Miami Football: Al Golden Sending Message with Leadership Shakeup

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistApril 1, 2014

Jermaine Grace earned a black jersey, but a handful of key players lost them.
Jermaine Grace earned a black jersey, but a handful of key players lost them.Credit: 247Sports

Earned. Never Given.

The famous United States Marine Corps slogan is a mantra various individuals surely have followed, and it's applicable to what Al Golden has done with the Miami Hurricanes football team.

Playing football has few direct comparisons to serving in the military, but one such shared trait is leadership. Where the armed services have different ranks, Golden and his coaching staff present the 'Canes' hardest workers with orange and black jerseys, signifying offensive and defensive leaders respectively.

Denzel Perryman, Raphael Kirby, Stacy Coley and Ereck Flowers—who are each expected to be key contributors during the 2014 seasonhave been mainstays in the coveted colors throughout the spring.

However, following Miami's first scrimmage, Tracy Howard, Alex Figueroa, Thurston Armbrister, Gus Edwards, Jon Feliciano and Danny Isidora were stripped of their status.

Four players are leading the charge for their respective positions and two are competing for valuable playing time, but Golden is sending a message by taking away specifically colored jerseys.

According to David Lake of 247Sports (subscription required), offensive coordinator James Coley said Edwards lost his orange jersey because "he had a couple of plays where we feel like he could have given a better effort."

Per Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald, defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio had a simple reason explaining why Howard and Figueroa lost the jersey, saying they were "not up to the standards" in the scrimmage. "It's just about being consistent," D'Onofrio said. "We love Tracy. We want [the black jersey] to be something special. You've got to grade out higher to be at the level of a championship."

Tracy Howard will be working his way back toward a black jersey.
Tracy Howard will be working his way back toward a black jersey.Credit: 247Sports

Howard has a habit of donning the black jersey, earning it as a freshman in 2012 and as a sophomore in 2013 before starting the 2014 spring with one. But after the 'Canes' best corner returned to the green jersey, it is still nowhere close to "freak-out time."

Considering many coaches will find details for a player to give extra attention and improve upon, losing the desired color is something foreseeable and not a major cause for concern. Golden, James Coley and D'Onofrio are delivering clear messages to their best players:

Get better.

D'Onofrio voiced the desire to mold championship-caliber athletes, and he believes Howard, among others, is not performing equivalent to his great abilities. Per Lake, Coley added that Edwards has improved specific parts of his game. Yet, the running back was still demoted.

Get better.

While the aforementioned players are being motivated by discipline, a handful of Miami players were rewarded for their recent performance. Following the weekend, coaches awarded Jermaine Grace, Earl Moore, Dallas Crawford, Artie Burns and Taylor Gadbois the first-team jerseys.

While somewhat overlooked in an important competition at linebacker, Grace is making plays and standing out to the coaches. Moore is stepping up at a position of need, and Crawford is executing while adjusting to a new position.

Per Jackson, D'Onofrio said Grace "made a lot of plays [in Saturday's scrimmage]. Didn't have mental errors. Has a ways to go, but doing a good job" and Moore "has been really consistent."

D'Onofrio continued, saying Crawford "did what I knew he would do when the lights went on. Physical guy. Great feel for playing the game. For what he's done in a 10-day period [moving over from running back] is really remarkable, not making mental errors."

In other words? They got better.

Note: As seen in the accompanying video, Crawford laid some absolutely brutal hits on senior RB De'Andre Johnson, which certainly helped his quest for the black jersey.

Most importantly, though, between previous and new wearers of black and orange jerseys, the Hurricanes are finding more leaders on the team. From seniors in Perryman and Rashawn Scott to sophomores in Stacy Coley, Grace, Burns and Gadbois, Miami has both veteran leadership and a youthful spark.

To steal another cliché, "competition breeds excellence." Looking back at previous years, the 'Canes have not had this level of competition at every position. It was relatively apparent who would emerge for a given starting job.

But this spring session is not the same. Golden isn't simply handing returning high-profile starters their jobs for the 2014 season. Every athlete must consistently outshine his competition.

Earned. Never Given.