November 27, 2010

Shannon out as coach at UM (updated)

The Randy Shannon era is officially over at UM. Shannon was informed earlier tonight by athletic director Kirby Hocutt he has been fired.

Randy Shannon

The fate of all his assistants still isn't known. According to an ESPN report, offensive coordinator Mark Whipple has already been told he is out as well. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland is expected to become the interim coach for the bowl game.

One assistant coach, who asked to remain anonymous, said he was already speaking to his agent about latching on at other programs. As for Shannon, the assistant said: "I can't imagine what he's going through right now. He loved this program with all his life. It's the tough part of the business."

The Hurricanes finished the regular season at 7-5 after a 23-20 overtime loss to South Florida at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday. Shannon compiled a 28-22 record, including a 16-16 mark in the ACC in four years as head coach of the Hurricanes. He received a four-year extension just before the start of the 2010 season.

Who made the decision? The Associated Press says Hocutt made the final call. But sources say UM President Donna Shalala and the board of trustees gave Hocutt the green light to get rid of Shannon after the Florida State debacle and loss at Virginia. 

“We have made a decision to seek new leadership for our football program,” Hocutt said in a UM press release. “Our expectations are to compete for championships and return to the top of the college football world. We will immediately begin a national search.”

Hocutt will address the media Sunday at 1.

Over the past month, I've been told by several sources who have a vested interest in UM that Georgia's Mark Richt and former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach are at the top of UM's wish list. We'll see if that comes to fruition.

September 15, 2010

Hocutt weighs in on power of Twitter

University of Miami athletic director Kirby Hocutt admitted to reporters last month he was a little nervous about entering the social network known as Twitter. It didn't take him long to discover its impact.

Kirby Hocutt Tuesday night on WQAM's Hurricane Hotline, Hocutt shared the story of how his second tweet created such a wave of response.

"Three weeks ago, I'm in New York. I go to the Yankees-A's game. I wake up the next morning. I have some time to spare before I go to the Nike event introducing our new uniform for the Virginia Tech football game.

"I said, ‘You know, I'm going to throw my meeting with the Yankees [to get a UM football game played in Yankee Stadium] to our fan base. I said, ‘We'll do it on Twitter.' It was my seond tweet I had ever sent out -- ever. I said, ‘Canes fans, met with Yankee executives about a possible football game in Yankee Stadium. What do you think?'

"Ten minutes later, Chris Freet, our associate AD for communications calls me and says, ‘What in the world have you done?' The Associated Press had picked it up. ESPN had picked it up on their website. Our local media had picked it up. And I sat there and thought, ‘Wow! How powerful and how fast social media is.'

Football coach Randy Shannon obviously has never been a fan of Twitter, Facebook or any other social network. And Tuesday, he put the clamps on Twitter for his players. Although he was also on Hurricane Hotline for nearly 10 minutes, he was never asked about his decision. Hocutt, however, did shed a little more light on the issue.

"[Twitter] gives us a chance to control our brand and our messaging and get our viewpoints out. But at the same time there is a sense of control and it's up to our student-athletes if they participate or not," Hocutt said. "But then it goes to their program and to their head coach. And there are times where a coach will make a decision, as the public knows, was made recently, where Coach Shannon said, ‘We've got to focus.' And part of that commitment, finishing the season as we all are committed to finishing it, we don't need to be communicating and talking via Twitter until this season is over."

Although he never came out and said it, there was a sense players might be able to use Twitter once the season is over. In fact, a few players made references to that in some of their final tweets Tuesday. We'll have to see what happens. But my guess is Facebook will also be banned by next week.

April 02, 2009

A chat with Kirby Hocutt & more

Two weeks ago when the University of Miami was on the road in the NIT at Providence, I got a chance to catchup with athletic director Kirby Hocutt and pick his mind on a few hot button issues. I figured the highlights of our discussion might be the best way for me to start sharing a boatload of notes I've collected in the past week since the end of the spring football.

Kirby Hocutt > UM football coach Randy Shannon has two years left on his current contract. Entering his third season after going a combined 12-13, Hocutt said he has yet to broach the subject of a contract extension with Shannon and didn't share a timetable either when negotiations might begin. But he didn't sound like an athletic director whose begun looking yet for Plan B either. 

"We haven't talked yet," Hocutt said. "But that's no indication of our support for Randy. He's done an excellent job. There's an excitement around the program as well as optimism for next year. Miami football is on the right track. Randy has a plan and we're going to continue to support him and he's going to be the leader of the program for a long time. I'm confident of that."

> One thing that Shannon did that pleased Hocutt was the way he handled the recruitment of running back Bryce Brown, who went from longtime UM commitment to signing with Tennessee two weeks ago after Shannon decided not to renew his scholarship offer.

"He made the right decision in my opinion and I respect him for handling it the way he did. We're going to be fine moving forward," Hocutt said. "[Recruiting] has changed. Is it concerning? Yes it is. You would hope you can work directly with the parents and the young people involved. You hope the third party influence is not as involved as it is today, especially in the sport of basketball. This honestly was the first time I saw a third party involved in a football situation to the degree it was. And it's something I think we need to start talking about at the conference level and maybe moreso on a national level."

> One of the things Hocutt said he has become more involved in since taking over has been the future scheduling of opponents. He wants to get UM involved in big-time games including playing Notre Dame again and getting Florida on the schedule. Right now, Kansas State is looking to get off UM's schedule for 2011 and 2012. Hocutt said he and Shannon have agreed that as long as UM finds a comparable opponent for the series they would let the Wildcats out of their agreement. According to Hocutt, ESPN is trying to find a replacement to create a marquee TV matchup. Hocutt would not mention any names, but said it would be another Big 12 opponent. I've heard rumblings the possible home and home series could come against either Texas, Texas Tech or Missouri.

"We're going to make sure the opponent makes sense for Miami and what we're trying to accomplish," Hocutt said. "We'll see what opportunities present themselves and move down the road."

Speaking of down the road and opportunities, Hocutt seemed more confident there could be a future meeting with Miami and Notre Dame than with the Canes and Gators, who are currently scheduled to meet for the last time in football at Dolphins Stadium in 2013.

"If there is any way whatsoever to get [a series with Notre Dame] done, we'll get it done," Hocutt said. "I don't want to lead people on or sound too optimistic, but there has been an initial phone call and another conversation through a mutual relationship [TV]. There's definitely interest on both sides. If it's something we can get done in the future it sounds like we're both committed to it."

> When it comes to Frank Haith, consider Hocutt a huge fan of UM's 43-year old coach and a coach Hocutt would probably willing to fight for financially should Haith receive an offer to leave the program. Haith, who last week told reporters and his team he has no interest in leaving UM, has once again had his name resurface this week in filling a possible job opening. reported Wednesday Georgia has Haith next on its list of candidates after Oklahoma's John Capel. Ten months ago, Hocutt and Dee extended Haith's contract at UM through 2014. Hocutt, who said he speaks to Haith on a weekly basis even during the offseason, said nobody has formally asked UM to speak with Haith.

"Frank and I spend a lot of time talking and its all focused around the future of Miami basketball, what we can continue to do to elevate this program," Hocutt said. "We have a great relationship. He knows we don't want anybody in this country to be our head basketball coach except Frank Haith. You hope you are in position as an athletic director and athletic department thatr people are coming after your coaches, your staff members. That's what you want. That means you got the right person in place and you are doing good things. I think it's a complement to UM that Frank's name is mentioned out there so much."


This week I spent two days covering the McDonald's All-American festivities and got a chance to not only speak to a few big-time players, but pick the brains of high school basketball recruiting gurus on a variety of topics.

> UM's quest to land John Wall, the nation's No. 1 available point guard, should probably be considered what has been for a long time -- shaky at best. With John Calipari leaving Memphis for Kentucky this week, many gurus believe it won't necessarily stop Wall from following him. As I was told by SI's Andy Staples last night, Kentucky is probably the most ideal situation because they are desparate for a point guard. Wall has told several publications he plans to take an official visit to UM on April 24. But like Dwayne Collins told me last night when I bumped into him in the BankUnited Center parking lot at around midnight, "if I was him or anybody else living up in that cold, I'd want to take a trip to Miami, too. But that don't mean he's coming here."

> Speaking of Dwayne Collins, although there have been reports that the 6-8, 240-pound forward is considering leaving UM after this season to enter the NBA Draft, I'd consider the likelyhood of Collins leaving about the same as Wall coming to Miami. "Really, I'm just waiting on Coach Haith to tell me what he thinks," Collins said. "If he thinks I should go, I'll go. If he doesn't, I'll be back." ranks Collins 37th among the nation's Top Juniors. That's not close to being a first round pick.

> Jack McClinton's NBA Draft stock, meanwhile, remains up in the air -- especially after a knee injury slowed him toward the end of the year. McClinton will get a chance to make an impression on NBA Scouts again, however, when he participates in the Three-Point shootout of the State Farm College All-Star festivities Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. at the site of the Final Four in Detroit.

> Florida-bound and local guard Kenny Boynton Jr. had a pretty good night (10 points) in Wednesday night's McDonald's All-American Game at the BankUnited Center. I asked Boynton Tuesday if there ever really was a bone in his body that considered playing at Miami, in front of his friends and family.

"There definitely was," Boynton said. "They did recruit me. Coach Jorge Fernandez recruited me real well. Coach Haith recruited me also. But I didn’t think he put more into it like Duke and Florida. I think coach Haith didn’t show me he really wanted me. He came to see me a few times. But he never called a lot. I think it would have been a good situation [coming to Miami]. It’s close to home, Miami is on the rise. I think I could have helped. But it’s a good situation where I'm going too. I like Florida a lot."

> Coming off their second series loss in 23 series in the ACC, UM's baseball team will open a three-game homestand against Florida State this weekend at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field. The biggest news, though, is UM has decided to move No. 2 starter David Gutierrez into the Friday night starter role in place of the struggling Chris Hernandez Gutierrez is 2-2 with a 1.51 ERA. Hernandez is 2-2 with a 5.88 ERA.

By the way, the Canes will honor the 1999 National Championship team before Saturday night's game at 7 p.m. Get there early if you want to catch it.

March 27, 2009

End of the year wrap-up with Frank Haith

His team has been to the postseason four of the five years he's been here, second only in the ACC to North Carolina, Duke and Maryland which have been there all five. He's made the University of Miami a major player for some of the nation's top recruits -- from Devin Ebanks a year ago to the country's No. 1 recruit this season John Wall (who will be making an on-campus visit sometime after the McDonald's All-American Game). And he's elevated Miami's basketball program from the depths former coach Perry Clark left it at by making the Hurricanes a relevant player in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Frank Haith has coached UM to four postseason appearances in the past five years. Only Duke, North Carolina and Maryland have been to the postseason more often in the ACC. So why does it feel like Frank Haith is getting the Rodney Dangerfield treatment instead of the love Norman Dale felt at the end of Hoosiers? Why are some crazy fans calling Haith a failure and calling for his head after he couldn't take Jack McClinton and a senior-laden team back to the NCAA Tournament? Because there are very few people in South Florida who appreciate and understand how tough it is to win in college basketball. Because at The U (forget that, every sport in Miami) everything is measured by championships and greatness.

Haith understands that. He's learned that in his five years on the job. But just because the 43-year old coach knows there's still work to be done to get the Canes where he wants them to be and to turn more fans onto college basketball in South Florida, he's not about to jump ship. Even though some internet message posters and people on this blog say UM needs a bigger name coach, Haith sees signs of progress, hope, believers in him and his program. Although he admits it hurt him to see only 2,000 people in attendance on Senior Day when Jack McClinton was honored earlier this month (that was before the game started and when the ceremony took place), Haith said he was touched last week when he received a standing ovation from fans when he walked out of AmericanAirlines Arena during the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament.  

Friday morning when I caught up with Haith for about an hour interview over the phone, he sounded just as passionate about his aspirations for this program as the day when I first met him a little more than three years ago. But he also sounded like someone whose learned a lot and is willing to try new things to make basketball work at UM. He talked about why no one should believe he'd leave no matter if the job pays more or has better tradition or support from its fan base. He made a passioned plea about how fans shouldn't see his team's 19-13 season and loss to Florida last week in the second round of the NIT as a step back. And he talked about the future, how he expects a Top 20 recruiting class (one that could strengthen even more) to take his program to the next level, and how the 2009-10 season should not be seen as a rebuilding year. Here are some of the highlights of our conversation...

MN: At the beginning of this season you guys were ranked in the Top 25, picked to finish fourth in the ACC and you fell short of that. But I get the sense you don't see it as huge of a disappointment as others. How would you sum up the season?
Jack McClinton had 31 points against Wake Forest in UM's most impressive win of the season. FH: "I think it was disappointing what happened to us, but it was not a disappointing season. Other people may look at it differently. But I think this team had a lot of bright moments, beating a Top 10 team like Wake Forest by 27 points at home. Jack [McClinton] makes All-ACC First Team for the second year in a row. Here's the thing, you can't just look at what we're doing here year-by-year. When you look at a five year period, we've won more games than anybody in the history of the program, more postseason games than anybody in the history of the program. There are a lot of positives you can draw. I think we've made basketball pretty relevant. It's not because we're winning, but because attendance is getting better. Our student section has gotten a lot better. We're getting involved with big time recruits. Every year, there are a lot of teams that would love to do what we've done. that. I think other than UNC, Duke, Maryland we've been to the postseason more than anybody. I'm really proud of that. That's a nice thing this program can hang their hat on as far progress."

MN: But is that going to be enough for you to want to stay here? There have been rumors out there linking you to other jobs like Alabama, Georgia, Arizona. Here's a two-part question: Have you been contacted by anybody? And ultimately, what would it take for you to leave Miami?
FH: "For the record, I have not been contacted by anybody. Not this year. I have been in the past and I've told you about that. But right now, it's only rumors and speculation. Here's the thing, I don't work everyday looking for my next job. I'm really seriously looking to stay here for the long haul. I love living here. But I do want to win."

MN: So does it bother you when fans say things like 'He should be fired'? Do you take it to heart?
FH:  "I know our fan base is kind of disgruntled about this season. It is a little mind boggling. We've improved. I know what the program was like when I got here. Like I said, we've made UM basketball relevant. But in terms of jobs, I don't look at certain jobs and say I want that one day. I just really want to win. And I want to win big here. Obviously, every coach will say that. But I really want to win big. I want to do to help that program win big. I don't know. Are there things we can get better at? Yes. Do we still have areas we need to improve on? Yes. Our fan base is getting better. Our student turnout has improved tremendously. The energy in the building has gotten better. We just need it more consistently. To win big, we need a home court advantage."

Frank Haith said the only thing that could drive him away from Miami is a feeling of a lack of appreciation and support from the administration. MN: Do you feel like you can have that here? Do you feel like the support you have or could have will be enough to make you feel comfortable, to make you feel like you can win big here?
FH: "As long as I can feel like... [pause] Here's the thing, [athletic director] Kirby [Hocutt] and the president [Donna Shalala] have been great. As a coach, you are always skeptical when the guy that hired you is no longer here. But Kirby and I have a really good relationship. It's made me even more comfortable being here. And I have the best president in the world, who is so, so supportive. You don't know how many times I've gotten pick me up texts or emails from her. It honestly makes it difficult to look elsewhere. I'm very loyal and appreciative of people giving me opportunities. That's just who I am and I want to be here as long as Miami people want me to be here. And I hope that's for a long of time."

MN: So is there something that could drive you away?
FH: "If I don't feel there's appreciation and support. Not just from the fans, but from the athletic department. But that's not what I feel. I feel like people want to see us succeed. It definitely made me feel good last week when I was leaving the Cleveland State-Syracuse game and fans got up and gave me a standing ovation. Like I said before, I'm real proud of the support we've come to earn from the students, too."

MN: Let's get back to basketball. Not to put the blame on anybody,  but were there guys you were counting on this past season that just didn't come through for you that ultimately led to the 19-13 finish and the second round loss in the NIT?
FH: "I don't point to guys, I point to situations. Who would have known Lance Hurdle was going to be hurt at the beginning of the year and miss, four or five games. Who would have known the situation with Eddie Rios would play out the way it did? It definitely hurt us not having that third ball-handler, having to put Jack at the point. Who would have known Dwayne [Collins] would turn his ankle down toward a crucial part of our schedule? Who would have known Jack would have an injury at the worst time of the year. You talk personnel, but we were one win away from getting back to the NCAA Tournament. We lost four games on final possessions. I don't know if we can point to one guy or one situation. The one thing I can point to as a whole was free throw shooting. That won us a lot of close games last year. And we really didn't shoot free throws well all year. That made a difference."

MN: Let's look ahead to next year. In the five years you've been here, you've had that go-to guy for big shots. Guillermo Diaz and Rob Hite and then Jack McClinton. Are you guys going to have that guy next year? Can you survive without one?
FH: "I think if you go back to when Rob was a senior and Guillermo decided to go pro, you asked me the same question then. Nobody then knew about Jack McClinton. Yet, he turned out to be that guy. I think the same thing could happen with this team. And if it doesn't, tha's still OK, too. This team may not have a 20 point scorer when those guys leave. But I think we're going to have a number of guys that can score for us. I think our offense will be spread around. We're going to be young, but athletic and we're still going to have a few seniors, too. I think James Dews, Dwayne Collins, Malcolm Grant, Dequan Jones, Durand Scott, all those guys could score. Maybe that will be good for this team, more guys that can score. I would think Dwayne could be that go-to scorer in the post."

Dwayne Collins reached double figures in scoring only once during the final 11 games of the season. MN: Speaking about Dwayne, there were moments this year -- I think back to that dunk over UConn's Hasheem Thabeet -- when he lookied so promising, so dominant. And then, there were moments when he could not score, couldn't do much at all. Do you worry at all he's just not ever going to be that consistent guy?
FH: "I think with Dwayne it's his motor. He's a really good player, who can defend. But he's got to get that consistent motor. When he does, he can be one of the best big men in the country. When he realizes that potential. We're going to hammer it home this summer. He's going to be one of the best big men not only in the ACC, but the country. He has to be a tremendous spark all the time. You're right. At the beginning of the year, he played with tremendous energy and had moments where he was not as good. But I think he played really hard. He just didn't have a lot of breaks. I think that's what he boils down to. He has to realize great players can't turn it on and off."

MN: Without Jack and the offense you guys ran for him and with a lot these new additions, one has to believe you guys are going to look a lot different on both sides of the ball this coming season. Can we expect a different attack?
FH: No question. I think athletically, we'll be our most athletic team ever next year. With Dequan being able to play more of his style next year, I expect him to be a totally different player. I think the one thing we will be able to do, which we really haven't is extend the floor more. We didn't have a lot of depth. I'm not saying we're going to be a full court press team. But we'll spread the team more with our length and have our hands in guys' faces more because we're bigger and more athletic.

Malcolm Grant, who sat out a season after transferring in from Villanova, is expected to be a force in the backcourt next season for UM. MN: What is Malcolm Grant going to be able to give you guys that maybe you didn't have this season?
FH: "He's going to give us a true point guard that can score. The type of player he is, he'll do things help guys become really good. He's going to make guys around him better. He'll get them shots. I think Malcolm can do that. He's also really skilled. He can shoot the basketball. He's not your typical New York guard. He's also got a great feel for the game. Him and Durand [Scott] both are guys who can drive the ball. That's one thing we weren't very good at. We're not going to be as good a three-point shooting team. But we'll be able to run. When Jack played the one this year, we could not run. We were a little bit better when Lance [Hurdle] had the ball. But there's no question he was not the same Lance he was two years ago. I think next year's team will have more athletes, Dequan, Garrius [Adams], Durand and even with Dews coming back. Plus, a couple other guys we'll add on our team. I think this will be a team that can run. Don't get me wrong, we'll still have a bruising effect. Julian [Gamble], Cyrus [McGowan], Dwayne, there will be big bodies. Plus, a guy like Adrian Thomas, who had a nice run, will add his abilities. I think we got a lot of guys who will contribute."

MN: It sounds like you feel pretty confident about next year's team. Most people probably think you won't be very good without Jack, that this might be a rebuilding year. But it sounds like you feel differently...
FH: "I think we're still going to be good. Yes, it's going to be an extremely young team with only two, three seniors. But I don't ever want our team not to focus on postseason. Our goal is to make postseason. Obviously we'll be young and most people probably won't expect us to be competitive. But maybe that will be great for us. We won't be on anybody's radar and that will be good for us. What I want is for this team to be tough. I don't know if we were as tough this year as we were last year. I think we'll be a tougher team. That's the thing that hurt us this year. We could not do all the things we needed to do all the time because we had knicks and pains we didn't want to turn into something else. We need to be bruisers and have a tough man mentality. If we do, I think we'll definitely be back in the hunt."

MN: Beyond Malcolm Grant, it seems like right now you don't have another primary ballhandler lined up for next year with Eddie Rios gone. Is this something you'll address through recruiting? FH: "[Recruiting is] one way. But to be honest with you I think we have a few other guys who could handle the rock. Durand is a guy who can play all over the floor. At 6-6, he's a lot like [ACC Rookie of The Year] Sylvan Landesberg. I'm not saying he's him. But Durand can play the 1, 2, or 3. We also have another young man I can't talk about [Antoine Allen] who will be coming and we could sign another perimeter player [possibly John Wall]. We definitely don't want to go into next year without enough ballhandling. You got to have enough ballhandlers to be successful. That being said, we did win 19 games with only two ball handlers."

A game with Rick Pitino and Louisville, this year's top seed in the NCAA Tournament, could be the marquee out of conference game for UM next season. MN: Last question: Anything you can tell us about next year's schedule?
FH: "Here's what I know for sure. We're playing in Charleston in a preseason tournament ESPN is putting together. I hear South Carolina and Penn State are going to be there, too. We're going to play FAU again and we're going to have a Big Ten Challenge game at home because we'll play an ACC game at home in December. The Big Ten game might be against Indiana. We're still looking for a home and home series. Our schedule just won't be as heavy as it was last year. We'll still have some very good matchups. Right now, because Rick [Pitino] and I are good friends, there is talk of us maybe playing at Louisville. But that's kind of still in the air."

February 10, 2009

Economy hurting Canes too

Newspapers, car dealerships and every other business in America aren't the only ones worried about economics these days. Consider your Miami Hurricanes high on the list of collegiate programs pinching pennies and looking for new ways to survive.

Athletic director Kirby Hocutt met with the media Tuesday to discuss UM's new ticket pricing plan for the 2009 football season. And surprisingly, nothing is going to cost you more money if you head to Dolphin Stadium. In fact, things are going to get a little cheaper.

Hocutt unveiled a plan in which the school is slashing prices on about 24 sections -- most in the upper levels -- that will cut the ticket prices on about $15,000 seats. It should make U happy. What should get you a little worried? The fact your five-time national championship program isn't riding first class to games anymore.

Kirby Hocutt Hocutt said Randy Shannon, in an effort to help UM's struggling economic budget, has offered to take chartered buses to two road games next season instead of chartered flights. OK. It's probably not that big a deal when you consider its USF and UCF. But it's yet another sign of how cash-strapped the Canes are compared to some of the elite programs in college football.

In case you missed the article, USA Today ran a piece Tuesday with Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley talking about how he was worried the Gators might have to make a few cutbacks here and there. UF's athletic budget is $85 million this year. The Canes? $60 million according to Hocutt. That's actually around the middle of the pack -- about where the football team has played the past three seasons.

So, where do the Canes stack up to other football monsters? According to a Bloomberg report, Ohio State manages the biggest athletic budget at $115.4 million. Texas is not far behind at $101 million.
Still, in the ACC, Miami is doing pretty good. Only Maryland ($61.0M) and North Carolina ($61.4) are a slight bit richer. And they've actually got more teams. Comparing the Canes to the SEC? Seven schools have bigger budget than UM: Tennessee ($86.5M), Florida ($85M), Alabama ($77.0M), Georgia ($76.3), LSU ($75.8), Auburn ($75.2M), Kentucky ($67M).

> For those of you wondering if UM will nix its plans to rename Mark Light Stadium in honor of Alex Rodriguez this Friday, guess again. Hocutt said despite A-Rod's admission to using performance-enhancing drugs, the Canes will still honor him. "Our event Friday night is going to proceed as scheduled," Hocutt said. "Alex Rodriguez has been a very generous supporter to the University of Miami and its athletics program. We're looking forward to our event."

February 09, 2009

Tuberville says Lovett will fit in perfectly

I have to admit when I first heard rumblings this past weekend the University of Miami was seriously considering hiring John Lovett as its defensive coordinator, my first thought was someone was joking about former SNL comedian John Lovitz.

Turns out, there really is a John Lovett. So who is he? As soon I received word this was becoming official, I started making a few phone calls this afternoon to find out. So, what is beyond Lovett's resume and the more than 25 years he's spent coaching college football? What is the most interesting thing I learned about Miami's next defensive coordinator?

Tommy Tuberville He knows how to get out of tough situations. For starters, before he even began coaching, Lovett, 58, used to drive 18-wheeler trucks in New York City, delivering furniture. Can you find a tighter place to get out of than that? Former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, who hired Lovett at Mississippi and then took him with him to Auburn, shared his insight into the Lovett's hiring with me. Lovett's wife Carol and Tuberville's wife have been best friends for years. 

Tuberville said a similarly good relationship is what UM coach Randy Shannon said he was looking to build with his next coordinator when he called and inquired about him a few weeks ago.

"We hardly talked football to be honest," said Tuberville, who after being fired at Auburn told me he plans on taking a year off from coaching and will likely do some work with ESPN. "Randy just told me he was looking for somebody who would fit in -- fit into the community and understand the ACC. Being a defensive head coach, which I am, you got to be on the same page with your coordinator. There has to be a good relationship there. I think Randy and John are going to be a perfect fit."

Why? Because according to Tuberville, Lovett runs the same system Shannon learned under Jimmy Johnson, a 4-3 defense which lets speed take over. "John is going to run the same old 4-3 we used to," Tuberville said. "He'll mix in a few eight man fronts a little bit, be diverse in everything. Some odd man front. He knows the zone blitz game. He's been around it all."

Lovett, who moved up the ranks from walk-on to co-captain, is a stickler on technique according to Tuberville. "Everything he's going to do is going to be sound," Tuberville said. "He's very aggressive, likes to blitz. The greatest thing about that move is that he understands that league, been around it a long time now."

Another plus according to Tuberville, Lovett is also a very good recruiter, who is personable. Tuberville said Lovett is a specialist in the northeast and knows how to pull kids out of New Jersey, New York and the Washington, D.C. area. 

"I know he's very excited about it," Tuberville said. "I didn't have to convince him at all. Miami is a unique school with unique players. I think its a great situation. I think they've got it going in the right direction. They've upscaled recruiting and brought in a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball. John is coming in with high expectations, high goals."

January 06, 2009

Hocutt: 'No urgency' in filling OC spot

As I was writing my game story on deadline Monday night out at the BankUnited Center I got a visit from UM athletic director Kirby Hocutt, who was nice enough to come back and look for me after the game to follow through on a chat I had requested with him while he was busy earlier in the evening. On a night when he was hosting other guests and chatting with President Donna Shalala, Hocutt could have just forgotten about it entirely. But the fact he remembered was nice.

Anyway, it wasn't a very long conversation, but I did get to throw a few questions at him. I didn't have my tape recorder, but I did have my notebook. So, some of this will be paraphrased off my notes. We'll start with football.

> The first question was obvious -- what if anything could he tell us about the search to fill the offensive Kirby_hocuttcoordinator vacated by Patrick Nix. While he obviously wasn't going to drop any names or give us any hints he did provide some insight. "One thing I can tell you is we're looking for the best candidate possible, somebody who is experienced and can do the best job at not only developing these young players, but helping us win games. There is nothing we're in an urgency to do. We're in the process of talking to some people and finding the best candidate to run the system that Coach Shannon wants to run. That's really the biggest factor."

> I brought up the fact that last year Miami took its time -- about a month -- before replacing Tim Walton with Bill Young. "Again, we're not in a rush," Hocutt said. "We don't see hiring a coordinator before national signing day as a necessity. We see choosing the right person as the top priority."

> I asked him how he felt about the team's fade from being in the ACC title hunt to losing its final three games. I asked him if there was going to be more pressure on Coach Shannon and his assistants next season to compete for a conference title and national championship.

"That's the goal to compete for championships here. It was a tough finish to the season. But I saw it as a step forward. This was a really young football team. What I really admired about the team was that those players never gave up. They were hurt, short-handed, but the kept fighting. It's a testament to the coaches. I really believe we have the right guys coaching this team. The future is bright. Randy is with us for the long haul. I know everyone wants to see this program win a championship tomorrow. I do. But I really believe we're doing it right. Randy is not out looking for the quick fixes. He's recruiting not only great athletes, but great kids. We're looking to build a winner to stay over time. And I think we've got the right man leading us."

> Before I had to run back to finish my game story, I had to toss a couple basketball questions his way. Hocutt's face lit up talking about coach Frank Haith, who got an extension and a raise this past offseason through the 2013-2014 season. Hocutt, who watched Monday's win over FAU, said he expects UM's new basketball practice facility to be completed by March 1st -- just in time for the McDonald's All-American game. As for other facility upgrades and endeavors... "We're in the planning stages right now of planning some major upgrades to the Hecht Athletic Center. We really want to get the work on the football locker room and training room done. After that, the athletic training center, Cobb Stadium upgrades, the Hall of Fame and the tennis center."

Not everything I wanted to get into my basketball game story made it. Here are some leftovers...

> UM coach Frank Haith said he was proud of his team's 11-2 non-conference schedule. "11-2 non-league, with the schedule we played, I feel real good about us being in good shape, where we want to be. No bad losses, strong RPI, strength of schedule top 5 in the country, we are where we want to be. That strength of schedule won't change in the ACC."

> Forward Jimmy Graham, who bruised his right wrist severly two weeks ago when he slipped in the shower, saw his first action in three games. He played with what appeared to be a soft cast for nine minutes. He grabbed four rebounds and had one steal. Haith said Graham practiced for the first time Sunday in a few weeks. "Jimmy is quite yet back to form," Haith said. "He's going to need to get a few more practices in. He's not quite ready yet."