The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Bad blood between Miami and LSU (Coaches)

There will undoubtedly be countless replays of Warren Morris’s dramatic game winning home run from the 1996 College World Series during tomorrow night’s Miami – LSU CWS opening round game (the homer was ranked as the biggest non-MLB home run of all-time by ESPN). That will be a nice story and will play up the baseball rivalry between these two institutions. When you’re watching the highlights though, check out who you might see in the Miami dugout during those clips who is now in the LSU dugout.

No, it’s not former LSU skipper Skip Bertman, who was an assistant under previous Hurricane legend Ron Fraser. Bertman was already at LSU by 1996 – and was winning titles regularly.

The coach in question is former Canes hitting coach/recruiting coordinator Turtle Thomas. Aside from having a great name, Thomas is at least a pretty good baseball coach. During his twelve-year tenure at Miami (which ended after the Canes won the title in 1999), Thomas was very popular with Hurricane players, athletic department staff, and fans.

Apparently though, he wasn’t so popular with the fellow baseball coaches. Allegedly, during much of the 1999 baseball season, Thomas and the other Hurricanes’ coaches (including skipper Jim Morris) did not speak to each other. Thomas was not welcomed back to the Canes for the 2000 campaign, and although the exact reasons for his dismissal were never clearly divulged, rumors ranged from recruiting violations to Thomas simply not getting along with Morris. In the time since he left, Thomas has not had much nice to say about the University of Miami. This week, his feelings made national news (relatively) as he was the subject of a story in the USA Today. It will also be interesting to see if Thomas remains quiet during the CWS or if he chimes in with allegations, like those raised earlier this season by Florida State coach Mike Martin of sign stealing and other Hurricane improprieties. Coming from Thomas, who has spent as much time in the Canes dugout as nearly anyone, those accusations would certainly carry more weight.

I’m not quite sure what to believe, but in the last decade or so, Miami has had some top assistant coaches in Turtle Thomas and Lazar Collazo, both of whom ended up leaving the program under highly unusual and controversial circumstances. The departures of both coaches did not sit well with the players at the time, and coach Jim Morris was quiet about both issues. This is a difficult thing for me to write, because in my limited exposure to Coach Morris, I’ve found him to be a very likable, straightforward, and honest man. Maybe the unusual departures of these two coaches are just back luck, but the situation definitely has an aura of something seedy.

We’ll see how much of a storyline this turns into tomorrow.


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