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Duke Johnson, Denzel Perryman still trying to lead UM out of mediocrity

Everybody wants to leave behind something -- a fingerprint, a path, a tradition.

Duke Johnson and Denzel Perryman, Miami's offensive and defensive leaders, committed themselves to doing that for the Hurricanes four years ago when Randy Shannon was still the head coach. They stuck with that idea even when Shannon was fired. Why? Because they loved their city and they loved The U.

Much like Lamar Miller and Sean Spence, Johnson and Perryman bought into a new coach when things weren't going well, and vowed to be the spark plugs to help turn UM around. 

And yet, now, at the midway point of Perryman's fourth and final season (probably Johnson's last year here too), Johnson and Perryman sit in the same spot the guys before them once did: stuck in neutral and with a frustrated fan base (former players included) demanding the head coach's head.

NCAA mess or not, it's hard for anyone to stomach what's happened here since Miami's last BCS Bowl appearance in 2003. Whether the man leading the charge for UM on Saturdays has been dressed in a green polo shirt or wears a spiffy orange tie, mediocrity's reign in Coral Gables has continued.

The records make it crystal clear how little progress has been made on the field since Larry Coker was fired: Shannon was 24-19 (13-14 in the ACC) after 3 1/2 seasons at UM (he finished 3-3 before being fired); Al Golden is 25-18 (14-13 in the ACC) through his first 3 1/2 years. He's one win better. That's it. 

You can make a strong argument Golden had it harder when he inherited UM from Shannon. After all, he was blind sided by an NCAA mess his first day on the job -- one that happened right under Shannon's nose. Golden had to deal with it his first three years on the job.

But the truth is nobody cares about that anymore. Not when you look at the level of talent both have had under their control. Both men inherited and brought in enough talent to be better than average in a very mediocre power conference. 

And thus that brings me back to Duke Johnson and Denzel Perryman -- the latest versions of Miller and Spence. They are two home-grown kids who signed with Miami with the idea they would do big things. They've done so individually, but haven't been able to put an end to the team's run of mediocrity.

On Monday, there was no practice at UM. Much like Golden did after the Nebraska loss, he gave his team a day off to rest and recover from the latest disappointment. Johnson and Perryman were made available to us (the media) to discuss what's next for the 3-3 Hurricanes as the second half of the season looms. 

At this point, all I really wanted to ask Perryman and Johnson is what is motivating this team (it's on field leaders at least) when they know they face an uphill battle at winning the Coastal Division and playing in a BCS Bowl game. Do they still feel like they can change the culture at The U and pull the program out of mediocrity? Or have they accepted it?

“When you plan on changing a university you don't do it in one year," Johnson responded. "It's something that takes time. Yeah, we're 3-3 right now, but I still think we still have a lot we can accomplish, there are still things out there that we still can reach. Just at least get us back to our winning ways and get us to the Coastal [Division] championship. So there are still things out there we can reach, still goals we can reach. I wouldn't say that our season is over."

"Like Duke said, there's still a lot out things we can accomplish whether we've lost three games or not," Perryman said. "Last year, in the regular season, we lost three games. Like he said, there's disappointment with the guys, but I'm going to talk the team today and [Tuesday], see where their minds at and stuff like that so we can turn this thing around."

Johnson, who won a state championship at Miami Norland, hates losing. I know he, Perryman and the rest of Miami's junior and senior leaders are not going to allow anyone to quit. They have too much pride -- and NFL scouts to try and impress.

The real question now is if UM's recruits will start seeing this program for what it is, and stop believing they can be the ones to turn things around under Golden. After all, how many times can kids in South Florida see talents like Miller, Spence, Perryman and Johnson walk through Miami's doors and see a team that is average? Sooner or later, the sales pitch stops working.

> For those of you interested, I joined WQAM morning show host Orlando Alzugaray on the Big O Show today to talk Canes. Here is a link to the audio.