- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 30, 2010

CORAL GABLES, FLA. (AP) - When Jeff Stoutland says he wears Miami’s “U” on his chest, he’s talking about something deeper than a logo on a polo shirt.

He’s talking about the scare of his life.

It was May 19. Stoutland had been experiencing discomfort during his daily workouts, and picked that day to finally go get a stress test at the University of Miami hospital. Doctors checked his results, then told him sit in a wheelchair and not to move.

“They said, ‘Do you understand you’re 99 percent blocked in the ‘widower’ vein?’” Stoutland said Tuesday. “I don’t even know what that is, but it doesn’t sound good.”

Surgeons performed a triple-bypass. Stoutland was amazed to learn his heart had been removed from his chest during the procedure. His heart had been problem-free since, until Saturday night, when it sank upon getting the news that Randy Shannon, his friend, his boss, one of his mentors, had been fired by the Hurricanes.

The next morning, Stoutland took over as Miami’s interim coach. He’ll lead the Hurricanes through their bowl game, likely the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, and then face a most uncertain future _ like everyone else on what was Shannon’s staff, each of whom agreed to remain until the season ends.

“My mission statement is this: I want to make this whole thing, this whole experience, right for the player,” Stoutland said.

He took the job with Shannon’s blessing, and has already picked his former boss’s brain for ideas on how to get the Hurricanes best prepared for the bowl game. Stoutland said he was humbled by the opportunity, although he never envisioned _ or wanted _ the chance to lead the Hurricanes.

“We’re all-in, all hands on deck,” said Stoutland, who will send coaches recruiting this weekend, even though they have not much to say in the way of answers about what’s looming for the Hurricane program.

Miami’s offensive line coach for the four years that Shannon led the Hurricanes, Stoutland is the son of a man who spent four years in the New York Yankees’ farm system, and has a wife who writes children’s books that tell motivational tales. The lessons his father taught shaped him, the lessons from his wife’s books are ones he finds ways to incorporate with 350-pound blockers.

He makes it all work.

“Stout is my guy,” said special teams coordinator Joe Pannunzio, who was one of the first assistants who committed to staying through the bowl game.

Shannon was fired Saturday night after Miami lost to South Florida, completing a 7-5 regular season. He was 28-22 in four seasons, and the Hurricanes made huge strides academically during his tenure.

“I will say this and I mean this from the bottom of my heart,” Stoutland said. “When Randy Shannon brought me here four years ago and I arrived at the University of Miami, and as I stand here today, I can tell you this: This program is in much better shape right now than when I came here.

“We’re a better team than our record is,” Stoutland added. “I know that. We all know that. We have great kids here.”

The last couple days have been hectic.

There was a team meeting Sunday where Stoutland’s role as the interim coach was announced, more meetings Monday to get some academic details finalized, and plans are already in place for practices to resume _ based on which bowl the Hurricanes wind up playing.

Stoutland wants to stay, and knows that’s up to the next regime to decide. He said Tuesday that he fears everyone in the football department may be out of a job when a new head coach is hired.

So for now, all he can do is help his players, the other assistants, and himself through a trying time. The only thing that’ll soothe any ache right now is a bowl win.

“At the end, when it’s all over, it’s going to be sad,” Stoutland said. “I work with some great, great people.”

And he’s done so at the university that saved his life. Miami’s doctors fixed his heart, and Stoutland wants to mend the hearts of his football team.

“Our job right now, our mission, is to bring this group back together,” Stoutland said.