Jimmy Johnson knows what it’s like to see the Miami Hurrianes in their prime.
In five seasons with Johnson as the Hurricanes’ head coach, Miami went 52-9, won the 1987 national championship following a perfect 12-0 season and rattled off four consecutive 10-win seasons.
So following the Hurricanes’ productive season in Year 2 under Mark Richt — a 10-3 record and appearances in the ACC Championship Game and the Orange Bowl — Johnson said he is impressed and optimistic about the direction “The U” is heading.
“I like what they've done,” Johnson said Wednesday morning on the Joe Rose Show. “I know they were disappointed in the last few games, but they really had an outstanding year, and if they continue to go the way they're going in recruiting and getting quality players, they're going to be one of the elite programs. I'm really happy for them."
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The Hurricanes are coming off a successful recruiting cycle, finishing with the eighth-best class in 2018 according to the 247Sports composite ranking. Miami’s 2019 and 2020 classes, while both still early in the process, are both ranked No. 1.
Johnson said that with the increased exposure college football has through television deals and live streams, Miami’s success in recruiting will come down to Richt and the Hurricanes embracing the program’s tradition and finding any way to set themselves apart from the rest of the field.
It’s a night-and-day change from when Johnson ran the program from 1984 to 1988, when only a few teams were on national television each week and performance in those games played a make-or-break role in national recruiting.
“Back then, we were an independent and our schedule was such that we were on national television every other week. One week, it's Michigan. Then it's Penn State. Then it's Oklahoma and Florida and Florida State. Our schedule was such that we had national exposure every single week — plus we won those games,” Johnson said. “It was a lot easier for us to recruit some of the top players. ... Nowadays, it's a lot tougher.”
One such way that the Hurricanes try to distinguish themselves is through the program’s annual Paradise Camp, a summer recruiting camp on the university’s campus during which top alumni from the program come back to coach high schoolers on the fields where they once practiced. Ed Reed, Jeremy Shockey, Willis McGahee, Michael Irvin and Jonathan Vilma were among the program greats who came back to help the camp last year.
“Everybody's coming down here to South Florida,” Johnson said, “so you've got to do things like this camp to expose these players to what you have and the tradition of the University of Miami."