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July 24, 2006
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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. ? Miami linebacker Jon Beason isn't asking his offense for much.
"Just give me 17 points, and I think we can hold the fort," Beason said at the Atlantic Coast Conference media days at the Sawgrass Marriott.
That modest total proved elusive all too often last season.
Despite boasting one of the nation's top defenses, Miami didn't play for the national championship. They didn't even play for the ACC championship.
Blame it on an offense that scored a grand total of 20 points in their three losses last season. Miami coach Larry Coker responded by firing four assistant coaches after an embarrassing 40-3 Peach Bowl setback against LSU.
New offensive line coach Mario Cristobal, who instructed the tight ends last year, is the only remaining assistant from last year's offensive staff.
"I've been asked, 'Was it painful?' '' Coker said. "Sure, it was painful. We dealt with it. We've had some good things happen over the last five years, but it was time for a change. It was time to make sure we were going in the right direction."
The overhaul has led to speculation that Coker enters the season on the hot seat, even though he owns a national championship and a 53-9 record in his five-year tenure.
"It's pretty crazy to me," junior quarterback Kyle Wright said, "because there are other schools that went 9-3 last year that are getting more publicity than I've ever seen."
The Hurricanes are hoping the changes on the coaching staff will produce a change in attitude.
That became apparent as soon as new offensive coordinator Rich Olson arrived on campus.
Wright remembers an incident early in spring practice when the offense delivered a big play. Instead of beaming, Olson was steaming.
Olson already had seen Miami's defensive players dance and jump around every time they shut down the offense in practice. He wondered why his offensive players weren't celebrating and congratulating one another in the same manner.
"You can't let the defense intimidate you like that," Wright remembers Olson saying.
Olson wants his players to develop the supreme self confidence that Miami's defense already possesses. That pride was evident this week every time Beason talked about how difficult it was to see the ACC title go to a Florida State team with three conference losses.
He wondered why the ACC couldn't allow the two teams with the best conference records ?regardless of division ? to play for the crown. That format would have produced a Virginia Tech-Miami rematch in the championship game.
"It's painful," Beason said. "They're wearing my ring, I feel like. They're 7-5 (actually 8-5) and they have a conference championship ring. That's unheard of. They're almost not even .500."
Beason didn't get his ring because Miami's offense wasn't good enough.
The Hurricanes scored only one offensive touchdown in each of their two regular-season losses to Florida State and Georgia Tech. Then the season ended with the putrid Peach Bowl performance.
"It's probably the most humbling experience I've ever been a part of," Wright said. "I've never been beaten like that in any sport at any level in my entire life.
"It's easy after a game like that to start pointing fingers at guys. Our coaches got fired. To me, the most important thing was to point the finger at myself. I was trying to figure out where I had to improve as a quarterback and as a leader of the team to make sure that doesn't happen to us again."
That's just what Coker needed to hear from his quarterback.
"We want Kyle to be a more outspoken leader," Coker said. "With the experience he has now, be more of a Peyton Manning type who's demonstrative and takes charge. We've seen that with Kyle."
Wright feels better than ever, and says he doesn't remember entering a season with so much confidence.
He believes the adversity that followed last season has brought the team together. He credits the new coaching staff for instilling a fiery approach that was missing from the offense last year.
Wright said Miami's offense even occasionally outplayed the defense during spring practice. Whenever the defense threatened to push the offense around, the offense pushed back.
"It was great to see our o-linemen fighting with those guys," Wright said. "We had some good fights. It shows the offense is going to stick up for one another. I haven't seen that the past couple of years."
But the offense sure didn't put up much of a fight in the spring game. The offense never scored a touchdown, failed to pick up a first down in its first six series and didn't cross midfield until the final minute of the second quarter.
The Hurricanes dismiss those results by pointing out they didn't want to reveal too much of their playbook so soon.
"Critics can say what they want about that game," Beason said. "When it's time to unveil (the new offense) ? and there will be an unveiling ? you'll have a different perception."
Wright already knows what he thinks of the new offense. He believes it's good enough to produce an undefeated season - as long as the Hurricanes suffer no letdowns and overcome the inconsistency that haunted them last season.
Now it's up to Wright to direct this offense and continue this school's tradition of stellar quarterbacks.
As he enters his junior year, Wright has thought about the legacy he wants to leave at Miami. Instead of adding any more defeats to his resume, Wright wants to add to the Hurricanes' collection of five national titles.
"My name is tied to a 40-3 loss for the rest of my University of Miami history," Wright said. "I don't want to go down in the record books as the quarterback of that 40-3 loss. I want to be ... a national champion. I want be added to that list."
For more coverage of the Miami Hurricanes, check out CaneSport.com.