|A day later, cooler heads have prevailed at Booker T.; Matthew Thomas still in play for Canes
Sometimes you just need to talk things out.
In the case of Booker T. Washington offensive lineman Denver Kirkland, coach Tim "Ice" Harris and the University of Miami it appears better communication between the parties involved could have prevented some hurt feelings and an ugly situation. But a day later, after a night to sleep on things, I can tell you UM hasn't poisoned itself in Overtown or burned any bridges permanently. There are grown ups involved here. Lessons have been learned.
For starters I spent about 30 minutes this afternoon chatting up Ice Harris and his son, offensive coordinator Tim Harris Jr., to get the real story of what might have gone wrong here. Ice told me afterward he didn't want to be quoted other than to say "I don't want to beat a dead horse." But without knowing UM's side of the story here -- coaches aren't allowed to discuss recruits publicly -- here is what I gathered from the situation:
Kirkland, a 6-5, 333-pound All-American offensive lineman, obviously wasn't the big fish UM was hoping to catch at Booker T. All-American linebacker Matthew Thomas, a consensus five-star recruit, has always been the guy Miami has gone after at Booker T. first and foremost. When Al Golden visited Booker T. on Thursday afternoon with a couple of his a.ssistants he spent an hour and a half with Thomas and 10 minutes with Kirkland.
Don't mistake for a second Booker T. coaches aren't aware Thomas is the guy everybody in the country wants or that Kirkland isn't "a shade below" Thomas in terms of being in the same league. Kirkland, Harris Jr. told me, didn't get a Miami offer until this past summer, after he had attended UM's camp.
But this is where the communication break down begins. In the eyes of Booker T.'s coaches, who spend every day with their players, there was no difference between Kirkland and Thomas. Once they got an offer from a school, they a.ssumed schools were willing to go the distance with them -- all the way up until Signing Day -- to wait for a commitment.
Ice Harris, having spent three years on Randy Shannon's staff at UM, is well aware of the recruiting game. He understands schools can pull scholarship offers and go in another direction if things change. Recruiting is a fluid game that changes from second to second. Ice Harris knows offers aren't guaranteed. He just never imagined in his wildest dreams -- not after Al Golden visited Booker T. Washington and spent time with both players Thursday -- that Miami was considering pulling Kirkland's scholarship. Why? Because there was no talk of a deadline according to them.
"They might have told him it was getting a little tight for them or he needed to give them an a.ssurance, but he wasn't ready to do that," Harris Jr. said. "But we told them -- told a.ssistant Micheal Barrow -- we felt strongly he was going to go there. He just had to go through the process and make sure he was going to go there."
Why did Kirkland need more time? Because according to Booker T.'s staff, other college coaches were still coming in to talk to Kirkland. After Golden and his staff walked out the door Thursday, Harris said Jimbo Fisher and FSU was waiting to talk to Kirkland. Like it or not, it's a process. And now we know why. Because at any moment a school can decide to change directions -- the same way athletes can. Recruiting is fluid.
Harris and Booker T.'s players just never expected to be jolted like that, especially not when they were telling Barrow it looked better for UM that they would land Kirkland than it did as far as netting Thomas. And maybe in the end, that wasn't good enough for Miami.
Maybe, Canes coaches thought Kirkland wasn't going to Miami (maybe new offensive coordinator James Coley had some better insight into the situation). Or, it really was a numbers crunch and UM knows it has other top tier recruits as silent commitments. Maybe the Canes just don't have room for an All-American offensive lineman because they've got six or seven other blue-chip talents in the bag.
Still, it's just odd the way all this went down. For six months Miami wanted Denver Kirkland. Then six days before National Signing Day they decided they didn't want him anymore. I guess if you have six or seven better players you know for sure you are getting it makes sense to make room, toss out the trash.
But if you don't know that for sure then why do this? Why surprise a two-time state championship winning coach by yanking a scholarship away from one of his best players after you've told him for six months you want him and he's told you that you are likely to get him?
And that's where the confusion lies on Booker T.'s side. Ice Harris trusted his word to Barrow was good enough, that it was infiltrating the offices at UM and that the offer Kirkland had wasn't going to vanish. He still trusts Barrow, insisting he's " a great guy and the way he recruited his players is the right way." Ice Harris said his conversation with Barrow Friday morning "went well" and both sides are "trying to smooth things over."
It's the guys making the decisions down in Coral Gables, inside the offices, Ice Harris isn't sure about. After all, if Golden was already at Booker T. Thursday morning why not tell Kirkland yourself the bad news? Why send Barrow back to do it after a championship parade?
"I don't think the relationship as a whole between Miami and Booker T. is ruined," said Tim Harris Jr., a UM grad and former track star. "You have to look at every situation differently. I think everybody here can all agree this situation was handled bad and us being a pipeline here in the backyard of UM it shouldn't have come to this. But all of us here are professionals and I don't think anyone here wants to give the idea we would steer kids away from the University of Miami. If anything, we're just going to have to ask more questions. When they come in and say you have an offer we're going to ask 'Is there a deadline?' That goes for all schools. At the end of the day, UM is my school, it always will be. But I'm a coach here at Booker T. and we're here to protect the kids and keep them away from having something like this happen to them. So we will be smarter. We've learned a lesson."
And now, maybe, Miami will learn a lesson, too.
Star linebacker Matthew Thomas is still very much in play for the Canes. Harris a.ssured me of that. UM coaches were with him last night in his home -- after they broke his teammate's heart. Thomas was shocked to hear what happened with Kirkland, Harris said. But he hasn't ruled the Canes out -- at least not as of noon Friday.
Then again, UM has never been the program at the top of Thomas' list. The way Harris Jr. explained it to me, Thomas didn't really care about Miami, didn't want to go there for most of the season. When Barrow or UM coaches would call him, Harris Jr. said, he wouldn't answer. It wasn't until Harris and his a.ssistants urged him to open his ears and at least hear what UM had to offer that Thomas really began to listen. Florida State, they say, had always been Thomas' quiet leader. Now, USC is involved "and making a strong late push." Alabama has been in the mix, too.
Does UM really have a chance to get Thomas?
"Yeah they've got a chance," Harris Jr. said. "But it's not like Denver. We honestly don't know where he wants to go. It was FSU for a long time and now it's anybody's guess. I think we all feel like we're going to be surprised on Wednesday."
For Miami's sake, let's hope that surprise isn't like the one Kirkland got Thursday afternoon. That one stung.