"As I am sure you are aware, several weeks ago I made a choice to join the new Miami franchise of the United States Football League. When you learned of this, I know you were confused, disappointed and, perhaps, even angry. I certainly understand all of those feelings."
He sure ought to, old Howard Schnellenberger, the ambitious, pipe-smoking wizard coach who in five seasons led the Hurricanes from torpor to the 1983 national championship and then jumped ship. In June he sent the above letter (which went on for a few more paragraphs) to each of his Miami players in an effort to soothe feelings and smooth the path for new coach Jimmy Johnson.
But when a coach leaves after spring practice and after he has already signed recruits and after he has said he isn't going anywhere—well, it takes more than a letter to clear the air. "When he came across the country to visit me, he said that if I went to Miami he would be my surrogate father, confessor and uncle," says freshman recruit Bill Cichoke of Portland, Ore. "I guess I just lost a whole family in Miami."
The veterans have tried to be diplomatic. "I wanted to be angry," says senior tackle Dave Heffernan, the leader of Miami's "Melting Pot" offensive line, which returns intact. "But then I heard about the deal he's getting, and I can't fault him."
Heffernan and his buddies—guards Alvin Ward and Juan Comendeiro, tackle Paul Bertucelli and center Ian Sinclair—are the unlikely keys to the Hurricanes' chances this year. Resembling an elevator crowd at the U.N. more than a football unit, the group thrives on its disparateness almost as much as on its skill. "We've got an Irishman, an Italian, a black from Chicago, a Canadian and a Cuban," says Heffernan. "The immigration people could wipe us out."
But from diversity comes strength, and the Pot allowed only 21 sacks last year on a team that threw 33 times a game. This season the line not only must give quarterback Bernie Kosar time to work his stuff—to throw those little out patterns to the tight end and backs, to hit star senior wide receiver Ed Brown over the middle—but it also needs to give Johnson, 40, late of Oklahoma State, time to learn who and what he's coaching. Johnson is dazed by Miami's sadistic schedule. "We start with Auburn, Florida and Michigan, all on the road," he says. "How you like them apples?" In all, Miami faces eight bowl teams.
Johnson plans to tinker some with the defensive sets, but on offense he'll pretty much stick to what Schnellenberger did. "It's like they say," says Johnson. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Especially if you have eight starters back from the nation's best passing attack. Just four defensive first-stringers return.
"There was a lot of talk about national champ-itis," says Heffernan. "But losing your coach and getting a schedule like ours is a helluva cure."