During his first season as Miami’s head coach, Mark Richt wants to watch eight-year-olds play football.
It’s all part of Richt’s vision for bringing his alma mater back to where he thinks it should be on the field. The elementary school kids Richt and his staff will visit at youth league parks around Miami-Dade and Broward Counties have never seen a Hurricanes team compete for a national title.
They’ve never seen the Hurricanes win a conference title, either. The same goes for a major bowl game. Miami hasn’t even finished a single season with double-digit wins in their lifetimes. All of these things used to be standard around there in the 1980s and 1990s.
Richt wants to bring that back.
“I want those guys to love Miami,” Richt said at the ACC Kickoff in July. “I want them to get excited about Miami.”
In the eight months since his introduction as Miami’s 24th head football coach, Richt has brought that excitement back for countless players, fans and alumni. He’s laid the foundation for a Hurricanes team that will be feared again on a national level.
Richt knows exactly what it takes to get there after spending the last 15 seasons compiling a 145-51 record at Georgia. He won six division titles and two conference crowns in the ultra-competitive SEC. He has experience both playing for a powerhouse and coaching another one.
“It’s hard work,” Richt said. “You put in sound schemes—offense, defense, special teams. You teach good fundamentals. You’re demanding in how you expect things to be executed. … And I think we’ll recruit well enough to be able to battle everyone.”
With the work Richt has put in so far, wins are just around the corner in a wide-open ACC Coastal Division. It all started with how Richt assembled his staff this past winter. He put an emphasis on familiarity—with himself or with the Miami program—in hopes of getting off to the best possible start.
Richt picked out defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Manny Diaz, a Miami native, after seeing how his attack-minded scheme at Mississippi State gave the Georgia offense and other SEC programs fits. They meshed well with the athletic talents he inherited at Miami, such as pass-rusher Al-Quadin Muhammad and lockdown corner Corn Elder.
He did the same for Craig Kuligowski, the former Missouri defensive line coach who developed elite playmakers such as Sheldon Richardson, Michael Sam, Kony Ealy and Aldon Smith. Kuligowski‘s lines consistently wreaked havoc on Richt’s Bulldogs and the rest of the SEC East.
Richt went with more continuity in hiring Diaz‘s Mississippi State assistant, Ephraim Banda, to coach safeties. Cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph is Miami through and through. He was a member of the Hurricanes’ 2001 national title team, a first-round NFL draft pick and a two-time Florida state champion head coach at American Heritage High School.
“He knows how to run a program and deal with young people,” Richt said. “I was really intrigued by him and wanted Manny to meet him and spend time with him. After we were done spending time with him, it was like a slam dunk.”
Richt also has coached with or personally coached almost every member of his offensive staff, from coordinator Thomas Brown to his son, Jon, who will assist him in coaching quarterbacks like Mike Bobo did 16 years ago at Georgia.
“They all know what they’re getting into,” Richt said. “They know how I like to do things. They believe in that.”
Richt knows the importance of getting off to a hot start in year one with the Hurricanes. That’s why he’s coaching the quarterbacks at his alma mater and calling plays again. Richt is making it his personal mission to re-energize an offense that ranked 71st nationally in scoring and 93rd in first downs per game last season.
“You can just see how hands-on he wants to be in our day-to-day schedule,” Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya said. “It helps me out to know that the guy who is creating our game plan is the head man. It’s easy for me to operate and know how we’re going to attack this opposing defense.”
That underwhelming 2015 production isn’t indicative of the offensive talent Richt has on his hands. This is Miami, where elite speed and skill is a given. Running backs Mark Walton and Joseph Yearby combined for nearly 1,500 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns last year. Wide receiver Stacy Coley and tight end David Njoku have star potential in Richt’s offense.
And then there’s Kaaya, the third-year starter with plenty of first-round NFL draft buzz. Richt personally knows the responsibility of playing quarterback at Miami, and that’s made a huge impression on his new signal-caller.
“I couldn’t be in a better situation, to have a coach who has literally been where I am,” Kaaya said. “He’s been through it, and you can tell. … One thing that he stresses to us is that more games are lost than won at the quarterback position. Playing quarterback at Miami is kind of a hallmark of what Miami is.”
Richt has more than just the support of his current players at Miami. He’s also received the stamp of approval from many of the Hurricanes’ famous alumni—something that his predecessor, Al Golden, didn’t have.
Getting the support of former players is important at any powerhouse program, but it might be the most important at Miami. So when Richt held what he called his “Paradise Camp” in July, he was excited to see the likes of Michael Irvin, Ray Lewis, Jeremy Shockey, Antrel Rolle and Warren Sapp in attendance.
“I was fired up,” Richt said with a smile. “I was trying to get some selfies myself.”
Richt hopes that approval from some of best ever to suit up for The U radiates through the rest of the fanbase like the hot South Florida sun.
He understands the high expectations at a place like Miami. After all, he was dismissed from Georgia because he didn’t win enough championships. But he knows the first step for the Hurricanes is competing for an ACC Coastal Division title and reaching that 10-win mark again.
“Everyone’s hungry for success,” Richt said. “There were always some fans who were like, ‘It’s national championship or bust.’ But I think there’s a lot of them who just want to see us get after people and play Miami football.”
A greater excitement for the Hurricanes will boost what is already the best recruiting situation in the country. The Miami area pumps out a high number of elite football players each year. The Hurricanes’ backyard is a fierce battleground for recruiting powers all over the United States.
By being so close to that talent, Richt’s program can get the first crack at so many of South Florida’s elite recruits. He can pitch championship tradition and a future that includes a sparkling new stadium that he promises will be “one of the finest in the country.”
What he and his staff are doing right now is working, as Miami currently has what would be its best recruiting class since 2010, per 247Sports’ Composite Rankings:
But even with his early success in a talent-rich area, Richt won’t go star-chasing. He claims Lewis was just a 3-star recruit, along with several of those Hurricanes legends that attended his Paradise Camp. Personal evaluation trumps recruiting hype.
“The bottom line to recruiting is that you’ve got to be diligent,” Richt said. “You go down the line, there were a bunch of these 3-star guys who, if they were in another part of the country, would be 5-stars. There’s just so many great players down here that they sort of cancel each other out when it comes to standing out.”
That brings Richt back to those youth league parks he plans on visiting every Thursday afternoon, even in the middle of the season.
He knows the team he has right now is capable of bringing the buzz back to Miami. He knows that if he can get things rolling, those young players could grow up in a new golden age of The U. He has the talent, support and time to make that happen.
“Why would I be seeing eight-year-olds if I didn’t plan on sticking around for a while?” Richt said. “I am looking for the future.”
And that future—like so many other things in the city he now calls home again—is extremely bright.
Justin Ferguson is a National College Football Analyst at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.
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Source: Bleacher Report-ACC Football