Barry Jackson

Jimmy Johnson and Schnellenberger excited about this UM team and program’s future

Jimmy Johnson (left) is thrilled to watch UM’s season unfold. So is another former UM coach, Howard Schnellenberger.
Jimmy Johnson (left) is thrilled to watch UM’s season unfold. So is another former UM coach, Howard Schnellenberger.

Among those enjoying this UM renaissance: the coaches who guided the Hurricanes to their first two of five national titles.

Jimmy Johnson and Howard Schnellenberger said this week that they’re having a blast watching this UM team and have reached out to congratulate Mark Richt.

Saturday’s 41-8 thrashing of Notre Dame “reminded me of the ‘80s in terms of the outcome was about the same,” Johnson, who led the Canes to the national championship in the 1987 season, said by phone Tuesday.

“I actually thought it was going to be a difficult game because Notre Dame had been blowing everybody out and has as fine an offensive line as there is the country. The speed and quickness and aggressiveness of Miami overwhelmed them. They were in shock. The fans had a lot to do with it. The players were cranked. [As a fan], I couldn’t ask for anything more. It was a ball [to watch].”

Johnson said compared to UM teams in recent years, “without question, the talent is better. Miami has got a talented football team. They can use some help in a couple of areas. [But] they are playing well and they’re well coached. I was so impressed with the game plan and the way they have played all year. I have always liked [defensive coordinator] Manny Diaz.”

J.J. said of quarterback Malik Rosier: “I have been a little frustrated at times with his accuracy but he has played well in the clutch. Last couple games, he was more accurate and running to pick up crucial first downs.”

J.J. said he and Richt exchanged text messages the past few days and “I am really happy for the whole program. I watched all of [ESPN’s College] GameDay [from UM’s campus on Saturday morning] and the positive publicity we received on that – as great as the campus looked, as great as the fan support was, the enthusiasm, the weather. You can’t put a price tag on that.”

That episode Saturday was seen in 1.5 million homes, making it ESPN’s most watched College GameDay this season.

As for Schnellenberger, the coach who guided UM to its first national title (1983 season), he said of UM’s turnaround: “You have to be surprised it would happen this quickly. But I’m not anywhere close to surprised it would happen. This was a match made in heaven, with Mark and Miami. I am thrilled for him. It is so impressive to see South Florida football fans come together again like they did” Saturday.

This team, Schnellenberger said, has “poise and confidence and conditioning and all the good stuff you need.”

Their “speed and skill were clear,” said Schnellenberger, who coached Richt at UM. “What's realistic to me is them winning a national championship in a short period. We said we would do it in five years and we busted our butt and that's what we did.”

Do they have a legitimate chance to beat Alabama if they meet in the playoffs?

“Sure they can compete with Alabama,” Schnellenberger said. “Alabama will be the favorite but hell, that doesn't make any difference. You know how big an underdog we were in the Orange Bowl? We were 16-point underdogs.

“Nebraska had won 22 games in a row. They were insurmountable. But we had more experienced players than Miami does now. We had recruited some damn good players and some were in their fifth year.”

Johnson also believes the Hurricanes can compete with Alabama.

“With the way they played Saturday, I wouldn’t bet against them against anybody,” J.J. said. “They were playing as well as they could play Saturday night. They would have to play that same way against Clemson and Alabama. They have done it before.”

Is UM football now going to be a perennial Top 15 or top 20 program again?

“Without question it could be perennial,” J.J. said. “With the talent on the team and the staff and recruiting the way it’s going, there’s no reason in the world why they can’t be a championship caliber team for a long time.”

• ABC announced it will televise the UM-Clemson ACC Championship game at 8 p.m. Dec. 2 from Charlotte, meaning the next three Hurricanes games will be on ABC. (So were the last two.)

• Schnellenberger, who helped build the Florida Atlantic University program, also is heartened by the Owls’ 7-3 season so far under Lane Kiffin.

“Lane is an outstanding young coach,” he said. “I’ve spent some time with him. Spending three years at Alabama helped him. He has poise and confidence.”

• Schnellenberger said “it's ridiculous” for Florida and Florida State to have the two worst records in the state this season, adding “that should never happen. Florida is the flagship football program in the state.”

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