PINEHURST, N.C. --- The seminal moment for the University of Miami football team this offseason happened on the Greentree practice field before sunrise on a March morning, at an hour when not a single Hurricane wanted to be there, at a time when fed-up players turned to each other and said, essentially, that they had run out of patience with irresponsible teammates.
As quarterback Brad Kaaya explained it to reporters at Atlantic Coast Conference media day on Monday, the players were there that morning doing “pretty rough, physical” workouts, under the supervision of coaches, as punishment because a teammate – whose identify he did not disclose – had committed four rules violations.
For the first violation, a player has to run at 5 in the morning. For his second violation, his whole position unit has to run and do other physically grueling activities at 5 a.m. For a third, that player’s whole unit (offense or defense) must endure that same discipline.
A fourth? The entire team must do it. Before that day, Al Golden’s punishment scale had never reached that fourth stage during Kaaya’s time at UM.
But Kaaya and other players had seen enough violations that they stood there on the field that morning, talking among themselves and making clear this would no longer be tolerated.
“The last straw is when the whole team got out there,” Kaaya said. “It clicked and we said, ‘We’ve had enough. When is it going to stop? We can’t keep having this happen.’ That morning we came together, right before spring break.
“Ever since, it’s been different. It has been cut down tremendously. This summer, we had no major issues. That’s huge for our team. Coach Golden is not having any more nonsense any more. It’s all about business. Team leaders are holding guys accountable. We didn’t want to focus on all the distractions holding Miami back. This team is clean.”
Kaaya said the "same guys" kept getting in trouble and that the rules violations involved “guys skipping class” and tardiness: “guys sleeping late; a lot of it was off field classes, academic meetings. We’ve cut all that out.”
Linebacker Raphael Kirby, who accompanied Kaaya to the ACC event, cited something else that has prompted several of the program’s rules-violators to get their act together.
As part of military-style training that the team participated in last month, six players were charged with selecting teammates to join them on “boat” teams, which entailed a bunch of physically and mentally challenging activities, many of them in Biscayne Bay.
Kirby said players who were selected initially had strong reputations for trustworthiness and work ethic. Those that were "drafted" last? Not so much.
“They know who they are, and they know why they were picked last,” Kirby said. “I’ve seen drastic changes in those guys” since then.
Kirby also said Golden, for the first time, has authorized players to punish teammates who aren’t following the program.
“There were locker-room issues that had to be dealt with,” Kirby said. “Right now, it’s great. This is the most unified I’ve seen since I’ve been here. The mindset of everybody on our team is great.”
Kirby said a few players have been punished by teammates --- the discipline usually is running at 5 a.m. --- but the violators “haven’t fought back or argued,” Kaaya said. “At this point, there are not any guys who are against what we’re tying to accomplish.”
Kirby said it was the players who suggested to Golden that something had to change regarding accountability among teammates.
“Coach had a meeting with all the leaders and that was one thing we brought up,” Kirby said. “And he supported us. He’s done a great job of letting us lead. We’ve done a lot of things to improve our locker-room, our accountability, our attention to detail.”
UM enters this season with expectations lower than at any time in recent history. Regarding one magazine that picked UM to finish seventh, Kirby said: “They don’t really know. Nobody knows…. Our team is going to be a surprise.
“We know how talented we are. But talent is not enough. It takes great teams to win championships. Talent only wins a couple games.”
Kaaya said it’s “fine” if people are underestimating Miami.
“Usually they have us winning something crazy,” Kaaya said. “It’s fine, because once in a while, the target is on everyone else.”
Asked how UM can improve from 6-7 after losing more than a half dozen of its best players, Kaaya said: “It’s not the NFL. At one point, people didn’t know who Philip Dorsett was and Duke Johnson was. No one really knew they would be NFL players….
“We have good young guys. Our coaches know how to recruit. It’s not like we’re recruiting duds. We are recruiting world class athletes. [And] they have gotten better. “
Running back Joe Yearby hasn’t participated in voluntary workouts over the past month while dealing with an undisclosed personal issue, but a UM spokesperson said his status has not changed (he’s not suspended) and he’s expected to participate when practice starts Aug. 6.
UM people briefed on the situation are optimistic that he will not be suspended, though nothing is definite on that front and Yearby must be on his best behavior to avoid discipline.
Check back for a lot more later, from Pinehurst, plus Dolphins news... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz... Please see the last 2 posts for parts 2 and 3 of my media enterprise project.