The University of Miami’s football dynasty may be dead, but off the field the tame remains the same old Hurricanes.
With two arrests and three suspensions this week, Miami managed to reinforce its tradition of trouble and its image as a program out of control.
Receiver Jammi German was charged with beating a fellow student in an assault witnessed by at least two teammates. Less than 24 hours later, 330-pound offensive tackle Ricky Perry was charged with hitting his 17-year-old date in the face.
German and the two teammates accompanying him were suspended by coach Butch Davis. Perry’s case was under reivew Saturday by university officials.
The latest episodes of Miami vice inspired jokes about gangsta-rap fight songs, chain-gang tackling and uniforms with stripes and six-digit numerals. “It seems like a nightmare that won’t end,” said jason Solodkin, a senior and sports director at WVUM, the school radio station. “These incidents keep coming up. As a student, I’m afraid it sheds a bad light on the whole university, and people continue to look down on us.”
Other programs - notably national champion Nebraska - suffer off-the-field embarrassments. But Miami’s problems began a decade ago, when Jimmy Johnson was the coach and his team contended each year for No. 1. The annual showdown against Notre Dame was billed as Catholics vs. convicts.
Johnson departed for the NFL, as did his successor, Dennis Erickson. Four seasons have passed since the Hurricanes won the most recent of their four national championships, and last year’s 8-3 record was their worst since 1984.
They were the Team of the ‘80s. But the Miami of the ‘90s draws its notoriety from felonies, misdemeanors and NCAA violations.
Some say the university adminstration has been too tolerant of such transgressions. Others blame the Hurricanes’ recent problems on the kind of youngsters they’ve recruited.
“I think a pattern developed with the previous head coach (Erickson),” said Dennis Lavelle, coach at Miami Columbus High School. “The kids that were taken were not the quality kids they were taking 10 years ago. I think they just took anybody who can play. It worked for them for a while, but now they are paying the price.”
Davis was hired in January 1995 with a mandate to clean up the program. Last season he put an end to the Hurricanes’ taunting and trash-talking, and when German was arrested, Davis interrupted a vacation and returned to Miami to deliver prompt punishment.
German, a senior, was suspended for the season. Starting linebacker James Burgess and backup linebacker Jeff Taylor were suspended indefinitely.
“Obviously Butch has the right idea,” said John Underwood, a Miami graduate and a former member of the athletic advisory board. “But this is 10 years that the university has been embarrassed by the peccadilloes and aberrational behavior of football players. And it seems to me these things should be coming from higher up.
“The university administration itself, including the president, should be speaking out and should have spoken out a long time ago and said this isn’t a sports matter, this is an educational matter.”
Those who know Davis best say he’s committed to cleaning up the program, even if it makes the Hurricanes less competitive. The suspensions of German, Burgess and Taylor were widely praised by the media, even though such punishment hurts the depth of a team already short of players because of NCAA scholarship reductions.
“It sends out a message that it’s not going to be handled with kid gloves anymore and is going to be treated like it should be,” said Sonny Hirsch, the Hurricanes’ longtime play-byplay announcer. “Butch will take a couple of hits to put things back in order. If they wind up with 60 players who are good citizens, they’ll sacrifice some success to regain integrity.”
That’s a sacrifice many Miami supporters say they would make. Underwood believes the 1987, 1989 and 1991 national titles were tainted by bad behavior.
“I’d give them up,” he said, “to get my university’s good name back.”