Getting to Know Canes OC Rhett Lashlee
By Christy Cabrera Chirinos
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – It’s been a whirlwind few days for Rhett Lashlee.
Less than a week after being named the Hurricanes’ new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Lashlee has started the process of settling into his new office in the Carol Soffer Indoor Practice Facility and getting to know not just his colleagues on the Miami coaching staff, but the players he’ll be working with in the coming weeks and months.
Among his first impressions? There’s potential for the Hurricanes to thrive in his fast-paced system – one he believes, will give Miami an edge as it looks to bounce back in 2019.
“I think there’s some misconceptions that when you spread the field, it’s kind of finesse. That’s not the case. I believe in balance. We’re going to be able to throw the football, but we’ve also got to be able to run the football and be physical at every position,” Lashlee said afternoon. “We just tell our guys fast and physical. We want to play fast. We want to be physical at every position and when they buy in, they start to see the advantages and over time, it just really starts to be something that everybody buys into and believes in. It’s a lot of fun.”
As he continues getting to know his new team, Lashlee on Thursday shared some of his thoughts about what makes an offense successful, why he wanted to be a Hurricane and lots more – including what it’s like to be a dad to not just one set of twins, but two.
Here, a conversation with Miami’s new offensive coordinator…
Q: What made the idea of coming to Miami so appealing to you?
RL: “My family and I were really happy where we were. Sonny Dykes is a phenomenal head coach and a friend and a mentor to me and we had a good situation there [at SMU]. We weren’t looking to leave for just anything, but I’ve known Coach [Manny] Diaz over the years professionally and we’ve actually coached against each other several times. I have great respect for him and I believe in him and what he’s trying to do here at Miami. Then there’s just the fact it’s The U. Growing up, there’s just such a rich tradition here. So many great players. Five national championships. You know what can be done and you know what the potential and the opportunity is here. That’s what’s exciting.”
Q: Coach Diaz has described your offenses as “attacking quickly, creatively and efficiently.” How would you describe your offense and your philosophy?
RL: “Our philosophy, and what we’ll tell the guys, is that we want to play fast and physical. I think there’s great advantages to playing fast. There’s also a lot of things that go into that. You have to execute at a high level. You have to play well, otherwise you can’t go fast. I think when you get to where you can play fast, it gives you a lot of advantages as an offense. You’re able to be aggressive, you’re able to dictate more to the defense, instead of the other way around and really, that’s just the way I’ve always played going back to my days playing quarterback for [Auburn coach] Gus Malzahn in high school. It’s just what I believe in and what I know and what’s been successful.
“I think there’s some misconceptions that when you spread the field, it’s kind of finesse. That’s not the case. I believe in balance. We’re going to be able to throw the football, but we’ve also got to be able to run the football and be physical at every position. We just tell our guys fast and physical. We want to play fast. We want to be physical at every position and when they buy in, they start to see the advantages. Over time, it just really starts to be something that everybody buys into and believes in. It’s a lot of fun.”
Q: When you talk about playing fast, how much does the number of plays in a game and conditioning come in to play with the offense you’re looking to run?
RL: “Nowadays, with the way strength coaches are and the ways we work with them, guys are usually in pretty good shape. But there’s no shape like getting in playing shape. This spring will be an adjustment for our guys who aren’t used to doing it. But, there’s usually a point in spring ball and definitely in fall camp where there’s a couple moments that guys start to notice the real big advantages of playing fast. When that clicks, they really buy in. I equate it to a basketball team that full-court presses the entire game. Not a lot of people do that and the ones that do, that’s a way of life for them. They’re used to that. They’re used to being in shape and so, as the game goes on, they get stronger and they wear their opponents down, where there opponents aren’t used to that.
“Our guys have to buy into the fact that playing fast gives you several advantages. One, you get to run more plays than everybody and the more plays you run, the more chances you have to score. Two, you hope to be able to physically and mentally gain an edge over your opponents there. And three, it’s fun. We don’t even know what it’s like to huddle. We don’t have a huddle procedure. We’re not going to go out day one and say ‘This is how we get in a huddle to call a play.’ If we ever huddle, it’s very rare and it’s very ugly, because we’re just not good at it. It’s not what we do. Kids want to play fast and spread the field, and that’s what we want to do.”
Q: Your offense, with that tempo, how do you think it’s going to work here at Miami, with the kind of players on the roster and the kind of players you’ll be recruiting in the future?
RL: “I think it’ll work just fine. I know when you maybe have players that aren’t quite as talented as your opponent, it’s a great equalizer. And when you have really talented players, it can allow you to be very explosive. I think it’s like any other system. The guys are going to buy into what we do if we teach it the right way and they’ll see the advantages. Look, you’ve got to be efficient, you’ve got to execute at a high level, you’ve got to have a quarterback that can make decisions and you’ve got to have guys that operate it efficiently so you can continue to go fast. If you’re throwing a lot of incompletions and taking a lot of sacks, you’re not going to be able to go fast. And so, it is an offense that’s predicated on executing and discipline and toughness. But it’s a progression and as we get there, we’ll play faster and faster, hopefully, over time.”
Q: What have been some of your first impressions, from any film you’ve had a chance to watch, of the new players you’ll be working with this season?
RL: “I’ve gotten to watch a little bit, just more of individuals, their film, as opposed to games. I’m a big believer that the past is the past. I’m not really worried about that. I’m worried about the guys on our team now moving forward and what we can do to get where we want to get. I understand what we’re going to do offensively is a little different than what all these guys have done here in the past. But I think that’s exciting, too. I think the guys are going to be locked in to learn and do what we do. I think we’ve got good pieces here. We’ve got to solve some issues, but that’s what we’re hired to do as coaches and that’s what spring ball and fall camp are for and I’m very confident we can do that.”
Q: How do you think the combination of those players and your system can help Miami be more effective in the red zone than it was last season?
RL: “That’s the object of the game, score points and as long as we have one more than them, it’s a good day. It all goes together. I think games nowadays are won and lost not as much on how many yards are gained or not gained, but on a couple things, like explosive plays and negative plays. We’ve got to create a lot of explosive plays and we should have the athletes to be able to do that; staying on the field on money downs, like third and fourth down and then scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Look at a lot of big games: the teams that, when they get in the red zone can finish with touchdowns versus field goals, usually determines the outcome of the game. It doesn’t really matter what kind of system you’re running, you’ve got to be productive in the red zone and I feel confident that we’ll get there.”
Q: What’s the process like and what challenges could arise when making a transition like the one about to happen as Miami moves from a pro-style offense to a spread?
RL: “Every transition is different, that’s been my experience. I think the whole basis of what we do is we want to make the defense defend the whole field. And we not only want our guys to play fast from a tempo standpoint, but play fast in terms of mentally. I don’t want them thinking. I want them reacting. By no-huddling, spreading the field and playing with some tempo, it allows you to simplify a lot of terminology. Make it to where guys are confident in what they’re doing. Look, success breeds confidence. And the ways guys get confident is by doing the same thing over and over again, successfully and creating good habits.
“Instead of huddling up and having really long play calls and asking guys to do a bunch of different things, I think we’re able to also simplify things so our guys can play fast and what I mean by that is just react more than think and let their God-given natural ability take over. To be honest, every situation is different. But I would think it’ll be a solid adjustment because I think it’ll maybe even be easier than the things they’ve been doing.”
Q: You’ll also be working as a quarterbacks coach here. How much do you enjoy that part of your job, and still working with a specific position group on a day-to-day basis?
RL: “I enjoy it. I played quarterback. I know we’ve got to find someone who can be consistent at quarterback. That’s a big task here, but that’s the task anywhere. There’s no good offenses that don’t have good quarterback play. Our system, like most, is a quarterback-driven system. We’re going to build it around what our quarterback does well and we’re going to try and put them in positions to be successful. If they play efficient and successful, the rest of the guys usually get good opportunities.
“The other reason I like coaching the quarterbacks, especially as a play-caller, is that quarterback is the coach on the field and when he’s in your meeting room all week, you know how he thinks, you know how he ticks, he knows how you think, so when you’re making play calls, he kind of already has an idea of what’s going on. You’re much more on the same page than if you were detached from that. I think that’s what’s really important about being in the room with the quarterbacks. You’re installing the offense, putting it in and over time, evolving it to what your quarterbacks can do and then on game day, trying to go out and execute.”
Listen to Coach Lashlee as he chats with Joe Rose on 560WQAM:
Q: What do you think is the first thing the quarterback group has to focus on this spring so their efforts translate to success this season?
RL: “Whoever our quarterback is going to be is going to has to earn the respect of his teammates. That allows him to be the leader. It’s no different for coaches. We come in, we have to develop relationships with our players so they trust us and they’ll listen to us and do what we’re asking them to do and understand there’s a reason for everything we do. As the quarterback, you’re the leader of the offense. A lot of times, you’re the leader of the team. And if those guys trust you and believe in you, because you’ve earned it, they’re going to play better and harder around you.
“We’ve got to have quarterbacks who are willing to come in and be selfless, to be team guys, do whatever it takes for us to get the ball in the end zone and earn the respect of their teammates. Really, that’s where it all starts, from an intangibles standpoint. Throwing the ball, making the right reads, getting the ball where it needs to go, all that stuff is important. But if they don’t have the respect of their teammates, it doesn’t matter. We’re looking for someone who can earn that right, to be our leader.”
Q: What have been some of your first impression of the quarterbacks?
RL: “I’ve gotten to meet them all once, very surface-level. I’m excited to get to know them better and develop relationships with them. Everybody’s different and like I told them, everybody gets a fresh start. It’s a clean slate. But, you’re also going to earn everything you get. Nothing’s going to be given to anybody. So, again, we’re looking for the guy who can stand up and prove he wants to do what it takes and sacrifice to be the leader of our football team.”
Q: What other areas on the offense would you like to see improve this spring?
RL: “I think, first and foremost, we want to have an identity, which we will. You’ve got to be good at something on offense. You can’t be just all over the place. You’ve got to have an identity and everybody on the team needs to know who we are. And I think at every position, they’ll get confidence in knowing that we know who we are and this is who we’re going to be. We may have a bad day, but that’s not going to change who we are. I think that first and foremost. I think everybody being on the same page, from our offensive staff all the way down to our players, is huge.
“So, again, relationships are key. We’ll work as coaches to develop relationships with each other, with our players, so that we can be all on the same page. Offensive football is tough. You can have one guy make a mistake and it ruins the whole play. You’ve got to have 11 guys working together. I think it all starts there. The plays, the X’s and O’s, that stuff will take care of itself. These guys are really good football players and it’s our job to coach them up on that. But we’ve got to have an identity, everybody’s got to know what it is and buy into it and then we’ve all got to be on the same page.”
Q: You’ve spent time at a variety of places, at different-sized programs, in different conferences. How do you think that’s helped shape you into the coach you are now?
RL: “I think it’s helped a lot. It gives you perspective. There’s a saying in coaching that nothing’s ever as good as it seems or as bad as it seems. I’ve been blessed. I’ve coached in two national championship games. I’ve been blessed to coach in three SEC Championship Games and a couple other championship games in the leagues I’ve been in and those have been some really cool, big moments that I think have kind of prepared me to be where I am today. You learn a lot in those scenarios. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you’re coaching in the Iron Bowl, Miami-Florida State or if you’re coaching Samford I-AA football against Furman, when the thing kicks off, the field’s the same size. It’s 11-on-11 and just like a player does, you lock in. You have a job to do. But I think it gives you perspective that lets you appreciate being at a place like Miami, for sure.”
Q: What’s your preference: coaching from the box or the sideline?
RL: “I’m a sideline guy. There’s no question you can see better from the box, but we’ll have coaches up there that know what we’re looking for that I trust and can communicate with. I like being on the sidelines because, when you’re in tempo, a lot of the play calls are by feel. You work throughout the week, you make decisions in between drives, but you’re not looking at a call sheet during drives as much as you are calling the game by feel. And when you’re on the sideline, you can feel momentum swings. You can feel how your guys are, you can look them in the eye between drives, specifically the quarterback. You don’t have get on the telephone. You can just go talk to him, look at him. That’s kind of my leadership style and that’s just kind of what I’ve done over the years and what’s worked.”
Q: How excited are you to get out there and help recruit South Florida and all its playmakers for Miami?
RL: “I’m really excited. I recruited South Florida for pretty much all the four years I was at Auburn the last time, but it’s a little different when you’re coming from the outside in. Now, getting to recruit South Florida with ‘The U’ on your chest, at the University of Miami, knowing there’s a lot of pride behind that and knowing a lot of kids grow up wanting to play at the University of Miami. … Just knowing a couple drives or tee shots away there’s a lot of really good players makes it a huge benefit to being here. I’m really excited to get out there, develop relationships with coaches and players and try to get the best guys in South Florida that want to play at Miami.”
Q: You mentioned tee shots. How do you like to unwind when you’re away from the field and the facility?
RL: “There’s not a lot of relaxing in my life. I have two sets of twins. You mentioned efficiency, we can’t be more efficient than 4-for-2. But, I think to be a successful college coach, it takes a lot of time and it takes having a wife that’s phenomenal and understands the sacrifice and being a part of what we are and being a part of it together. We get really close to our players. They come over to the house. We want to have relationships with them. My kids love it. They love coming to practice, seeing those guys.
“But I think outside of football, if you do it right, your hobby has to be your family. So, if I’m playing golf, it’s because I’m dragging two 9-year-olds with me. It’s not because I’m going out there to try and help my handicap. So, I enjoy being with my family. I enjoy doing stuff with some of my closest friends. Like I said, I just believe life is about relationships, so when we do get some free time, I try to spend it with the people that matter.”
Q: What’s it been like for your family, raising two sets of twins?
RL: “The good news for us is, 2-by-2, we don’t know any better. We kind of joke that we made a zoo. Our twin boys, Hudson and Thomas, are nine. They’re full tilt and they love ball. They’re kind of at the point where they tell me about the bad calls I’ve made and what I should have done differently. Then we have two 3-year-old girls, Rowyn and Scarlet. One of them is definitely the one who runs our whole family. She’s the princess and we kind of march to her beat. It’s fun. My wife, Lauren, is phenomenal and she’s somehow able to be the zookeeper for that crew. It’s a blessing. We don’t know what one’s like, so we don’t really know any better. Everybody always asks, but 2-by-2 is all we know.”