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.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Disappointed in The U

I'll get back to college baseball talk tomorrow (once all the regionals are decided). For today, I wanted to rant about some of the recent goings-on with former University of Miami football players.

For the past decade or so (yes, that's how long it's been - Butch Davis came on board with the Canes for the 1995 season), we've heard all sorts of talk about how Miami is cleaning up its image and its program. To a large extent, that has happened. Miami has continued to win football games (including the 2001 national championship and a 34-game win streak), as they have for 20-plus years. They've also turned out Academic All-Americans, including Draddy winner Joaquin Gonzalez (remember him? He turned down the Harvard scholarship and ended up earning an MBA during his five years at UM) and all-around All-Americans, such as QB Ken Dorsey.

During this current run, the Canes have also turned out a record number of NFL players. The stats and comparsions are too time consuming to make, so I'll assume that you can find them on your own. Maybe it's the volume of players that's the cause of what's bothering me (as any time more and more people from any school find their way into any profession, the more likely it is that some of them will not work out or will have colorful off the job problems).

Unfortunately I think the problem runs deeper than that. Sean Taylor and Kellen Winslow's recent off-field issues may be limited to only them, but they reflect on the University of Miami as a whole. The University has done so much over the past decade to eradicate much of the reputation that it earned during the 80s and 90s - but all of those efforts can be quickly rendered meaningless if a handful of former players make headlines for the wrong reasons off the field.

Hopefully Taylor and Winslow are just isolated examples. I hope Miami is holding itself to a higher standard in recruiting football players (along with other students and athletes). The choice shouldn't be whether to recruit the best football players or the best student-athletes. The only option should be to recruit the best football playing student-athletes. The distinction is slight, but it's an important one.

At the end of the day, the general public doesn't remember that Taylor and Winslow left school early and without their diplomas. The public doesn't remember that the only time they hear about Jon Vilma or D.J. Williams is when it's football related or when they are doing something positive. The thing that sticks out in people's minds is that Sean Taylor went to Miami and that he's out waving a gun at people and that Miami's "f-ing soldier", Kellen Winslow, looks foolish for jeopardizing his career for a motorcycle ride. In the long run, those kinds of memories will stick with people longer than a 34-game win streak, a 5th national title in two decades, or inspiring stories like Willis McGahee's.

(Hey Kellen - if you're such a "f-ing solider" why don't you walk off your injuries and actually play some football this year? Why didn't you do that last year? Oh - what's that? It's physically impossible? Fine - then just be quiet and save your talk for when you've actually proven something. In the mean time, quit letting your dad tarnish his reputation by defending the indefensible.)


  • At 11:34 AM, June 06, 2005, Anonymous wiggins said…

    I obviously don't know as much about Miami as you, sir, but the impression I am getting around here (since I am a Redskins fan) is that the football program there is very insular, and the players become an almost overly close-knit community. This is a very good thing when they are playing together, but can perhaps be not so good when they have to go elsewhere (the NFL, for example), and deal with other people and new situations.

    Hearing Portis defend Taylor's decisions (not to come up here to DC for practice, and not communicating with the coach) sounded like an "us against the world" kind of deal. "You aren't from Miami, so you can't understand us!"

    I'm not expressing myself as I would like, but does that make sense at all? Do you think there is anything to that?

  • At 11:45 AM, June 06, 2005, Blogger Mike said…

    I think you hit on it exactly. The "It's all about this U" and "U wouldn't understand" slogans (and t-shirts) are nice and all, but there has to be a line somewhere.

    Having all the NFL guys workout on campus is great - and was especially great during/post-probation as it added a lot of credibility to the program. Now though, it may be time to dial it down a notch.

    They've changed some things - like Plaxico Burress works out on campus during the offseason and Deion talks to Devin Hester - but the "us against the world" mentality may be a little too present - or at least not channeled appropriately.

  • At 11:46 AM, June 06, 2005, Blogger Mike said…

    And by using the "us against the world" appropriately, I mean that they should take that sort of approach when they're installed as underdogs for the opener against FSU this year (it's inevitable). Using that approach for offseason NFL workouts (in your high paying profession) seems to be counter-productive.

  • At 11:57 AM, June 06, 2005, Anonymous wiggins said…

    Glad I wasn't seeing things...

    I don't remember much of anything like that from FSU (back when they were winning consistently and churning out NFL players). Those guys did not seem to have too much trouble adjusting (or at least not in the same way).

    So that is something that Miami does indeed work sepcifically for? Maybe they need a counseler or program to help transition out of that and into the real world once they are done...

  • At 12:16 PM, June 06, 2005, Blogger Mike said…

    This is definitely something that's part of the Miami culture. It's huge.

    To get it to change would require a major initiative by the Athletic Department and probably even President Shalala. If it ever happened - say they didn't let the alums workout on campus - the school would probably offend more big boosters than former players.

    We're a small school and a tight-knit group. This is the one advantage that we have over other schools that have more alumni and are better funded. It sure feels like it's starting to turn into a negative though. Someone has to figure this out and get it fixed.

  • At 1:39 PM, June 06, 2005, Anonymous wiggins said…

    In case you missed it (and care) both Kornheiser AND Wilbon have columns about Taylor in today's Post. Wilbon make's some good points, and does not heep responsibility on Miami in any way...

    Tony's is pretty useless, but does have a couple of funny lines. My favorite (and somewhat pertinent to our discussion here) -

    "What exactly is Mr. Taylor doing with a gun? Or does that come with the scholarship at The U?"

    Maybe it's just the Seminole in me... but that tickled.

  • At 1:48 PM, June 06, 2005, Blogger Mike said…

    I'll have to look for those Post stories. My "favorite" story was from Saturday's Herald, where they talked to Taylor's mom:

    "Taylor's father, Florida City Police Chief Pedro W. Taylor, wouldn't comment on his son's whereabouts Friday, referring media to his son's mother. Taylor's mom, Donna Junor, 43, said she hadn't seen her son since Tuesday evening when she found him at home asleep.

    'I haven't heard from him and I haven't been able to contact him,' said Junor.

    Junor said her son spent the entire spring with her in Homestead, never discussing football. Taylor is the second oldest of her four children."

    It doesn't get much worse than that. You're in trouble for using a gun and your mom sells you out (not that there was much for her to defend). If I'm ever in Taylor's shoes I hope my mom says "no comment" instead of tipping everyone off that I've disappeared lately.

    And for the "tickled" comment, I'll be waiting to find articles about Fred Rouse getting qualified for football this fall. I think he only needed a 13.3 (out of 4) GPA this semester to meet the NCAA minimums. :-)

  • At 2:10 PM, June 06, 2005, Anonymous wiggins said…

    That reminds me - I used to TA a music class here at UMD. Trying to help some of the "student"-athletes to pass was sometimes a very painful process...

    The group as a whole can be pretty sorry.

    As to Taylor's mom... I have a feeling she will be the butt of some jokes up here now for a little while. Yo mama jokes are always priceless - but when yo mama sells you out -



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