Former University of Miami roommates and teammates Mike Rumph and Phillip Buchanon were reunited Thursday at the Greentree practice field they used to irrigate with blood, sweat and tears.
Rumph is the new cornerbacks coach under Mark Richt, and Buchanon, the former All-American and NFL player, came out with fellow Canes great Bryant McKinnie to observe spring practice.
What they saw did not remind them of their Hurricane heyday. Not yet.
They are hopeful that the current generation of players will not just run, catch and tackle better but do it with more passion and vehemence.
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It’s not just a nostalgic longing for the good old championship days. Something has been missing from UM football in recent years, and that something is the attitude that Rumph and Buchanon inherited from their predecessors and bequeathed to their successors.
Call it swagger — not in the preening sense of the word but in the way the Hurricanes of UM’s prime years embodied a volcanic energy every time they played football. Might made right.
“We’ve got to have a sense of urgency, and right now that urgency is coming from the staff,” Rumph said. “When I played the intensity came from within the team. We practiced like every day was game day.”
Richt and his assistants have not sugarcoated the state of the team since they took over. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz talked of eradicating a “virus” on a unit that was ranked among the weakest in the nation last season. Rumph is looking for transformative change in “tackling and aggressiveness.”
“For my generation, the coaches brought in angry South Florida kids, and we had a fishbowl of players fed up with UM not winning enough,” said Rumph, 36, who played on the 2001 title team. “We were mean, grimy kids who wanted to work.
“The day after winning a national championship we were out here working. We’d stay after practice taking extra catches. We held meetings on our own. I felt I could not let down people like Ray Lewis and Michael Irvin.”
Buchanon said hazing was part of every new player’s introduction to the culture.
“Guys were taped up and thrown into the cold tub,” he said. “Making guys tough was part of the mystique of UM.”
Buchanon recalled how the field was a proving ground. Former receivers coach Curtis Johnson would give him a menacing smile and whisper in his ear as practice began: “OK, Phillip, we got something for you today.”
“We saw a lot of fights between the O-line and D-line,” Buchanon said, mentioning teammates Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne, Chris Myers, Ken Dorsey, Andre Johnson, Daryl Jones, Kevin Beard. “We’d talk trash and act like we didn’t even know each other. Then when practice was over we were buddies.
“Most of us had a built-in chip on our shoulders because we wanted to show we were better than the guys who went to Florida and Florida State. We held each other accountable.”
Richt has set a higher standard of effort and performance and the Canes are learning to adjust.
“They’re shocked by our expectations,” Rumph said. “They’ll take a wrong step or make a wrong read and we’ll say, ‘You made a mistake,’ and they are shocked because they think they did it well.”
Richt and Rumph don’t want to sound like they are blaming UM’s shortcomings on Al Golden, who was fired with six games remaining last season. Part of the problem is the generation gap. Today’s young people are accustomed to having all the answers on their phones. They are masters of their own publicity machines on social media.
When a kid thinks he has the world at his fingertips, how does he develop the burning desire to conquer it?
“They carry a feeling of entitlement where everything is me, me, me, look at me I’m on Twitter and Instagram,” said Rumph, who is not a grumpy old man. He came to understand the mind of the 21st century teenager while coaching the Plantation American Heritage High School football team to two state titles and the boys and girls track and field teams to a state title.
“You see kids jumping from high school to high school. They’ve been raised differently. A lot don’t have fathers, and mom is working.
“They’ve been raised by the Internet.”
Rumph’s job is to weed out complacency and plant ambition. He sees it growing in Corn Elder, Jermaine Grace and Chad Thomas.
“If this generation can get by being great at half speed, they’ll do it,” he said.
Easy? Easy shouldn’t be a goal. Rumph and Buchanon came to embrace the bruises, exhaustion and sacrifice as the price of developing a will to succeed.
“Part of the problem with our guys is confidence because if you’re not confident you won’t have that bust-your-butt mentality,” he said. “I’m waiting for them to say, ‘This is our team.’ Maybe they’ll decide to hold meetings among themselves. That’s when we’ll change into a national-type program. Right now, we’re not there. It’s very tense and tight.”
Rumph is one who can lead them, if he can get them to turn off their phones and tune in to his UM history lessons.