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Alums' harsh words serve to motivate

Embarrassing loss brought ire of former 'Canes, something the 2006 squad doesn't want to face again.

By BOB HARIG
Published August 8, 2006


MIAMI - The exact wording was lost, but the general message is what lingers in the head of Kareem Brown.

When you are called out by Warren Sapp, an NFL superstar and one of the best players in University of Miami history, it stings. And when you play the same position as Sapp ... well, it's a bit embarrassing, too.

"I have so much regard for him, and I'm thinking he is the greatest thing since sliced bread," Brown said Monday at media day, which marks the start of fall practice. "And for him to be disappointed in us ... it really hurts."

Brown and his teammates felt plenty of pain after a 40-3 drubbing to LSU on Dec. 30 in the Peach Bowl.

It was the worst bowl loss in the program's storied history, a stunning defeat that came just weeks after the Hurricanes were convinced they still might play for the national championship.

But then to have the alums get on you ...

"It was painful," said linebacker Jon Beason, who heard from former linebackers Michael Barrow and Jesse Armstead. "That stamped the loss even more."

It is a defeat that lingers, but one the Hurricanes are using as motivation in preparing for the 2006 season that begins on Labor Day at the Orange Bowl against conference-foe Florida State.

The Hurricanes lost to the Seminoles last season in Tallahassee 10-7, then rattled off eight straight victories, including an impressive win on the road against Virginia Tech.

Then came another heartbreaker, a 14-10 home loss to Georgia Tech.

Not only were their national-title hopes dashed, but they didn't even play for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.

"We were seven points away from being undefeated and being right where we needed to be," Beason said. "Would we have gotten the bid over Texas (to play for the national championship in the Rose Bowl)? Probably not. But it would have been nice to be part of that controversy."

Instead, a different kind of controversy followed.

Just days after the loss to LSU, Miami coach Larry Coker fired four assistants, including assistant head coach and line coach Art Kehoe, who had been with the program through all five of its national championships.

Coker's spring recruiting class was not deemed to be stellar, and then came talk that his job would be on the line this season, despite a 53-9 record, a mark surpassed in those five years by only Texas' Mack Brown (55-8).

"I won't be mentioning that game, but I don't think I have to," Coker said.

"It's there. Those things happen; you need to learn and move on."

Nobody saw it coming.

The Hurricanes lobbied for the Peach Bowl, wanting to face another top-10 opponent in the Tigers. It is the type of atmosphere and situation in which they normally thrive.

Instead, they were down 20-3 at halftime, having yielded 301 yards of offense. Quarterback Kyle Wright completed 10 of 21 passes for 100 yards in the game.

"It was probably the most humbling experience I've ever been part of," Wright said. "To be beaten like that, I've never been beaten like that at any level in my entire life.

"It's easy after a game like that to start pointing fingers. Coaches got fired, and the most important thing was to point the figure at myself. I was trying to figure out what I needed to do as a quarterback and a leader to make sure that doesn't happen to us again. I think we did a great job in the offseason. It brought us together more. We didn't have control over what coaches would be signed, so it forced us to stay together and go and work hard."

Few Hurricanes ever watched film of the game, and they say they only think about it when asked. But it is still there.

"If you ask me, did I believe that would ever happen or will it ever happen again, I would say no," defensive end Baraka Atkins said. That was a total shock to me and probably the entire program, the fans and alumni.

"As far as being motivation, I believe it will come back into play as the season draws near, knowing that was our last game. That is what most people will remember until the last game."