The players’ intent Thursday, by no means, was to criticize beleaguered former University of Miami coach Al Golden, who now works with tight ends for the Detroit Lions, or the people who worked for him. But two seasons playing for Mark Richt and this coaching staff has given veteran Hurricanes players an understanding of how much has changed for the better with this program.
In an Orange Bowl news conference at a Fort Lauderdale hotel on Thursday, UM players Kc McDermott and Malik Rosier offered big picture perspective on the biggest changes since Richt arrived and how they have elevated this program to 9-4 and 10-2 seasons:
▪ To McDermott, the biggest difference is the accountability that Richt instilled the first time he met with players.
“Coach Richt said I want to trust you like men” and if “you mess up, you [will be treated] like children. If you mess up three times, you are gone. You are not given much of a leash.”
So players started telling each other “don’t whine and complain,” McDermott said. “I think we’ve always had plenty of talent [but] I don’t think we had the personnel to put us in the right place. I played five positions on the offensive line [initially]. We had multiple other linemen playing different positions. We had receivers playing X, Y and Z when maybe they should have been playing X instead of Z. We had running backs they were trying to have as linebackers, and [vice versa]. We just never had the right personnel.
“The past two years, we have the right personnel. Coach Richt and his staff has done a great job of [determining] this is what this guy is and we’re going to make sure he improves at that position and if not, the next recruit that comes in that might be better than him, we’re going to put him there.
“These coaches know what they’re talking about and we have got to trust them. The players have definitely trusted the coaching staff a lot more in knowing they have our best interests at heart.”
McDermott cited the hiring of a nutritionist as another reason for the turnaround under Richt: “One of the biggest things we absolutely needed was a nutritionist. We didn’t have one before so guys were off on their own [and didn’t know] what kind of food to eat, how to properly gain and lose weight. That was something we definitely needed to help us out.”
And “one thing that set the tone from the beginning of the year is [arduous] mat drills. Once you go through it, you should have a mentally tough mindset that you can finish anything. It’s a lot of physicality but mostly mental, mostly how hard you can push yourself.
“During the Florida State game, at halftime, we were sitting there talking, ‘We are only down 3-0. Think about the most tired you were during mat drills and how you pushed yourself through.’ We used that throughout the season and offseason.”
▪ To Rosier, a willingness to play freshmen is the biggest positive change from the old staff.
“Last year, we had dynamic trio of [freshmen] linebackers and now 8 to 10 freshmen are playing and making an impact,” Rosier said. “When I was a freshman, not many young guys got to play. Brad Kaaya was the only [one]. With the old coaching staff, you knew coming in you weren’t going to play.”
He said while the former coaches wouldn’t play Chris Herndon or David Njoku early on because Clive Walford was on the team, this staff will give its incoming “dynamic duo of tight ends … a chance to start [if they earn it]. That’s the biggest difference between this coaching staff and the old coaching staff.”
Rosier added: “I don’t think the talent is greater. The biggest thing is the coaching aspect. I love the old coaching staff. I still keep in contact with [former offensive coordinator] James Coley. But this coaching staff does such a great job of preparing people to play and they tell you that if you are prepared, you will play for me, and they live up to their word and it gets kids hyped to be here.”
So how did Richt change the attitude?
“To say it was absolutely immediate, it wasn’t,” receiver Braxton Berrios said. “But once we all got to meet our coaches,… really that spring was when everybody was like, ‘Whatever you want, Coach.’ Everybody bought in. We believed in him 100 percent and he believed in us.’’