CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- The move from Florida State to Miami wasn’t much of a move at all for offensive coordinator James Coley.
He never truly left Miami.
Coley grew up on Northwest 4th Street and 18th Avenue, about two blocks from the old Orange Bowl. He spent six years as a high school football coach in Miami from 1997-2002. He kept his home in South Florida from his days as an offensive assistant with the Miami Dolphins -- a “cottage” he called it, that he bought with his wife, Kenia, before they had their two children.
Coley, a Florida State alum and Miami native, made a name for himself while on Jimbo Fisher’s staff at FSU, but his home -- literally -- is still in Miami. There’s no question his hire was a kick in the shins to the rival Seminoles. Coley is one of the top recruiters in the state. But the underlying reasons for the move were twofold: a chance to call plays and go home was simply too good to pass up.
“I think that when I sat down with my wife and saw the opportunity to come back home, and come to the University of Miami, it wasn’t a difficult decision at all,” Coley said. “It was eye-opening. It was a decision that was very encouraging and exciting.”
Coley has fit right in at Miami, and he has inherited an offense that returns nine starters -- including every offensive lineman, 2012 Rookie of the Year Duke Johnson, and veteran quarterback Stephen Morris, who could be the best quarterback in the ACC in 2013. All of the pieces are in place for Coley to succeed calling plays for the first time since 2007, when he was at FIU.
While on Fisher’s staff, Coley was responsible for preparing the offense during the week, but on game day, it was in Fisher’s hands.
This fall, Coley will be calling the shots.
“It means a lot,” he said. “You work hard during the week and at the end of the week, after game-planning, you want to have your exclamation mark. You want to be able to finish the job. It means a lot and the opportunity to do it means a lot. I’m excited about it.”
Coley is an energetic, gregarious coach the players have responded to quickly this spring, and he made one very important decision that has helped smooth the transition of his hire: Coley hasn’t changed the entire playbook, and he has kept much of the terminology the same.
“It made my job a lot easier not having to learn new concepts, new plays and new terminology and everything like that,” said Morris. “As an offense, we’re really grateful Coach Coley was able to do that. On top of that, he’s still adding his own stuff, some stuff he likes, and stuff he didn’t like he’s taking out. That helps me learn and see how different plays work better for different coaches. I think it worked out great for the whole team, especially the offensive line. We’ve got some new runs in there, we’ve got some new protections for them. Everyone has adjusted well to it, especially Coach Coley himself.”
Coley’s story will undoubtedly resurface when Miami and Florida State play on Nov. 2 in Tallahassee, but Miami coach Al Golden said the hire wasn’t about the rivalry.
“I’ve always admired James from afar in the way they conducted their offense up there, and his ability to communicate and develop student-athletes, but also a number of mutual friends we have in the business thought highly of him,” Golden said. “It’s really not about Florida State and Miami. I know everybody likes to make it about that, but both of their families are from down here. He had an opportunity to come home to Miami and be an offensive coordinator where he grew up. Obviously he’s inherited a very mature offense, so I know he’s excited about it.”
“That’s huge,” he said. “You’re coming to a program that has really good players. It’s a team I’ve watched grow the last couple of years, and an organization that I’ve watched grow, from going against them on the field, to going against them in homes in recruiting. You’re saying to yourself, ‘Wow, this has now become the real deal. It’s back.’ That’s what kept on going through my mind. For me to have the opportunity to come here, wow, it’s on the rise again.”
And once again, it’s in his backyard.