Our series on the most NFL-friendly college programs travels to the “U’’ this week because the University of Miami was once the most fertile ground in college football for growing NFL talent. The “U’’ not only was a regular national championship contender but also the producer of 26 first-round draft choices in the 1990s, 10 more than any other school.
The man who started it all, Hall-of-Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, and one of the guys who turned the “U’’ into “The Show,’’ Hall-of-Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin, both dropped by this week to talk Hurricane football and how it become the NFL’s spawning ground.
When Kelly arrived in Miami in 1979 to play for Howard Schnellenberger, it was not yet the “U;’’ it was just a u. It was a program that hadn’t been to a bowl game in 12 years. By the time Kelly left, he’d been MVP of the Peach Bowl, twice upset mighty Penn State and was a first-round pick of the team he would eventually lead to four Super Bowl appearances, the Buffalo Bills.
Quickly coming behind him was a parade of top quarterbacks he helped recruit, including Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde. But before any of that could happen, Penn State coach Joe Paterno first had to conclude Kelly was a linebacker, not a quarterback.
“Where I’m from near Pittsburgh, you’re a Penn State fan,’’ Kelly said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “I always wanted to play for Joe Paterno … I thought I’d shown enough, (but) he recruited me as a linebacker … I knew in my heart I wanted to play quarterback.’’
That led Kelly to Miami, and two years later, as a 19-year-old freshman, he made his first start, upsetting Penn State, 26-10. Kelly recalled his reaction the night before the game when Schnellenberger told him he would start.
“I did go to the bathroom and throw up for about an hour,’’ Kelly said.
Miami went 9-3 and 9-2 the next two seasons, and the “U’’ was born as a powerhouse that would only get bigger after Jimmy Johnson replaced Schnellenberger and guys like Irvin began to flock to Miami.
“Schnellenberger did a wonderful job going into the inner-city neighborhoods where (other coaches) were afraid to go,’’ recalled Irvin, who in three seasons at Miami lost only three games and won repeatedly in hostile environments around the country. Why?
“We grew up in a hostile environment,’’ Irvin said of himself and many of his fellow “U’’ stars who dominated college football and then did the same in the NFL. “Once it was third-and-28 at Arkansas, and Melvin Bratton said ‘Watch this. We go and get the first down. Now everyone can be quiet.’ They were the big boys on the block. We were not. We were supposed to be little old Miami. We enjoyed it.’’
Irvin believes one reason the “U’’ produced so many top NFL players was not the opponents they faced; it was the workouts they faced each day under Johnson.
“Those practices were out of hand,’’ Irvin said. “Jimmy Johnson made sure they were out of hand. If we had a bad practice Jimmy would get on the phone. Oh my, God! He’d call us up.’’
The message was NFL-like, telling them they did not have no-cut scholarships.
“He’d tell, you, ‘These are not four-year scholarships,’ ’’ Irvin recalled. “ ‘If you don’t get better I assure you they will not be renewed.’ ’’
Irvin and Kelly had much more to say about the rise of the “U,’’ how playing at Miami prepared them for the NFL and how the bond built there has been passed on through generations of Miami players.
Co-hosts Clark Judge, Rick Gosselin and Ron Borges also dissect the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas and why it may be a sucker bet for Raiders’ owner Mark Davis. Ron was out at the annual owners meetings in Phoenix when the vote was taken and provides an inside look at the troubling finances behind the move and why the 31-1 vote to approve the move — despite the size of the debt Davis will shoulder — had 53 million reasons behind it.
The guys also get a local view of the move from Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ed Graney, who explains why the Raiders may end up playing at least one season in tiny Sam Boyd Stadium on the outskirts of Las Vegas rather than continuing to play in Oakland while a new $1.49 billion stadium does up on the Strip.
The entire show can be head on SB Nation radio network, on 75 radio stations around the country or on our free podcast at iTunes. The show can also be heard on the TuneIn app or by going to our website, talkoffamenetwork.com, and simply clicking on the helmet icon.