Miami Hurricanes (2000: 11-1)
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Coach and programAnybody who doesn’t think Larry Coker is the right person to continue Miami’s post-probation prosperity need only consider how he acted after athletic director Paul Dee selected him interim head coach, in the wake of Butch Davis’ I-don’t-want-to-go-but-look-at-all-the money-and-control-they’re-throwing-at-me defection to the Cleveland Browns.
“When I was named interim coach, I felt I was the best person for the job,” Coker said. “I thought I was going to get the job. Even though history didn’t prove that to be the norm, I felt good. I met with my assistants and told them I felt that I would get the job and to recruit like we were going to be here.”
Coker was right. He did get the job. He might not have been Dee’s first (or fourth) choice, but the career assistant has been handed the keys to one of the nation’s best-known football teams and has been asked to carry on. Because Miami won 11 games last year and deserved a berth in the BCS title game, thanks to its Oct. 7 win over Florida State, that is quite a chore.
But through the entire 2000 season, Davis was the subject of rumors. First, the new Houston entry in the NFL was going to hire him away from Coral Gables. Then, Alabama was going to money-whip him into running to Tuscaloosa. Cleveland finally got him, but not after a long series of denials by Davis and a late departure that jeopardized the team’s recruiting.
“There was no great joy when I got the job,” Coker said. “I told our staff, ‘Let’s go and save this recruiting class.’ ”
Coker and his assistants, which include six holdovers from Davis’ 2000 staff, did indeed save the class, losing only one player who had committed to the Hurricanes and adding three more blue-chip types. It showed that while Coker may not be the most recognizable name in America, he knew how to deliver under pressure. He will get a chance to do it again this season, because Hurricane fans figure that last year’s 11-win season was just a warm-up.
OffenseWith just three regular-season starts on his resume, junior Ken Dorsey (6-5, 200) stepped under center last year and elicited comparisons to former Miami standout Bernie Kosar. Not bad.
A year ago, Dorsey completed 58.4 percent of his passes for 2,737 yards, 25 touchdowns and an impressively low interception number -- five. He was extremely poised and accurate. He played well in big games and proved that he was not too fragile to last an entire season. The Hurricanes are loaded at running back.
Junior Clinton Portis (5-11, 195) came out of spring drills atop the depth chart at halfback. Although he missed three games last year with a foot injury, Portis still gained 485 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns.
Then there’s freshman Willis McGahee. He redshirted last year and is now 100 percent after missing part of his senior prep season with a knee injury. He reminds some Miami coaches and fans of former ‘Cane standout Edgerrin James.
Receivers Santana Moss and Reggie Wayne combined to catch 86 passes, score 15 touchdowns and average just about 17.0 yards per catch last year.
Enough about the past.
The Hurricanes move on, and it’s a good bet Dorsey won’t be throwing to a bunch of mannequins. Leading the way is 5-10, 190-pound senior Daryl Jones, who made 12 catches last year and averaged a strong 15.1 yards per reception.
The Hurricanes also have one of the nation’s best pass-catching tight ends. Junior Jeremy Shockey (6-6, 236) snared 21 balls last year, including a 13-yard throw that clinched the 27-24 win over Florida State.
The Hurricanes return four starters from the offensive line, and all of them have the chance to receive high Big East honors. It all starts with senior tackles Bryant McKinnie (6-9, 335) and Joaquin Gonzalez (6-5, 290), both of whom were first-team all-conference last year, and each of whom is favored to repeat in 2001.
Defense and special teamsLeading the way up front is junior tackle William Joseph (6-5, 297), who made 49 tackles last year, his second as a starter.
The loss of Dan Morgan, who made 138 tackles last year and garnered just about every all-America honor available, leaves a huge hole in the second line of defense. But the next star is rising on the horizon and should be taking his place among the pantheon of great Miami linebackers within the next season or two.
Butch Davis used D.J. Williams at fullback last year, primarily to get the 6-2, 244-pound prodigy on the field. Now, the sophomore is back at outside linebacker. Williams was USA Today’s 1999 high school defensive player of the year.
Even though first-team all-Big East safety Al Blades is gone, a pair of first-teamers are back in the secondary, beginning with 6-1, 198-pound senior free safety Edward Reed. All he did last year was pick off eight passes, break up 23 others and make 59 tackles.
The Hurricanes have a good kicker in 6-3, 214-pound junior Todd Sievers, who just needs some consistency and good health to emerge as a front-line kicker.
Bottom lineDorsey could well win a Heisman, provided his targets do their jobs. But he won’t have to throw for 3,000 yards for Miami to be successful -- the ground game will be so dominant, behind that great line. The defensive front seven is quick and filled with playmakers, while the secondary should be good for close to 20 interceptions.
Coker picks up quite a loaded gun for his first year as boss. Miami has the potential to do big things -- even win it all. The schedule is formidable, and games in State College, Tallahassee and Blacksburg will be extra tough. But the talent is there, in droves.
Last year, we said that Miami was back. It’s clear that the Hurricanes aren’t going anywhere, even if their former coach did.