The Miami Hurricanes pulled together a press conference on short notice Sunday.
About half an hour before the women’s basketball team tipped off, Blake James walked into the interview room at the Watsco Center for a news conference he wasn’t expecting to have when he woke up this morning.
Mark Richt had shocked the sports world with a retirement announcement just three days after his team’s 35-3 loss to the Wisconsin Badgers in the Pinstripe Bowl. For about 16 minutes, James fielded questions about the coach’s stunning decision. These are the most interesting and illuminating things he said in Coral Gables:
▪ Players had to be informed of Richt’s decision through text messages. Class isn’t in session, so players were home for winter break: “Because our players are spread around the country and home for the holidays, both Mark and I informed them via email and text messages. And, while not ideal, we had no choice due to the timing of Mark’s decision. I’ll meet with the team upon their return to campus in a few weeks.”
▪ Richt’s decision caught James off-guard. This wasn’t a situation where the coach was forced to retire: “The decision for Mark to retire is his and his alone. While my tweet after our bowl game noted our performance was not acceptable, I also tweeted that Mark and I were committed to fixing it, and those discussions had already begun. At no time did I or anyone at Miami suggest that Mark step down. He truly made the decision based on his love of the U, his family and his desire to move forward with the next chapter of his life in retirement. The U has been a part of Mark’s family for many years as a player, fan and coach, and I know that he and [wife Katharyn Richt] gave their all when they returned to Coral Gables three years ago. We are proud of the many accomplishments of his team, their top 10 rankings, their graduates and restoring excitement in Canes football.”
▪ Still, James could tell Richt was having a tough time: “I’ll say I was surprised based on our conversation, but, as I said in my opening statement, I know Mark was really struggling with things when we spoke this morning. This is what he feels is best for him and his family. He wants nothing but the very best for our program, so, while surprised at his decision, there was a lot that was going on.”
▪ Richt was public about his struggles, particularly during the four-game losing streak. James mentioned the skid specifically: “I think Mark was public about it. The four-game losing streak was one of the hardest times in his football career. Obviously, any time you go through something like that and as long as Mark has been coaching. It probably wore on him and that’s a question that’s better for him. He likes to win and I know that was a tough time for him.”
▪ James and Richt spent recent days discussing the need to fix the offense, which is the side of the ball Richt has historically focused on: “Mark and I met yesterday afternoon. I don’t think it’s a secret to anyone here that as a program offensively we hadn’t operated at the level that any one of us would want, including Mark, and we talked about what we need to look at and do differently. Mark is a very smart guy and he recognized that things needed to change on that side of the ball.”
▪ James wouldn’t comment on whether the future of quarterbacks coach Jon Richt was discussed. When asked about Richt’s son, James responded: “I’m not going to get into specifics, as I said in my opening statement. Primarily, the specifics of Mark and my conversation will remain between us. I guess what I would say in this room, again, it’s no secret, we had to figure out how to get better on offense and I think there’s some obvious things that we need to do on that front, and Mark and I spoke in great detail about what we could do to better our position offensively in the future.”
▪ Miami just signed 14 recruits in the Class of 2019 in the early signing period. James said he’s yet to hear from anyone requesting to be released from their National Letter of Intent: “Everything’s been a whirlwind this morning. I’m not sure that I can even answer that question.”
▪ James said he feels he has the support from campus leadership and the board of trustees to find a top-flight replacement: “We have great support from campus leadership and from our board. Our board and our campus leadership recognizes the important role that football plays in presenting our university to the rest of the world. Again, you just turn back the clock one year ago, you look at hosting [College] GameDay on this campus, and just the great advertisement it was for the outstanding institution and beautiful area that we’re in. I think I’m blessed in that we have a very supportive board and supportive leadership that understand what a great role athletics can play in the total collegiate experience, and so I don’t have any concerns on that front, that we’ll get nothing but support on doing what collectively we feel is best to put our program in the best position for success in the future.”
▪ Former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who is set to become the Temple Owls’ coach, was spotted on campus Sunday. James said he was unaware: “Manny Diaz? I don’t have any comment on Manny. I guess Manny is on his own schedule.”
▪ Former Miami players are always vocal about the direction of the program, so James will certainly hear from some moving forward: “I get a lot of feedback. I’m not short of getting feedback. I guess to answer your question, those guys have tremendous passion for the University of Miami. Ran into Warren Sapp at the Orange Bowl and he’s wearing around a U pullover very proudly. It’s one of the things we’re blessed with as a program is once you put the U on, it never comes off, and our guys still bleed orange, green and white to this day, regardless of how long ago they played here. With that said, everyone’s going to have different opinions as to who the right person is, my job is to identify who the best person is for that job and I’m going to do that exactly. We’ll get the best person for the job and we’re going to take this program forward.”