PONTE VEDRA BEACH — For a coach with the best winning percentage in University of Miami football history, Larry Coker has endured much this offseason.
After an embarrassing Peach Bowl loss to LSU, Coker fired several assistants. His heralded linebacker, Willie Williams, asked to be released from his scholarship. A reserve defensive back, Willie Cooper was shot in the buttocks by an unknown assailant and his roommate, starter Brandon Merriweather, returned fire with his own legally-permitted handgun.
Then there are murmurs that, despite a 53-9 record and a national championship, Coker himself is on the hot seat.
Coker addressed all those subjects at Monday's ACC Kickoff media interviews, saying the Hurricanes can fight through these issues to content for the ACC title.
Coker knows there are magazines and Internet sites saying his job may be in jeopardy with another sub-par year — and anything less than national title contention is sub-par in Hurricane-land. He just doesn't pay attention to them.
"I don't read those publications," he said. "There are a lot of naysayers in college football. You just can't let them get you down. The difference is I know how hard (the players) work. If I'm a fan and I don't see that every day, then I might find some things a little unsettling."
Some of those publications called the assistant coach turnover in the wake of Miami's 40-3 Peach Bowl loss a rash decision. Coker, however, said that wasn't the case. One loss did not spur him to gut his coaching staff and, though he didn't like doing it, he made the moves in the team's best interest.
"It was a culmination of a lot of things," he said. "Sure, it was painful. We've done a lot of great things in the last five years. It was something I felt I had to do to help the players."
Coker also said it will be in the team's best interest to address the topic of firearms with the players. Merriweather's gun was legal and used in a legal manner, according to police, but that doesn't mean Coker wants his team bearing arms. He said he didn't know how many players carried guns but he'll tell them he'd rather they not.
"I'd rather they dial 911 and get people who are trained to handle these situations to handle them," Coker said. "I don't know if I have the right to ban them if they're off campus, but I can discourage them. As a coach, that is my right."
Coker handled most questions calmly, but bristled at a deluge of questions concerning Williams. The nation's top linebacker prospect out of Carol City High, Williams apparently became sour with his Miami experience and wanted out. He remains under scholarship, but was granted by Coker the opportunity to talk to other schools.
"I think he can be a good player and a productive person in life," Coker said.
After a barrage of questions over how Williams' loss affected the defense, Coker told reporters to put things in perspective.
"This is a third-team linebacker we're talking about here," he said.
Despite a tumultuous offseason, the media still feel Miami is a front runner for the ACC title.
The Hurricanes were picked to win the Coastal Division and conference title in the preseason media poll.
"You've got to play up to those numbers," Coker said. "The key is you have to win. Polls are great, but you have to win the games."