ORLANDO — As the New Miami neared halftime of its spring game Saturday, the Old Miami walked into the press box at Camping World Stadium.
“So,” former Hurricanes coach Mark Richt said, “who do you all think should be the starting quarterback?”
Funny. Miami fans have been asking the same thing for the last two-plus years.
But after Richt’s stunning retirement in December, he won’t be the one making that call. And that seems fine with him.
In his first public remarks since stepping down after the Pinstripe Bowl, Richt sounded at peace with his decision, which wasn’t as abrupt as it seemed at the time. Richt said he first began considering retirement at the end of his 7-5 regular season. When the year bottomed out a month later with Wisconsin’s 35-3 blowout, Richt knew it was time to go.
“I didn’t want to fake it,” said Richt, whom ESPN announced Saturday as its new studio analyst for the upcoming ACC Network. “I didn’t want to just do it for the money. I felt like, for me to know it was time for me to stop coaching, it was just obvious that it was going to be good for everybody.”
Good for everybody.
Richt stressed that Saturday. He didn’t leave because of external pressure. He was never asked to change his staff (including his son, Jon, as quarterbacks coach). He left because he thought his alma mater would be better off without him. “I felt it was the right time for me as a person,” Richt said, “and I felt like Miami would be in better hands.”
Richt didn’t know at the time that those better hands would belong to his former defensive coordinator, Manny Diaz. But he said Diaz is a great fit and would have been the first name on his list.
Saturday’s spring game didn’t give us much insight into whether that was the right call. It was a meaningless scrimmage with a made-up scoring system (the offense beat the defense 35-32).
“The big thing is, are we starting to look like the Miami Hurricanes?” Diaz said. “I think in glimpses, you can kind of see the improvements this team has made.”
Translation: Check back after these ’Canes play a real game here against Florida in front of a crowd that will be much larger and louder than the one Saturday (9,102).
But this is, as Diaz likes to say, a new Miami.
Start with how the ’Canes handled their exhibition. Miami used a (since postponed) Rolling Stones concert at Hard Rock Stadium as a way to get a dress rehearsal for its Aug. 24 opener. The players got to test their new routine and travel schedule by staying in the same hotel and meeting in the same rooms they’ll use in four months.
“I think Coach Diaz was brilliant for how he did it,” offensive coordinator Dan Enos said.
Diaz was brilliant for why he did it, too; his revamped roster needed the experience.
The transition from the Old Miami to the New Miami created a disastrous recruiting class. While Richt and Diaz both deserve blame for it, Diaz had to fix it by mining the transfer portal.
Saturday’s top offensive highlight: An 80-yard catch-and-run touchdown from one highly touted transfer (ex-Ohio State quarterback Tate Martell) to another (former Buffalo receiver K.J. Osborn).
Does that mean Martell be the answer to Richt’s question?
Richt hasn’t seen enough to form an educated opinion, and the ’Canes won’t decide until August.
So neither one knows.
Funny. Maybe the Old Miami and the New Miami aren’t so different after all.
Contact Matt Baker at [email protected]. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.