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Mark Richt’s ‘Canes are Coming

By BJ Bennett
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There is a very real force to the Hurricanes, a movement Mark Richt is at the center of. Miami is clearly a program on the move.

If a Miami has a good year, people say 'they are back' and it creates a lot more energy than a team that doesn't have a lot of tradition.
~Mark Richt

There is a special mix of confidence and clout, momentum and memories, in Coral Gables as Miami prepares for year two under head coach Mark Richt. Past and present are swirling this summer, with conditions, along the coast, taking shape. As the Hurricanes embrace higher expectations as the pre-season favorites in the ACC Coastal Division, the profile, at a place known for championship conviction, is approaching from the horizon; this fall could prove to be the perfect storm.

Miami, dating back to the start of last November, has won five games in a row, defeating their opponents by an average score of 37-to-18 in that span. The Hurricanes will be ranked in the pre-season polls and will step into the national spotlight early with a primetime showdown at rival Florida State on September 16th. An 1,100-yard rusher in Mark Walton and a 900-yard receiver in Ahmmon Richards pace Miami's offense, while All-American candidate linebacker Shaq Quarterman headlines a defense led by one of the most ferocious front sevens in the game.

Perhaps the most important returnee for the Hurricanes is familiarity.

"I would say it's a little less stressful, and I hate to use the word stress because it sounds like you're panicking or stressing out, but there was a lot more work to do a year ago just teaching everybody how to go about your business. Not just the team, but the coaches, the strength staff, the nutrition staff, the recruiting staff, everybody involved," Richt explained. "And we aren't worried about that anymore, we know how we want to do it and now it's a matter of doing it."

Richt isn't just at Miami anymore, he, and his standards, are firmly in place. The experience for the long-time Georgia head coach has been a surreal one. Richt played quarterback for the Hurricanes from 1979-1982, competing with the likes of Bernie Kosar, Jim Kelly and Vinny Testaverde. Before growing as an offensive coordinator under Florida State legend Bobby Bowden, Richt, the player, learned from noted program-builder Howard Schnellenberger.  

MORE: The Legend of Howard Schnellenberger

Make no mistake about it, however; it wasn't nostalgia that brought Richt back to the beach. He saw something on the horizon, a future even more appealing than his past.

"I came to Miami as a head coach because I knew Miami could win, not because it was my alma mater," Richt nodded. "But the fact it is my alma mater has been exponentially more gratifying than I ever dreamed it could be. It became more personal than I thought it would become. I'm just thankful to be here, I am thankful for the opportunity."

Everything, for lack of a better word, is starting to come together. In addition to last year's second-half success, the Hurricanes are blowing past the competition on the recruiting front. In addition to the stars already on campus, Miami, per most recruiting services, currently has the nation's number one haul for the class of 2018. There is a very real force to the Hurricanes, a movement Richt is at the center of. Miami is clearly a program on the move. 

Simply put, the Hurricanes are coming.

As optimism builds, especially with a Miami-man out in front, what-was becomes the narrative for what-could-be. The Hurricanes' hey-day remains the program's heartbeat, as each snap, it seems, is an homage to history. No school in the country has a tradition quite like Miami, a brand and belief all its own. Watching the Hurricanes at their best, some described it as "swagger"; Richt explains the Miami mantra another way.

"It means winning," Richt stated. "All the things people call swagger from back in the day, if they were 5-5 and those guys were doing what they were doing nobody would of cared, but if you are winning national championships and kicking people's butts all over the nation then whatever you do becomes swagger. Those guys earned the right to have swagger because they won, not because of anything else in my opinion."

That sentiment, with the Hurricanes, is a shared one.

"Week-in and week-out beating people. That's when you get swagger," added Walton, who has 25 career touchdowns entering his junior season. 

For Miami to return to prominence, the Hurricanes will have to fine-tune their consistency, a rhythm they found late this past year. Contending for championships won't just require winning on a regular basis, but also winning on the right nights. For Richt, that means regaining control of one of college football's best rivalries: Miami vs Florida State. Richt has seen this famed series from both sidelines and as a player and a coach.

The last three meetings have been decided by a total of ten points, all victories for the Seminoles. Such narrow margins have defined the rivalry for decades. Richt, the player, won a one-point game in his first home clash with Florida State. Richt, the assistant, lost a one-point game in his first home meeting with Miami. Richt, the head coach, lost a one-point game with the Hurricanes in a high-profile home showcase a season ago. Miami has been close; now the Hurricanes must finish.         

"I think people would love for Miami to do our part. The rivalry means a lot to us and our people and I'm sure it means a lot to the FSU people, but nationwide it doesn't have the appeal it used to because we haven't won in so long," Richt acknowledged. "I think the nation would enjoy Miami-FSU becoming more of a colossal matchup because both teams are playing at a high level." 

There is a cool breeze blowing across Biscayne Bay, one stirring a powerful program on the rise. The Hurricanes know the benchmark, on campus, is being the best.  

"It's amazing to be a part of that but we know what we have to get back to," Walton continued. "Get back to what Miami is originally known for. We're just trying to get that legacy back. I think this year we really have the power to do it." 

With a new status quo now set, Miami does have a throwback feel. After learning about Richt's expectations in year one, the Hurricanes are meeting them in year two. Across the board, there is a better understanding of both what Miami is and what Miami does. Expect to see even more cohesion, in product and philosophy, this fall. The Hurricanes are following their leader forward.      

"You can see the passion, that he loves his alma mater," Walton shared. "When he first came in there were things we weren't used to our coach doing. So we had to adapt to his changes and the way he does things. I like the way his coaching style is, his gameplans, everything. I like the way he sets up and organizes things for us, looking at it now like 'man this dude is the real deal'."

Competing at a high level is nothing new for Richt, who has a career winning percentage of almost 74%. Richt, just 57 years old, has the fourth-most FBS victories of any active head coach; his 154 wins trail only Nick Saban, Bill Snyder and Urban Meyer. At Georgia, Richt won two SEC Championships, five division titles and won at least ten games in a single season nine different times. Richt, in 17 years as a head coach, has never had a losing regular season.

Winning with Miami, Richt understands, is an entity all its own. Success on South Beach jump-starts the stories of old. Some view history as a burden; Richt sees it as an boon.   

"When you say 'they are back', it means you have been somewhere before, that you were at one time great in the eyes of the college football world," he concluded. If you are a team that doesn't have much football tradition and are having a big year, they are like 'oh, they are having a big year, that's neat'. If a Miami has a good year, people say 'they are back' and it creates a lot more energy than a team that doesn't have a lot of tradition."

Richt, almost 40 years ago, was a star quarterback at Boca Raton High School before suiting up for the Hurricanes. After stints at East Carolina, Florida State and Georgia, and one season in the books at Miami, Richt is now both home and adjusted.

Dressed in a tan suit with a new goatee, Richt seemed to be in a good place at the 2017 ACC Kickoff in Charlotte, North Carolina: on the verge. His Hurricanes are talented, experienced and, after a year in the system, focused. This is a program that has always embraced expectations. The dusts of change have completely settled; Miami is ready to emerge from the smoke once again.  

Richt has seen a lot during his storied career. He's seen where the Hurricanes have been and, perhaps most poignantly, sees where Miami is going.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: / Twitter: @BJBennettSports