Coming to UM not a tough sell

Eleven months ago, he walked quietly into the head coaching job at the University of Miami and had everybody wanting to know a little more about the man from Weleetka, Oklahoma. But these days Larry Coker's resume is growing by the day and the Hurricanes are savoring the rewards of being back on top of the college football world.

Just last week, Coker was walking up to a podium in Houston to accept the Bear Bryant Award as the American Football Coaches Association Coach of the Year. This after becoming only the rookie head coach ever to win a national championship since 1948 when the Hurricanes defeated Nebraska 37-14 in the Rose Bowl, Jan. 3.

"Of all the awards, the national championship is the one that means the most," said Coker. "These are all nice and all the attention is overwhelming. But without question, this is the most important to me and for all of us."

Not only did capturing a fifth national title help erase the doubts surrounding Coker and his staff even before the start of the season, it has opened the door to a potentially bright future for the Hurricanes.

Coker hopes that the coaches, himself included, have answered the numerous questions that persisted them for so long and that high school players around the country will be intrigued to join the Hurricanes.

"I think they've earned the respect of a lot of people and that may help us get two or three players we weren't going to get and we may go ahead and get them," Coker said.

Although Coker doesn't think winning a national championship makes much of a difference, the way in which the program is headed could have the Hurricanes relishing the benefits for years to come. With national signing day on Feb. 6, Coker said that UM has already received 15-16 commitments from high school prospects around the country.

Several other recruits were scheduled to be on campus this past weekend and Coker said he would like to have 21 players signed to UM by the cutoff date.

"I really think the direction in which this program is going really helps to seal the deal and is going to help get those Andre Johnson type players here," Coker said. "I don't think the national championship makes a lot of difference. Bear Bryant once said if you can get two difference-makers in a recruiting class you've had a great class."

The Hurricanes, who lost three juniors to the NFL Draft earlier this month, have received verbal commitments from several highly-touted recruits as part of incoming class that is being considered as the best in the country.

Among some of the players that have verbally committed to the Hurricanes and are likely headed to Coral Gables include Marc Guillon ( Miramonte, Orinda, CA), running back J. R. Mounts (Key West ), Devin Hester (Suncoast High School, Riviera Beach) and DB Greg Threat (Tallahassee Lincoln). Coral Gables High offensive lineman Alejandro Pou and defensive end Tamba Hali are also considering the Hurricanes.

Mounts, a running back in high school, might find himself in the Hurricanes secondary this fall with the chance of having an immediate impact on the team. Hester, an exceptional athlete, is another player that could step right into the Hurricanes line-up. According to several sources, Hester has impressed the UM coaching staff to the point where he might end up playing on offense and defense.

The expected addition of Guillon to go with University of Florida transfer Brock Berlin, Buck Ortega and Derrick Crudup could produce a logjam at the quarterback position in the spring of 2003 after the departure of current starter Ken Dorsey. But Coker likes the idea of having so many players potentially vying for the job.

"I don't think it will be crowded at all, what I think it really does is produce competition at the quarterback spot. It means we'll be in pretty darn good shape in two years," Coker said.

Coker said that the coaching staff always tries to recruit a ‘well-balanced', but he did admit that the Hurricanes have a lot of holes to fill in their secondary where seniors Ed Reed, Mike Rumph, James Lewis and Markese Fitzgerald will also have to be replace.

Junior Phillip Buchanon opted for the NFL, along with running back Clinton Portis and tight end Jeremy Shockey.

"I don't think there is any doubt about it," Coker said. "We have plenty of holes, especially in the secondary."

Coker has a good feeling that this year's UM freshmen class will turn out several difference-makers, still it was to early to have any indication on what to expect from the newcomers. "Sometimes you don't know, we signed Barry Sanders as an after thought at Oklahoma State," Coker said.

SURPRISED: Coker said he was surprised a ‘little bit' at the decisions of Shockey, Portis and Buchanon to forgo their senior seasons and turn pro.

"You get all kinds of advice through this process. Some good, some bad," said Coker. "Portis told me he's going to be a second-round draft pick."

Barring an serious injuries, Coker said with Frank Gore and Willis McGahee the Hurricanes will have another strong running game.

NEW DEAL: Coker is in the process of finishing an extension to his current contact that will make him the Hurricanes head coach at least through the 2005 season.

"That's the most exciting thing we've talked about today," Coker said. "They know I want to be here. I want to coach this team as long as they want me here. Hopefully that's for a long time."

Coker currently makes around $450,000 a season.

PARTYTIME: Coker has one more piece of business to tend to before things slow down- a ticker-tape parade in downtown Miami honoring the national champion Hurricanes, Friday, Jan. 25.

"I've never been part of a parade, but some of these guys around here say it's great. I'm fired up for it and really looking forward to it," Coker said.

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