University of Miami

UM’s James Coley relishing opportunity as new offensive coordinator

Madison Coley, who turned 5 in March, didn’t need much persuading to adopt a new favorite football team. She got a whole new wardrobe and mastered the letter “U,” which couldn’t hurt as she prepares to enter kindergarten.

And little Brady, just 2, has become adept at mimicking Madison, who throws up that vowel with her hands and repeatedly says, “It’s all about the U!”

Now, if daddy, who came to UM from Florida State but grew up bilingual two blocks from the Orange Bowl, can do as well with his new responsibilities, the Coley family will be living large in South Florida.

As it is, James Coley Jr., the University of Miami’s new offensive coordinator, is tearing up the state — and nation — with his already acclaimed recruiting prowess. But Miami coach Al Golden wants you to know that Coley is more than just an adept recruiter.

“He’s a really good offensive coordinator,” said Golden, slowly and emphatically punctuating the words “really” and “good.”

“He’s trustworthy, he puts the kids first, he has good schematics and he’s an excellent teacher of quarterbacks,” said Golden, whose Hurricanes open preseason camp Saturday. “Because James is relationship-oriented, sometimes people just want to label him as a good recruiter. But he’s an excellent offensive coordinator that just happens to be a damn good recruiter.”

There you have it. Now all Coley has to do is hope his Canes can put it together on the field.

“I’m very excited,” said Coley, 40. “But I couldn’t just walk in here and say, ‘Here’s my cape and my charm.’ That wouldn’t cut it. To tell you that for the past six months it’s been nonstop, a little bit on the borderline, would be accurate. I had to step up to this staff, understand what Coach Golden was doing, learn the process, the language, move my family and be a dad, too.

“Our guys have had a great offseason and are set for the next phase. We need to attack fall camp and take our game to another notch.”

Coley spent the past five seasons as an assistant to FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, the past three as Fisher’s offensive coordinator — with one huge omission. It was Fisher, not Coley, who called the plays on game day.

Coley spent every week studying the defense of FSU’s next opponent, scripting the plays and teaching his offense. FSU went 12-2 last season, won the Atlantic Coast Conference and had the 10th-ranked scoring offense and 19th-ranked total offense of 120 FBS teams.

When former UM offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch left for the NFL and the UM offer was made, it was all but impossible to refuse. Sources said Coley, an FSU alum, got a pay hike of more than $100,000 (he reportedly makes about $500,000) in returning to his roots.

His wife, Kenia, a native of Cuba like his mother, was his Miami Senior High sweetheart. Their parents are still in South Florida. The lure of play-calling was the last piece that fit perfectly in place.

“It wasn’t frustrating,” Coley said of his FSU career. “I knew when I took that job the head coach was the play-caller. I have a great relationship with Jimbo. Calling the plays is his passion.”

Fisher said recently that in order to “have advancement and grow,” Coley needed to make the transition. “I brought him into the business years ago when he was a [graduate assistant for Nick Saban] back at LSU. So, I’m happy for him, and I think he’ll do a great job.”

Coley spent the past five years during games in the press box. But he’ll be on the field this season.

He calls his UM offense a “tempro” offense — as in tempo and pro-style. “We’ll be multiple: spread, fullback, one or two tight ends, four receivers. … And tempo meaning we’re in a no-huddle mode and can go as fast as we want or as slow as we need.”

“Coach Coley has done an unbelievable job making sure everyone feels comfortable in the new offense,” said UM quarterback Stephen Morris, appreciative that the coach adopted UM’s offensive lingo rather than visa-versa. “He’s a player’s coach.”

And be assured that Coley will have no qualms in winging the ball, especially with an offense that appears to be special from one end to the other. “I love matchups,” he said. “So if it’s a receiver on a [defensive back] and the quarterback recognizes we can exploit that matchup with a deep pass, I want to attack that guy vertically.”

Coley’s parents, who used to park cars on their lawn during Dolphins and Canes games, can finally come watch him again. Though his dad is a native Miamian, he is fluent in Spanish, as is James Jr., who spoke Spanish before he learned English.

“People never know I’m a Cuban-American,” said Coley, who speaks with a touch of a twang and said he loves watching boxing on TV, eating Cuban food and drinking Cuban coffee. “Some people even think I’m Cajun.”

As for his reputation as one of the nation’s top recruiters, he said, “I guess I’m easy to talk to. I’m usually the guy everybody brings their problems to. I’m just myself.

“It’s funny because everyone always says, ‘He’s a great recruiter so he can’t be a great coach,’ or ‘He’s a great coach so he can’t be a great recruiter.’ But everybody lives in the gray. It’s like growing up in my neighborhood — English or Spanish?

“No, both.”

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