Trying to Change Miami Vice to Miami Nice
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) _ Call it Miami Nice.
It’s the University of Miami football team’s attempt to erase the catchy, headline-grabbing ″Miami Vice″ image it acquired last season after spending almost as much time on the news pages as on the sports pages.
School officials say the comparisons with the popular TV crime show are cheap shots unfairly linking the school to the city’s problems and dredging up past problems of the Miami football program since ironed out.
They say the real problems have been cleaned up - or at least straightened up - and that many of the others fall into the boys-will-be-boys category and have received too much attention because when people think of Miami they thing of, well, Miami.
″(Penn State Coach) Joe Paterno told me he’s had plenty of problems in State College, but nobody knows about them,″ Miami Coach Jimmy Johnson says. ″If I get a parking ticket, everybody in Miami knows about it.″
Extra-curricular brushes with the law are common on college campuses. But Johnson has learned that Miami’s campus is much more visible than, say, Oklahoma State University in out-of-the-way Stillwater, Okla., where he coached from 1979-83.
″We can’t have the average number of problems,″ Johnson says. ″Because of our image, we have to have less than the average number of problems or we’ll still have our image.″
Numbers, however, are a problem.
In 1986 alone there were at least a dozen Miami football players involved in incidents like gas-siphoning, shoplifting, sexual misconduct, fighting with police officers and leasing cars from sports agents. Some of the charges were upheld, some ended in acquittal and some were reduced. All got publicity.
″What’s unfortunate is that almost all of what happened were allegations, and when the allegations proved false, hardly any mention was made of it,″ Johnson said.
But there have been times when the Miami players have appeared to be their own worst enemy.
Last December, the No. 1-ranked Hurricanes arrived in Phoenix for their Fiesta Bowl showdown with Penn State with about a dozen players wearing battle fatigues in keeping with their season-long slogan that they were ″on a mission″ to win the national championship.
″I wasn’t on the plane, so I didn’t know about the fatigues,″ Johnson said. ″I was as surprised as anybody. But I wasn’t going to cause a furor over what a dozen players wore a week before the game.″
The incident heightened the already existing good guy-bad guy image between the two schools.
Later, at a dinner leading up to the game, the Miami team walked out en masse after Penn State punter John Bruno chided Johnson’s elegant coiffure and needled Miami’s ″family″ concept by saying that Penn State lets its black players eat with the white players once a week.
″We caught all the criticism. And if a Miami player had said those things and Penn State had walked out, we would have been criticized for making racial remarks,″ Johnson said.
″It was a very frustrating year we went through,″ Johnson says. ″To have the negative publicity and the feeling we have with an 11-1 football team . . .
But Johnson says he will run a tighter ship this year.
″If there are disciplinary problems, I will make it very, very clear that those players will not be asked to return to the lineup for the rest of the season,″ he said.
Also, Miami players will wear coats and ties on road trips.
″We had good people last year and we have good people this year,″ Johnson said. ″It’s what’s beneath those coats and shirts that counts.″
Johnson has cleaned up one of the negative aspect of Miami’s football history - it’s graduation rate.
Only two of the 22 scholarship football players from Miami’s Class of 1982 - 9.1 percent - graduated within five years. The number increased to 27.8 percent (five of 18) for the Class of ’83 and 28.6 percent (eight of 28) for the Class of ’84.
Johnson arrived in June of 1984 and the graduation rate for the Class of ’85 soared to 72.7 percent (16 of 22). It dipped to 63.6 percent (14 of 22) for the Class of ’87, but six others were in the process of completing their degrees.
The College Football Association has put the national graduation rate for football players at 44.6 percent. The American College Testing Program says 52 percent of all scholarship athletes graduate, compared to 42.5 percent for non-athletes.
″It’s no big surprise that more guys are graduating because the atmosphere for academics gets stronger and stronger every year,″ halfback Mike Bratton says. ″Coaches will get on you as much for cutting a class or doing badly on a test as they will for anything on the field - sometimes even more.
″People might think you can play on this team and not worry about grades, but that’s just not the way it is.″
Linebacker George Mira Jr. agrees.
″Since Coach Johnson came, there’s been a complete turnaround,″ he said. ″Before, the administration would stress that you had to go to class and graduate, but it wasn’t pushed as much as it is now.″
It will take a lot of pushing for Johnson to clear the air surrounding the Hurricanes. But it’s a battle he is more than willing to tackle.
″People may question how I do things,″ he said, ″but the bottom line is that we abide by NCAA rules and regulations, we’re commited to academics, our players graduate and we win football games.″
End Adv Weekend Editions Aug 29-30