SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
With a large gap in athletic department revenue between UM and some of the large public universities (such as Florida and Michigan), UM coaches – under previous athletic directors – often heard “we can’t afford that” when they asked for something. A former UM football coach and an ex-UM basketball coach complained about that privately.
But now that’s generally not the case with a capable athletic director (Blake James) who has excelled at fundraising and negotiated a lucrative deal with Adidas, a Board of Trustees that authorized a 25 to 30 percent pay hike for assistant football coaches and a football coach (Mark Richt) who has been given most everything he requested. A significant jump in Atlantic Coast Conference revenue allocation also has helped.
The upshot is that the UM players are benefitting from this, too, with the hope that it will boost performance.
“Everything coach has said he's going to get for us, he's gotten for us,” offensive lineman Kc McDermott said. “And the list keeps getting bigger.”
The biggest addition will be the planned indoor football practice facility, which will give the players cover from rain, lightning and oppressive heat. UM hopes to announce a lead donor soon.
But there’s more to it. The boost in pay for assistant coaches helped UM land defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, offensive line coach Stacy Searels and defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski at competitive rates, with UM outbidding Georgia Tech for Searels.
“We got all the guys coach Richt wanted based on the pool we established,” James said last week.
One NFL executive said the quality of the UM coaching staff has been significantly upgraded with UM willing to pay more now: “Coach Kul is one of the better defensive line coaches in the country. They’ve got one of the better strength coaches now. The defensive coordinator has done a lot with less in a couple of his previous jobs; he’s a huge upgrade over Mark D’Onofrio. Player development will be better.”
Adidas, in the first year of its UM deal, is giving players more apparel than Nike ever did. “Workout shoes, game shoes, travel gear; as much as the student-athletes need,… which is a win for them,” James said. (This type of thing is noticed by recruits.)
Several players said new machinery has been added in the weight room, at Richt’s request. Also, Richt was given authority to hire more staffers.
“The major difference is we have tons and tons of graduate assistants and coaches now,” McDermott said, while still in accordance with NCAA rules that limit the number of designated coaches. “More people around making sure everyone is doing their own thing.”
And players say this has made a huge difference, too: Richt received the go-ahead to hire a football-only nutritionist, former UM baseball player Kyle Bellamy.
He recently took the offensive linemen to Trader Joe’s “and will tell you, ‘Get this and get that,’” offensive lineman Sunny Odogwu said. “That never happened before. [Bellamy] is amazing. This will pay off in the long run.”
Richt also got the green light to expand the breakfast and lunch options, putting UM on par with FSU’s diet-conscious approach under Jimbo Fisher. Odogwu said players are now greeted with healthy shakes, and more, after practice.
“We needed a nutritionist really bad and we got that,” McDermott said. “The quality of food we're eating is much better. It has taken care of our bodies. Pretty much anything we've ever thought of, coach Richt, he does everything. He donated $1 million of his own money to the indoor facility! He really cares about us.”
Also, UM now pays for the men’s and women’s basketball programs to take a lot more charter flights. (The men chartered every trip last season except Atlanta and Puerto Rico.) UM chartered just a couple of trips each year under Frank Haith.
The benefit? More rested players.
What’s more, Richt was given increased use of a private plane for recruiting, which could help UM land more top players from rural areas.
“I’ve done my best to provide Mark with the tools and resources to be successful,” James said. “By no means are we one of the largest budgets in the country but through the great support of our university and fan base and great conference, we’ve been able to continue to increase revenues.
“We’ve grown our revenues and budget significantly over the last four years and invested it back into the program. We’ve significantly improved our student athlete experience the last few years from nutrition to team travel to the Adidas deal and the amount of apparel we get. We are putting our student athletes at the top of our list” of who benefits from the cash infusion.
One hope, of course, is that this boosts the won-loss record in football. It certainly can’t hurt. Kudos to James and the Board of Trustees and everyone else involved for stepping up.
• For those wondering about unsigned cornerbacks Leon Hall and Antonio Cromartie, the Dolphins aren’t pursuing either at this time. But both are on the Dolphins’ list should they have injuries or if their young corners don’t develop as the Dolphins hope and expect.
So far, the Dolphins are pleased with their young corners, with Xavien Howard and Tony Lippett competing to start opposite Byron Maxwell and Bobby McCain the front-runner in the slot.
• A few Dolphins stadium notes: Vice president/stadium renovation Bill Senn said about five percent of seats won’t be covered by the canopy, including seven rows behind the end zones. This will be the only NFL stadium with a non-retractable canopy covering seats… Team CEO Tom Garfinkel says the stadium will “definitely be louder” because “crowd noise will stay in better.”…
LED lights will be on during day games to compensate for shadows and help the TV broadcasts… All 137 suites will be given a fresh look next offseason… If there’s a Category 5 hurricane, it could damage the edge of the roof but won’t rip it off, Senn said… There will be a lot more bathrooms (80 percent more units for women, 30 percent for men)… Drive by the stadium at 3 a.m. and there are 150 people typically inside, working frantically to finish the project. There are 350 during the day.
• Don Mattingly says Derek Dietrich, who has the fourth-best on-base percentage (.403) among all big-league second baseman and has thrived filling in for suspended Dee Gordon, is “a guy that will eventually play every day.”
And with Dietrich able to play third, that’s likely one reason Miami hasn’t decided whether to re-sign Martin Prado, who entered the weekend 21st in baseball in average (.311) but also the only player in the top 96 in hitting without a home run before finally hitting one Saturday.
Dietrich’s WAR (wins over what a replacement player would get) this season is 1.3. Gordon’s was -.01 before his suspension, though it was 4.9 last season.
Dietrich is under team control through 2020.
• After Dietrich recently stayed overnight in Atlanta after being hit by a foul ball, Jeffrey Loria, “stopped in Atlanta to get him and [brought him back to Miami] on his flight, his plane,” Mattingly said. “A lot of those things get overlooked. I know he takes a lot of criticism. But I think he's a really good guy and has a big heart.”
• Though Pat Riley said he’s excited to see point guard Briante Weber (a skilled defender) in summer league, an NBA official who spoke to the former Memphis coaching staff said the Grizzlies were unimpressed by him during his six-game stint there this past season, that he’s limited offensively and couldn’t remember the plays. About one-quarter of his $875,000 salary for next season is guaranteed.