Antrel Rolle: “To this day, outside of my family, going to the University of Miami was the best part of my life.”
New University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame inductee Antrel Rolle, who grew up in Miami-Dade County, earned a national title ring his freshman season in 2001 and won the 2012 Super Bowl with the New York Giants, is not convinced that any one man, including new coach Manny Diaz , can bring back the glory for the Hurricanes.
Rolle, 36, the former Canes All-American cornerback who was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award in 2004 and drafted eighth overall by the Arizona Cardinals, was his usual, candid self when asked Thursday before the induction ceremony to assess the state of the U now with Manny Diaz in charge.
UM players report to preseason training camp on July 25, Diaz said. The NCAA will allow the Canes to begin practice July 26 because the Hurricanes’ opener opener against Florida was moved up to Aug. 24.
“I really don’t know what to think,’’ Rolle said. “Manny Diaz is an exciting guy. He’s a firecracker type of guy. He brings the energy that we need. But you know as well as I know UM has been in a slump for quite a number of years now. It’s going to take a lot more than the head coach to get those guys back. It’s going to take attitude. It’s going to take leadership. That’s something that I speak about all the time.
“We had phenomenal leaders. You see a guy like Ken Dorsey, 6-5, lanky guy. But the general that he was, it was phenomenal. I’ve never seen anything like it till this day on the collegiate level.
“Whatever [Dorsey] said, you had Ed Reed, Andre Johnson, Jeremy Shockey — you had those guys to back you up. So there was no way you’re going to go against what Ken Dorsey said. But he didn’t just get that role. He earned that role. And I think that’s something the younger guys have yet to do. You might have leaders, but what makes a strong collegian team is not one, two, five, six leaders, it’s 100 leaders. Every one just leads differently.
Rolle, who retired in 2016 and is the father of Antrel Jr. and twins Alani and Azariah, was then asked: “Is Manny the right guy now?”
“You won’t know that until the season starts, and obviously as time goes on,’’ Rolle said. “You can’t say he’s the right guy now. Am I thinking he’s the right guy? I sure hope so. I would love to get back my bragging rights that I once had when talking about the University of Miami.
“But Manny Diaz, you can see the way he had the defense playing — top five defense in the nation. Those guys flew around, they played phenomenal, they played great ball together. I don’t think it’s going to be any different for him [as head coach]. But are those guys going to be able to win games for him is going to be the question. I don’t doubt Manny Diaz and what he can do as a head coach, but as far as the players, they definitely have to show a lot more.“
A reporter suggested to Rolle that it sounded as if “this whole resurgence is going to be based more on the players taking ownership of this thing than any coach.”
“It’s always based on the players,’’ Rolle repeated. “I’m a strong believer in coaches coach and players play the game. You can always have the right scheme, the right tools. You can have the most phenomenal players, but if the players don’t go out there and execute as a team and have that chemistry as a team then it doesn’t matter. It’s really irrelevant when you’re talking about playing between those white lines.
“So,” continued Rolle, “Manny Diaz can be the best-of-the best coach, but if the players don’t go out there and give him 200 percent effort and develop 200 leaders just not on the football team, just around the campus in general. That’s what made us phenomenal. It wasn’t just about the football team, it was everyone else around. It was your peers pushing you. ‘You wanna go out?’ ‘No, no, don’t go out. You’ve got workout in the morning.’ “It’s everyone around you. It has to be a collective effort.”
VINCE WILFORK GIVES HIS TAKE ON CANES
Former Hurricane defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, 37, another first-round NFL Draft pick (New England Patriots) and two-time Super Bowl winner, was asked separately his impression of the direction the Hurricanes are heading under Diaz.
Wilfork, who is savoring retirement in Houston with his wife Bianca and three children D’Aundre, 21, Destiny 16, and David, 9, said this: “I just want to get back to winning. We spent a long time struggling and playing the type of football we’re not used to and we’re not accustomed to down here at the University of Miami. It’s unacceptable, plain and simple. So, for him to get the program heading in the right direction, everything looks good on paper and every year we always hope.
“We hope. So hopefully with Manny at the helm this year for us and leading the way for us, hopefully we can start getting back on track. Because there are a lot of Hurricanes that are waiting. We’ve been waiting for a while. We see spurts here and there, but it’s time to start putting it together.
“Because one thing I know is there are no fans like University of Miami fans. But you have to be able to win and get those fans. The true fans are going to always be there. You can see that every year. No matter how much we struggle we still have fans. Once we get back on the winning track, that’s when you’ll see the University of Miami of old come back.
“And that’s what we’re all waiting for.”
THE MAN HIMSELF WEIGHS IN
Anyone who knows Diaz realizes he’s been preaching pretty much what Rolle said for a long time.
On Thursday, Diaz attended the Sports Hall of Fame banquet. When told what Rolle said about players buying in, Diaz said, “That’s correct.’’
“We’re still in the process of doing that,’’ said Diaz, who said he has conducted exit interviews with every player on the roster since the spring game. “This summer is going to be really big for that. I think everyone understands the vision... but we’ve got to develop a backbone. And that’s going to be forged this summer, and make sure that we’re ready to go when we report July 25.
“We are where we are,’’ Diaz said, when asked if he believed UM was where he wanted it to be right now. “What we do is we work on where we’re at and just try to improve from there. What does matter a lot to us is the opinions of the former players. We want to be a program that they can identify with. We want to be a program that they can be proud of.
“The standard we’re trying to reach and the standard that we remind our players of every day is the standard that they set. So very heavy is that responsibility.’’
▪ Diaz revealed that UM likely won’t have the full allotment of 85 players on scholarship when the season begins, but he wouldn’t say how many he does expect to have on scholarship.