MIAMI HURRICANES

Four assistants fired; Hester turns pro


Published: Tuesday, January 3, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 3, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
Kick returner Devin Hester chose to skip his senior season and leave Miami on Monday, a decision announced only hours after the Hurricanes fired four assistant coaches following consecutive three-loss seasons.
Hester becomes the 11th Miami player to forgo his final season of eligibility to enter the NFL draft in the last five seasons; seven of the previous Hurricanes who left early were first-round picks.
While Hester's decision wasn't unexpected, the moves made by head coach Larry Coker stunned most people around the program. He fired offensive line coach Art Kehoe, offensive coordinator Dan Werner, linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves and running backs coach Don Soldinger.
"For me, it's definitely personally a very tough decision," Coker said. "But it's a decision I think had to be made. ... We have high standards here, high standards are set and I think we have to work hard to live up to those standards."
Coker said Hester told him of his decision to leave Sunday night, two days after the ninth-ranked Hurricanes lost 40-3 to No. 10 LSU in the Peach Bowl.
Miami was 9-3 this season, and is 53-9 over Coker's first five seasons as head coach. But six of the losses have come in the last two years, including the humbling loss in the Peach Bowl, the Hurricanes' worst defeat since 1998.
And Miami is almost certain to finish outside the AP Top 10 for the second straight season; that hasn't happened since before Coker took over in 2001.
"I'm very surprised. These coaches know how to win," offensive lineman Tyler McMeans, whose Miami career ended with the Peach Bowl loss, told the AP. "They've all been a part of great programs at Miami. There's going to be big changes for this program now, obviously."
Over his Miami career, Hester - who played cornerback, running back and wide receiver in addition to returning kickoffs and punts - gave the Hurricanes an average of 17.7 yards every time he touched the football. On 117 interception returns, kick returns, catches and carries, he totaled 2,070 yards.
In recent weeks, Coker has said he would use Hester in a role like the one Southern California has in utilizing Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush. Coker has even drawn parallels between Hester and Bush of late.
Now, the only real parallel is that both seem likely to skip their senior years and chase NFL riches.
While Hester's future is in the pros, the former Miami assistants were pondering what their next moves are. Soldinger said he was told of his dismissal at an 8:30 a.m. meeting, one where Coker didn't offer an explanation.
"If he can find somebody better, more power to him," said Soldinger, 61, who was at Miami from 1984-88 and again from 1995 through Monday. "Maybe he'll find younger. He won't find anybody better."
Werner's playcalling has been the subject of scrutiny for months in Miami. The Hurricanes entered the bowl season with the 60th-ranked offense in Division I-A in terms of yards per game. Last season, Miami ranked 66th in that department.
"I understand the profession," Werner said in a statement distributed by the school. "When the offense is not productive, it falls on my shoulders. I'm not happy with the decision, but I have to move on. I respect Coach Coker's decision."
Kehoe had been at the school since 1979, and coached on each of Miami's five national championship teams.
"You accept your fate and move on," Kehoe said. "I've got all the emotions raging inside of me right now. You've just got to quell yourself and just try to do something better for yourself and your family. I don't know what else to do. It's hard. ... It's a hard thing to leave. Last time I checked, we won more, we played in more big games, we'd done more in college football than anyone in the whole game."

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