Greg Cote

For Richt’s Canes and Dolphins, too, this season is about next steps — about making the leap

Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt and the Hurricanes rush the field as the University of Miami takes on the West Virginia Mountaineers at the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016.
Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt and the Hurricanes rush the field as the University of Miami takes on the West Virginia Mountaineers at the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016. adiaz@miamiherald.com

Falling backward off a 10-meter diving board has become a Mark Richt staple at the Miami Hurricanes’ annual team pool party prior to the rigors and business of fall football practice. The genesis of it traces to the late ’70s in Boca Raton, an hour north of the UM campus, where Richt grew up. The motivation was not entirely altruistic.

“When I was a kid in Boca, I don’t know how tall the inlet bridge is, but we used to jump off it,” Richt was saying on the eve of Tuesday’s first fall practice of his second Canes season. “One of the guys was doing a backflip, and I thought the girls might be more interested in doing something special.”

Land wrong in the water from 10 meters high and something ranging from profound embarrassment to serious injury can result, but Richt, “through having enough confidence,” he said, soon mastered the art of landing feet-first.

Richt does it now, at age 57, because he can and to convey to his players, “I want guys to enjoy life, to enjoy their time in Miami.”

There is psychology to it, too, of course, because motivation, confidence and success start in the mind, where good coaching also starts.

Make the leap, Richt’s high dive is saying. Dare to take that step you never have, the one you maybe fear.

“Don’t be afraid to do something,” as the coach put it Monday.

It is the perfect metaphor for the dawn of Miami’s most exciting season of football in a long time — for the Hurricanes and Dolphins both.

The two flagships have earned uncommon expectations and anticipation among fans. There is the sense that, with the Heat’s Big 3 era a memory, UM and the Fins together will reestablish what history and heart never really let us forget:

We’re a Football Town.

The Hurricanes, with the alum Richt the ideal hire, are coming off a 9-4 season that included The U’s first bowl win in 10 years and ended with a No. 20 Associated Press ranking. Buoyed by strong recruiting, The U was anointed ACC Coastal Division favorite in a media poll.

On a parallel plane, the Dolphins are coming off their first 10-win record and playoff season in eight years. Dolfans are sold on bright young second-year coach Adam Gase, and an ESPN ranking just rated Miami as having the No. 3 “offensive arsenal” in the entire NFL.

Adam Gase, Miami Dolphins coach, talks to the media about "going live" with practice, full contact and in the results the leading running back Jay Ajayi, is injured.

The feel-good vibe extends to South Florida’s two Conference USA teams enjoying the boost of two major coaching hires in the FIU Panthers’ Butch Davis and FAU Owls’ Lane Kiffin. The long rut each program has been in may take a minute to get out of, but Davis and Kiffin lend immediate stature.

While FIU and FAU are building, the sense is the Dolphins and UM are poised and ready, with the challenge and onus on both the very same:

Make the leap. Take the next step. Don’t be afraid to do something …

This is the season for the Canes and Fins to show last year’s major progress was not a plateau but part of a ladder. You don’t stall now. You find another gear. Doesn’t mean a national championship or Super Bowl, but the parameters of progress are pretty clear.

The Hurricanes’ goal should be to achieve UM’s first 10-win season since 2003 and end a seven-game losing streak to ACC nemesis and chief rival Florida State. The teams play in the season’s third game, Sept. 16 in Tallahassee, so that Litmus test will come fast and furious.

The Dolphins’ goal? Go back-to-back on 10-plus wins for the first time since 2000-01, and ensure another playoff season by winning the AFC East. Which means unseating champion New England.

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Miami Dolphins DE William Hayes (95) runs a defensive drill during training camp at the Miami Dolphins training facility in Davie, Fla., on Monday, July 31, 2017. CHARLES TRAINOR JR ctrainor@miamiherald.com

Doubters are everywhere.

The Las Vegas over/under on Dolphins wins is a humbling 7 1/2, not a playoff number.

On the college side, FSU is seen as an elite national power again, and UM — for all its high hopes founded on what should be an excellent defense and playmakers like receiver Ahmmon Richards and running back Mark Walton — is unsettled at the one most important position.

Richt has a quarterback quandary, with junior Malik Rosier, sophomore Evan Shirreffs and true freshman N’Kosi Perry all in the mix to replace gone-to-the-NFL star Brad Kaaya. Rosier might have claimed the job in the spring. He didn’t.

“The sooner [you pick a QB], the better you can prepare that person in the fall camp, but all the contestants weren’t there,” Richt told us Monday. “If a true freshman might have a shot … if there weren’t a realistic challenger, we wouldn’t have had to be patient.”

In other words, why commit to Rosier or Shirreffs in the spring if you think Kid Perry has a chance to sweep in, impress the heck out of you and grab the job by the neck?

The idea of QB-by-committee or platooning is something Richt did not rule out but called “doubtful.”

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Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt with Miami Hurricanes quarterback Malik Rosier (12) and Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya (15) in the second quarter as the University of Miami takes on the West Virginia Mountaineers at the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016. AL DIAZ adiaz@miamiherald.com

No matter how it shakes out, the foundation for UM’s big dreams will be inexperience at quarterback.

That’s another thing to make the coming season something like a backward fall off that 10-meter board.

A little scary, but exhilarating, too, as you make that leap.

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