The nation’s highest profile college football analyst said he is “blown away’’ by University of Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya and believes that not only will Kaaya become “one of the faces of the sport,’’ but that he will lead the Hurricanes back to prominence as early as next season.
“I’m a huge fan,’’ ESPN/ABC commentator Kirk Herbstreit said of Kaaya during a phone interview with the Miami Herald on Monday evening. “I’m blown away by the kid.’’
Herbstreit, 45, who worked the UM-Florida State game Saturday at Sun Life Stadium, also implored impatient Hurricanes fans to “just chill’’ about coach Al Golden and his staff. He said the “Fire Al Golden’’ banner that flew before the Oct.11 Cincinnati game and the notion that a vocal segment of fans believe Golden should be on the hot seat or even fired is “ridiculous.’’
“They’re out of their minds even bringing it up,’’ Herbstreit said. “They’re lucky to have Al Golden as a head coach. Just take a rain check for that, relax and understand that to build what you want doesn’t happen overnight.
“I’m not saying this as a pro-Miami guy or an anti-Miami guy. I follow this stuff every minute that I’m awake. I talk with a lot of coaches all across the country, and what Al Golden and [defensive coordinator] Mark D’Onofrio and [offensive coordinator] James Coley are doing right now, and with the young talent they have around them, there is a lot to be excited about on that team.
“Al Golden is an outstanding coach, a great, I mean great, representative for any university. He handles himself with class. He’s got a great staff. They’ve got a true freshman quarterback and the sky is the limit. If they put one more recruiting class behind what is already on that roster, Miami is so close. And I think anybody that doesn’t recognize that just doesn’t watch the game or maybe know the game.’’
Golden, who is 28-19 since arriving at UM in 2011, has yet to defeat a team that finished the season with more than eight wins. But Herbstreit indicated that today’s fast-paced, social-media-crazed society wants instant gratification in sports, too.
“Today’s about Twitter, and it’s about people not having a realistic view on things,’’ Herbstreit said. “Nobody wants to realize that Nevin Shapiro, that whole NCAA debacle, that whole dark cloud, was just a couple years ago. You don’t go through Nevin Shapiro and possibly being put on death penalty and probation and years and years of setback and just blink your eyes and say, ‘Well, we’re Miami so we’ve got to win 12 games.’
“It doesn’t happen like that. There’s a process. For every two steps forward, there’s a step back. A couple more steps forward, a step back.’’
Kaaya, whose Hurricanes (6-4, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) travel to Charlottesville, Virginia, to face the Cavaliers (4-6, 2-4) at 7 p.m. Saturday, broke Bernie Kosar’s freshman record for passing yards last Saturday in UM’s 30-26 loss to FSU.
Kaaya now has 2,403 passing yards and 22 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. He is 12th nationally in passing efficiency and fourth in passing yards per completion (15). He needs one more touchdown to tie Ken Dorsey for seventh on UM’s single-season touchdown list.
“They’re playing a true freshman quarterback,’’ Herbstreit said, “and that doesn’t happen anymore in college football. He’s going to become one of the faces of the sport in a couple of years. He just has to keep developing, keep very level-headed and grounded.
“His skill set, his poise, the way he plays the game, his cerebral approach, it’s a breath of fresh air. If he stays focused on getting a little better every day, he’ll be a first-round pick and superstar down the road.
“You do not want to play Miami next year. I’ll tell you that right now.’’
Herbstreit concluded the interview by suggesting to fans that they might not want to “ruffle the feathers’’ at UM in terms of the coaching staff. “Please, keep James Coley and Mark D’Onofrio. And Al Golden is a great leader.
“Be careful what you wish for.’’