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Part 2: Does The U have a South Florida problem? Development

Part two of a series on South Florida talent. Is the issue that families have moved, or is the issue prep coaching and development?

NCAA Football: Miami at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Hurricanes have signed top-10 classes over the past 20 years, multiple of them, including the top-rated class in 2008. But for some reason there’s been a disconnect between top classes and winning.

That class produced zero NFL first round draft picks for the Miami Hurricanes, and only seven wins per season under coaches Randy Shannon and Al Golden. The best NFL player of the group was wide receiver Travis Benjamin (4th round) who scored 23 total touchdowns in his career. The highest rated, linebacker Arthur Brown (2nd round), transferred to Kansas State; while defensive tackle Marcus Forston never lived up to his five-star hype.

Lately, the recruiting services like 247 and On3 have stopped putting South Florida players in the top-100 by the near double-digits, and instead you’re seeing an average of five top-100’s (2022-2024), instead of nine (2014).

Remember our conversation about IMG from part one in the series? They’re talented, but also well coached, and well prepared mentally, physically, and emotionally for big time Power 5 college football.

Case in point- Francis Mauigoa is showing up to Greentree on day one ready to start not just at Miami, but on any offensive line in the ACC. He’s a big human which helps, but he’s also been prepared developmentally by IMG for the role of being an ACC starter.

Cristobal is looking nationally for talent because you have to with the current quality of South Florida coaching. If Miami wants to return to greatness it won’t be via only recruiting South Florida talent. The lack of development and proper deployment in South Florida just isn’t preparing enough ready-made football players.

Graphic is from my class on “Talent Acquisition”

While part one of the series focused on recruiting or Acquisition- as Bill Connelly from ESPN calls it. This second edition, part two, is focused on Development. Part three (coming soon) will focus on Deployment, and part four (later date) details the solution.

Development Issues

The podcast The Solid Verbal did their “Year One Debrief” on Mario Cristobal and Miami with The Athletic’s Manny Navarro. I normally grain of salt Navarro- but most of what he said was definitely true (honestly, it was a really good interview, Manny did a great job).

The quality of high school coaching in South Florida has collapsed and in my personal opinion (I am a teacher and coach that moved from Florida for a better quality of life) it’s because of pay compared to the high cost of living in the area.

Coaching quality has been on a downward spiral because of losing public school coaching talent in Miami-Dade County. The coaching talent has gone to private schools in the area; but also to college football recruiting positions, and to other states- like Georgia and South Carolina, that pay almost triple for teachers and coaches.

Miami public schools like Southridge, Carol City, Killian, Palmetto, Washington, Central and Northwestern have all had their day, and some a second or even third wave of talented senior classes- but in the 2020’s the talent is at the private schools in South Florida.

As Sports Illustrated and Split Zone Duo’s Richard Johnson would say (I’m paraphrasing here): football is a game of blocking and tackling. It’s a simplified version of my personal take, but I cannot disagree with RJ here.

In the book Under the Tarnished Dome, Bo Schembechler was disappointed in the way Notre Dame played Michigan under then coach Gerry Faust. Faust came from the high school ranks to take over at Notre Dame. It was a bizarre decision that failed epically on the field, even if it succeeded off the field.

Off the record Schembechler said the Irish blocking and tackling was “...In need of a lot of work” (p.89). Schembechler was also unimpressed by the intensity and play calling of the Irish. The areas where Faust failed were where Lou Holtz succeeded in South Bend: Development and Deployment.

As a retired high school football coach with two decades of experience total, including over a dozen in Central Florida, I’ve been unimpressed with the basics Bo and RJ have mentioned above, contact preparation, when it comes to South Florida ‘Canes.

In the past, I put together a two part series on “The Art of Tackling” for SOTU in the past. You can access part one here, and can access part two here. I also wrote a film heavy “All-22 Review” on the offensive line, which is clearly blocking heavy. Both are “contact” events in football. Let’s analyze them separately.

Development: Tackling

Tackling might be one of the most misunderstood aspects of American Football. From coach to coach and coach to fan there’s a massive drop off of information about tackling. We’ll get deeper into how to fix this issue in part four of the series. For now, let’s just examine the issue itself.

In case you forgot about how bad the tackling has been at Miami, it’s been really damn bad for years, under three head coaches but especially Manny Diaz and so far Mario Cristobal. Kevin Steele’s “head across” style didn’t work for the ‘Canes. I’m wondering what style Lance Guidry will use when it comes to tackle. From a few drills that you could see via spring videos, I think shoulder tackling, but I’m not 100% sure because the ‘Canes lacked consistency in the technique.

As we saw from 2021, what won’t help is to dive into a tackling ring onto a crash pad. There’s nothing quality about this drill. It reflects the game of football in no way, shape or form. There are no ball carriers, there’s no winning and losing, so there’s little visual-cognitive-motor development shown via this “drill.” No VCG means it isn’t a true agility drill, it’s just fluff.

But it was reflected in how poor the team tackled, not just that they tackled poorly. Tackling is a skill that has to be honed and it just wasn’t happening under Diaz or Steele. There was no winning above, either.

By spring of ‘23 you’d hope for change but tackling high with the head across is just more of the same from the ‘Canes. The team hardly tackled in the spring game. Obviously QB’s weren’t going to be tackled live, but then the 2nd half was tag on everyone and the 1st half wasn’t exactly a display of contact.

What you’d want to see from Miami coaches and players in drills is what you’re seeing from the All Blacks rugby team above. Even when you’re not “competing for a win” you’re making much more realistic contact than against the unloaded pool float.

College coaches need to stop watching film and just seeing that a tackle was made. Was that tackle realistic to what they’re going to see on a Saturday against real competition? Can the way that this player tackles translate to the next level? Are you as a college program doing anything to truly teach and re-teach the skill of tackling?

I would love to see more footage of what is being taught on high school campuses down in South Florida. What we see on film isn’t great in the tackling technique department. Obviously, much like we’ll discuss regarding O-Line in the “Blocking” section. It’s difficult to gauge at times when someone with the size of James Williams is running into a five-foot-seven, 145 pound high school skill guy.

All-American safety Kam Kinchens, one of Miami’s best trackers and tacklers, blows his first shot on the tape above and then has a nice angle tackle. J. Williams has a pair of ugly stops that aren’t realistic to ACC play. On the sack the QB just dies for him, on the tackle his head is down. Both plays are finished at the HS level.

Linebacker Wesley Bissainthe has good and bad on tape. Sometimes he just throws a shoulder in and HS backs fall down. Other times you see a much more realistic finish. I thought he played well in 2022, but looked bad in the spring game. Sometimes the “tempo” (thud, whiz, etc) being changed from live messes guys up.

Sometimes it’s what’s being repped. Above- Francisco Mauigoa (the linebacker, not the tackle) has a fantastic rep in the drill. It actually looks like a football finish, he just doesn’t take his ball carrier down. Bissainthe has a bad rep. I’m not sure what the benefit of the run past and chest dive thing is, but it certainly won’t help tackling.

Development: Blocking

South Florida isn’t producing a ton of high quality offensive linemen. Michael McLaughlin, who I was very high on, hasn’t worked out in Coral Gables yet. I think Matthew McCoy is going to be a stud (North Florida) once healthy (a rising trend at Miami), but so far the starters are from anywhere but So. Florida.

Miami’s “best” on the O-Line before injury was Jalen Rivers, from Jacksonville, FL. The ‘Canes will be greatly relying on transfer center Matt Lee (Central Florida) and transfer guard Javion Cohen (AL) alongside Rivers, Anez Cooper (AL) and Mauigoa (IMG/West Coast). The depth will be provided by former starting left tackle Zion Nelson (SC).

NCAA Football: Miami at Virginia Tech Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Blocking, like tackling, is a learned skill. It’s more than just being the biggest guy in the room. When you’re in high school an offensive lineman can get away with being the biggest guy in the room. When your opponent is five-foot-nine and 220 pounds, it isn’t hard to dominate them. This is why O-Line is the hardest position to recruit.

The key is to sign OL that have been playing against top tier defensive linemen in practice. That could come from public schools that have talent on talent, or places like IMG (FL), St. Frances (MD), and other talent hotbed schools. You could be better off watching practice competition rather than games for some on the O-Line.

Don’t get me started regarding underwear O-Line drills at the college camps. Completely pointless crap to drag money out of families. No one can tell a single thing about those drills except who can hold better or throw a guy for a 15 yard penalty more often.

Development: Strength and Conditioning

As a certified strength and conditioning coach (USAW, Exos, 200-hour yoga, RPR) with two decades of experience in developing athletes, I see a lot of horrible S&C on social media and cringe. A lot of it comes from high school football, and a ton from Florida high school football.

The biggest culprits of horrible technique, #GrindSZN garbage? South Florida public schools. Don’t worry, Tallahassee posts some hot garbage, too. Honestly some of the best S&C you’ll see from high schools is in Georgia (go figure), but also in the midwest where they have less natural talent for movement and are being more creative in developing.

When I wrote the piece, “I like the way you move” for SOTU, one of my favorite natural movers was Mike Harley. Go Figure he went to St. Thomas Aquinas. Harley came to Miami as a blue chip prospect but well outside of the top-100 in his class.

In my piece titled, “Maybe he’s born with it,” we dove deeper into ‘Canes movers who haven’t been developed, got worse, or remained quality. Guys I didn’t want to be hampered by bad coaching were James Williams, Don Chaney, and Elijah Arroyo. Chaney and Arroyo have been injured, and J. Williams star has faded fast in Coral Gables.

I know everyone wants guys to have that dawg in ‘em, but it’s 2023- stop grinding dudes into the dirt at the end of practice with gassers and 300’s. Start doing actual speed training, curved sprinting, and real agility drills- not ladder dancing or salsa dancing elbow flailing wide receiver training.

In the weight room it’s too easy to not get certified. If I was an athletic director, if I couldn’t hire a full-time certified strength coach, the first step I would take is to require all team sport coaches to be USA Weightlifting level 1 certified. No cert, no weight room.

Now when athletes come to Miami or other P5 programs they actually know how to lift and move. I’ve had D1 strength and conditioning coordinators tell me they beg their recruits to stop training with their high school coach once the season is over. They’d rather have guys do six second stair sprints and yoga, rather than be around most high school football coaches S&C “programming.”

If you’re a high school coach and you’re posting the world’s ugliest clean reps on your Instagram, please take the USAW course and stop being part of the problem.

The Wrap

The Acquisition isn’t that far off in regards to raw ability. The issue now is Developing those South Florida athletes so that they’re much closer to being ready when they arrive on campus. I think that can be done through better blocking, tackling, and strength and conditioning in the local high schools.

In part three, we’ll discuss Deployment. That is, how the college coaches see the South Florida athletes compared to other areas of the country (and even within the state of FL) when it comes to understanding X’s and O’s, their position requirements, and how ready they are to play ball right away.

I’m bringing in multiple college coaches, anonymously, to give the real information about the divide between South Florida “kids” and other recruits- if there even is one.