On Thursday, May 9th I had the fortunate opportunity to attend the exciting Hurricane Club Spring Tour event in Orlando.
The Building Champions tour has been moving full speed ahead in reaching out to University of Miami fans all across Florida by following a whirlwind travel schedule that finally ended on Thursday, May 16 in New York City.
The Orlando event was held at one of the most unique and inviting (and hard to find) locations imaginable: the Panama Jack showroom and display warehouse near downtown. This is the second straight year the event was held at this location as a result of an on-going relationship between UM Athletic Director Blake James and Panama Jack CEO and founder Jack Katz.
Katz started the Panama Jack company in 1974 in Panama City, Florida out of a single tiki hut near the beach selling sun tan lotion. Today the company is a global empire and sells everything from lotions to clothing to furniture to bicycles to sunglasses and various other "tropical lifestyle products".
The casual, intimate event was attended by approximately 180 hard core 'Canes fans from all over Central Florida. We met several of the fans and even some old-time Canespacers who wanted to share in the friendly meet and greet with Head Coach Al Golden and UM AD Blake James.
Golden was very relaxed and approachable as he held court and took time to take photos with fans and sign autographs for the UM faithful in attendance. If you have ever met Golden in person then you know that he has this certain "presence" about him, a certain confidence, character and charisma that he exudes with incredible ease.
The always present Joe Zagacki was on hand as part of the tour swing from Tampa to Orlando and then on to Jacksonville. James took to the stage first as Zagacki welcomed the crowd and got the show underway.
I had the chance to ask James one of the first questions from the audience:
Canespace: "Hurricane football was built on Swagger and the belief that we would play anyone, anywhere, anytime. However, as an athletic director you have to be much more planful and strategic in developing future schedules both in working with the ACC and in scheduling out of conference games. Tell us what goes into developing schedules and what factors you consider?"
James: "Well to be honest I wish you would have asked me that question after we have our ACC meetings next week. After all of the conference schools get together, including our new members like Pittsburgh and Syracuse that are joining the ACC, we will all have a lot better idea of what the conference scheduling format will look like going forward."
"In terms of out of conference games you have to consider strength of schedule and how that will impact the rankings and the opportunity to play for a national championship. And make no mistake about it, that is our goal at Miami. However, some things are beyond your control and not as predictable as you might think. For example, when Miami scheduled Kansas State several years ago I am pretty sure that nobody expected them to be a top 5 team for most of the 2012 season."
"The bottom line is that we want to win our conference first and also schedule teams outside the ACC that support our strength of schedule and can potentially lead to us winning a national championship. We will schedule any team that we feel will help us achieve that goal."
Golden took to the stage to resounding applause from the crowd after a very heartfelt and supportive introduction from Zagacki. Joe Z mentioned the UM slogan on the posters that were on each side of the stage that read: "Stand With The U". He stated "If there is one person who exemplifies that slogan more than anyone else it is UM head coach Al Golden. In spite of difficult circumstances almost from the day he arrived on campus, Al has stood by Miami and has never wavered in his commitment to UM."
Golden took the time to answer several questions from the fans in great detail. He has a very relaxed and effective way of communicating to his audience and the ability to break down information in a comfortable, conversational style that is easy for even the casual fan to grasp and understand.
Fan: "Tell us what we can expect on offense this season with the addition of new Offensive Coordinator James Coley from FSU?"
Golden: "Well, as you mentioned Coley comes to Miami from Florida State to replace Jedd Fisch. We feel fortunate to have him because we believe he is not only an excellent coach but also a great recruiter. The one thing the immediately impressed me about James is that rather than try to implement an entirely new offense and terminology in a short time period he took on the task of learning our offensive terminology and translating his offensive scheme into what we were already doing. He picked it up so quick and that is going to make the transition much easier for our players especially for the upcoming season."
"As far as the offense goes at Quarterback we have Stephen Morris returning as our starter for his Senior season. Last year Morris set all kind of passing records for Miami and in the ACC as well. He led the conference in several categories and also broke many of the UM records as a Junior. We would have liked to have been able to red-shirt Stephen when he was a Freshman but due to the suspensions we had he had to play right away. Can you imagine if Morris was going into this season as a red-shirt Junior? We would like to be able to redshirt many of the players coming in but due to the issues we had and the lack of depth at certain positions we have had to play them right away which is not the ideal situation. We expect Stephen to pick up where he left off last season and have an excellent year for us again in 2013."
"And at running back we have this kid you might have heard of, what's his name again? [Golden, playing the crowd like a piano, gives a dramatic pause as the crowd immediately screamed out in unison: DUKE!] Yeah Duke Johnson! Duke is obviously a really special player for us. Everyone likes to mention explosive plays like his long TD runs from scrimmage, I think he had like five that were over 50 yards last year, or his kickoff returns for touchdowns, but there was one play last season that told me he was a very special player."
"I think it may have been the NCST game where it was fourth down and we needed like two yards for a first down. I decided to go for it and we called a play for Duke to run to the right outside the tackle and they had the perfect defense called for that play. There were like three defenders in position to make a play against Duke, it was like three against one. Duke lowered his pads, found a small crease and somehow powered his way through to get the first down. That was the play that I remember most and was the play that told me that he is a special player."
"At wide receiver people forget that we had a lot of injuries at that position last season. We were playing without Malcolm Lewis, Robert Lockhart, Allen Hurns and Rasahwn Scott for most of or at least a significant part of last season. Everybody is back healthy now and that is going to make a big difference for us. We have good depth so there is going to be some excellent competition at the WR spot going into Fall practice and the 2013 season."
"At offensive line is another area where we feel we have developed excellent depth and the two deep (depth chart) is really as solid a group as I have been around. Coach Kehoe will have those guys ready to go come Fall. They know how important it is to keep the defense off of Stephen, to give him time to execute the play call and to keep him upright and healthy. That could be the key to our season."