Luther Campbell is late. We were supposed to meet at Sun Life Stadium to watch Miami play Nebraska, and now halftime is almost over. When he arrives at the southeast gate, he explains circumstances that are uniquely Luther: Campbell has been banned from coaching in tonight's game between local high school powers Miami Central and Miami Norland, where he became defensive coordinator in 2014.
According to Campbell, he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct in Norland's previous game while trying to calm down Norland players angry at an official.
"It was late in the game, and I told the kids, I said, 'Look, don’t go out there doing something stupid because at the end of the game, you’ll get suspended for next week.' I’m saying this to the kids, not the ref. But he obviously had a bug up his ass.
"At the end of the game, I’m thinking everything's good. He ain’t ejected me or nothing. You could still eject me at that point. Monday comes, and it's, 'Oh they sent you a letter. They said you gotta take an ethics class, and you suspended.' I’m like, an ethics class? What the fuck is that about?"
Campbell broke the news to his unit this afternoon, helped finalize the game plan and put his team on the bus. He is not surprised. Campbell had to file suit against the state of Florida in 2012 just to be allowed to coach high school football in the first place.
He had to file suit because Luther Campbell is also Uncle Luke of 2 Live Crew, the man who started in DJ battles in Miami parks in the 1980s and became a self-incorporated rapper, promoter, executive and label owner. He is the man who battled obscenity charges for songs like "Me So Horny" and "Pop That Pussy" all the way to the Supreme Court.
He is the man who paid cash through a bounty system for University of Miami football players' living expenses in the '80s and '90s. The era was memorialized and sold to a new generation in Billy Corben's ESPN documentary The U, making Uncle Luke college football's proto-bagman.
This is why he has to remember to keep the bucket hat on. When his face isn't obscured, he's mobbed in stadium portals. The admirers cross social and generational gaps, but there are two general reactions.
The first is a celebratory "LUUUKE! FUCK YEAH, LUKE! GO CANES!" from young white fans. To them he is the U's human mascot. He's everything they've grown up loving about Miami football.
The second is rarer, more reverent and intense, such as when a young black concession worker flags him down, fumbling his words to thank Luke for "everything he's done."
He responds to both in equal measure, smiling, slapping hands, waving and never breaking stride: "OK! All right! Thank you! All right!"
"That's where 'Uncle Luke' really comes from. Because everybody acts like I'm their uncle," he says. "I tell artists all the time, if you have issues, stay your ass at home. You're on all the time in public."
Campbell is a 54-year-old high school football coach with a wife, a young son, a dog and a house inside a gated neighborhood of suburban Miramar. This summer he released an autobiography, The Book of Luke. It starts as a paean to hip hop through the jagged social history of black Miami and ends with a hard left into Florida youth football, now the longest-lasting of Campbell's passions.
In a few weeks, Campbell will finish coaching a Friday afternoon practice, hop a flight to Orlando for a concert to promote his book, then fly back to prep for a game on Saturday. Uncle Luke exists when needed, but Luther Campbell watches Miami's secondary with his arms folded, second-guessing zone coverages.
"You've got the athletes. This is Miami. You always have the athletes. Let 'em match up and make a play."
He checks his phone repeatedly, texting last-minute information to Norland.
"Can’t even fucking go. Biggest game of the year."
"Listen to the music in here. The music is horrible. I go to Louisville, and the music is better than here," Campbell says. "They tell 'em what songs not to play. And they’re not playing no Luke songs. Ever. Not ever. Hell no."
Campbell recorded the theme of the ESPN documentary. He says it has never been played in Sun Life.
Inside the stadium there is no evidence, visual or auditory, of the 1980s-'90s dynasty, outside of the title banners. I ask Luke, what if, maybe, the Canes went undefeated this year? What if they make a run at a conference or even national title, and the focus re-centered on the Miami of old? What if there's a huge home game? What if the Canes clinched a title and the P.A. played "Throw the D," Crew's (technically) profanity-free 1986 single? What if, in a moment of celebration, the U paid homage to its past?
"Man, hell no! Then they especially wouldn’t play anything of mine. They don’t even play Miami artists. Look around! It ain’t that kind of vibe here. We in a convalescing home. This place has no college football atmosphere."
Against Nebraska, fans won't hear anything from a local artist save for a radio edit of Trick Daddy's "Take It to the House" when Miami scores a touchdown.
The Canes left Miami proper when the Orange Bowl was demolished after the 2007 season. The U moved from the downtown neighborhood of Little Havana and 15 miles north to share a stadium with the Dolphins. For Miami home games, Sun Life sets up Hurricane merchandise displays in front of Dolphins apparel. While I wait for Luke in the air conditioning, a pair of women complain about the Broward County school holiday calendar as they sort through bedazzled tops that read, "WE INVENTED SWAG."
"Swag," Campbell says, shaking his head.
"The thing is, the administration is so far from that. They're so hypocritical. Swag is something they did not want, ever. Dancing, partying, all the antics? No. Now they want to market that, but they tell the players, ‘No, no, don’t do that.’ Kids come here for that! The kids come in thinking it’s the T-shirts. Then they get here and it’s, ‘Oh no, no. We’re not that anymore.’ You’re making them conform to something they aren’t."
Miami's Campbell, Trick Daddy and Pitbull
"If you want a live situation, let it be live! If you go to a [Miami] practice? Oh man. It’s live. But not in here. But you’re selling this shit out here. Swag? You’re a hypocrite. Selling swag and acting like Harvard.
"When I go to Florida State, it’s a damn party. If I want a college atmosphere when I'm home, I'll go see FAU."
Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya's mother is Angela Means, an actress most famous for her role in the 1995 film Friday. 2 Live Crew recorded a song, "Hoochie Mama," for the soundtrack at the time. When Kaaya and Means were on an official recruiting visit to Miami in January 2014, Campbell was at the football facility.
"I'm sitting in the [Hecht Athletic Center], waiting for one of the coaches, and his mom saw me, and then he saw me. He was like, 'Yo, I want to get a picture with you. I seen you in the videos with [Ice] Cube.' I'm like, 'Yeah, I know your mom!' We said hello and take a picture together.
"Shit hits the fan. Damn compliance guy comes down, tells me I gotta leave the campus. I said, 'Well, why I gotta leave campus?' They said it was because I took that picture. 'You're barred from the campus.' Barred? The fuck? I leave, it hits the social media, hits the news: kicked off campus.
"After that the coaches start calling, sorry, sorry, we're sorry."
UM Senior Associate Athletic Director Chris Freet, now at Arkansas, told the Palm Beach Post that Campbell was not barred, only asked to leave campus to avoid any potential issues.
"I'm a high school coach," Campbell says. "I talk to these guys all the time. I do not want to see these coaches get fired. I'm tight with some of these guys. Do not. It's just the two guys that's the problem, the defensive coordinator and the head coach.
"I want that program to win so bad because I think I get more abuse [from other fans] than anybody. I go around the country, man, I get abused everywhere. It kills me, kills me. They have a program in which they’re running that hire people that … you gotta let the guys run the program."
Campbell disagrees with defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio's blitzes, coverages and pretty much everything else football-related. Through September, the Hurricanes defense ranked 35th nationally in Defensive S&P+, then allowed 34 points in last week's road loss to Cincinnati. Campbell wants D'Onofrio gone, on merit.
But head coach Al Golden, Campbell believes, was installed specifically to serve a new agenda by Miami leadership: win, but leave the old days behind.
"I think it was told to him, ‘We don’t want this certain type of element here, so limit the amount of kids you recruit locally.' Because if you go back and look at past articles from when he first got here, it’s a shit storm. He probably had like five [local] kids, some crazy number like that, in his first class. Everyone went ham on him."
Campbell is referencing the 2013 signing class, technically Golden's third but his second complete, which was inked amid the Nevin Shapiro scandal. Miami signed 19 players, but only six from Florida. Golden hasn't been quite as extreme since, but the numbers do point to an attempt at balancing local players with out-of-state talent: There are 66 Florida players on the 2015 roster and 44 out-of-state. Since arriving from Temple, Golden's staff has signed 70 Floridians and 46 from out of state, including 18 from the Northeast, from which Golden hails.
That balance isn't notable, by the way. The last time Miami posted double-digit wins, in 2003, there were only 60 Florida players on the roster.
Here's my top 5 for the U job Butch Davis Mario Cristobal Gary Peterson Dana Hologram Pep Hamilton. It's NOT in Order.— LUTHER R CAMPBELL (@unclelukereal1) October 6, 2015
Since joining the ACC in 2003, Miami has won its division once, while under probation, and never played for the ACC title. Its last national title appearance came in 2002. In his fifth year, Golden is 32-21 and .500 in conference play.
Still, many fans believe last year's 6-7 was telling. Campbell believes Golden can't win in an easy situation: let South Florida talent win. Let local communities celebrate, and let the city reclaim ownership of its team.
Hurricanes running back Joseph Yearby, a product of Miami Central, breaks an inside rush for a 41-yard touchdown in the third quarter to put Miami ahead of Nebraska, 27-3.
"See?" Luke points to the field. "Simple. Talent. Not fancy coaching."
The skies are clear, but planes fly FIRE AL GOLDEN banners over Nebraska-Miami.
This is despite the fact that Golden has yet to lose this season, that all roads point to another undefeated showdown with hated Florida State and another chance for Golden to unite the fan base. Blame those glory years, the standard that feels increasingly impossible. (Golden would later lose to Cincinnati on Oct. 1.)
But oh, those glory years. Campbell was in the 1984 Orange Bowl stands the night Miami beat Nebraska for its first national title, two years before he outfitted his group in Hurricanes jackets for the cover of The 2 Live Crew Is What We Are.
"I was in the stands that night. Talking shit the entire time. Oh, it was great."
He sits back in his seat and looks around Sun Life.
"Nothing like this."
A woman in her mid-40s leans over his shoulder to interrupt. She's slurring her words.
"I know who you are."
"Uh oh!" Luke says, laughing, and then shoots me a glance from the corner of his eye.
"Yooouu are trouble. I used to be trouble when I was in college. I used to love you. I was so much trouble. My daddy was the president of [a major university in Florida] but I had to move away for college. I always wanted to be in Miami, though."
She puts her hand on his shoulder. The male companion next to her seems unfazed.
"Oh yeah, OK! You trouble alright! OK then!"
Before long the woman has motioned to her friends several rows down, and a line forms to take pictures with Campbell. This draws more and more looks until the entire section, mostly 20-somethings, is screaming his name.
"Oh, you are trouble! You started this!" Campbell tells the woman.
Hat back on, he slouches.
"It's crazy when the babies start yelling. When the babies know who I am. That means I'm gonna have to be doin' this shit forever. They get old enough, and then they want to start coming to the shows."
Meanwhile, Nebraska moves 75 yards in under three minutes. The Huskers score, then complete the two-point conversion. It's 33-18.
"See? See? No killer instinct," Campbell says. "They can't just step on their necks. When you have identity issues, that's how you look."
The next Miami drive stalls around midfield after multiple penalties. Sun Life is maybe a third of the way full. We agree to duck out early.
"This is Miami. People got places to go. Go to the beach, go to the sports bars, drive home," Campbell explains.
By the time we're out of the stadium, Nebraska cuts the lead to eight. Miami ends up blowing a 23-point fourth quarter lead before winning on a field goal in overtime.
"We shoulda known. I don’t why we left so quick," Campbell says on the phone later.
"I mean, you know you gotta have at least a killer instinct. They had their stats and they had the respect they needed to get. And you know, you got Nebraska! Maybe Nebraska, 41-13, at home! Miami’s back! But I saw it when it was 30-10, on fourth-and-2 on the 11 and we kicked the field goal and the fans started booing. That was it. We gonna be nice guys, OK."
It's Sunday afternoon. Luther is on his couch, flipping between NFL games while his son puts together a Lego Guardians of the Galaxy set. We discuss Groot while his dad is on the phone.
It's quiet in Miramar, and Luke is free of his hat. Last night, he found a way to buck his punishment at Norland. He had a Norland assistant in the press box describe opposing offensive formations to him over the phone, to which Campbell would reply with assignments for his defense. Miami Central won, 13-0, but Campbell was happy with his unit's effort. Calls to the Florida High School Athletic Association regarding Campbell's suspension were not returned.
"Only problem I had was on first down, because they would huddle up on the sideline to send it out on the field. Once we got past first down, we were all right. So I’m pacing back and forth on the phone all night. And the guys from Central, a lot of them are my friends. So they ended up, after the game, calling me and said, 'We knew exactly when you got on the phone.'"
In between calls he watches the Falcons-Giants game. One of his former players, Devonta Freeman, is starting for Atlanta. Campbell mentored Freeman through the running back's entire career in Miami youth ball, then to, of all places, Campbell's hated Florida State.
According to Campbell, Freeman ended up at FSU in 2011 because the U wasn't interested, despite Campbell's attempts to get him a scholarship. But when Campbell took Freeman and a group of players to a camp in Tallahassee, Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher offered him right away. The Atlanta Falcons declined to make Freeman available for comment, but the running back told Al-Jazeera last year that Campbell stepped in as a guardian during a tumultuous upbringing.
"He’s like a second father figure in my life," Freeman said. "He didn’t have to help me, but he did."
If you're looking for the rap legend, Uncle Luke is alive in Campbell's recruiting process. Years ago, Campbell grew frustrated watching Miami-area players go un-recruited outside the immediate area. So he rented a van, got high school and volunteer coaches to drive and loaded up as many local kids as he could to hit Tallahassee, Knoxville and Tuscaloosa. This is how Campbell built Luke Records in the 1980s; frustrated with corporate control from record labels, he rented a van and went from record store to record store, selling 2 Live Crew.
"Speaking as a high school coach in my seventh year, Miami has had an issue going back to even Randy Shannon. You get the pick of the litter. Take for instance one of my kids, Emmett Rice [a 2016 FSU linebacker commit from Norland]. All his goal was to go to Miami. I’ll give you a better one than that. Amari Cooper. Same thing as Freeman. We’d take these kids to the [Hurricanes] camp. Freeman wanted to go Miami, him, Amari Cooper too. So I call ‘em up and say, 'Hey man, this kid is GOOD. Y’all better take a look at him.'"
He affects a nasal voice to imitate a coach: "'Well, bring him to the camp. If he possibly does good, we’ll give him an offer.'"
"And what ends up happening? [Cooper] goes to the camp, turns the place inside out and no one can stop him. And [if] they offer him, he commits right there. Calls Mama right there. 'Mom, they just offered me.' She’s crying, he’s crying, everybody's crying. Then they go up to [the Miami coaches'] office, and then they he say, ‘Uh well, we really don’t want to announce it right now.’
"So then we ending up hopping on the road because we do the same road trip every year. The next day we get on the road, we go to Tallahassee, then Alabama. And what does he do? He tears up everything. Nick Saban’s like, 'I want him right now. I want him and Artie Burns right now.' Nick stayed on him. Jumped on it. Kid went there."
Are Miami coaches purposefully avoiding local athletes or capping the number of hometown signees? The Hurricane staff did not respond to requests for comment, but in recruiting circles, the sentiment is that Campbell is at least partially on to something.
"There are some instances in which Miami's staff has been slow to offer a player, but there are some complicating factors that impact all programs when electing to offer local players," SB Nation national recruiting analyst Bud Elliott said. "Miami just happens to be in the most talented city in the country, with a very vocal and tight-knit community of high school coaches. Let's say Miami decided to offer a local kid early, but he doesn't turn out; then they have to pull his offer. When that happens, the local high school coaches lose their minds, and Miami's reputation suffers. That is not as big of a deal if Miami does that with an out-of-state kid from a spot it infrequently recruits. When Miami offers a local recruit, it wants to be sure he is a player it feels comfortable accepting a commitment from."
Campbell says the first time he took Miami high school prospects to a summer camp, Saban approached him. To profess his fandom. Of 2 Live Crew.
"It was strange that Nick Saban knows who I am. That was strange. He walks up and he's like, 'Heeeey man! What's up! Come up to the office!' So we get up there, and he's like, 'I listen to your music!' I'm sitting there looking at him like ... what? So you know I'm a shit talker, so I start in. I told him, 'Look Nick, if me and you gonna be hanging out, you can't be wearing those tight ass shorts you got on. If we ever gonna break off and go out, you can't go like that!'
"Let me tell you, Nick is crazy, right. But I’m probably one of the few people down here that likes Nick," after Saban's brief time with the Dolphins. "They call him Nick Satan down here, and talking to him, he knows it. He’s like, 'Man, they hate me down here.’ And I’m like, 'Yeah, they do.' At the same time, he’s a cool dude, he is. He loves kids from Miami and wants them. When they played in the national championship down here, they let me come by the practice, so I went by and watched, learned some stuff."
As a coach, Campbell's priorities differ from those of Uncle Luke, the longtime Canes fan. His focus is landing scholarships for as many Miami-area players as possible. That means taking kids to SEC schools and sitting on the phone with coaches from HBCUs. His goal is young black men from South Florida defying the perception that he had a hand in popularizing.
"If I recommend the kid, they know that he’s going to go up there and act right, and he ain’t gonna act like no ass. His GPA is going to be right. That’s because my name is on the line. If I send you up there and you act like a clown, you just affected the next kid and the kid after that. Because that coach will think I’m just sending them anyone I can."
And that means doing fair business in marketing to those damn Noles. Freeman is living proof.
"I’m more friends with everyone on that staff at FSU than I am here. It’s crazy. One thing about it: I let it be known. Every year I go to their camp and cuss them like a sailor, talking trash. 'Yeah we’re gonna get you this year.' And they talk trash to me. One thing about it, though: if I tell ‘em about a kid, 99 percent of the time they offer and they won’t hesitate."
Florida State declined to comment on Campbell's relationship with the staff.
"I told [Miami running backs coach] Hurlie Brown last year, 'I ain’t gonna turn you on to no garbage.' I know as a coach, not everybody can go to Miami. There’s only a certain type of kid that can go to Miami, Florida State, Alabama these type places. Now I’m talking to [Florida State assistant] Tim Brewster about a kid. Brewster offers the kid, and then Miami is, ‘Oh we really want Emmett Rice! We want Rayshad Jackson [2015 Florida signee from Norland]. And the kids went to Miami's camp last year. Last year, not this year, laaaast year."
"Every kid's goal is to play for University of Miami here. Right now they're hearing, 'If Florida or Florida State offers you, then we’ll come back.' By then, you’ve just hurt that kid’s feelings. Most kids in Miami are in a single-parent household. Mama’s there, little brothers. Little brothers are playing football on the weekend, and they don’t want to leave here. Most of the high school coaches here, they know how Miami will do a kid. They’ve hurt so many kids' feelings by not getting to them at the right time."
On TV, Freeman drops a pass on third down. Campbell stiffens.
"COME ON, MAN. COME ON, BOY. COME ON. HANG ON TO THE BALL. TWO DROPS TODAY? Tripping. Boy gonna get cussed out tonight. Unbelievable. Jesus."
He sends a text to Freeman. They talk after every game.
"He already knows what's coming tonight, believe me."
Freeman atones for the drop with a game-winning touchdown on a goal line push, but Luke has already sent him a warning about the drops. In a few minutes, members of the Norland staff will trickle in the house to discuss problems in last night's game.
"I’ll coach as long as I can help kids out. The average guy, right? Maybe he works out at the gym. Takes about two hours to do that. Instead of going to the gym working out, looking at myself, I’ll volunteer my time, take those two hours and go coach high school football."
As the officials review Freeman's score, Campbell's door buzzes, and assistants from Norland wander into the kitchen. In a half hour Campbell will have them provide every detail, every iota of last night's game he couldn't absorb from his subterfuge call to the press box.
"A lot of people say, 'You coach good; you could probably go to college.' No. My job is to help these kids get to the next level. And every year that I’ve coached, I think, in South Florida, I’ve kind of changed the perspective of football and gave every other high school coach an idea of how to get those kids in college.
"When you in the diamond mine and have diamonds all over the place, diamonds in the rough, the smallest ones are still worth something."
Photos: Rick Diamond, Stephen Lovekin, Al Bello, and Mike Ehrmann, Getty