ACC championship: Mark Richt has made Miami fun — and prominent — again

Miami’s Mark Richt knows better than to make Saturday’s ACC championship game bigger than it needs to be.

ACC championship: Mark Richt has made Miami fun — and prominent — again

ACC championship: Mark Richt has made Miami fun — and prominent — again

The second-year Hurricanes coach didn’t lead his team to a miraculous turnaround, a 10-win season and a potential College Football Playoff berth by letting it get caught up in the magnitude of the moment.

And he has no intention of starting now.

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“I’ve never said to the team, ‘Let’s prove to everybody The U is back,’” Richt said during ACC media availability on Friday. “I never said that. I’ve always said, ‘Let’s get to work. Let’s play physical, let’s play fast. Let’s do the things that you got to do on a daily basis to give you a chance to win. … That’s really all I’ve been preaching.”

So it goes with the ACC championship. It would have been easy for Richt to let his team attach itself to that mantra this season, to let it rely on emotion to get where it is now. But getting fired up, Richt said, is worth about three series in any given game. From there, the team will need to rely on the good habits it has developed over the season to win.

That has been the mission operandi for Richt all season. He didn’t have some grand scheme or plan in place to engineer this turnaround so short in his tenure. He simply came in, brought in coaches who aligned with his philosophy and let those good habits take care of the rest.

But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been massive changes in culture at Miami. And Richt’s opponent on Saturday in Dabo Swinney can see one of the biggest changes at Miami since he took over.

“He’s having fun,” Swinney said. “And I had an opportunity to sit in the coaches’ meetings, he’s a very good guy, he’s very smart, but he’s having fun. I think he’s just really enjoying the moment down there, the journey.”

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You saw it when Miami beat Florida State 24-20 this season — for the first time since 2009 — on a last-second touchdown from Malik Rosier to Darrell Langham. You saw it in their next game too, when the Hurricanes relied on another miracle catch from Langham to let them take a last-second lead with a field goal in a 25-24 win. You saw it when the Hurricanes rekindled that old rivalry with Notre Dame, crushing the Irish 41-8 in Hard Rock Stadium.

But nowhere do you see it more on the field than when Miami brings out its turnover chain. It embodies everything the Hurricanes want in their football program: It’s flashy, over the top, fun and, most importantly, it means something good has happened on the field.

And it’s part of the reason Miami has been so dominant in the turnover margin this season. The Hurricanes not only rank third nationally with 29 takeaways this season, but are tied for first in turnover margin at plus-17.

“The chain has been a huge part of it. And the thing about the turnover chain is that it is Miami. It’s Cuban links. It’s got the big ‘U’ and it has gems and sparkles and all that. It’s kind of how we roll down here in Miami.

"And the other thing I like about it is, it’s fun. … And I want them to have fun, and I want them to celebrate good things. It’s been awesome.”

Is it any wonder then that Swinney doesn’t want to see Canes players don the chain?

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But perhaps Swinney can pin that particular problem on himself as his Tigers get ready to take on Miami. After all, it was his team’s 58-0 shutout of Miami two seasons ago that helped spark the Hurricanes to make changes in its program, starting with hiring Richt.

Now, two years later, the two programs meet once again. This time, Clemson is looking for its third consecutive berth in the College Football Playoff, and its third consecutive ACC championship. Miami’s looking for its first ever ACC title, and almost certainly won’t be blown out of the water like in the last meeting.

The parallels are myriad between these two programs and the paths they took to meet up at this point. But one thing is for certain when Miami and Clemson face off on Saturday.

It’s going to be a lot of fun.

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