If this were to be the last news conference of their University of Miami careers, James Coley and Mark D’Onofrio weren’t saying it.
About five minutes before the media gathering for the Hyundai Sun Bowl’s Thursday session, Hurricanes offensive coordinator Coley and defensive coordinator D’Onofrio, always cordial and frank, politely declined comment to the Miami Herald about their future status with the Hurricanes.
Later, a Washington State reporter asked Coley, who had just spoken about quarterback Brad Kaaya’s bright future, to “talk about your emotions going into this game. With the situation at Miami, is it hard knowing that you might not be around to see him make those gains?”
Replied Coley: “I’m just talking about this game. I’m not getting past this game and emotions and all that stuff.
“I’m just talking about the ballgame Saturday and whether or not it’s going to rain or it’s going to be cold. That stuff.’’
But Coley and D’Onofrio didn’t talk rain or cold at all, and reflected about more than just the final game of the season between Miami (8-4, 5-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) and Washington State (8-4, 6-3 Pac-12). They discussed their players and the rewards of coaching and how their young charges had risen to the occasion and overcome the adversity they faced when Al Golden was fired a day after UM’s worst loss in history — a 58-0 collapse against now-No. 1 Clemson.
“Coaching guys like Brad Kaaya, coaching guys like Joe Yearby, watching Stacy Coley come back after missing out the first half of the season, watching Rashawn Scott grow up, watching the offensive line grow up — that’s been fun,” Coley said when asked what the highlight of his season has been. “Part of this job is who you can affect as a coach, who you can reach and how you can help guys develop. That’s been really the joy for me.”
It’s hard to imagine that the coordinators don’t know their status with new UM coach Mark Richt, who is holding back on starting to make his announcements regarding his staff until after the bowl.
D’Onofrio, very close with Golden, is not expected back. His defense is ranked 75th nationally, allowing an average of 406.8 yards a game.
“I had a great time this week,” said D’Onofrio, the father of sons Jack, 13, and Thomas, 10. “Our families are here. It’s a great family place. It’s a great reward for the way we finished the season and the way everyone stuck together through adversity.”
He said coaching “is all about developing players and helping them to reach their goals as seniors” so they can “play beyond college” or be ready to “conquer” another path. “I’m just proud of the way the team stuck together. At the beginning of the year we talked about having great unity and dealing with adversity and that was Al’s plan — Al put that out there. And I’m most proud of the fact that we’ve all carried it through.
“As a staff, I’m proud to work with James, Larry [Scott], all the guys that did an unbelievable job of just sticking together through a really, really hard time.”
Among the other assistants believed to be in limbo, so to speak, are offensive line coach Art Kehoe, linebackers coach Hurley Brown, running backs coach Tim Harris, wide receivers coach Kevin Beard, tight ends/interim coach Scott and defensive line coach Randy Melvin.
Defensive backs coach Paul Williams reportedly is leaving to coach the DBs at Illinois.
Coley, who recruited Kaaya and is his quarterbacks coach, was more of a wait-and-see situation until Richt told reporters he wanted to call the plays and work closely with the quarterback.
Part of this job is who you can affect as a coach, who you can reach and how you can help guys develop.
Coley’s offense is ranked 63rd nationally, averaging 401.4 yards a game. He previously said he would welcome learning from Richt and working on the staff, but little light has been shed on that possibility, other than former Georgia running backs coach Thomas Brown reportedly will be announced as the new UM co-offensive coordinator any day.
Meanwhile, the Canes have been praising their position coaches for weeks.
“Just as much as the players have stayed tight and had to go through this crucible, this tough time, the coaches are the same way,” center Nick Linder said Tuesday. “Can’t say enough about those guys. We’re around these people more than our own families. You build these great relationships with them and you want to play for them.”
Said safety Deon Bush: “This is a big family. The coaches were uncertain about their futures but haven’t changed preparation a bit. That means a lot. When you see somebody still investing for the future of this program, even though they’re uncertain about it, that says a lot about somebody’s character.
“I really applaud the coaching staff. It’s been a pleasure playing with them this year.”
One by one the players lamented on possibly losing their mentors: linebacker Jermaine Grace about Hurley Brown, linebacker Tyriq McCord about D’Onofrio, receiver Stacy Coley about Beard — pretty much right down the line.
Cornerback Artie Burns, whose mother died after Golden was fired, will not forget his coaches.
“They meant a lot,” Burns said. “A lot of things went wrong this year and they stayed with us [when] they could have easily given up on us, could have gone through the motions. They pushed us. I appreciate them helping me through my whole little situation.
“They are some good guys.”