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Wanted: Coach of Football Power, Please Apply Soon

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Semi-desperate times require semi-desperate measures, which is why Art Kehoe, a University of Miami assistant football coach, flashes his four lug-nut-sized national championship rings whenever he visits a Hurricane recruit.

“We don’t have a head coach, so I need any advantage I can get,” said Kehoe, who has only 11 days until the national signing date, Feb. 1. “Hey, I’m not going to sit here and tell you things are great. We’ve got five (assistant) coaches and no head coach.”

In what has become a mildly prolonged and occasionally embarrassing search, the nation’s winningest Division I-A program during the last 12 seasons can’t seem to find a coach. Eight days have passed since Dennis Erickson left the Hurricanes for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and still no replacement is in sight. In fact, Miami Athletic Director Paul Dee has been stiff-armed by at least four candidates.

Dee’s woes:

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--Colorado State’s Sonny Lubick, a former Miami defensive coordinator and Dee’s first choice for the job, surprisingly turned down an offer earlier in the week. So sure was Colorado State of Lubick’s departure that Ram Athletic Director Tom Jurich already had begun to compile a list of possible successors.

--Duke’s Fred Goldsmith, who grew up near the Miami campus and has extensive high school contacts in the state, talked to Dee, but reluctantly decided it would be inappropriate to leave the Blue Devil program after only a year on the job.

--South Carolina’s Brad Scott, who just completed his first season with the Gamecocks, told school officials he wasn’t interested in the opening.

--Jim Tressel, who has built a Division I-AA powerhouse at Youngstown State, also withdrew his name. Family reasons, he said.

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--Auburn’s Terry Bowden received a call from Dee, but only in regard to Tressel and the transition from Division I-AA to Division I-A. Bowden went to Auburn from Division I-AA Samford.

The remaining list of known candidates includes former Hurricane assistant Butch Davis, now the defensive coordinator with the Dallas Cowboys but reportedly under consideration as head coach of the Raiders, and Gary Stevens, another former Hurricane assistant who is offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins.

When Erickson left, Dee said it could take at least 10 days to hire a replacement. But nobody, including Dee, could have predicted the negative responses from Lubick, Goldsmith, Scott and Tressel.

“We’re still on our timetable,” said Larry Wahl, Miami senior associate athletic director. “Ten days would be Monday. We have to make sure it’s the right person. But there’s no panic here, for sure.”

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Maybe not, but there is concern.

For Kehoe, who played at Miami and joined the staff in 1981, the absence of a head coach compromises the program’s recruiting efforts, to say nothing of putting his career in an awkward position. The latest turnover has forced him to ask recruits to be patient and to remember that Miami has won four national titles in the last 12 years under three coaches.

“You’re talking about a place that has a track record of excellence,” Kehoe said.

You’re also talking about a place that one former major conference commissioner described as, “a mile wide and an inch deep.”

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“I don’t buy that,” Wahl said. “I think we’ve got a solid core of players. What I will say--and this might scare somebody--is that we’ve had a run that’s unparalleled in the history of college football.”

Instead, Wahl attributed the hiring struggle to timing. "(Coaches) have been reluctant to leave their recruiting classes,” he said.

According to Kehoe, 37 of the 56 recruits who visited the Miami campus did so before Erickson switched jobs. Kehoe said some of those recruits will sign with the Hurricanes, regardless of who is coaching.

But Kehoe knows how fickle recruits can be. He knows Miami hurriedly elevated a graduate assistant and the program’s director of football operations to full-time assistant status so they could recruit off campus. He also knows the cutthroat nature of the recruiting wars, especially in a state where Florida, Florida State and Miami, as well as dozens of other top programs, battle for the same players.

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“I’m sure they’re ripping us in recruitment,” Kehoe said of Florida and Florida State. “Just remember, Florida (which ended its series with Miami in 1987) doesn’t play us anymore. And Florida State is 2-8 against us in the last 10 years. So while they’re talking crap, remember the record.”

Remember, too, that Miami soon will submit a report to the NCAA responding to allegations of Pell Grant misuse and play-for-pay schemes. Not exactly an employment plus.

“The other perception is that people aren’t interested in this job,” Kehoe said. “That’s such a crock. We’re not going to get sanctions or probation. In fact, if there is a better program in the country, I’d wish they’d go there.”

According to a source extremely familiar with the negotiations, Lubick wasn’t concerned about the NCAA inquiry. At least one friend with high-level NCAA connections offered to determine the seriousness of the alleged violations and the anticipated result of an investigation. Lubick said not to bother.

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Instead, Lubick worried about the must-win mentality at Miami and if it would wear on him as it did on Erickson. Lubick also decided he didn’t want to uproot his family for the second time in three years.

“Had he been offered the job (last) Saturday or Sunday, I’m convinced he would have taken it,” the source said. “But on the flight back from Chicago, he questioned whether he wanted to put himself in that situation.”

Turns out he wasn’t alone.


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