The story isn’t about another kid transferring; it’s about a head coach who will continue pushing his core values until every member of this squad is finally on board. In the end, the process will weed out the weak, while forming an unbreakable bond regarding those who manned up, stuck around and bought into the system. It’ll result in more wins and it’ll put ‘The U’ back on the map.
This isn’t the first time the University of Miami has seen a new, hard-nosed coach getting on board, squashing out lethargy and righting the ship in the process. Butch Davis ran some guys off as he had to break some old habits in the mid 90s and after a mediocre five-year run by ‘The U’, Al Golden is flushing out the type of players who led to an uninspired 35-29 record since 2006. The latest casualty, running back Storm Johnson.
Johnson ended spring football third on the depth chart, behind Lamar Miller and Mike James. Rumors also swirled regarding off the field issues and an early season suspension looming, which build a case for Storm choosing to push the ‘reset’ button instead of paying his dues and earning his way back into the fold.
Johnson’s father, Wesley, said Storm was leaving due to an overcrowded backfield and homesickness. Coach Golden tells a different tale.
“He wasn’t doing the things he needed to do. He can spin it or portray it any way he wants, but he wasn’t doing the things we need Miami Hurricanes to do,” said Golden. “It was best for him to move on.”
Golden’s response elicits three reactions. First, kudos to the first-year Miami coach for having the stones to call it as it went down, instead of letting the culture of entitled teenage athletes prevail. Second, why wasn’t Johnson – or any other recent transfer – doing what was asked by coaches and third, when did parents start letting their college sophomores have such a say regarding these big life-altering decisions?
The Golden Era will be one of accountability, competition, hard work and earning everything that comes your way. Players will get it done in the weight room, on the practice field, in their down time and on game day. Former coach Randy Shannon worked to make his kids model citizens and scholars, which is equally as important – but at the end of the day, the job must get done on the field, as well.
For years there’s been talk about kids in Shannon’s doghouse and rumors of promised playing time. No one knows the degree to which that is true, but when you hear of players not stepping up and doing what’s asked of them on and off the field, it’s hard to not believe there was some sense of entitlement that trickled down from somewhere.
This isn’t the time to pile on Storm, but it’s not time to shy from the truth either. The lack of sticktoitiveness doesn’t say much for Johnson’s grit, which is necessary if he has aspirations of playing in the National Football League. The University of Miami has made many players, but it has broken its share as well. Look at the list of transfers over the years and you’ll be hard pressed to find many kids who began their careers at Miami, left for supposed greener pastures and went on to find great success elsewhere.
There’s a reason the U Family so strong and resilient and there’s a reason UM has sent so many kids to the next level. ‘The U’ generally breeds kids who are stronger, faster, better, harder and guys who simply want it more. Guys who have another gear. Guys who NFL GMs refer to as “Miami guys”, which pretty much says it all. In this case, it had the opposite effect; Johnson and the other recent transfers just told the football world they’re not “Miami material”, which isn’t what the NFL wants to hear.
Johnson was entering his sophomore season at the University of Miami; a program with no true proven quarterback or passing game and one that will rely heavily on a ground attack this fall. Miller and James will carry the load, but Johnson would’ve gotten his reps and had he stepped his game up, he could’ve easily climbed that depth chart if he applied himself.
The raw talent is there, but like so many other one-dimensional backs, it comes down to fundamentals; holding on to the ball and becoming a solid blocker. Without that, you’re just another kid who can run fast and in college football, there are a lot of kids with wheels.
OLD SCHOOL VS. NEW SCHOOL
Honestly, where did the work ethic go in the past decade? In 2001, Miami suited up Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee as the one-two punch, while Frank Gore exploded onto the scene as a freshman. Senior Najeh Davenport slid over to fullback to make room for the bevy of ball carriers. These were guys who wanted it, guys who reached the NFL, guys who won a national title and played their part in a 34-game win streak, four straight BCS games and back-to-back title games. Combined, this quartet put up 2,333 yards and 22 touchdowns on the ground en route to UM’s fifth ring.
Portis was the workhorse, carrying 240 times for 1,366 yards and 11 touchdowns during the Canes last championship season but the freshman Gore was the second-most productive back with 579 yards and 5 touchdowns on 64 carries. Both Portis and Gore saw action in all twelve games.
Gore blew out his ACL entering the 2002 season, paving the way for a Heisman-worthy run by McGahee – who had his knee shredded in the title game, rehabbed and bolted to the NFL, paving the way for Gore to start in 2003, which he did for five games, before another knee injury sidelined him.
Again Gore worked his way back, played all twelve games in 2004, carried 197 times for 999 yards and 8 touchdowns before heading to the NFL as a third round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in spring 2005. Over the past six seasons, Gore has racked up 6,414 yards, 35 touchdowns, two Pro Bowl selections, one second team All Pro selection and was named NFC Rushing Champion his second season.
Entering his sophomore season and prior to injury, Gore had beat out McGahee for the starting job. No one handed it to him – it was earned. Johnson had his chance this spring and in the end, was beat out by both Miller and James. Period.
As a parent, where is the life lesson here? What is a young and formidable Storm Johnson learning from this experience? That it’s all right to quit when you come in third place, simply because you’ve always been number one your whole life?
One has to wonder how “homesick” Johnson would be right now had he been named the starter at the end of spring football.
For a kid who wanted playing time, Johnson just relegated himself to the bench until 2012 per transfer rules and from there, a whole new crop of young and hungry backs will be competing for playing time wherever he winds up. Conversely, as seen at Miami with McGahee, Gore and a slew of others backs, injuries are prevalent as the position and who’s to say Johnson wouldn’t have had his fair share of carries this season had he simply applied himself?
With Johnson gone and Miller / James as the one-two punch, the Canes will rely on Darion Hall, Maurice Hagens and and freshman Kevin Grooms to provide depth and fresh legs. Former running backs Eduardo Clements and Lee Chambers have been moved to corner, but could return to the offense if need be.
And so it goes. Another one who got going when the going got tough … and Johnson isn’t the only one.
FORCIER OF NATURE
Golden also took some time to address the fate of almost-transfer Tate Forcier, as it was announced this week that the former Michigan quarterback won’t be headed to Coral Gables. There was talk about Forcier’s transcripts, with Golden making it clear that “it was in his best interests not to come” and explaining why Miami reeled in Memphis transfer Ryan Williams, stating that “we had really good film on him against quality competition”.
Tight end Andrew Tallman is also expected to transfer, making it a half dozen Canes who are moving on / being shown the door. Of those six, only Johnson and linebacker Travis Williams were expected to compete for playing time in 2011.
While the departure of Johnson and other Canes has been front page news, Golden and staff have quietly been adding depth to the current roster. In the past few days, former Wake Forest cornerback Michael Williams has joined ‘The U’. Williams played thirteen games and started two and will add depth to a depleted secondary.
Miami also added defensive tackle depth with a Pennsylvania JUCO transfer Darius Smith and West Boca High’s Corey King, who had 56 tackles, seven sacks and three forced fumbles as a senior last season.
On the recruiting front, UM got a shot in the arm and made a statement when four-star linebacker Raphael Kirby verbally committed. Kirby chose Miami over two dozen other programs – Florida, Florida State, Alabama, LSU, Southern Cal, etc. – and cited a bond with Micheal Barrow and other Hurricane coaches.
Like others before him, Kirby stated that he wants to be part of the solution, fixing the problem and bringing this proud program back and while this is the sixth four-star prospect – and ninth overall commitment – Golden has received a verbal from, that’s just the subplot. The overall culture is changing at Miami and folks should take notice.
Sometimes it takes a small step back to take a giant leap forward and while a few transfers will make headlines, forcing Chicken Littles to cry that the sky is falling, while opposing fan bases work to build their case that ‘The U’ is on the decline, the exact opposite is taking place.
Golden is weeding out the dead weight, while bringing on the right kind of player that will turn this thing around. At the same time, the internal culture is being changed. Competition is being promoted and conditioning is king. The new “U Tough” workout will whip last year’s underachievers into shape and will turn some ‘good’ players into ‘great’ ones.
Don’t pencil Miami into the ACC title game just yet, but don’t count the Canes out, either. Give this thing time to gel and trust the process. If a kid has been brought on board, know that he has the core values, buys into the system and is the type of kid this staff is believes in. For a kid that’s been shown the door, accept that it happened for a reason and trust this coaching staff more than you do recruiting rankings, message board hype and grainy YouTube clips.
Simply say ‘goodbye’, move forward and know that what’s been done was done for the greater good of this program.