At Miami, Mark Richt hopes legends can invigorate program

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CORAL GABLES, FLA. >> Mark Richt outstretched his arms, leaned back and fell off the 10-meter diving platform at Miami's aquatics complex as those who were at a recent Hurricanes' recruiting event cheered wildly.

He flipped in the air, hitting the water feet-first.

For Miami's sake, Richt better have bigger splashes coming.

As he finishes up preparations for his first training camp as coach of the Hurricanes, Richt is spending plenty of time focusing on his alma mater's proud and storied past. A top priority for Richt since leaving Georgia after 15 seasons and returning to Coral Gables has been inviting many Miami legends back to campus, hoping they can help inspire a program that has been mediocre for years.

"I think our alumni players, our lettermen, they need to know we love them and we want them around here," Richt said. "We want their help. We want their support. We try to do a great job to let them know that we want them here. Believe me, there's a lot of eyes bugging out on these young men watching some of these guys walk around."

For a recruiting weekend — Miami called it Paradise Camp — the Hurricanes had current players and prospects mingling with some of the biggest names in the NFL, all of them Hurricanes past. Michael Irvin, whose son is a freshman player at Miami now, was on the practice field watching as kids ran drills. Jeremy Shockey, Antrel Rolle, Warren Sapp, Phillip Buchanon, Antrel Rolle, Gino Torretta, Duke Johnson, Calais Campbell and others also were around.

As night fell and the camp was closing, Richt turned the microphone over to Ray Lewis.

"What is a legacy without a journey?" Lewis asked the campers as his 12-minute, no-notes speech began. "What is a journey without a destination? What is a destination without a plan? ... Without a plan, there is no journey."

Richt has a plan, and the Hurricanes hope thus begins their journey back to the college football spotlight.

Some of the past players were coaching, some of them were merely speaking. It didn't really matter, since for most of the kids it was a thrill just to be around players they're used to watching on NFL Sundays. Richt — a member of Miami's Class of 1982, the year before the school won its first national title — got them all to show up without offering money for their time, or even plane tickets for the alummi from out of town.

"It really does try to bring back what we had before in a sense of belonging here," Irvin said. "This is a hard game. It's very, very, very, very, very, very smart what he's doing. He knows it's a tough game physically. You have to try to gain mental advantages and mental edges and this gives you that opportunity. ... One man to another, one generation to another. All of those things are very important when you're trying to build a program."

It's not new for past players to be back at Miami. Many past Hurricanes still spend time each offseason training in Coral Gables, and past head coaches like Randy Shannon (like Richt, who played for Miami) and Al Golden often had alumni around in various roles.

But there has been a disconnect as well, for a number of reasons. NCAA sanctions brought on in response to the actions of a rogue former booster have limited who can be on the sideline for games, meaning players can't be there like in past years — something many blamed Golden for, when in actuality it was far from something he decided on his own.

This camp, though, was different. To see so many big names back in one place at the same time was significant, and it won't be the last time Richt tries to pull off such a feat.

"They blessed us by showing up," Richt said. "It was phenomenal."

In an immediate sense, things like Paradise Camp wouldn't figure to have much impact. Miami isn't expected to compete for a national title this year, nor is it being widely mentioned as an Atlantic Coast Conference championship candidate like Clemson, Florida State and North Carolina.

But in time, Richt believes it will pay big dividends.

And the biggest splashes the Hurricanes make might not be off high-dive boards much longer.

"I've been doing that backflip since I was about 15 years old," Richt said. "As long as I keep landing on my feet, I'll do it. If I don't land on my feet, we'll call 911 and that'll be the last time I try it."

Either way, if Richt gets Miami football back on its feet, the risk will seem worthwhile.


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