoe said last month. “We have to get better in the red zone. That hurt us in the Pittsburgh game. We have to get better in short yardage. We have to get a little bit tougher up front in the o-line. None of offense, defense or special teams is up to standards of Hurricanes fans….
“We haven’t been where we should be in probably a decade in terms of BCS, top 10, top 20, winning the ACC, being in the national title picture.”
But, Kehoe said: “I’ve been with Howard Schnellenberger and Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson and Butch Davis and Larry Coker and they all have their pluses and minuses. I look at this guy [Golden] and he’s relentless and he’s a winner. People need to understand, whether we run out of time or not, what he’s doing is right.
“I want to see it come to fruition because he’s a good man, a good leader, a superb coach. I know, in my heart and soul, we’re going to win. I may be proven wrong, but I don’t think so. I think we’re going to win big.”
So where does the optimism come from, beyond his faith in Golden?
“Al knows we have a potential All-American quarterback,” Kehoe said. “Just he alone is going to make us take a jump next year. [Kaaya] has got that ‘it’ factor. He’s just so cool to me. He’s not full of himself --- just a determined, purposeful cool dude. He’s got California swagger, kind of like being a John Wayne type. He’s not trying to be cool. He’s just cool. Our players look up to him and like him.”
Former UM All-American center Brett Romberg said Kehoe called him and former UM offensive lineman Joaquin Gonzalez to chew them out in October after they publicly criticized the coaching staff.
"They’re entitled to their opinion,” Kehoe said. “I love Joaquin and Brett. We talked. They’re two of the best players I ever coached, two great leaders. I just wanted to tell them… we’re addressing every single thing we can, whether it’s the way we practice, the way we plan. We’re visiting pro football teams [the Dallas Cowboys] and college teams, getting ideas. This guy [Golden] exhausts every avenue of trying to be better.”
Kehoe insists he has no issue with ex-players voicing complaints.
But with every setback, the swirl of negativity ratchets up.
“Al talks about ignoring the noise to our players all the time,” Kehoe said. “If anyone is going to ignore the noise, he is. He’s a master at it.”
But Golden’s fully aware of it, telling Canesport that “everyone is too busy bitching to accept the progress that has been made.”
### None of the uncommitted players who were on UM's campus this weekend committed in the aftermath of their visits.
But according to multiple reports, UM made a favorable impression on four-star Washington D.C. safety/cornerback Marcus Lewis (told Rivals that UM is now his leader over Kentucky and Washington State, with Ohio State and Michigan also potential options for him), three-star New York based defensive end Austrian Robinson, three-star New Jersey-based linebacker Saleem Brightwell (top three of Michigan State, UM and Pittsburgh) and Georgia-based three-star linebacker Mohamed Barry (a Kansas State commitment).
UM's two four-star running back commitments, Mark Walton and Jordan Scarlett, were among 17 players on campus. Walton told Canesport that he remains "pretty solid" to UM but will visit Louisville, West Virginia and Georgia. Scarlett, who plans to visit UF and FSU, said he is "solid" to Miami.
### Besides retaining defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, Joe Philbin decided not to fire any of his assistants, though defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers reportedly is expected to become Jets defensive coordinator.
Some Dolphins players would have preferred Philbin promote Rodgers to coordinator. Players have criticized Coyle for strategic decisions as well as his rotation of defensive linemen. Rodgers is very well liked by his players.
### Beyond Ja’Wuan James and Jarvis Landry, the 2014 draft picks that the Dolphins are most bullish about are guard Billy Turner (the front office conveyed to him that it sees him a potential 2015 starter if he can seize the job) and defensive end Terrence Fede.
There are maturity issues with Walt Aikens, mixed views on Jordan Tripp and uncertainty with Matt Hazel and Arthur Lynch, who said he's healthy after recovering from a fracture in his lower back.
### Strange year for the Heat’s Luol Deng: He’s shooting far better (49.8 percent) than during his past three seasons (41.2, 42.6, 43.1), but his 14.1 scoring average is his lowest in six years and well below the 19.0 he averaged for Chicago last season before his trade to Cleveland.
Two reasons for this: He’s taking fewer shots and he’s making just 71.8 percent of his free throws, well under his career mark (77).
“I've got to take more shots; I know that,” he said. “There are some games I feel comfortable trying to be more aggressive and do more. And there are a lot of games where I'm kind of trying to find my way.”
### Nate Robinson, the explosive 5-9 point guard with an 11.1 career scoring average, reached out to the Heat after his buyout from the Celtics, but after two days, Miami still hadn’t responded. Robinson's scoring could help off the bench, but the Heat has typically avoided point guards that small.
### Please see the last post for a player-by-player assessment of the Heat as the season nears the halfway point.
### The Marlins have advanced conversations with 10-time All-Star Ichiro Suzuki and are cautiously optimistic that a deal will be struck. Until a deal is done, it's always possible that a team could swoop in with the ability to offer more playing time than the Marlins could. Ichiro would be a fourth outfielder here and the Marlins are appealing to him, according to an associate.
### The Marlins, who have gone to arbitration with only four players total in the previous five years, will do so with three players in the coming weeks.
Matt Latos asked for $10.4 million; the Marlins are offering $9.4 million. Mike Dunn is asking for $2.6 million; the Marlins countered at $2.35 million.
And pitcher David Phelps, acquired from the Yankees, asked for $1.87 million; the Marlins offered $1.4 million.
Unlike some teams, the Marlins cease negotiations once arbitration figures are exchanged.