There were no hand-made signs supporting the firing of a coach Thursday in the UM student section at BankUnited Center, and so there was no reason for outcry, from either those hoisting them or those taking them away.
The small-scale student protest, it appears, is over.
“I just want what’s best for Miami,” said Willy Herrera, a senior accounting major who said he had signs he made confiscated by UM officials during the Hurricanes men’s basketball games earlier this month against Virginia and Boston College. “That’s all I want.”
Herrera and a few friends were waving signs, of varying size and noticeability, advocating for the firing of Hurricane football coach Al Golden.
Herrera said associate athletic director for development Jesse Marks and assistant director of development Alfonso Restrepo took signs reading “Fire Al Golden” and “Bring Back Butch.”
An athletic department spokesperson told the Miami Herald on Thursday that officials take the same approach to the removal of all signs, which are banned in BankUnited Center.
“It’s arena policy not to allow signs of any kind,” the spokesperson said. “We’re just following arena policy.”
With that noted, rumors swirled that the students would have T-shirts made and wear them Thursday, when Miami hosted North Carolina State, as a way to circumvent what they believe is a violation of their freedom to express themselves. But Herrera and fellow student Nick Kaleel showed up sporting UM logos on attire any athletic department official would deem appropriate.
“I’m on a college budget,” Herrera said.
The signs, also, were gone. The students watched the Hurricanes top the Wolfpack 65-60 without any further trouble. Although they say frustration with the football program continues to mount, especially after several Miami players performed well at this week’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, despite the Hurricanes’ 6-7 season.
“We haven’t recruited, but there are a lot of people who are behind me with this sentiment,” Herrera said.
“There are a lot of people who disagree with me, and that’s fine. I don’t have ill will and I hope people don’t hate me because I just want our team to be better.”
The students said UM officials didn’t approach other students holding pro-UM signs, and that the no-sign policy was put into place only after theirs were taken away. The UM spokesperson would neither confirm nor deny any arena policy changing recently.
Official interference is not unprecedented on college campuses. In November 2013, several members of the The Antlers, a famed student heckling group at the University of Missouri, were ejected from consecutive games for chants Missouri officials deemed inappropriate. In that instance, some students with tickets were not allowed entrance into the arena for wearing anti-school shirts. The University of Missouri is a public institution, unlike Miami.
“We didn’t mean for this to be a big issue, but the fact that it did does say something about the state of the athletics program,” Kaleel said. “I think it shows that the fan base is frustrated.”
Hurricanes coach Jim Larrañaga was pragmatic when asked about the issue Thursday.
“I believe everyone is entitled to their opinions, but I also believe there are people who have the responsibility to make decisions and the authority to make those decisions,” Larranaga told the Herald. “I don’t believe in anything negative. There is too much negativity in life. You need to be positive, in everything. We need support. “
“I think students should support every coach,” he said.
Herrera is a south Florida native and lifelong fan of UM, which he called his “dream school.” He and Kaleel resent that the situation has made some think they are anything but passionate fans.
“I was not trying to take anything away from the basketball team whatsoever,” Herrera said. “We just want to be heard and we don’t want this issue to continue to be swept under the rug.”