The thing that stuck out the most about Miami was the fact that they had Michael Irvin, who I thought was the classiest guy. I watched him play when I was in high school. When I went down there, those guys just all seemed like they were brothers. They were all a team. They were all friends. When I went to other places, there would be cliques on the team. Different guys would hang out and there were several groups. When I went into the Miami locker room, they were all so cool with each other, and they couldn't wait for practice. At practice they went at it hard, and after practice they were cool. During practice though, they'd all be trying to kill each other. Not literally of course, but it was still amazing to watch. Then I watched the game in 1988 when Florida came down here and Miami won 31-4. After that, I said, ‘I want to play with those guys'. That was the last time that Florida came down here to play (until recently). Even after I had committed and came down for my first practice, the intensity level was so high, I had to question my decision. I had to literally ask myself if I had made the right decision. I definitely did, though.
I have one more recruiting question. How would you compare the media attention today to back then as far as recruiting goes? We've all read the stories on CanesTime about coaches texting recruits and detailed scouting reports, and we all remember the Willie Williams recruiting saga with private jets and steak and lobster. Was it like that back then?
The media now, they run with a lot of stuff. Everything now is so blown up and scrutinized, I'm wondering how anyone can cheat today. I'm still wondering how Florida can get all these kids into school (laughs), but I don't know. This whole recruiting process is ridiculous. You can go online now and find out anything about any player. You got their highlights and stats. It's a good thing for the kids though. It gets their names out there and now if they can't go to Miami they'll have other college coaches coming in and recruiting them because everyone gets to see them.
Conversely, one might argue that it can be negative for the kids because it gets in their head. Soft verbal commits, taking hats on and off, signing day surprises, etc. -- what about that?
Well, things like that have been going on for a long time. The thing that's the most important to me right now is that these kids are getting a chance to get an education. As long as the kids get an opportunity to better their lives, that's the most important part. Everyone wants to win championships, but the bottom line is that we want to try to develop better men. I don't care what the kids do; I just want them to go to school. I tell them all the time. It's not about going to Miami, Florida, Florida State, or even USC. It's about continuing your education. It's about doing something and not staying stagnant. You can't do anything by sitting at home saying, ‘I woulda coulda shoulda'. Go wherever you have to so you can become a better person.
Let's go back to you again. You committed, showed up to practice, what happens next?
Well, like I said, the intensity level was so high. I had to question my decision. I saw so many amazing athletes out there; I didn't think I'd ever play. I redshirted my first year, which Jimmy did not like one bit. I came to him afterwards and expressed interest in playing basketball on the side. He told me, ‘Son, you haven't done squat here to earn your scholarship for football. Why should I let you play basketball? Go out and earn your scholarship'. It was tough. Then Jimmy left, and I figured I was going to transfer. I told myself, ‘I didn't come here to play for Dennis Erickson'. Gino [Torretta] stopped me and told me, ‘this guy runs 4 receiver sets'. At the time it was unheard of. Gino told me to just do the math. At the time, Wesley Carroll had just came there, Randal Hill was there, Dale Dawkins, Smith, etc. Here were all these guys ahead of me on the depth chart, but I thought to myself, ‘man these guys have to get tired at some point, and with four on the field at the same time, I can get in the game!' The next year Kevin Williams came and once again I had that pressure. I scored my first collegiate touchdown against San Jose State, but got hurt on the play. The next week, we had a week off, and the guy who was behind me was Kevin Williams. I did everything in my power that week to make sure that kid couldn't get on the field. Everything possible, because I knew that if he got on the field, I wasn't going to be able to get my position back. We couldn't afford back in the day to miss time. Look what happened when Bernard Clark won the MVP in the Orange Bowl when George Mira Jr. was suspended. Larry Jones won MVP one year when two running backs got hurt. Once you got hurt, those guys behind you were going to take your job, you could believe that. We might not have had the Parade All Americans, and let me just say that all that stuff is overrated anyway. I have never seen a team full of Parade All Americans win a national championship. One thing that Jimmy did back in the day was get himself guys that could compete and had that will to get better. Look at the guys like Russell Maryland, Ryan McNeal. McNeal was third team All-County. He got to college and wanted to compete. He and I used to fight every day. From the day we got on campus, he asked me, ‘what's your name?' I said, ‘I'm Lamar Thomas, haven't you heard of me?' [He said,] ‘No, I haven't. I'm Ryan McNeal, and I don't even know why they recruited you because I'm going to be the first guy to play both ways at the University of Miami'. I told him, ‘alright then, it's on'. It was competition, that's all it was.
Did it turn some guys off?
Oh yeah. I tell Terrell Buckley all the time. ‘You were scared to compete. Don't lie and and say otherwise. You were scared. You didn't want to compete.' They have their stories, but I let them know that they weren't good enough to go to the University of Miami.
That's the kind of stuff that some people don't understand. ‘It's a Canes Thing' I guess.
Let me tell you, I met my ex-wife while I was at the University of Miami. She ran track there while I played football. After my career was over, she could not understand, and it caused a lot of problems in the household, but she couldn't understand that on Saturday I had to be locked up in my own room. I could not watch the game with her or with anybody else. She told me, ‘you have to let it go, you're not there anymore!' I said, ‘the hell I'm not!' I am a ‘Cane. I am a ‘Canes fan. I am a true ‘Canes fan. Regardless of what people think of me around the country, I tell them, ‘so what'. I stood up for my University. I said what I said, and I'm not saying that I'd take it back. No. You don't come into our house. That's point blank.