As Miami held its first spring practice under new head coach Mark Richt Tuesday, two things were certain.READ MORE: Miss USA Asya Branch Could Make History In Sunday's Miss Universe Competition At Seminole Hard Rock Hotel And Casino
One, coach Richt wears a cowboy hat – like a boss.
And two, the Hurricanes players seem to already be pretty comfortable with and very excited about all the changes that Richt and his coaching staff have made thus far.
As the South Florida sun beamed down to make an 89-degree March day, the working media was privy to the first 25 minutes of practice as the position groups went through drills.
Players looked enthused as they whirled around the field; getting instruction from coaches, who appeared to have just as much energy as the players. It was the first look at the team as it will have 15 practices over the next month – including a live scrimmage that will be open to the public on April 9th at West Palm Beach Oxbridge Academy and a spring game on April 16th at Fort Lauderdale Lockhart Stadium.
After practice, there seemed to be a recurring theme amongst the players.
They were having fun out there.
Junior quarterback Brad Kaaya started it off.
“It was awesome. All these guys are hungry,” Kaaya said. “All these guys are ready to get back to it and be great. It feels a bit different. It feels pretty intense, I feel like the excitement level is pretty high right now.”
Sure, a part of it was also the fact that UM just returned from its spring break, but still – there was something different out there.
Senior receiver Stacy Coley, who elected to forego entering the upcoming NFL Draft and keep his talents in Coral Gables for one more season, said the team was definitely enjoying itself out there.
“We’re just out here having fun,” Coley said. “Everyone is in a good place and having fun. The fun part is being back out here and knowing that we have new coaches and knowing that they have our best interest at heart. The coaches just want us to have fun.”
“I feel like we didn’t have fun during the season last year but we’re picking it up right now,” Coley added.
For a team that finished the 2015 season 8-5, capped off by a 20-14 loss to Washington State in the Hyundai Sun Bowl that was both head-scratching and gut-wrenching, having a new coaching staff with a new energy is just what the “U-throwing” doctor ordered.
Junior offensive lineman KC McDermott gave high praise to his new coaches.
“It’s very different,” I love coach Richt. Coach Richt is awesome. And Coach [Stacy] Searels is great…he’s the perfect man for us. From the first day he came into the offensive line room, it was like a perfect marriage. We’re all excited for the time coming up.”READ MORE: Report: 25 AR-15 Rifles Missing From Miami Police Department's Inventory
Change Is Good
Changing for the sake of changing doesn’t always bring forth positive results, but the changes that Miami made – hiring Richt and company – is a reason for Canes fans to be optimistic.
It’s not necessarily time to make plans to be Tampa (site of the 2017 National Championship game) next January. But things are looking up.
Redshirt junior defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad, who also decided to stay with the Hurricanes for one more season and is expected to fit nicely into Manny Diaz’s new 4-3 defensive scheme, said he liked what he saw from his team Tuesday.
“For the first day it was definitely high-tempo,” Muhammad said. “It was unbelievable to see how hard everybody was working. No one was complaining. Everyone was taking coaching and executing. I was out there just like ‘wow’ this is some great stuff to see. Everybody’s embracing the changes.”
“We’ve definitely embraced the change. That’s the perfect word for it – ‘embraced’ – couldn’t have said it better. Everybody is embracing the change…and that’s awesome. Everybody has embraced the new coaching staff and is buying in to what they have to bring to the table,” Muhammad said.
Change is good for the Canes, who led the nation in penalties per game (9.3) and penalty yards per game (84.2) as well as having a defense that ranked No. 102 in rushing yards given up per carry and No. 70 in sacks per game.
“It’s only the beginning and it’s only going to get better. The program is moving in a great direction and off to a great start. When everybody is on the same page…a team will be hard to beat – I don’t care what university it is.”
The Richt Effect
Offensively, Miami was solid. Finding a consistent ground attack and keeping the quarterback standing upright were two areas of concern, but on the whole – UM’s offense was alright.
Now the Canes offense will be orchestrated by coach Richt – who said he will work intensively with the quarterbacks, have a hand in installing the team’s new offense and will call plays on game days.
That means Kaaya will be under the tutelage of someone who has coached two Heisman winning signal callers during his career.
“He’s really thorough. He’s really detailed…for him it’s all about the details and doing things right,” Kaaya said of Richt. “He expects everyone to do the right thing every single play – all 11 guys.”
Last year, Kaaya completed 238 of 389 passes for 3,238 yards with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions while missing a chunk of one game and all of another game with a concussion.
While expectations are high for 2016, Kaaya knows that he will have to learn a lot before fall’s kickoff.
“This is like my third offense in three years,” Kaaya said. “Last spring I knew more of the offense. It wasn’t as new to me and everyone else. This is the first time we’ve repped the offense as a team all year.”
“But that will definitely will bring us together,” Kaaya said. It’s new for everybody. Getting to sit down and watch film with guys and learn the new system together is going to help us. Last year, some guys knew things better than other guys – but right now everyone has a clean slate and we get to go learn everything together.”
Muhammad had a word of advice for his quarterback and anyone who might find themselves complaining when their cheese has been moved.MORE NEWS: Kid Reporter Damon Weaver, Who Interviewed Obama At White House, Has Died At 23
“In life, there are different changes. That’s just the way life is. Everything is not always going to stay the same,” Muhammad said. “You can either adapt to it and take it and have a positive attitude or you can be negative. One thing I can is that everyone here has a positive attitude…with that being said, the 2016 Hurricanes are going to be great.”