Tracking proCanes - Leon Searcy - Part II

Part II: Leon's thoughts on the current state of the program, favorite things, word associations and more! Click here to read Part I.

pC: Where’s Russell [Maryland] now?
LS: Russell is in Dallas. He works for a software company that sells video components to the NFL and college teams.

pC: You played under both Jimmy and Erickson. Did things change when Jimmy left? Erickson ran a loose operation from most people’s accounts.
LS: Well the years I was there, it was kind of like Erickson was given the keys to a Porsche and he was told not to wreck it. Everybody when I was there understood what Jimmy Johnson had done over the years and what he had built. We were a little skeptical with going outside of the family with the hire because initially Gary Stevens was a guy everybody wanted because he was the offensive coordinator. That had a lot to do with why Steve Walsh left because Steve Walsh basically gave Miami an ultimatum and said keep Gary Stevens on board and that’s why he entered the supplemental draft. So when Erickson was hired we were a little skeptical about his offense, though it was a pro-style offense in a way. A lot of long passes and decent running game. And the one thing he didn’t do is touch the defense. He let the defense stay where it was.

I can just remember the first time we saw Dennis Erickson, we were all running 15x110s and I remember him walking out on the field and seeing Lamar Thomas, Horace Copeland and he is seeing offensive lineman and defensive lineman blazing by him and he was in awe of all the speed we had as a team. We were just flying by and him thinking, man this new guy is coming in here, just don’t mess it up because we had just come within a yard of winning back –to-back [championships]. Everybody knows that wasn’t a fumble that was called against Notre Dame and we would have been back-to-back. We had a motto in Miami that was it was either title or bust. It was no going to a bowl. If we weren’t playing for a national title, our season was not a success. So we just wanted to make sure that whoever was brought in here, he understood what our purpose was and he was on board for it because we felt we had enough talent on that team to win a National Title that year and we actually did.

pC: So would you say the players had more of the role of running the ship than he did?
LS: Yes. We had enough leadership on that team, that he didn’t really have to do anything. Everybody knew their role, we knew who we looked up to and what kind of talent we had and he didn’t have to come in and discipline us. You know, we had guys that had little spats but not to the point that would jeopardize the team and what we set out to do.

pC: They call us the “U Family” and all the old players come back to practices, they still work out there. How did that start?
LS: Everybody cares so much for the program because we understand the amount of sacrifice that was put into it. That is what we always tell the young guys nowadays. You’re in the position you’re in now because of what guys have done that paved the way to this point. Jimmy Johnson did create a family sense and guys came back. I mean it’s hard to be a defensive tackle and not listen to Cortez Kennedy who is a future Hall of Famer. It’s hard if you’re a receiver to not listen to Michael Irvin who is also a Hall of Famer. It’s hard if you’re a running back, to not to listen to Edgerrin James tell you about cuts and read defenses. It’s hard to be an offensive lineman and not listen to Leon Searcy who was an all-pro. We had enough guys at so many different positions and guys were saying listen and they had no choice. They always welcome guys to come back and it rolled over. Guys always come back and help and we created that bond where we cared enough about the program to not see it falter.

pC: Do you go back often?
LS: Not as often as I like. Only because these last couple of years I was coaching, so I was recruiting and this and that. When I was in league I would go back and talk to guys and I used to train down there early in my career.

pC: Did you have a nickname or anything?
LS: Michael Barrow used to call me Godzilla because I used to always bark out calls. Some guys used to also call me “Big Pun” which is short for punisher when I was playing.

pC: What was the toughest place to play an away game in college?
LS: Oh easily, Florida State. Florid State during that time was like our little brother. It was like looking at a mirror of yourself, only smaller. I’m sure they’re not going to like that, but it’s true. They always gave us the toughest time. Most of athletes on the field at that time were similar. If we had a receiver that ran a 4.3 [second 40-yard dash] they had a DB that ran a 4.3. If we had offensive lineman that could bench 500 [lbs] they had a defensive lineman. They complemented us. They complemented us in every way. I know it had to be very frustrating for them because in my five years there they only beat us once and the one time they beat us we still won the title so I know it must have been very frustrating for them at that time. Florida State with that chomp and everything that goes on up there, it’s tough.

pC: Who was the one guy that was really influential in the development of your game?
LS: My high-school coach and my offensive line coach Art Kehoe. The one thing Art Kehoe did for me was that he kept me humble. I was having so much success so fast from when I came in as a freshman and then came in my sophomore year, things just started rolling for me. I’m starting, we’re winning titles but he always kept me humble. He always stayed on me about my technique. I could have an outstanding practice in my mind and then he would tell me that that was horrible. I understand what he was doing. He was feeding the fire. He didn’t want me to ever become comfortable with myself, with my technique, how I train, how I study. Ultimately he knew I was going to be an NFL player and if I became comfortable with myself I could never achieve what I wanted to achieve at the next level. He also worked on my techniques, fundamentals, hand placements, how to shoot my hands, how to train as an offensive lineman and all that stuff. Coach Kehoe definitely had a great deal to do with my success.

pC: Do you still talk to him?
LS: Yes I still do.

pC: You said going to the NFL wasn’t that bad of a transition. What would you say was then the toughest part about going to the NFL?
LS: One of the things was living up to the first round status. Going to the Pittsburgh Steelers and being the 11th pick overall, I was now the highest paid guy on the line as a rookie. So, having to live up to those expectations. Then, just the speed of the game. We had a lot of speed in Miami but there were so many different formations and variations in the league [NFL]. You would have to check out safeties, cornerbacks, twist and stunts at the next level. The speed and the expectations were probably the toughest.

pC; You went to the Steelers, the Jaguars, Ravens and Dolphins. What was your favorite stop?
LS: My favorite stop was Pittsburgh. I love being a Steeler. Everything about it. The hard-nosed, tough, hardhat, coming to work everyday lunch pail attitude, the Steelers exempted, I loved everything about it. Coach Cowher was an awesome coach, very player friendly. He loved winning, hated losing, tough, hard-nosed. I came in with Cowher, I was his first pick in 1992. Everything about being a Steeler, I enjoy.

pC: Going to the current state of the program, why did you think it became this way, how can it get back?
LS: I probably didn’t make a lot of UM fans happy when I made a comment on the radio about how Miami has become the Cal Berkley of California. In the sense that USC has become the staple now in California and there is USC and everybody else. Now in the state of Florida the tables have turned in the sense that now, the University of Florida is the toast of the town and Miami is in the back seat. It is true though, in Gainesville they have this machine running. They have two National Titles in three years, they are doing something right. We’re getting just as much as talent as they are, but somehow it’s not transforming onto the field. I don’t know who to blame. I don’t know if we should blame the coaches, or the recruiting. Everyone says the facilities or we don’t have the money. When I was at the University of Miami, our weight room was no bigger than this Applebee’s, but I can name a lot of talent that came out of that little weight room with one little window when anytime you need to get air you had to open the door to get air. You’re talking about guys like Russell, Tez, me, Warren Sapp a slew of NFL players that came out of the little facility. I don’t want to hear about we don’t have the money or facilities. Something is just not being done there. Now I hear that if we win seven or eight games, you can’t have those sort of low expectations and ever expect your program to be where it used to be. I really don’t converse with those guys as much as I used to, but I hope they care that they want to turn it back around. I know they are working their behinds off but something is not going right.

pC: Do you think Randy is the man for the job?
LS: I do think Randy is the man but does Randy have the people around him? He was there and I know Randy knows about the traditions and upholding them but he’s got to have everybody on the same page. If he has everybody on the same page with a clear objective of getting the program back to where it used to be then it will be back where it should be. Right now it doesn’t make any sense to me that over the last four or five years we have top 10 recruiting classes according to those publications and then not being able to transfer that over to the football field.

pC: So you think there was a problem at least in coaching or development.
LS: Look at this statistic. I was watching the NFL network and the last couple of years Miami has been squeaking out a first round pick. Now this year we might not even have a guy drafted. When Butch had that machine running and we were on probation, a Butch Davis recruiting class consisted of Ed Reed, Cliton Portis, Edgerrin James, Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne, Bryant Mckinne, DJ Williams, Phillip Buchanon and this is when we were on probation. When you’re on probation and they take 33 of your scholarships away you’ve got to recruit and you’ve got to develop these players if you want to compete. Look at Jimmy, look at Dennis, look at Butch and you look at Larry and you look at Randy. Somewhere there was a demise. If you look at a timeline, there was no demise with Jimmy, Erickson towards the end maybe, Butch built that thing back up. Someone is to blame after that. I won’t say the name but you do the math.

pC: Do you think the program can come back though?
LS: I believe they can. I believe they can. If they’re getting the top-notch players you have to put these guys in position so they can win football games. That’s what it boils down to.

pC: What do you think about the move to Dolphins Stadium?
LS: I didn’t like it. I know why it was done, money. A private school, not state funded and the Orange Bowl facilities were shammy at best. I understand why they made the move. The whole idea of the Orange Bowl was to have the student base there for the games. The atmosphere is not the same and the fans are spread out.

pC: Why the number 73 at UM?
LS: I was 77 in high school and they gave me 73 in college. In the pros I wanted the number 73 but it would have cost me $10,000.

pC: Who did you have to buy it from?
LS: Justin Strzelczyk, he was an offensive lineman of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I was the first round pick making all this money and I just assumed I would get my number. I asked if I could have my number and they said well someone has it. I said I need my number and they said you need to go talk to him about it. So I went to him and said would you like to switch numbers, I have been 73 my whole career. He told me ‘it’s going to cost you’ and I said how is it going to cost me? He started it up at $25,000. I said you can keep that and he told me ‘alright you can have it for ten grand.’ I said I’m not going to give you ten grand for a number. I’ll just be 72 and I’ll make it famous.

pC:I say a word and you tell me the first thing that pops in your head:
Randy Shanon: Onion
pC: That was his nickname?
LS: That was his nickname
pC: Why?
LS: The rumor was that he would make the girls cry but I doubt that. That’s what they used to call him.

Larry Coker: Good guy
The Orange Bowl: Tradition
Dolphin Stadium: A waste
Sebastian the Ibis: Crazy as they come
Art Kehoe: Genius
Coral Gables: Too expensive
The Fiesta Bow: Robbed
Ohio State: Hate ‘em
Jimmy Johnson: Outstanding
Dennis Erickson: Aight

pC: Do you follow the NFL now? You follow a team?
LS: I follow the Steelers. I played for a couple of teams but the Steelers seem to be the only ones interested in me after football. They contacted me last year because it was the 75th anniversary of the Steelers franchise and they called me and said that I made the all 90s team and they wanted me to come. They send my son stuff and stay in contact with him. The Jaguars, I have yet to hear from them and they were my most recent team.

pC: Why did you end up going to the Jaguars?
LS: This is a funny story. I’m a free agent just out of the Super Bowl. My agent is Drew Rosenhaus, enough said there. I’m a little cocky and I’m in the Bahamas. I’m resting. Drew Rosenhaus calls me and says ‘Leon we have a deal on the table.’ I say from the Steelers? And he says ‘no from Jaguars.’ And I said the Jaguars? Come on now.

This is why I left Pittsburgh. Drew Rosenhaus got the Steelers on the phone. Drew told me at the time that the money we were asking from Pittsburgh didn’t think I deserved it. You’ve got to remember at the time, I am 24, 25, a pro bowler and teams are telling me that I don’t deserve [the money]. He said ‘Pittsburgh doesn’t think you deserve the kind money you are asking for.’ They said you’re too young. I said I don’t believe you, you’re lying. So Drew got them on the phone, and I am on the phone listening. Drew is ranting and raving and saying Leon is going to leave and they’re saying we don’t care we have someone to replace him. So that was probably the worst thing that could have happened to me.

pC: They didn’t know you were on the phone?
LS: No. They didn’t. They didn’t know I was on the phone and Drew negotiated with them. You don’t want to hear negotiations. For one, I’m 25 years old, you don’t understand the business. His job is to get as much money as he can and their job is to keep as much and we’re supposed to meet somewhere in the middle. But Drew did not explain that to me. He just explained that they don’t want you for the money you’re asking for. So, I’m on the phone and I’m hearing them say Leon is only a starter for us for 3 years and we can’t give him that kind of money because Dermontti Dawson is this and he will be a future Hall of Famer. We love the kid but we can’t pay him to be the highest offensive lineman. So I am listening to this. I am fuming mad. I said the hell with Pittsburgh. I’ll go somewhere else and prove myself. As soon as we hung up the phone, Drew had the Jaguars right there. He had already staged the whole thing because the Jaguars wanted to make me the highest paid offensive linemen in the NFL at that time. So, Drew said don’t worry about them, I’ve got a team that wants to make you the highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL and I said who’s that? He said the Jacksonville Jaguars. I said, let’s go. I was fuming mad from that point on but I didn’t understand the nature of the business. That’s how the business is. I would advise any guy who is a free agent, that is young to not listen to the negotiations between your agent and the team. They want to strip you down and he’s going to build you up and they’ve got to meet somewhere in the middle. You couldn’t tell me that, not at the time. The way they were stripping me down. He can’t do this, he can’t do that, he’s got limitations. It was so tempting to just say something on the phone. I was holding it in.

pC: Favorite Food?
LS: Seafood

pC: Top tunes on your iPod?
LS: R&B, old school, Prince, light rap

pC: TV show you can’t miss?
LS: Law & Order and Cold Case

pC: What you do in your spare time?
LS: I try and spend as much time as I can with my kids. I have two daughters and my son. When I’m not doing something, I want to be with them. It was tough when I was playing ball because I was so busy. I saw my kids get raised without me. I was traveling and doing this and that. I was still wild and out there. So, now that they’re growing up, I want to spend as much time as I can with them. My daughters live in Atlanta, my son lives in Orlando.

Click here to read Part I of our interview with Leon Searcy.

We at would like to thank Leon Searcy for being so gracious with his time to do this very insightful interview for our new feature "Tracking proCanes." We would also like to thank his son Leon for his patience and input during the interview.