Players at other schools often run afoul of the law. But it is Miami that has an aura of danger about it, and an arrest only serves to reinforce the image of a program twitching menacingly on the brink of lawlessness. The street-smart strutting and the flamboyant celebration have also overshadowed a deeply ingrained work ethic. The Hurricanes may well be the hardest-working team in the country. When former defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy was seriously overweight a couple of years ago, former linebacker Randy Shannon, who is now a graduate assistant, rose every day at 5 a.m. to run with him.
Barrow will never forget the vacation trip to Houston that he and former defensive back Charles Pharms took after their freshman year to visit Highsmith, who was a running back with the Oilers at the time. Highsmith woke them early every morning and took them on a run up a steep hill. When Barrow returned to Miami he taped a series of initials on his cleats. The letters COBTB, which are still taped to his shoes, stand for "commitment on [sic] being the best," words which Highsmith had drilled into him.
This rigid, almost military approach helps give the Hurricanes a level of self-confidence that is unshakable. They are so deep and so talented and so certain that they can outplay and outhit anyone that they are impervious to the pressures of close games. Florida State linebacker Kirk Carruthers summed up this sense of omnipotence after last season's showdown between his No. 1 Seminoles and the Hurricanes, who were then No. 2. "We thought we were going to win," Carruthers said. "But they knew they were going to win." Miami prevailed 17-16.
If you could credit the rise of the Miami program to a single person, that person would be former athletic director Sam Jankovich. From 1983 to '90 Jankovich survived all the coaching changes, player arrivals and departures and bad press. Jankovich's eye for coaching talent led him to grab Johnson from Oklahoma State and Erickson from Washington State. His stomach for taking risks and his adroit handling of often strained budgets allowed a modest program—before the '83 national-championship team, the Hurricanes had not been to a major bowl since 1951—to mushroom into the nation's preeminent one in less than a decade.
When Jankovich arrived in Coral Gables, Miami had an athletic budget of $5 million a year, $2 million of it provided by the university (the balance came from TV and gate revenues and merchandising). By the time he left, the budget had grown to $18 million, almost none of it university funded. Jankovich left behind a refurbished practice facility, renovated offices for the football coaches, a new artificial turf for the baseball field, a tennis stadium, various athlete-assistance programs and a football team that had brought in a yearly average of $2.5 million in bowl payouts and $14.5 million in TV revenues during his tenure.
Still, says Jankovich, "you always lived in fear that if you had that one bad season, the bottom would fall out of the budget." As the '80s ended he realized that life as one of the nation's dwindling number of independents was becoming increasingly difficult and that the time had come to join a conference. Wooed by several, Jankovich chose the Big East, and what a deal he struck. In what has to be an unprecedented arrangement for a conference member, Miami gets to keep 100% of its football revenue until 1995; the Hurricanes' hugely successful baseball program doesn't have to share any postseason revenues with other league members; and the recently revived Miami basketball team, which is struggling for respectability, not only gets to join one of the premier basketball conferences but beginning in '95 will also get a full share of the league revenue.
Jankovich left Miami to become general manager of the New England Patriots, but when he talks about the Hurricanes, he still says "we." He inspired tremendous loyalty in the Miami athletic department. He assembled a group of coaches and officials who both worked and socialized together. In Johnson and Erickson he picked not only two fine field strategists but also men he knew he could get along with. "I'm a firm believer that you win together," Jankovich says. "If you get islands and castles, it doesn't work. In my years with Jimmy and then Dennis, we never had an argument. I don't remember a single one."
Even with Jankovich gone, Miami is thriving. College football's most successful programs tend to remain so for a simple reason: The top schoolboy stars want to play in a bowl game on New Year's Day. The juggernaut that Jankovich created now has that inexorable momentum. The Hurricanes possess a level of depth at nearly every position that hasn't been seen since the Nebraska and Oklahoma teams of the '70s. When linebacker George Mira Jr. was declared ineligible for the 1988 Orange Bowl for having used a steroid-masking drug, his backup, Clark, stepped forward and won the game's MVP award. When running back Stephen McGuire missed last season's Orange Bowl with an injury, Larry Jones came from nowhere on the roster to run for 144 yards and one touchdown in the Hurricanes' 22-0 win over Nebraska. He, too, was named MVP.
Miami's relentless success has given it a decisive edge in recruiting Florida's bountiful schoolboy talent, but, as with Notre Dame football and Georgetown basketball, the Hurricane mystique reaches far beyond the borders of its home state. A lot of kids cruising through shopping malls from Duluth to Dallas are wearing Hurricane regalia, and at least a few of them will grow up to run 4.3 40s or throw 60-yard bullets for their high school teams. When a Miami recruiter comes to call, he doesn't have to do a lot of selling. Fifty percent of Johnson's last recruiting class consisted of non-Floridians, including two of the most highly sought-after players from Texas, Williams' and linebacker Jessie Armstead, both of whom are projected as All-Americas this season.
Once players get to South Florida, they tend to stay there. Nearly all the Hurricanes attend summer school, and for a lot of players from disadvantaged backgrounds, summer on campus beats summer at home. One happy result is that the Hurricanes are ahead of the academic eligibility game. According to the College Football Association, Miami's graduation rate for last year was slightly better than 70%. Six of the 22 seniors on this season's team are expected to receive their degrees before the season even begins, and Torretta is already pursuing an M.B.A.