Spring practice began at the University of Miami on Saturday, complete with an abbreviated Harlem Shake, some beefed-up bodies and a new lineup of assistant coaches on offense.
“The kids came out here with a lot of energy,” said new offensive coordinator James Coley, 39, who grew up in Miami but defected from UM nemesis Florida State in late January after former UM coordinator Jedd Fisch left for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. “Good first day. They understand how this business works, and they’ve been great with me.”
At FSU, where Coley spent five years, head coach Jimbo Fisher called the plays and Coley prepared the offense all week. UM coach Al Golden said Coley is using much of the same terminology that Fisch used to make the transition easier.
“He’s really done a great job,” Golden said. “He’s put his ego aside because we really don’t want to mess with the quarterbacks and offense too much in terms of the terminology. He’s adapted. … He’s putting his spin on things. He needs to own it.”
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When asked if he would resort to the offense UM used last year or create his own, Coley said he would “dabble” with both.
“Football is football,” he said. “We brought some new things in on Day 1 … but, obviously, we’ll be doing things the way it’s best for this team.”
He assured that he would use highly rated senior quarterback Stephen Morris, expected to have a stellar year, to air it out.
“I think it’s important,” he said, “especially here, to create a vertical passing game, because you have a big offensive line and you can create a vertical running game — they go hand-in-hand — rather than dinking and dunking. There are places for a dink-and-dunk offense, but this offense needs to be an explosive offense.”
Coley said his staff, which includes new assistants Larry Scott (tight ends) and Hurlie Brown (running backs), are “professionals” and have made it easy for him.
He said he has taken ribbing from friends about making the switch from FSU, with a good spirit.
“You can just imagine,” he said. “It’s been crazy. But it’s all fun. This is my team now and these guys are my players. This is my family now.”
Brown, who won national titles in 1989 and ’91 at Miami as a standout safety, spent the previous two seasons as the UM senior football operations coordinator. He has plenty of experience coaching defensive backs, but this is his first stint with running backs.
“Coaching is coaching,” he said. “As long as you’re organized, that’s the biggest key.”
Added Scott, who came from USF but recruited Dade and Broward: “This is an awesome opportunity.”
• Injury news: Linebacker Gabe Terry was on crutches, with his right foot in a boot; defensive end David Perry was on crutches, with his left foot in a boot; safety A.J. Highsmith wore a red (no contact) jersey because of a hamstring injury; and fellow safety Kacy Rodgers II was sidelined after minor knee surgery.
Golden said running back Eduardo Clements (neck surgery) “is healing and should be able to return to action, but that’s out of my hands.”
• Golden confirmed that linebacker Eddie Johnson is still suspended and did not take part in the offseason UTough strength and conditioning program. The coach said he was hopeful for Johnson’s eventual return. “I pray for him every day that we’ll get through this and [he’ll] make it back,” he said, “but it’s on him.”
• Quarterback Stephen Morris, who called Coley “a laid-back, really cool guy,” had a “tremendous” first day of practice, Golden said. “He really must be studying the playbook like crazy. There’s a self-assuredness, a confidence, a poise about him that he probably didn’t have at this time last year.”
• Defensive end Anthony Chickillo was one of several players who broke into dance when the Harlem Shake was played during stretching. “I’m not the best dancer on the team but I like to have fun with the guys,” he said. “We haven’t done it as a team, but we’re talking about it.”
Miami Herald writer Steph Rogers contributed to this report.