CORAL GABLES - If James Coley turns the University of Miami’s offense into a high-scoring machine, Hurricanes fans should send Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher a thank-you note.
Coley was the Seminoles’ offensive coordinator the past three seasons and was in charge of developing the team’s game plan during the week. But it was Fisher who called plays in games.
The system worked well. Last season, FSU averaged 39.3 points per game, won the ACC championship and beat Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl.
Coley stresses he had no complaints with the set-up, but he was looking for more responsibility. Being a co-pilot was nice, but the 39-year-old Coley wanted to fly the plane.
UM coach Al Golden gave Coley that opportunity in January, shortly after Jedd Fisch left the Hurricanes to become offensive coordinator with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.
Before Coley accepted the job, he had a heart to heart with Fisher.
Suffice it to say that the Seminoles didn’t want to lose Coley, especially to the rival Hurricanes. Coley said Fisher told him that he didn’t plan on running FSU’s offense “forever.”
“I do plan on passing it on to you,” Fisher said.
Then came the “but.”
“But I enjoy doing it now,” Fisher told Coley.
With that, Coley was off to UM and his native South Florida, where he has coached at the high school, college and pro levels.
Coley grew up in Little Havana, so close to the Orange Bowl that fans parked their cars on his family’s lawn for UM and Dolphins games.
The son of an American father and a Cuban mother, Coley said he was “raised 100 percent Cuban. I learned Spanish before I learned English.”
With his Anglo name, green eyes and Americanized looks, Coley often baffled the locals when he broke out into perfect Spanish.
“I was definitely the ‘gringo’ of the neighborhood,” Coley jokes.
Coley began his coaching career at two Miami-Dade County high schools before accepting a graduate assistant position at LSU in 2003 on the staff of Nick Saban. Coley followed Saban to the Dolphins as an offensive assistant in 2005 before he was hired by Mario Cristobal to be Florida International’s offensive coordinator in 2007.
After one season at FIU, Coley jumped to FSU, where he began as a tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator before being promoted to offensive coordinator in 2010.
In Coley, UM is not only getting a talented offensive mind but also one of the nation’s top recruiters. In 2010, he was named the ACC’s top recruiter by ESPN.com and is already credited with getting four-star running back Joseph Yearby, from Miami Central High School, to switch his oral commitment last month from FSU to UM.
With his reputation as a recruiter established, Coley now looks to make his mark as a play-caller. He has called plays only once before, during his lone season at FIU. But Coley spent the past three seasons running FSU’s offense in practice, scrimmages and spring games and doesn’t think the transition to doing it in games will be difficult.
“When you do all the work during the week and you have a passion for it, on Saturdays you want to do it,” Coley said. “At Florida State, my job was to help Coach Fisher put it together so that he could call it on Saturday. This is a great opportunity for me because it allows me to put my stamp on it.”
Coley has the good fortune of joining a UM offense that returns 10 of 11 starters, including quarterback Stephen Morris, from a unit that scored 40 or more points in the last three games. Coley said he will not change much, going with a no-huddle, pro-style attack that will also include elements of the spread offense.
“I’m excited about him,” said Golden on Saturday after the first spring practice. “He brings a lot of energy, a lot of knowledge, passion, and has really done a nice job of taking over. He has put his ego aside because we really don’t want to mess with the quarterbacks and the offense too much. … He’s put his spin on things, which has been great. He needs to do that. He needs to own it.”