CORAL GABLES — The last time the Miami-Florida rivalry involved an annual showdown, Jimmy Johnson was coach of the Hurricanes.
As Miami and Florida get set to renew that rivalry, which has only had six meetings since 1987, Johnson was back in Coral Gables on Wednesday, watching Wednesday’s practice, speaking to the Hurricanes and spending some private moments with Miami coach Manny Diaz.
“We’re all like kids in a candy store,” said Diaz, days before he makes his head-coaching debut against No. 8 Florida in a 7 p.m. kickoff from Orlando’s Camping World Stadium on Saturday night. “The guy has won a national championship and two Super Bowls, and again, the way he can recall stories and share stories in the past. We all ate it up.”
For Johnson, he was pleased to do whatever he could to help the program that he led to the 1987 national championship before winning two Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys. He eventually came back to Miami to coach the Dolphins in the late 1990s.
“Obviously, I love the University of Miami,” Johnson, 76, said. “I would do anything in the world to help Miami and the people and the program.”
Johnson added that it’s rare that he actually heads up to a location to speak but is receptive when someone wants to come pay him a visit in the Keys, like Diaz and his staff did earlier this offseason.
“He was great, and ironically, his message was really on point with what our messaging has been all throughout training camp, which has been fantastic,” Diaz said. “As far as stories of sharing what he said (Wednesday) and what he said are the keys, that’s for us, but I think it was — I know for me, personally, it was hard not to be excited hearing him talk.”
While withholding much of Johnson’s message, Diaz did reveal some of his points of emphasis.
“He drove home the point of what it means to play for the Miami Hurricanes and how to prepare for games like this,” Diaz said. “Because I’m sure (the Gators) feel the same way — we’re more concerned about us than them. And how to be mentally prepared for the setting.”
Certain he has heard it all, Johnson opted not to throw any more advice at Diaz with Saturday night rapidly approaching.
“He’s had plenty of words of wisdom,” Johnson said. “He didn’t need any more from me.”
Redshirt freshman starting quarterback Jarren Williams did receive some advice from Johnson on Wednesday.
“He just said to me, ‘Protect the ball,’ “ Williams said. “He said, ‘I like the way you spin the ball.’ He said some nice things and really he just said to take it one step, one play at a time. Don’t let the moment get too big.”
Johnson and Diaz were actually both in the Orange Bowl for that 1987 meeting between the Hurricanes and Gators, which UM won 31-4, but Diaz had a different vantage point from Johnson on the sideline.
“I remember I was sitting on the south side of the stadium, kind of low toward the middle of the field, and I remember kind of the weird confusion that we gave up two safeties on snaps going over the punter’s head,” Diaz said. “I remember Randy Shannon with a pick-six that day. It was early in the season. It was sunny out, hot, and the place was electric.”