Notre Dame aims to break Miami's 'Turnover Chain'

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

The face of Miami football is not a face.

It’s a chain.

More specifically, it’s a 10-karat-gold Cuban link chain, so thick that it weighs 5.5 pounds and measures a full 36 inches. Dangling at the end of it, there’s a charm — a blinged-out ornament depicting the program’s signature “U” logo, bedazzled with orange and green sapphire stones to make it pop.

Originally, “The Turnover Chain” — this maniacal marriage between flash and function — was the brainchild of Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who enlisted local jeweler A.J. Machado to bring his dream to life. It was a golden, shimmering rallying cry, a gaudy award dropped on the deserving neck of a defensive player that forced a turnover.

Then, it became something more.

A symbol. A statement.

A movement.

“It has really gone berserk,” Miami head coach Mark Richt said on the Joe Rose radio show on Monday. “(People are making) T-shirts. People are inventing their own. At elementary schools, instead of making those little things you put around a Christmas tree, they’re making turnover chains.

“It’s amazing. All the little league football teams in south Florida have their version of it.”

All the celebrities, too. Last Saturday, former 14-time Major League Baseball all-star Alex Rodriguez — he of the 696 career home runs and rampant steroid allegations — turned up to watch Miami’s 28-10 victory over Virginia Tech with girlfriend Jennifer Lopez on his arm and a turnover chain around his neck.

Last week, local rapper SoLo D released a song unsubtly titled “Turnover Chain,” which features a chorus that involves SoLo yelling “Turnover Chain!” eight times consecutively and 43 times over the course of the 143-second track.

No. 7 Miami (8-0) may be flying under the radar, but the turnover chain is famous.

Or, mostly famous.

“They have created obviously some energy with their takeaway chain,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said on Tuesday. “I think that's what it's called. I hope I haven't messed that up.

“I haven't been paying real close attention to it, but I think they have used that collectively as a way to galvanize the group.”

When it comes to sideline props, Miami is the latest, and maybe the greatest, but far from the first. Alabama has been awarding the “Ball Out Belt” to a player who forces a turnover since 2015. Meanwhile, 4-5 Tennessee’s “Turnover Trash Can” has been relentlessly, unanimously ridiculed on social media. At Georgia, a pair of golden, spiked “Savage” shoulder pads provide something of a post-apocalyptic, “Mad Max” aesthetic.

Heck, even Kennesaw State got in on the mix. The 8-1 FCS program awards the “Turnover Plank,” which is a bare plank of wood with a smiley face scribbled on it in black and red marker.

Why aren't we all discussing @kennesawstfb turnover plank? pic.twitter.com/xbQ6P5myqw

— Mike Foster (@MichaelFosterSN) November 5, 2017

So, in a world of incentivized gimmicks, what sets the “Turnover Chain” apart?

“When you have an idea like that, it’s only good if you get turnovers,” Richt said. “It’s only good if you win. So if we’re 5-5 and have seven turnovers for the season, I don’t think anyone would care other than to probably make fun of it. But now it’s a monster.”

So is the Miami defense. In eight games this season, Diaz’s group leads the country in tackles for loss per game (8.75) and ranks fourth in turnover margin (1.38). The Hurricanes have gained 20 turnovers (10th), 13 interceptions (7th) and seven fumbles (27th).

In other words, the “Turnover Chain” is paying dividends — and not just in the ways you’d expect.

“How many kids are going to get a turnover chain for Christmas?” Richt said with a laugh Tuesday during his weekly press conference. “It’s a lot of fun. And I know the recruits love it. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

According to Miami’s Sports Information Department, 15 Hurricane players have donned the chain thus far.

As for Saturday night? That might be another story. No. 3 Notre Dame (8-1) has surrendered just seven turnovers this season, which ranks fifth nationally. In his first year as the Irish starter, junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush has thrown just two interceptions, the latest coming in a win at Boston College on Sept. 16.

“We coach it every day,” Kelly said. “We talk about having great ball security, making good decisions. Really, it's how we'll be successful is if we take care of the football.”

That, and take it away. Notre Dame’s defense has forced 19 turnovers this season, just one shy of Miami. Specifically, first-year defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s group has recovered 10 fumbles, more than all but seven teams nationally.

The results have been there, even if the flashy accessories haven’t.

Still, though he opts for golden helmets over golden chains, Kelly understands the purpose behind the prop.

“What gets your guys locked into something?" Kelly said. "The turnover chain is something of a prop, but it gets them really focused on, ‘Hey, we win as a team, but here's your little individual piece.’

“You know, we live in that society today. So whatever works for you to get that and get the most out of your players, I can see how it would happen. But I think each program is trying to come up with those kinds of things to help them maximize their success.”

In its best start since 2002, Miami has certainly maximized its success … and created a symbol along the way.

“It was a big hit from the very beginning, because it is a cool chain,” Richt said with a grin. “It is Miami, for sure.”

Miami defensive lineman Jonathan Garvin celebrates with the "Turnover Chain" (photo courtesy Miami Athletics). 

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mvorel@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @mikevorel

Miami defensive lineman R.J. McIntosh wears the "Turnover Chain" after recovering a fumble in the win over Virginia Tech on Nov. 4 (photo courtesy Miami Athletics).