George Mira Jr. Interview Part 3

In Part 3 of this interview, former Miami linebacker George Mira Jr. talks more about the transition from the Schnellenberger to Johnson era and how they overcame a rocky start to have an amazing three year run.

CT: How did it feel for you as a player on that team in '83 that had just won the national championship to have Coach Schnellenberger leave?

GM: It was a big adjustment because we were used to the way that Howard was. We had tremendous respect for Howard. They brought in Jimmy Johnson, and we didn't even know who he was. We had never heard of him, we were like ‘Oklahoma State, who the hell is that? What did he do out there?' That was our mentality. The problem with that mentality too is that a lot of us wanted the coach to come from internal. A lot of guys wanted Tom Olivadotti to take the job, a lot of guys wanted Gary Stevens. So there was conflict there with most of the players. We also felt that Sam [Jankovich] kind of disregarded the feelings of the team and just went outside the program and got whoever he wanted. So that was that problem. Coach Schnellenberger had a different aura about himself. He was in that Bear Bryant mode. He was a big man, like 6'3" and 260 lbs. Jimmy Johnson came in and he was like 5'10" or 5'11" and he had the hair, so we're looking at him like ‘who the hell is this little guy coming in and what is he doing?' So that was everything that was going into the transition coming into that first season with Jimmy. I was there in the spring. Schnellenberger left after the spring.

CT: If that happens today, the team and fanbase would be in an uproar.

GM: Oh yea, it was unheard of. You have to take your hat off to Jimmy because not many coaches would have taken that job with that stipulation, while keeping that staff. Most coaches wouldn't have taken that job because that first year, all he was basically was a figurehead, that's it. He comes in, he didn't know the offense, he didn't know the defense, he didn't know anything about this team. And it's too late to make changes before the season. That took a set of balls to do, and a lot of coaches wouldn't have done it. And we still panned out with a decent season.

CT: Was that the year where Bernie Kosar got hurt?

GM: Yea, Bernie sprained his ankle. He hurt his ankle but he played the year with a hurt ankle. I remember we were all at the beach one day or something and he had his foot in a cooler of ice with a towel over his leg so they couldn't get pictures of him for them to see that his ankle was still bothering him.

CT: That's pretty funny. So when Jimmy had his first team meeting with you guys, what was your VERY first impression? The first thing that popped into your mind?

GM: Who the [expletive] is this guy? (laughing). Who is this guy? It's funny you say that because I remember the first meeting we had. It was in the locker room. We're all sitting there, and not even the whole team, because it was summer and a lot of guys were in summer school, so less than half maybe were there. Jimmy walked in and here's this little guy. Are you kidding me? We're used to Howard with the pipe and the deep voice and he's that father figure and you were terrified of him. So that was my first reaction. ‘Are you kidding me?'

CT: At what point do you go from ‘who's this guy?' to ‘this is my coach'.

GM: I guess it didn't happen until after the '85 season. We played the full season with him in '84 and nothing panned out. It was a disaster. We go into the spring of '85 and he brought in some real good coaches and he brought in a lot of enthusiastic coaches. They were very enthusiastic about cheering you on and stuff and they were very supportive. Howard's coaches were more of like a pro mentality because he came from the pros, so his staff was pro mentality. Jimmy was more personable with the players. He would talk with us and bs with us and Howard was always ‘player/coach'. After that '85 spring, that's when we noticed things were coming around a little bit. In the '85 season when we went out there and we lost to Florida, we played hard. Things clicked and things worked and after that loss, the team really came together and really exploded.

CT: So it was after a loss?

GM: Yea, yea, I think it was after the loss. Then the next step that catapulted us was when we beat Oklahoma in Norman. That was the third game. Third or fourth. I was furious after the Florida game. Furious. The team really got together after that, and then Oklahoma catapulted us. The Florida game lit a fire under my ass. I was just furious. I'll never forget. I was sitting outside of my coaches office before they even got there. I was just angry.

CT: Why?

GM: Just losing the game. We lost on a couple of ridiculous mistakes. Mike Knoll was my coach and I was talking to him for well over an hour. He had to calm me down because I was just livid. That's when the team started to take off. Now, we made a few mistakes. In '85 we got beat by Tennessee. I don't think the team was mentally prepared to play that game. I thought that we were very lackadaisical and that some of the guys just didn't understand what was at stake. In '85 we could have won the national title. We beat Oklahoma and they beat Penn State in the Orange Bowl. They said that if we win, we're national champs. I think a lot of guys were young and we didn't have a lot of leadership. I was young, Jerome Brown was still young. Kevin Fagan was the older guy. Testaverde was new. You know Howard would take us out of the big hotel the night before the game and put us in a small hotel. To get away from the fans and stuff. We didn't do that later and there were a lot of distractions. We knew that the '86 team was going to be tremendous though.

CT: That '86 team might be the most talented Miami team ever.

GM: Yea, I'd say so. I think it is. I think it was one of the top college teams to ever play.

CT: You think it was the top Miami team ever? Better than '01?

GM: Yea, I think so. The reason why is because we were physically more dominating than other teams and than the other UM defenses. We were feared. The guys were bigger back then. I was 240, Winston Moss was 240, Carter was 240, 235. Those were our linebackers. Jerome Brown was 300 lbs, Dan Sileo was 300 lbs, Hawkins and Jones were studs. Our defensive backs were all over 200 lbs. Bennie Blades was 230 or 225 lbs. People don't realize how big we were. Our defense was as good as any defense in the NFL at the time. Miami hasn't had that since. They had Ray Lewis come in, Ray Lewis was 220. Vilma was small. Dan Morgan came in and 225, but they didn't have a corps of big men like we did. We were a big dominating team. We didn't finesse you.

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