Al-Quadin Muhammad. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Miami coach Mark Richt said Monday that the probe that ultimately led to the dismissal of two defensive standouts from his football team started in 2015, before he arrived to take over the Hurricanes.
 
Miami threw defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad and linebacker Jermaine Grace _ players who were expected to be starters and leaders of the defense _ off the team Saturday after declaring both committed NCAA violations. The decisions came at the end of a investigation to determine if players received an extra benefit by having access to luxury rental cars.
 
"It's sad that it happened," Richt said on WQAM, the Hurricanes' flagship radio station, during the debut of his weekly in-season appearance. "There was something being investigated for a while. It got to the end of the line and the decision had to be made. Through some consultation with an outside source who is very tied into the NCAA and universities across America ... that was the decision that was made."
 
Richt said he was not part of the final decision.
 
He said Miami _ which was not a particularly deep team on the defensive side of the ball to begin with _ will now have some choices to make now about how many two- and three-linebacker sets it plays, though noted some of that will also be dictated by the Hurricanes' opponents.
 
"We can talk about this all we want," Richt said. "The bottom line is I think we need to be talking more about the rest of the team because that's who's going to show up on Saturday night and play ball. It is what it is. It's happened. It's something that we've got to deal with. But there's attrition in football."

 

 

The Hurricanes open the season Saturday at home against Florida A&M.
 
The rental-car probe wound up leading to the departure of Miami's three leading tacklers from last season. Grace led the 2015 team with 79 tackles, while Juwon Young had 57 and Muhammad had 54. Muhammad also led last season's team in tackles for loss (8.5) and sacks (5).
 
Young, who left Miami weeks ago, is now on Marshall's roster. Attempts to reach Muhammad and Grace were unsuccessful.
 
"There's always somebody next in line," Richt said. "And that's what we have to determine."
 
 

 

Meanwhile, the car rental agency's owner sent a statement to The Associated Press saying that no Miami player _ Muhammad and Grace included _ got anything for free from his company.
 
Juan Caballero said the university probed whether the players received cars in exchange for memorabilia. Caballero said that Muhammad's cousin and Grace's uncle both rented cars from his agency, and that he provided university officials credit card receipts and other documents as proof of full payment.
 
He also said Miami's investigation started after Muhammad posted photos of himself in luxury cars on Instagram.
 
"There has never been a single incident where a player has received preferential treatment or anything of value for free," Caballero said. 
 
Muhammad's Instagram feed was the source of numerous other inquiries by Miami officials in recent years, after he regularly posted photos of himself enjoying a luxury lifestyle _ including first-class air tickets, visits to high-end malls and restaurants.
 
Richt becomes the second consecutive Miami coach to face a major distraction in the days before his first game leading the Hurricanes. A massive NCAA investigation into the actions of a former rogue booster overshadowed Al Golden's debut as Miami coach in 2011, and the school remains on probation as part of the fallout from that mess.
 
Miami will not, however, face further NCAA sanctions related to this rental-car probe.

Jermaine Grace. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

 
School records listed Muhammad and Grace were still enrolled at Miami early Monday, though it remains unclear if they will try to transfer to other institutions.
 
Miami has offered to honor their scholarships through graduation if they decide to stay at the university.