Miami to Try a New Look : Hurricanes Hope to Change Image as Renegades
The Miami Hurricanes, saddled with a national reputation as a group of renegades, want to change their image.
Last season, no matter what the talented group of football players did on the field, their off-field exploits drew as much or more attention. Controversy swirled around the team all season, culminating with a series of incidents at the Fiesta Bowl that received national publicity and embarrassed the university administration.
Now, the Hurricanes are fighting back. Since the 14-10 loss to Penn State last Jan. 2, the university has printed a student-athlete code of conduct and hired a former NCAA enforcement official as associate athletic director who will, among other things, meet individually with each athlete.
The hope is that preventive measures will decrease the negative publicity and tone down the image of the Hurricane football team.
“I think the most important thing we can do is put in as many preventive steps as we can,” Athletic Director Sam Jankovich said.
For one thing, Miami is keeping track of the cars driven by athletes and what summer jobs they work.
Last year’s trouble began when three players were found to be leasing cars from companies owned by sports agents. A fourth, linebacker Winston Moss, kept for several days a car owned by a teacher at the school who also was an agent. Moss was suspended for one game.
After that there was running back Melvin Bratton walking out of a department store with a pair of sunglasses that he hadn’t purchased; confrontations between players and police, and several thousand dollars worth of phone calls made by athletes using a long-distance access number posted in a dormitory lobby.
On the field, the Hurricanes sometimes refused to shake hands with opponents and before two games--Florida State and Oklahoma--stood on the field taunting the other team.
The year culminated with the Hurricanes arriving at the Fiesta Bowl wearing combat fatigues, staging a walkout at a steak fry, and shouting obscenities at Penn State fans before the game. Shortly thereafter, a group of players had a confrontation with a university employee outside a student housing building late at night.
“I don’t think there’s any way we can have as many distractions as we did a year ago,” Coach Jimmy Johnson said. “I’m looking forward to that. I’m looking forward to having a young team again.”
The key person for the Hurricanes this year is Doug Johnson, a former criminal lawyer hired from the NCAA, where he worked for five years. His job is to make sure the Hurricanes are within the boundaries of the often-confusing NCAA legislation, and to meet with the athletes and discuss their role at the school.
Perhaps most important to the Hurricanes, the hiring of Doug Johnson, along with the code of conduct, sends a signal across the country that Miami is aware of its troubles and is taking steps to correct them.
“Most people internally are proud of the university,” Doug Johnson said. “There is a feeling that some of the coverage of the university last year was somewhat one-sided. They feel that the university has been portrayed as a much worse place than it is.
“It doesn’t matter if we win 65-10, what people notice is somebody had a nice looking car driving around campus. I’m sure they felt some pressure to be perceived as a cleaner school.”
While Jimmy Johnson insists he has not changed his approach to the team, players know they have to show this year they are not the renegades they appeared to be last year.
“I think we’re in a position where we’re going to have to be more mature this year,” said senior defensive tackle Dan Sileo, who may be declared ineligible before the season starts.
All the negative publicity of a year ago did not hurt the Hurricanes in recruiting. Jimmy Johnson believes his 1987 group of freshmen was the best he has recruited at Miami, and preliminary responses from this year’s high school seniors are even more positive.
In addition, the Hurricanes believe the off-field problems did not hamper their performance.
“That’s the way it always was,” senior linebacker George Mira said. “Those are just things that happened. Everyone wishes it didn’t happen, but it did. But it didn’t distract us at all. Hopefully, none of those things will happen this year.”
The university also is proud of its graduation rate, especially in football, where Doug Johnson said more than 70 percent of the players that complete their eligibility at Miami earn degrees. But in a region with four newspapers in a fast-growing market, university officials know negative stories will be on the front pages.
This is where Doug Johnson thinks he can help. By meeting with the players individually and as a team, he plans to reinforce the need for athletes to act cautiously, to treat police and university officials with respect, and to realize their actions away from the field can hurt the school more than anything they do on the field.
“I believe the majority of the people want to do what’s right,” Doug Johnson said. “If their peers around them are doing what’s right, they’ll tend to follow along. Certainly I subscribe to that philosophy and believe its going to be successful here at the University of Miami.
“I think the athletes are a little bit tired of the negative image. I don’t think they appreciate being portrayed as less than law-abiding people. I think they want the same type of image that other people enjoy, and some of them aren’t really sure why they’ve been subjected to the negativism of the past. But they’re definitely aware of it.”
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