CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Jonathan Vilma is a Miami football legend. He grew up in Coral Gables and was part of a national championship team in 2001. He was a first-round NFL draft pick in 2004, the Defensive Rookie of the Year and a 3-time Pro Bowler.
He’s also pretty sharp. Vilma was named to the Academic All-Big East team three times. Vilma was a part of the search committee — along with Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde — which vetted Mark Richt as the 24th football coach in program history.
He said Richt asked him what he must do to resurrect the program.
“I told we needed to have a little bit more discipline and a little more consistency,” Vilma said. “Frankly I feel that (interim head coach) Larry Scott did a tremendous job with that. These players and coaches had every reason to just shut it down this year. We said (on the search committee) that we need a continuation of that.”
“The U” has struggled to sell out its 65,000 seat stadium of late. Portions of the stands have been roped off to reduce the sections of empty seats. Testaverde and Vilma’s Hurricanes have not had a 10-win team since 2003.
Richt was fired by UGA for only winning nine games this year. Miami had only had two 9-win seasons dating back to 2006. That’s even while playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Vilma, like others on the search committee, didn’t look at the hire as reeling in the best available coach on the market. They wanted more.
“We looked at the best fit for our criteria with what we are looking for as a head coach,” Vilma said. “As we painstakingly went through the process, Mark Richt came up as the best fit for us.”
He’s cautious about what Richt can do.
“You never know,” Vilma said. “Everything we know about Mark Richt now is based on what he has done. Not what he is going to do. We don’t know what he is going to do, but we expect we can get hopefully something similar to what he has done at Georgia and even a little more.”
He said Richt’s understanding of the players on the roster was one big thing that impressed him.
“I was excited how he viewed these young men,” Vilma said. “He viewed them as more than just potential players who can take me to a championship. He viewed them as guys who do have that ability but also for 10 years from now and 15 years from when they graduate. He’s worried about that. He’s cautious about that. He wants to make sure he has prepared them for 15 years after they graduate and not just for the two or three or four years that they spend here.”
Jeff Sentell covers UGA recruiting for AJC.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges.