The routine task of breaking down game film of an opponent was “different” this week for Miami offensive coordinator James Coley.
As Coley studied No. 3-ranked Florida State’s defense in preparation for what is arguably the biggest game on the Hurricanes’ schedule, Coley caught himself thinking about the days he recruited so many of those players as an assistant on the Seminoles’ staff.
“It’s different from when you watch other teams,” said Coley, a 1997 graduate of Florida State. “You know the history behind every player. Some of the guys as seniors, you remember them as freshmen, or guys that I recruited, like Lamarcus Joyner, you watch him and at the same time there’s a thought process of, ‘OK, what does he do well?’ and then in the back of my mind it goes back to, ‘Oh, man, I remember recruiting this kid.’ There’s a pride factor. I’m happy for them.”
(He’d also like to win on Saturday -- nothing personal.)
With the exception of the relationships he built with his former players, Coley said there hasn’t been any time this week to get emotional about returning to his alma mater, where he coached for five years before being hired by Al Golden as the rival Canes’ offensive coordinator. Two of the biggest selling points in leaving Florida State were the opportunity to call plays, which he didn’t do for the Noles in three seasons as the offensive coordinator, and returning to his hometown of Miami, where he grew up near the Orange Bowl cheering for the Canes.
“I think it’s all business,” Miami quarterback Stephen Morris said. “When you get to this point, you understand coaching at this level is business. Coach Coley saw a great opportunity to come down here, call his plays and do everything he wanted to do as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and he took it. Coach Golden did a great job of finding him.”
Given Coley’s ties to both Florida State and Miami, he has a unique perspective of the storied rivalry. Just a year ago, he was sitting in staff meetings with FSU coach Jimbo Fisher. He spent two years on Bobby Bowden’s staff. Yet Coley said there’s never been a moment this week where he’s shared any insider trading secrets with other assistants -- because he doesn’t have any. Florida State has since replaced six assistants on staff, including Coley.
“Everybody thinks Coley is giving out the goods,” he said with a laugh. “You know the players, but they’re not running the same stuff, so it’s not the same deal.
“If they still had Mark Stoops, and Eddie Gran was on special teams, and stuff like that, I would’ve had a lot of input,” Coley said. “But they have a brand-new defensive staff. I’m sitting there and I’m watching the defense, and I’m trying to figure out, ‘OK, what are they trying to do with this?’ It’s different from what I saw last year being in the program. And the offense, they’re not running the same stuff they ran last year. They’ve got a different quarterback. With a different quarterback there’s always a different dynamic.”
This will be Coley's first trip to Tallahassee since he moved his family to his hometown in March. He and Fisher have only exchanged a text message since Coley left, but the two of them remain friends.
“Coley's done a great job,” Fisher said. “I've always said Coley's a great offensive mind. He's a very good coach, a great recruiter, and he's got a great future in this business."
So far, Miami’s offensive numbers have only improved under Coley’s watch. The Canes have increased their averages in scoring offense, rushing offense, passing offense and total offense from a year ago. The most dramatic increase was in rushing offense, where Miami improved from 144.75 yards per game to 214.7 this year. The Canes have rushed for over 200 yards in all but two games this year -- Florida and South Florida. Miami has also boosted its scoring average from 31.42 points to 39.6.
Miami coach Al Golden said both of his coordinators have full autonomy of the play-calling.
“I always want my coordinators to feel the game, and James does a great job of really preparing, especially in the final 48 [hours] of just seeing the game, being able to conduct the game, being able to set up what he wants to set up -- run to pass or pass to run,” Golden said. “I don’t like to disrupt that. What I like to do is have a lot of input early in the week, especially from a defensive standpoint, trying to share with the offensive staff what the team’s philosophy is and what they’re trying to do to us.”
Golden can relate to Coley’s situation this week. He left a job as linebackers coach at his alma mater, Penn State, to become defensive coordinator at Virginia, and had to coach against the Nittany Lions.
“I did the same thing,” Golden said. “James is operating with class. He’s just worried about coaching the quarterbacks and orchestrating the offense. He’s not talking about anything else, not worried about anything else. I’m sure there’s a lot of young people up there he made a difference in their lives, he gave them their all. I’m sure they were disappointed when he left, but that’s the sign of a good coach.”
Coley has already left Tallahassee once. This time, when Coley heads back south, he’s hoping to leave with a win.