The day was like most other Fall Saturday afternoons. Except that there was a cold biting wind coming in from the NorthWest that was already affecting University Park. For Jim Kelly, Freshman QB at the University of Miami, he was already contemplating how he would try and stay warm on the sidelines during the Miami vs Penn State on that November 3rd day in 1979.
And then fate, or destiny, or the football Gods, took over. To hear Kelly explain it through the years it’s almost comical. “The coaches called all three of the QB’s together on the morning of the game and and they told me they were going to start me at QB. My heart went to my toes. I thought oh no, I’m in front of family and friends, (Kelly is from Pennsylvania), and we’re 30 point underdogs.” Well the underdogs knocked off Penn State 26-10 that brisk Saturday afternoon and started the Miami program on a road to historical success that before that Saturday in November no one could never ever have imagined.
Why did Howard Schnellenberger decide to start Kelly? To hear him tell it, it was a “gut feeling.” Schnellenberger thought Kelly was ready. But the real reason was that it couldn’t get any worse. Just a few weeks earlier Miami had lost to Florida A&M in Tallahassee. It was Schnellenbergers first year as head coach after serving as the OC for the Miami Dolphins under coach Don Shula. And he was a man on a mission.
Miami then had no tradition. Well, actually they did have a tradition. A tradition of losing, and losing badly to most decent teams. Schnellenberger wanted no part of that. When you’ve coached under Paul “Bear” Bryant, and Don Shula, losing is not acceptable. So playing to be good, was not in the game plan. Miami was going to be great period. And Schnellenberger knew the only way to get there was play the best players….regardless of experience or lack of.
And the rest as they say, always wondered who they are, is history. Until we get to current Hurricanes history. Miami is stuck in yet another four game losing streak. In which the QB play has been average at best. Oh sure Miami will beat Savannah State. So what. And probably beat Toledo Holy! They’ll beat FIU….so what. QB Malik Rosier is capable of beating those three teams…so what?
At some point in time Coach Mark Richt has to decide. Does Miami want to be real good? Or do they want to write the next chapter of greatness in the “U part III?” We can go with Rosier and maybe reach nine wins. That would be pretty respectable. Or does Richt want to leave a legacy of greatness? You see because that can’t, and won’t happen with Malik Rosier at QB. Sure the Canes have a few other issues. But the QB position is the most important position in football at any level.
Miami is not going to the playoffs this year. Not with Rosier. And probably not with any of the other QB’s either. But Schnellenberger’s team wasn’t going to a bowl game in 1979 either. So he knew the time was right for playing the most talented kid at QB, and damn the results. Because by playing Jim Kelly he was paving the way for future greatness, not future sameness.
That’s the decision in front of Mark Richt today as the Canes prepare to face the mighty Savannah State tigers…growl. And really for the next three weeks. What an opportunity to play the young guns at QB over the next few games to see what you got? But my question is does Richt have the guts to play say N’Kosi Perry? Play him for a half to see what the young man has to offer? I doubt Richt has the same gut feeling Howard had. Different guts, different times.
If Miami wants to be great, they have to challenge themselves to be. You cannot be great if your afraid to fail. C’Mon Mark, bring the kids together and tell them you are making a change at QB. Go with your gut!