A combination of coats and ties, and an altered practice times laid the foundation for Michael Haywood's Miami team--especially his team this past year--to have a spotless record off-the-field, a strong academic record, and the obvious winning season complete with MAC Championship.
Known as a disciplinarian, Haywood announced two structural procedures that he implemented at Miami of Ohio, that from the sounds of things, he'll be bringing to Pitt as well. Neither are sure to be popular among players at first, but when looking at where he modeled the idea after, and the result of those respective teams, players may feel differently.
Haywood attended St. Thomas High School in Houston, Texas, where the sport coat and khaki pants are part of that school's dress code.
"My father always said, you're going to play like you look," Haywood said. "It was always a point that you look and dress appropriately. As a player at the University of Notre Dame, we wore a coat and tie to every game. I've never walked out of a locker room, or walked in to a locker room without a coat and tie on. I think it's important that gentlemen dress like they play.
"When you walk into a stadium, and you dress nice, you feel good about yourself. I believe to a certain degree, you have a little jump start."
In addition to going through a standard at his high school in Houston, and his alma mater Notre Dame, Haywood wanted to implement the policy when he took over at Miami two years ago.
With an upgrade in the dress code, Haywood put into effect a new practice procedure. He found the biggest thing with academics, is that players were either missing practice because of classes, or having a hard time keeping up with classes because of practice. He solved it with one altering adjustment, but checked with one Big Ten program who did a similar thing.
However, there was one school that he wanted some feedback from, because they were instituting a similar policy.
"I talked to (head coach) Pat Fitzgerald over at Northwestern," Haywood said. "He talked about changing into the morning practices. On Tuesday and Thursday, practices 6:15 in the morning, and you're off to film by 10:30. Classes start at 11:15. On Wednesday, you start practice at 6 am in the morning. You're off to film at 9:30. It eliminated the problem in which we had with student-athletes uptown."
In 2008 and 2009, the Wildcats won at least eight games in consecutive seasons for the first time in 13 years.
One of Pitt's problems prior to, and during the early parts of the 2010 season, was a string of four off-the-field incidents, which included three indefinite suspensions, and another player removed from the team. Haywood quickly saw as a result of the early-morning practice routine, everything was taking care of itself. Because of the early-morning practices, there was no more excuses for either missing class or practice. At night, players going out socially was eliminated by default, because of having such an early start to their day.
"Football was so important to them, they were not going to go out the night before practice," Haywood said. "They came in and gave a great effort if they wanted to play. It solved the problems we had uptown."
From a physical standpoint, players are more well-rested. That showed up as the RedHawks won their final four games of the regular season, to get themselves into the MAC Championship game against No. 25 Northern Illinois. They pulled off a last-minute win over Northern Illinois to claim the title. Haywood's team came off the field on Thursday morning, prior to the Saturday night game. He estimated they had 56 and a half hours of rest, before taking the field again. In the meantime, they had the unlimited access of treatment or whatever they needed from the training staff.
The RedHawks got that win, but the biggest reward came from Miami's Dean of Students, Dr. Susie Mosley-Howard, at the team's banquet.
"She said, ‘Coach, you did not have one problem once the season started,'" Haywood paraphrased. "That is unbelievable. It really helps as far as that's concerned. When gentlemen come to practice, they don't have to worry about academics, social. It's first thing in the morning. You get their best effort in the morning."
He's unsure yet if he'll be able to implement the same procedure at Pitt. For a team program looking to rectify some of its off-the-field problems, this might not be a bad start.
"I have to talk with the registrar to make sure that we can make that work," Haywood said. "6 am, and you should say 6:50, because that's when it really is. 6:50 practices are unbelievable. I'm really surprised that not that many people do it.
"I was really skeptical when I talked to Pat Fitzgerald about doing it. It is the best thing we could have ever done. If you look at any game we played in, we're winning in the third and fourth quarter because we're the fresh team."