SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
It’s unrealistic to expect UM to land every top local high school recruit. But this Hurricanes staff hasn’t landed enough of the best ones, and the final numbers from this year’s class were sobering:
Of the 16 Dade/Broward players among ESPN’s top 300 prospects, only two signed with Miami: running back Mark Walton (sixth) and safety Jaquan Johnson (11th). Walton (69th overall) was UM’s only “get” among the nine Dade/Broward players in Rivals’s top 250.
Most of the top local players are heading elsewhere: five-star Plantation American Heritage cornerback Tarvarus McFadden and Miami Central four-star receiver Da’Vante Phillips to FSU and Coconut Creek Monarch stars Calvin Ridley and Shawn Burgess Becker to Alabama, among others.
The wall around South Florida that Howard Schnellenberger once spoke of is now aluminum foil full of holes. This UM class has more players from New Jersey (two) than Broward (one).
So why is this happening? For input, we spoke to six local high-school coaches and others involved in local recruiting. Some of the feedback:
### Ultimately, mediocrity seems to be hurting UM more than anything.
“These kids want to win,” Central coach Roland Smith said.
Westminster Christian coach Sedrick Irvin said: “Before, Miami recruited itself. Going 6-7 hurts. You’ve got other teams selling, ‘We have more people in the stands, our facilities are better, and we’re winning now.’ And Miami isn’t winning. If Alabama is telling me I’m going to be the next Amari Cooper, why would I go to UM?”
Coconut Creek Monarch coach Calvin Davis said his two Alabama-bound blue chippers --- Ridley (rated the nation’s top receiver) and four-star safety Becker --- originally “were both leaning toward Miami. Then they went to Alabama and it opened their eyes. They want to win a championship.”
### Analyst Larry Blustein said local coaches have expressed concern to him about player development at UM.
“Between coaches and players, they all agree they’re not seeing a lot of development,” Blustein said. “If the average person looks at it that way, it’s a valid concern. They feel there’s not a lot of progress. You can say maybe some kids came in overrated. But you can’t use that explanation on everybody. A coach said the proof is there, that some of these are NFL-caliber guys" but are not playing up to their potential at UM.
Quick aside: Blustein says he’s merely conveying what coaches and players tell him. And in fairness, whereas some players haven’t lived up to their lofty recruiting status once they arrived on campus (Tracy Howard, Jelani Hamilton, since-transferred Jalen Grimble, among others), several have improved while at UM (Ereck Flowers, Phillip Dorsett, Clive Walford, among others).
Former UM player Donnell Bennett, who was a head coach for five years at two Broward schools and is now director of player development at Cardinal Gibbons, said the development of players at UM “could be working against them. They have to look at that, have to see if they’re cultivating fruit as well as they should be.”
### One highly successful coach of a Miami-Dade high school, who requested anonymity because he doesn’t want UM to shun his players, raised concerns about several members of UM’s staff.
“You get what you pay for and with some exceptions, this is a Temple coaching staff at a program that considers itself a national championship program,” the coach said. “The bottom third of that staff is coaching out of position --- Brennan Carroll coaching receivers, Tim Harris running backs, Hurlie Brown linebackers.”
### A second successful Miami-Dade coach, who also asked not to be quoted by name, said several local coaches aren't fans of defensive backs coach Paul Williams --- a topic that has been discussed among them, according to the coach.
To his credit, Williams has helped land several prominent four- and five-star recruits; early enrollee Johnson, the k!llian safety, praised him.
But one reason why four-star Westminster Christian safety Tim Irvin (Michael Irvin’s nephew) chose Auburn over Miami is that “he didn’t have a good relationship with the defensive backs coach at UM,” said Sedrick Irvin, Tim Irvin’s uncle and head coach.
“Tim had a good relationship with Hurlie Brown, but Hurlie wasn’t going to be his position coach," Sedrick Irvin said. "The other DB coaches did a better job of telling him what he does [well] and what he needs to work on.”
### Sedrick Irvin said UM’s tradition doesn’t help as much in recruiting as it once did.
“This new generation doesn’t know the history of The U and isn’t about the history of a school,” he said. “Now they’re picking based on the color of the uniform. They’re going to Oregon because of the uniform. That and facilities is what gets kids’ attention.”
### And on that facilities front, UM --- while much improved over five years ago --- doesn’t measure up to the top SEC schools and FSU and Oregon and others, several local coaches said.
“They’ve closed the gap a bit with facilities, but it’s still nowhere near Alabama and Texas,” said Columbus High coach Chris Merritt, who said the NCAA cloud over UM was the biggest hindrance to UM recruiting before this year.
Said Irvin: “If I’m a recruit, I’m looking at 100,000 people at a game in Alabama, and 30,000 at a game here. And there’s not an on-campus facility here.”
### Coral Gables coach Roger Pollard said this also works against UM in recruiting: “Look at the coaches recruiting this area: Randy Shannon [at Florida], Mario Cristobal at Alabama. A lot are Miami-bred coaches or have connections to Miami coaches like [Texas and former Louisville coach] Charlie Strong.”
(Strong isn't from South Florida but is close with his former a.ssistant Clint Hurtt, a former UM a.ssistant who helped recruit South Florida for Strong at Louisville and now works for the Chicago Bears. Louisville remains a formidable factor in South Florida recruiting even with both Hurtt and Strong having moved on.)
### Blustein and others wonder why Miami didn’t pursue several players who generated interest from other major programs.
Pollard said Miami’s decision not recruit his three-star safety/receiver Shaquery Wilson --- who signed with Georgia --- “makes me scratch my head.”
Blustein said UM will regret not pursuing Doral Ronald Reagan linebacker Shawn Curtis (signed with Mississippi) and that Miami should have offered Coconut Creek Monarch safety Ronnie Hoggins (USF-bound; led the state in interceptions). He said he mentioned Curtis to UM staffers Kevin Beard and Jorge Baez but UM never called Curtis.
Of the four elite local players snagged by FSU, UM curiously didn’t offer one of them (Central defensive back Calvin Brewton, according to his coach) and was late in offering both McFadden and Hallandale linebacker Sh’Mar Kilby-Lane, according to the players. At least one four-star recruit that UM coveted, Booker T. Washington safety DaVante Davis, wanted to leave South Florida for college and signed with Texas.
“What Butch Davis and Jimmy Johnson did,” Blustein said, “was look at what top players schools had coming in two or three years” and recruit lesser players from those schools before that "to cultivate relationships.” He said UM needs to do that.
As recruiting analyst Ryan Bartow told our Manny Navarro: UM coaches “make the job harder than it needs to be” by going outside South Florida to recruit players "who are no better than players they’re passing on here. It’s kind of defeating the purpose of the job and location.”
### Plantation American Heritage coach and former UM player Mike Rumph, who had two elite recruits (FSU-bound McFadden and Ohio State-bound Torrance Gibson) told WQAM's Adam Kuperstein on Friday that UM has to “come out” to his school more and send coordinators or “staples in the community,” such as a.ssistant Tim Harris.
He says SEC schools “are doing their homework, showing up for every little thing like basketball games. I want [UM] to be similar to that.” He said he met with Golden recently “and told him my concerns.”
Rumph said recruiting would be easier for UM if it blitzed more on defense and played an up-tempo spread offense --- “similar things to what kids are doing at the high school level.”
### On the topic of schemes, keep in mind that one reason why defensive tackle Travonte Valentine, a top 2014 recruit, opted for LSU over Miami is he preferred a 4-3. Some prefer a more attacking style or more man coverage. “Style plays a part, but winning is everything,” Bennett said.
### Bennett makes a point similar to Rumph's, a.sserting that UM needs “to be more visible” and creatively market the program to recruits: “Rutgers had a billboard here off I-95.”
UM has eight South Florida oral commitments for 2016 but a.ssuredly will need to win more games in 2015 to hold onto to some of them. One of those commitments, four-star St. Thomas Aquinas receiver Sam Bruce, has openly yearned for Oregon to offer him.
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