MIAMI HURRICANES: TRENDING UP VS. TRENDING DOWN; A TALE OF TWO JIMS

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Look no further than a 24-hour mid-March snapshot to see the glaring differences between two in-repair teams; the title-rich (and mojo-less as-of-late) Miami Hurricanes baseball program and a men’s basketball squad hellbent on becoming a true contender.

As a rebuilding season rolls down the stretch for the Jim Larranaga-led men’s basketball program, Miami topped a feisty Syracuse squad in New York last Wednesday at the ACC Tournament.

The Canes would ultimately fall to top-seeded North Carolina the morning after—but a statement had already been made. Despite losing some key starters, this squad won enough quality games—in the sport’s toughest conference—to be deemed NCAA Tournament-worthy. Days later the Canes earned an eight-seed and will take on ninth-seeded Michigan State in Friday’s opening round; a date with top-seeded Kansas looming as a consolation prize on Sunday if surviving the Spartans.

A dozen hours prior to basketball’s conference tourney victory, the Jim Morris-led Miami baseball squad was on the wrong end of a 12-1 home shellacking courtesy of crosstown rival Florida International, who the Canes would also lose to Wednesday evening, 3-2, in a make-up game. This latest setback came on the heels of losing a home series to Dartmouth, getting swept at Florida the weekend prior and a head-scratching Sunday loss to Rutgers opening weekend, 17-6, after Miami took the first two games against the Scarlet Knights.

To the Canes’ credit, bats came alive at home against Georgia Tech last weekend; a 17-7 rubber-match victory after an extra innings loss on Saturday after holding on 10-8 on Friday night at The Light—and before over-praising any hardwood success, Larranaga’s kids did drop road games at Virginia Tech and Syracuse the final week of the regular season, hurting conference tourney seeding and a more favorable path match-up wise at the Barclays Center.

Still, one would be remised to not acknowledge the vastly different trajectories Miami baseball and basketball are on as one rebuilding season is ending successfully and another is just getting underway, albeit to a rocky start.

A year ago, a completely different story for both.

IT’S ALL ABOUT U BEING BUILT POST-SEASON TOUGH

Morris’ squad rose to number one in the nation last April—29-5 at that point in the season after taking a road series against Duke. A week later, some backsliding to No. 4 following a mid-week loss to Florida Atlantic and dropping a home series to Virginia.

Still, Miami rolled to a regular season ACC title before losing to Florida State in the conference championship game late-May.

The third-ranked Canes then topped Stetson in the Coral Gables Regional opener and knocked off Long Beach State in back-to-back games—followed by a break in the Super Regionals when host Ole Miss lost in Oxford, sending Boston College south; a familiar conference rival Miami disposed of in three games.

While there’s little knocking the Canes regular season success—the ongoing narrative regarding a lack of next-level post-season play held true. Miami face planted on the main stage—again—getting rolled by Arizona in the opener, followed by a lifeless loser’s bracket showdown where UC Santa Barbara prevailed.

Over the years the Canes always had fun at Florida State’s expense—ball-busting long-time Seminoles’ head coach Mike Martin and his 0-and-2-and-a-BBQ track record—yet the Jekyll and Hyde regular season versus post-season personas have since become Miamiesque.

The Canes reached Omaha in 2015, as well—after a six-year drought—the result even more limp-dicked as Miami was trounced by Florida, 15-3 in the opener, barely survived Arkansas in the loser’s bracket and was the Gators’ bitch once again—falling 10-2 in a do-or-die match for both teams.

Unfortunately, the issue with Florida is proving to be the new norm, opposed to an aberration. Despite the fact that the Gators remain title-less, there’s no denying their ascension as the Sunshine State’s baseball power—even amassing an 8-1 record against Florida State the past two seasons; beating the Noles in back-to-back Super Regional appearances with Omaha on the line, as well.

Miami’s record against Florida is even uglier. Going all the way back to the 2009 post-season—where the Canes were outscored by the Gators 27-4 over two losses in the Gainesville Regional—UM went on to drop 14-0f-15 to UF over the coming years and are now 6-26 since against a hated arch-rival, including this season’s recent road sweep.

Losing to a talented Florida program is understandable, but seeing the Canes suffering from a Gators-fueled inferiority complex is a much deeper-rooted problem—one which starts at the top leadership-wise. Where did Miami baseball lose its grit—especially in the post-season where it was once clutch and tough as nails? Two years ago the Canes made their first trek back to Omaha six tries and was outscored by the Gators, 25-5 over two games sandwiched between a do-or-die win over Arkansas.

Last season, the regular-season ACC champs saw bats go ice cold in a 5-1 opening loss to Arizona and an all-too-familiar loser’s bracket match-up against UC Santa Barbara, 5-3—making for a 2-6 record at the College World Series in three tries for Miami, since dropping the 2008 opener to Georgia as the tourney’s top seed.

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A TIRELESS LEADER VERSUS ONE WHO LOOKS JUST PLAIN TIRED

Compare and contrast all of that to what Larranaga has done with his magic touch since falling into the Canes’ lap back in 2011 in truly serendipitous fashion. Known then for a Cinderella-like NCAA Tourney run in 2005—11th-seeded George Mason rolling all the way to the Final Four, taking down Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and top-seeded Connecticut in the process.

While Larranaga spent 15 seasons in Fairfax, Virginia leading the Patriots—Miami lost an entire decade trying to rebuild in the post-Leonard Hamilton era; setting the bar with a Sweet 16 appearance his final season in Coral Gables. Hamilton’s stint with the Washington Wizards—featuring the return of Michael Jordan—only lasted two seasons before insult to injury; the former Canes coach winding up in Tallahassee while Hamilton’s former assistant Perry Clark took over at UM.

Clark amassed a 65-54 record before back-t0-back losing seasons earned him a pink slip. Next up; Frank Haith, who last seven seasons, reached the NCAA Tournament once, earned four NIT bids and never finished higher than T-5th in the Atlantic Coast Conference—as well as 12th and 9th his final two seasons with the Canes, before inexplicably being hired away by Missouri when all signs pointed to a Miami dismissal.

Haith was later disciplined as the Tigers’ head coach for Nevin Shapiro-related infractions that happened on his watch at “The U”. In 2016—two years after Haith agreed to leave Missouri for Tulsa—an internal investigation uncovered violations throughout the head coach’s tenure in Columbia; the Tigers self-imposing and vacating all wins from the 2013-14 season.

Where Morris replaced a legend in Ron Fraser—widely-know as The Wizard of College Baseball and a pioneer for the sport—Larranaga walked into a busted culture and program riding a decade-plus of mediocrity; the only thing perfect was the timing.

Three years prior, Larranaga turned down his dream job at Providence to stay at George Mason—a close friendship with then-university president Alan G. Merten a big reasons why. Merten’s decision to step down at the end of the 2012 school year set off a chain of events that inevitably turned the University of Miami into a budding basketball power.

Less than two weeks after Merten announced his retirement, Haith left Miami for Missouri. A coaching search was underway and the on-vacation, interested-in-The-U Larranaga didn’t have a resume ready to go—so at the advice of a friend in South Florida, copied his Wikipedia page and emailed it in. An hour later, he got a call for an interview.

Lost in that feel-good story about Larranaga the man—his behind-the-scenes efforts as a visionary and leader. On the flight home fresh after coming up short in the Final Four, Larranaga spoke with George Mason athletic director Tom O’Connor about the future—his contract, the contracts of assistants the program couldn’t afford to lose and upgrades to facilities.

That type of thinking, aggressiveness and approach—a reminder that the job never ends and that it’s takes a fire, passion and little something extra to go from good to great. Throw smarts and the embracing of technology in there, as well.

Despite being 63 years old in 2013 when the Canes made their first Sweet 16 run under their second-year leader, Larranaga was one of the sport’s earliest adopters of Kenpom.com—a college basketball analytics program—as well as Synergy Sports’ video-scouting software that compiled detailed data on every team in just about every game-time situation.

“The thing with Coach is, as long as he’s been doing this, he’s never stopped learning,” Chris Caputo, a long time Larranaga assistant said regarding the obsession with stats and tech analytic tools. “You’re looking, searching for things that will give you a bit of an edge. I think it was just word of mouth—there’s no great story.”

While it’s unfair to hold everyone to the same standards, Larranaga and his success-by-way-of-process at Miami have inevitably raised the bar for his 67-year old counterpart, Morris—the basketball coach only a few months older than the baseball skipper.

There’s no ignoring or discrediting Morris’ out-the-gate and long-running success at Miami, two national championships or recently-strong regular season play over the past two years—but you can’t praise the good without hammering the bad and questions the long-time leader’s current passion for the game, a lack of connection with players and the inability to find another gear in the post-season.

PLAYING NICE IN THE PRESENT IS IMPACTING MIAMI’S FUTURE

Where Larranaga is a proven leader among men—both with his players and assistants—the past few years have shown that Morris is presently unable to run a top-notch program without his right-hand man, head-coach-in-waiting Gino DiMare.

DiMare is a Miami product out of Westminster Christian who played his college ball for the Canes and has spent 17 seasons on and off under Morris. A three-year break between 2008 and 2011 saw the program backsliding without DiMare—throttled by Florida in the 2009 post-season, dropped in the Gainesville Super Regional the following year and a repeat of that failure in the 2011 Gainesville Regional.

Upon DiMare’s return in July 2011, Miami responded with a 39-14 regular season but did little in the ACC Championship and was embarrassed as host of the Coral Gables Regional. The Canes fell to fourth-seed Stony Brook and third-seeded Missouri State by a combined score of 22-4, making it clear that DiMare’s efforts as recruiting coordinator and hitting coach were beyond necessary of this once-proud program was going to be a contender again.

Recruiting efforts were felt immediately as Miami reeled in the ninth-ranked class in 2012 and the sixth-ranked class a year later—the Canes’ best haul since 2006—welcoming immediate-impact players like Willie Abreu, Zach Collins and Jacob Heyward; opposed to overly-ranked players who were shoo-ins to shun college ball for a crack at the majors.

The measurable efforts of DiMare—coupled with his in-waiting status and a general aloofness from Morris—it’s had the Canes in a state of limbo since Miami re-upped with the long-time head coach back in 2014. The Canes’ batting average dipped to .275 in 2013; the program’s lowest since 1979—and the inability to get to Omaha (or past Florida) was was on full display without DiMare.

Conversely, Miami’s offense ranked among the Top 10 in school history eight of nine season with DiMare as hitting coach and the last great Canes squad (2008) held a .320 average and notched some strong internal records—tied for second in home runs (106), fourth in slugging percentage (.541), eighth in total bases (1,202) and RBI (517), ties for ninth in doubles (135) and tenth in hits (711).

“I’m not coming back to just get to an NCAA Tournament,” DiMare told the Miami Herald upon his return. “Coach Morris knows how I am. He and [pitching coach] JD [Arteaga] are used to winning and going to Omaha. The fans are used to that. I am as a former coach and player at Miami. I certainly wouldn’t be coming back if I didn’t feel the program could get back to Omaha. I wouldn’t put myself in that situation. I think we can get it turned around. I don’t think they’re that far off. But there’s no doubt we have to get it going in some areas, hitting is one big area where we have to get it turned around. And we will get it turned around.”

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YOU HAVE YOUR GUY; WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

The coach-in-waiting dynamic may make sense in certain situations, but in this case reeks of seniority and rewarding a long-time coach for past success, while dangling a carrot and keeping the next-man-up at bay—a guy more than ready to create his own legacy.

In a sense, it could be argued that a two-time national champion has earned the ability to retire when ready and has every right to stick around—but doesn’t that in itself put the individual over team and go against everything coaches teach their players regarding what it takes to be successful?

Same to be said with a coach starting a good-not-great senior because he’s been around longer, despite having a phenom freshman hungry and ready to make an immediate impact. This isn’t about Morris’ legacy; it’s about the future of Miami baseball in a crowded and competitive landscape where rivals haven’t just caught up—they’ve pulled ahead.

The DiMare experiment remains just under two seasons away and upon his takeover, Miami will have a new leader at the helm for the first time in 24 years—which requires adjustment at some level. Best case scenario, the Canes hit the ground running under DiMare. Worst case; it’s a carry-over from the Morris era and Miami doesn’t re-find it’s post-season groove—the title drought since 2001 rolling on—and the program will have to look elsewhere for a leader (setting the rebuild back even further.)

Whatever the case, does it not make sense for the Canes to dive in and start the process, already? Was it really necessary for Miami to renegotiate the original Morris deal—one that would’ve wrapped after the 2015 season—extending it through 2018 as some form of a courtesy? Sure, a fair-enough send off for a successful coach—but at what expense?

Slow-start aside, or recent regular season success the past few years—doesn’t matter. At best, Miami baseball is in maintenance-mode, while Canes’ basketball is reaching new levels—both coached by men in the twilight of their careers; one still learning and fueled by fire and passion, while the other is sticking with his archaic ways and seems like he’s going through the motions; riding this thing out until the end, for his own personal needs—not the future of the program he helped build.

MIAMI HURRICANES & WEST VIRGINIA MATCH-UP OFFERS OLD SCHOOL INTRIGUE

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Miami’s 16-3 lead in the rivalry has West Virginia continuously playing catch-up.

This year’s Russell Athletic Bowl might now have the dramatic flair and high stakes of the playoffs on New Years Eve, but the storylines and history surrounding the Miami and West Virginia showdown will make for one of the season’s more intriguing match-ups.

On paper, it’s the ACC and the Big 12 going at it. A four-loss team versus a two-loss squad—both with higher hopes back in September, but landing in a good-enough spot as 2016 draws to a close.

In reality, a lot of hate on both sides between one-time BIG EAST rivals who tangled over a dozen times from the early 1990’s through the early 2000’s.

The Mountaineers’ hate for the Canes is as elementary and pedestrian as expected; little brother envious of big brother and a backwoods program jealous of them flashy “big city” boys who racked up conference titles and national championships left and right.

Added animosity for those few occasions the underdog had swag-fueled program on the ropes, but couldn’t close—as well as the defection to the ACC after the 2003 season, where Virginia Tech, Boston College and Syracuse were eventually invited along, the BIG EAST imploded and the boys from Morgantown were left out in the cold.

For Miami, West Virginia was nothing more than a mid-tier rival who rose up on a few occasions, fell short many others and proved to be a shitty host whenever dem boys from the three-oh-five made that biannual trek to Mountaineer Field.

And what a throw-down some of those treks were. For those unfamiliar with the rivalry, a quick trek down memory lane for context-sake.

CANES FOUND WAYS TO WIN; MOUNTAINEERS REINVENTED WAYS TO FAIL

Prior to becoming conference foes in 1991, four match-ups between 1942 and 1974, with Miami going 3-1. The teams met again in 1983, with the Mountaineers a footnote in the Canes’ first national championship season—where the hometown boys rolled, 20-3 at the Orange Bowl.

The first conference game was a 35-23 home win for Miami in 1992. Those eight years in-between, the Canes racked up three more championships and left at least three more on the field. Meanwhile, long-time head coach Don Nehlen had the Mountaineers an at-best 9-3 squad before an 11-1 standout season in 1988, culminating with a Fiesta Bowl loss to Notre Dame.

Five seasons later West Virginia rose to No. 2 in the polls by way of an undefeated run, before getting trounced, 41-7 by eighth-ranked Florida in the Sugar Bowl—a season highlighted by a late November upset of fourth-ranked Miami in Morgantown, 17-14.

The Mountaineers got the Canes one more time in 1997; a 28-17 victory in the Orange Bowl with Miami on probation year three under Butch Davis and en route to its first losing season since 1979, bottoming out at 5-6.

Outside of that, it was a rivalry where Miami either rolled, as expected—or West Virginia choked-away would-be upsets or thrilling victories; 1996 being one of the more memorable dogfights.

Miami limped with losses to Florida State and East Carolina, while eleventh-ranked West Virginia was 7-0 and smelled blood. The Canes rolled out quarterback Ryan Clement and his separated non-throwing shoulder, as back-up Scott Covington was laid-up back home with a collapsed lung.

Scoreless at the half, the Canes notched a third quarter field goal, though a Clement interception by Mike Logan was returned to the three-yard line and quickly resulted in a go-ahead touchdown. With :26 remaining, the game looked in the bag as the Mountaineers lined up to punt in the shadow of their end zone when magic happened.

Tremain Mack came fast off the edge, blocked the punt, Jack Hallmon recovered and before going down, handed the ball off to Nate Brooks, who rumbled in for the score. Miami survived 10-7 in a game where the Mountain State’s finest rained down D-sized batteries, unopened beers and racial slurs—as well as 22-gallon-sized trash can from the second level that took out Shannon, the Canes’ linebackers coach at the time.

For added measure, the locals even tried to tip the ambulance geared up to take injured Miami running back Danyell Ferguson to the hospital with a dislocated hip.

Two years later, revenge was equally-as-sweet as the Canes were coming out of probation and Davis’ squad was finally on the mend. Again, an early loss to Florida State had Miami in bounce-back mode, while West Virginia rode a four-game win-streak and rose to No. 14 after a season-opening loss to top-ranked Ohio State.

The Mountaineers raced to an early 14-3 lead, but the Canes cut it to 24-17 by the half. Covington helped tied things up early third, before Miami took a 27-24 lead in the quarter’s final moments—but West Virginia scrapped back, going up 31-27 in the fourth.

Daryl Jones hauled in the eventual game-winner with 1:37 remaining and the Mountaineers missed a game-tying 53-yard field goal attempt as time expired in a 34-31 victory for Miami.

COMEBACK CANES SAVED BEST FOR LAST IN BIG EAST SWAN SONG

All that aside, the biggest dagger might’ve come in 2003 when the BIG EAST foes met one final time on a Thursday night in the Orange Bowl. The second-ranked Canes were four games removed from a national championship loss to the Buckeyes and a 34-game win-streak coming to an end. Weeks prior to West Virginia’s trek south, a thrilling comeback victory against the hated Florida Gators had Miami on a high.

Amidst that tremendous run, the Canes extended the win-streak over the Mountaineers to five and won the previous three meetings by a combined score of 132-26.

Limping in 1-3 in year three of the Rich Rodriguez era, the early-October showdown was nothing more than a formality as Miami prepped for its annual trek to Tallahassee nine days later. Instead, one of those quirky Thursday night ESPN games that threatened to derail the season.

Brock Berlin coughed up two interceptions. Frank Gore went down with an injury, while back-up Jarrett Payton was guilty of a late-game fumble. Red-zone struggles plagued the Canes all night, too—leaving freshman kicker Jon Peattie to keep Miami alive with his inexperienced right foot.

The Canes looked to be in control late; pushing the lead to 19-10 early third quarter, but an early Mountaineers’ field goal pulled the road dogs to within six with just over ten minutes remaining.

Payton’s mid-field fumble with 3:30 remaining was the momentum-shift West Virginia needed and five plays later Rasheed Marshall hit running back Quincy Wilson on the left sidelines; the running back trucking Canes’ defensive back Brandon Merriweather en route to pay dirt.

Upset alert in full force as Miami took over, trailing 20-19 with 1:54 remaining—made even worse by a penalty that set up 1st-and-20 from the Canes’ 18-yard line.

Moments later, history was made when Kellen Winslow II made a ballet-like grab on 4th-and-13. Berlin spread it around three more times before finally getting Peattie in position to drill a 23-yarder with :14 remaining, while new-level of dejection kicked in for a West Virginia program that has reinvented ways to shit the bed against Miami.

Even worse, the rivalry ended that day as it was all about the ACC for the Canes the following season. Wednesday’s showdown in Orlando marks the first time the teams have met since that Instant Classic in 2003.

A DECADE-OF-DISASTER FOR ONCE-POWERFUL MIAMI

Life for Miami since the dominant BIG EAST days have been a struggle—having less to do with the conference switch and everything to do with poor leadership, in-over-their-head coaches and an off-field scandal that brought the NCAA sniffing around, a lengthy, distracting investigation and three years of probation—all of which killed recruiting and turned the Canes into a middle-of-the-pack program.

Bowl-winless since topping Nevada on some blue turf in 2006, Miami is on it’s third head coach over that same span and dealt with a few seasons of self-imposed penalties that killed any chance at post-season success.

Mark Richt looks to succeed year one where both Randy Shannon and Al Golden failed the Canes on a handful of tires.

The Mountaineers ride in on their first 10-win season since 2011—their final run in the BIG EAST, where they won the conference and reached the Orange Bowl. The five years since have been sub-par for head coach Dana Holgersen as life in the Big 12 has proven more challenging; 26-25 the past four go-arounds before this year’s 10-2 regular season.

For West Virginia, a win over Miami this bowl season would be more nostalgic than ultimately meaningful. The Canes roll in unranked, while the Mountaineers’ successful season is somewhat paper-thin—playing only one ranked team and getting rolled by eight-ranked Oklahoma, 56-28 at home.

West Virginia beat BYU, Kansas State and Texas by a combined eight points, while other wins came against the likes of Missouri, Youngstown State, Texas Tech, TCU, Kansas, Iowa State and Baylor, it what was an admittedly weak year for the Big 12.

CANES WITH ONE-FOOT OUT THE DOOR MUST DELIVER

For Miami, a win over West Virginia would prove meaningful—less by way of the opponent and more to do with ending a post-season victory drought, taking down a 1o-win squad, closing out a 9-4 season year one of the Richt era and riding that momentum into recruiting season.

Late December and early January optimism legitimately hasn’t been the case in Coral Gables since 2004 wrapped with a 9-3 season and Peach Bowl win over Florida. A win on December 28th, 2016 goes a long way in reversing a horrible curse.

Furthermore, it’s a chance for this current crop of Hurricanes to go out with a bang. Lots of chatter surrounding quarterback Brad Kaaya, tight end David Njoku and running back Joe Yearby, who are all expected to give up their remaining eligibility in favor of chasing NFL dreams.

Today’s players taking a me-first approach late in their careers is understandable. College football has become big business and so much is on the line for the modern-day athlete. Still, the lack of team success and all-encompassing success during the tenure of these aforementioned kids is impossible to ignore. Doesn’t matter if Kaaya broke the record books in his three years as a starter or Njoku had better numbers than all three Mackey Award finalists—these Canes all come up hollow regarding the ultimate stats. No other way to say it.

Winless against Florida State; playing their part in a seven-game losing streak. No Coastal Division title, either—let alone an ACC Championship, which Miami hasn’t sniffed in the 13 years since joining the conference. No one on this current Canes’ squad has won a bowl game, either—all of this unfathomable when comparing the present to Miami’s rich legacy as a one-time powerhouse.

While there’s no room for waxing nostalgic for a rah-rah era where players still believed in that “unfinished business” mantra and would put personal goals on hold for one more go-around with their brothers—chasing team goals, conference titles and making a run at a national title—it’s not asking too much for these soon-gone Miami greats to elevate their game to the next level and show up big at the Russell Athletic Bowl.

Four wins over patsies to start the season were followed by four losses against the best competition the Canes faced this fall (sans Notre Dame). Four wins against average conference talent followed, hence the 8-4 finish—yet not one signature win.

Embarrassingly, Miami has to go back to 2009 and a one-point victory over eight-ranked Oklahoma for the program’s last marquee victory (and even that one came with Sooners’ quarterback Sam Bradford sidelined with an injury.)

Beating a one-time BIG EAST foe who the Canes are 16-3 against lifetime doesn’t seem like a signature win—but coupled with a dozen down years, a decade-long bowl drought, head coaching turnover and a 10-win squad on the other sideline this Wednesday—a victory over the couch-burners and nine-win season for Miami is a fine way to close out a true rebuilding season.

“CATHOLICS VS. CONVICTS” REAFFIRMS IRISH INFERIORITY-COMPLEX WITH 80’S-ERA CANES

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An image of Miami’s win over Notre Dame in ’89 seemed fitting after two hours of biased Irish fables on ESPN.

For those with a shared allegiance to the University of Miami, the entire premise of Catholics vs. Convicts had to be met with a mixed bag of skepticism, basic curiosity and a longing for an impartial take on an epic game with a controversial ending.

ESPN’s 30 For 30 has become synonymous with the Miami Hurricanes, courtesy of a two revered documentaries spanning the rise, fall and comeback of the storied football program on- and off-the-field over the past three decades. When teasers began dropping regarding the Canes and Irish and that epic 1988 battle in South Bend, it begged the question—who was behind this?

Miami faithful were obviously hoping to see Billy Corben and the Rakontur crew tied to the project; makers of “The U” (2009) and “The U Part 2” (2014)—two of the more beloved segments in the acclaimed series. Instead, the name Patrick Creadon surfaced—prefaced by three words that immediately evoked unshakable feelings of bias; “Notre Dame alum”.

For the Canes enthusiast, optimism and excitement immediate shifted to a fear of elitism, embellishment and the type of trumped-up, fairy tale-type mystique, a la Rudy—where legend replaced fact.

Corben and his team produced two films that showed the good, bad and ugly of the Miami football program over the years—as well as unapologetically showcasing the city’s culture and climate at the time of the Canes’ initial rise to the top. The result was some universally-appealing storytelling which is why the Canes-themed docs always top any “best of” list for the series.

For fans of the Canes, Corben and crew’s films got the juices flowing as the best of yesterday was back on display. The epic victories, national championships and colorful personalities that helped transform a small, private school in Coral Gables into a national sensation. For the anti-U crowd; enough footage of heartbreaking losses, titles left on the field, the NCAA hammer dropping—twice—and gut-wrenching moments where an opposing viewer could gleefully celebrate a villain’s demise.

Catholics vs. Convicts proved to be the exact opposite. Like a kid with a face so ugly, only a mother could love—this Fighting Irish stroke-fest oozed with schmaltz and Irishesque, holier-than-thou sentiments at every turn.

For the contingent who deems South Bend sacred, a carefully-crafted love letter for a fanbase 23 years removed from championship glory. For everyone else, an all-too-familiar feeling regarding an Irish slant.

SHAMROCK-COLORED GLASSES ON DISPLAY EARLY

First-person plural from the get-go, Creadon uses “we” when talking about Notre Dame football and history—immediately setting the tone that “fair and unbiased” are going right out the window. This trip down memory lane is being told by a Golden Domer with Irish blood pumping through his veins. It’s not a story for the universal viewer—this was aimed directly at those who experienced this era of Notre Dame football from Creadon’s vantage point; a super-fan who’s adamant in sharing their personal history with the program.

The Creadon family’s deep ties to South Bend were on display heavily in the film’s first act. Dad graduated from Notre Dame; his love for the program rooted in the Irish doing it “with class and dignity”, while Gramps was recruited by Knute Rockne. An impressive legacy, but Irishly narcissistic as it truly had nothing to do with the story that was about to unfold.

Early on, it’s explained that outside of revisiting the game, a portion of the film was dedicated to figuring out why the moniker “Catholics vs. Convicts” stuck. Why did some feel it was “funny and accurate”, while others—Creadon included—thought it was “mean-spirited and reckless”?

That question really never gets answered from the filmmaker’s perspective—though Miami-bred columnist Dan LeBatard spelled it out in a way that sums up precisely why the Canes got under that soft, Irish skin.

“They’d tell you there were gonna kick your ass. They’d kick your ass and then they’d celebrate the kicking of your ass.”

Damn straight.

For an establishment-type program like Notre Dame who dominated in the leather helmet era—the brashness of the ultimate anti-establishment program taking you behind the woodshed; that’s not going to play well, and proved to be the tipping point in this story.

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With both teams forced to enter from the same tunnel in ’88, Canes / Irish featured “the shoves heard ’round the world”.

Not two minutes in, Creadon is speaking with college buddy and one-time t-shirt mogul Pat Walsh about the design and the screen goes black, followed by the phrase, “Three Years Earlier” and the notorious date—November 26th, 1985. That’s why everyone is along for this ride; bitterness that stemmed—and still stems—from that historic 58-7 ass-kicking.

BRASH & DOMINANT CANES SCAPEGOAT FOR FAUST’S INCOMPETENCE

From that moment, the entire first act immediately goes into defense-mode—justifying the shirt that surfaced three years later and manufacturing hatred because fourth-ranked Miami ran up the score on a prideful Notre Dame program not accustomed to getting its shit pushed in. Those bruised egos then led to the mythical-up sub-plot regarding disrespect shown to then-Irish head coach Gerry Faust, who resigned days before heading south for the season finale in the Orange Bowl.

Faust’s squad was 5-5, coming off back-to-back losses against Penn State and LSU, while sporting a 30-25-1 record late in his fifth season. A revered high school coach who spent 19 seasons building up Archbishop Moeller in Cincinnati, Faust was thrust into the big time in South Bend—despite no collegiate experience—and epically face-planted. His career record at the collegiate level was 73-79-4 after spending the next nine seasons at Arkon, where he was done after a 1-10 season in 1994.

Notre Dame’s embarrassment of a 51-point loss and an inability to deal with their then-level of insignificance—that’s what sparked the sour-grapes still on display today. Even in a documentary meant to showcase the Fighting Irish’s 12-0 season and epic win over Miami during that championship run, those Golden Domers on board to celebrate 1988 are still visibly rattled by those four quarters in 1985.

WNDU anchor Jack Nolan rants and raves that Faust’s last stand at Miami should’ve been “quiet and respectful” and “like a state funeral” while others interviewed in the segment still bitch about “hard feelings” for the Canes’ 21-point forth quarter. Nolan even goes as far as to compare the Fighting Irish to a baby deer that the Hurricanes ran over, stopped and backed up to hit again—a joke of an analogy to anyone outside of South Bend who watched the University of Notre Dame play the role of bully for decades before more parity, diversity and speed entered the game, eventually leveling things out.

The displaced frustration both pathetic and laughable.

Fast-forward thirty years and Miami was on the wrong end of a 58-0 ass-kicking, courtesy of Clemson in 2015. Up 42-0 at the half, the Tigers scored two fourth quarter touchdowns en route to delivering the worst beating in Canes’ football history. Similar leadership narrative, too—a maligned, decent-guy head coach in his fifth year who wasn’t getting the job done.

When those four quarters were over, did Miami bitch, moan and complain about Clemson piling on? Hell no. Did anyone have sour feelings towards Dabo Swinney? Not even close. If anything, most folks were grateful as it proved to be the final nail in the coffin regarding the Al Golden era. Fear The Tie was canned the next morning and to his credit, at least he went down swinging—grinding it out and attempting to clean up a mess that didn’t happen on his watch.

Golden wasn’t much of a head coach, but at least he wasn’t a quitter. Faust waiving the white flag for a program once known for the grit of The Four Horsemen—no way that sat well, again leading to some misappropriated anger.

The revisionist history and manufactured storyline surrounding Faust was nothing more than a way to take the focus off the fact the Fighting Irish had simply become Notre Dame—something former Miami defensive end Bill Hawkins touched on in a quick soundbite, smugly explaining the Irish were mortal and lost their fight. Unbeatable author Jerry Barca took it a step further when he got some screen time.

“In the Faust era, players voted to have shorter practices. They had to take three votes to go to a bowl game, because twice it got voted down. College kids not wanting to play another football game. It was bad,” expressed Barca, still seemingly baffled all these years later as to the softness the Irish displayed at the end of Faust’s tenure.

That denial and deflection, coupled with expected elitism, a sentiment that NBC’s Chuck Todd—a Miami native and Canes’ supporter—summed up with one perfect sentence. “It was sort of like, ‘Wait a minute—how dare Miami throttle Notre Dame in the way that Notre Dame used to throttle other people,'” mocked the visibly-bitter political analyst.

JJ WORRIED ABOUT OWN LEGACY; NOT THE IRISH’S UNRAVELING

The final missing piece—something Notre Dame faithful choose to eliminate from their version of history; complete disregard for Miami trying to work its way back into the national championship picture under second-year head coach Jimmy Johnson. The Canes opened the 1985 campaign with a loss to fifth-ranked Florida, before rattling off a nine-game win-streak, boosted by road upsets of No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 10 Florida State.

Also lost in the shuffle; the fact that Johnson replaced Howard Schnellenberger in 1984—a legend who came off like a prophet when he delivered the national title he predicted by 1983; his fifth and final season. Months later, Johnson got off to a respectable start with the defending champs—taking down Auburn and Florida—but Miami was soon 3-2 after losses to Michigan and Florida State, igniting a newly-spoiled fan base.

Johnson’s Canes ratted off five wins in a row—including a 31-13 victory in South Bend—before a nightmarish three-game skid to end the season 8-5. Incomprehensibly, Miami blew a 31-o halftime lead in a 42-40 loss to Maryland, followed by Thanksgiving weekend’s “Hail Flutie” miracle against Boston College and coming out on the wrong end of a Fiesta Bowl shootout against UCLA. Months later, the aforementioned season-opening loss at home to the hated Gators—the Canes’ last Orange Bowl defeat before tearing off 58-straight victories over the next ten years.

Putting it in the simplest of terms; Johnson and UM had more-pressing concerns than Faust’s resignation or a rival’s potentially hurt feelings. Johnson wanted a title shot and a convincing win on the national stage over a one-time power would go a long way in regarding Miami’s perception when bowl games were announced.

Even with Miami’s logical reasoning and Notre Dame’s emo-charged bitterness, Irish loyalists proudly point out how revenge was exacted on the hardwood two months later.

Former basketball coach Digger Phelps—in smug fashion—boasts about the beat down they laid on a Miami program that was dormant for 14 seasons and just resurrected months earlier. Phelps boasts about piling on, running up the score and proudly boasts that his boys won by 53 points —“Two more points than football lost!”—as well as his squad’s return to South Bend and football players waiting at the gate to welcome and thank them.

This detailed explanation, a long, scenic route to explain that through Creadon’s storytelling to this point, Notre Dame justified referring to Miami as “convicts” on a t-shirt because they were butt-hurt the Canes whooped their ass three years prior—yet moments after this revelation, the Irish openly boast about their eye-for-an-eye tactic and purposefully running up the score in the equivalent of a first-year basketball program.

A vintage-era, Notre Dame approach to bullying the little guy—just like they did back in the day in football—and being completely all right with it. Welcome to a crash-course in hypocrisy; Flawed Irish Logic: 101.

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Irish faithful dubbed Johnson, “Pork-Faced Satan” during the heated Miami / Notre Dame rivalry in the 1980’s.

As Catholics vs. Convicts continues to unfold, the Miami hatred continues to unravel—jealousy tones, scowls and smug soundbites sprinkled throughout.

“If you don’t want people to be upset, show a little class,” whined local radio anchor Nolan; diluted into believing the Canes actually gave a shit what the critics thought, while former offensive lineman Tim Ryan could barely keep a lid on his envy and programmed elitism.

“Those guys went down to Miami Beach and had access to all kinds of stuff. We had a little bit of a different approach. Notre Dame goes above and beyond in trying to do thing the right way and takes this very seriously.”

Look up “hater” or “elitist” in the dictionary and you’ll find Ryan’s headshot.

It’s strange to infer that mighty Notre Dame would have any inferiority complex in regards to little ol’ Miami—but for whatever reason, the Cane-envy is palpable throughout. Former UM offensive lineman Leon Searcy made what was probably a throwaway statement to the film’s editors regarding the 1985 game being that moment where the Irish finally saw things for what they’d become.

“I think that’s when Notre Dame finally considered us a rival.”

BIG BROTHER COULDN’T STOMACH LITTLE BROTHER RISING UP

A quick history lesson–Miami and Notre Dame first went at it in 1955; the Irish winning, 14-0. The Canes bounced back with a 28-12 victory in 1960, when the two met again. In 1965, a 0-0 tie, leaving both sides were 1-1-1. From there, Notre Dame rose up and tore off an 11-game win-streak between 1967 and 1980—the most-lopsided victory coming in 1973; a 44-0 shellacking at the Orange Bowl.

The Canes finally broke that streak in 1981 with a 37-15 pasting—Schnellenberger going on to lead Miami to a 9-2 season that also included a homecoming win over top-ranked Penn State. Little brother was all grown up and the once-ridiculed Sun Tan U was morphing into a program that would soon dominate and instill fear.

The Canes went 6-2 against the Irish in the 1980’s—including a four-game win-streak going into the 1988 battle highlighted in this documentary—while wins in 1983, 1987 and 1989 helping spring Miami to national championships. If you’re big, bad Notre Dame—that’s a bitter pill to swallow, no matter how you try and package it or prop up the “Catholics vs. Convicts” showdown and the role it played in the Irish’s most-historic season.

Sifting through all the mushiness and seeing things for what they are—outsiders will realize this is nothing more than a well-crafted propaganda piece.

The dewy-eyed segment on the stand-up Tony Rice that played out in fairy tale-fashion—solely due to his on-field success and place in Irish history—began with excerpts from the student newspaper where elitism was on full display; fans calling Rice, “intellectually inferior”, “ridiculously unqualified”, while verbalizing that he didn’t belong in South Bend and his acceptance to the university was seen as “lowering our standards” and would “jeopardize our reputation”. The father of one young fan even told his son, upon meeting his hero, to not grow up to be a “dummy” like Rice—rattling the quarterback to the point he called his family and expressed a desire to quit.

Fittingly, none of that mattered once the wins started piling up and the Miami dragon was slayed. Rice instantly became a folk hero. Same to be said for the irony in Irish faithful referring to the Canes as hoodlums, while the documentary romanticizes Walsh’s bootleg t-shirt business and his entrepreneurial-type spirit.

DOUBLE STANDARD APPROACH TO FLAWED DYNAMICS ON BOTH SIDES

The storytelling essentially justifies all copyright infringement with an explanation that collegiate licensing at the time wasn’t what it is now, while driving home Walsh’s present-day remorse—which seems to stem more from getting busted and dismissed from Notre Dame’s basketball program than any real regret for illegal activity.

The premise for “Catholics vs. Convicts” was birthed out of two Miami players arrested prior to the 1988 season—a reserve defensive tackle who sold drugs to an undercover cop and another who stole a car with a friend.

Both are crimes absolutely deserving of punishment—but much like sin itself, who is man to deem one transgression more erroneous than another? Is selling drugs “worse” than selling illegal t-shirt? Both were done by college kids seeking supplemental income. One just happened to be black and from Miami’s inner city, while the other was a white boy from the Midwest and a school with a sterling reputation.

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CBS Sports’ Brent Musberger still played up the Canes as the bad guys in the black hats during “Catholics vs. Convicts”.

By the standards of Catholics vs. Convicts, one is led to believe that slanging Hanes Beefy T’s on campus is slap-on-the-wrist worthy—with Creadon’s film working to build sympathy for “Walshy”; constantly hammering home his life’s goal of playing basketball for the Irish and that dream taken away.

While there’s much to be critical of regarding Creadon’s sentimental set-ups, the game-related portion of the film came off unbiased—until the cartoon character that is Lou Holtz surfaced. Everyone else involved—especially on the Irish side—dropped their schtick in favor of a reverence for what took place on the field that day. Notre Dame players came off less defensive and bitter, while Miami’s athletes—even in defeat—hold that contest in high regard. Everyone involved that day knew they were a part of something special.

Regarding the coaches, Johnson was transported right back to the moment, not wanting to watch footage of the phantom Cleveland Gary fumble and blown call that mistakenly gave the Irish possession in the shadow of their end zone—while the forever full-of-shit Holtz claim (in vintage Boo Hoo Lou fashion) that he’d never seen footage of the Andre Brown touchdown 28 years later. For added measure; a Holtzism about that referee not getting his way into heaven for calling that grab a touchdown. (For the record, both officials in the end zone signaled the score—which is was regarding the catch rule in that era, which has since changed.)

CBS Sports’ Brent Musberger called the game and in typical, vintage commentator fashion, still snickered about the controversial tee, praised the educational rehabilitation of quarterback Rice and refused to give an inch on the position he’s held for years—be in the 1985 game, the Gary “fumble” or the villainous label slapped on Miami; never even once playing devil’s advocate.

In case all of that wasn’t enough for Canes Nation to boil over; Creadon saves his ultimate weak-sauce dig for last—an insinuation that Miami’s pounding of Notre Dame in November 1989 was the result of a tight and watered-down Irish bunch, afraid of Holtz’s supposed threat to yank scholarships if his players engaged in any pre- or post-game fisticuffs. Without that clamp-down, a pointless “what if” moment.

Miami tipped its hat to Notre Dame; Johnson admitting on camera they were the better team that day in 1988. When presented a comparable moment regarding the 27-10 takedown of the defending champs and nation’s top-ranked team sporting a 23-game win-streak—Creadon instead chose a caveat and self-imposed an asterisk on a game that didn’t need one.

May the filmmaker remain tortured by that loss just as team captain and Irish linebacker Ned Bolcar were when interviewed on hallowed Orange Bowl grounds in the wake of defeat.

“This one is going to haunt us the rest of our lives. I hate this damn place.”

Agreed. Just has a viewing of Catholics vs. Convicts and that controversial afternoon in South Bend haunted us, old rival.

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Sports Illustrated gave Miami the cover after knocking off the defending champs, 27-10 and ending a 23-game win-streak in 1989.

MIAMI HURRICANES’ WIN-STREAK MUST REACH FIVE FOR SUCCESSFUL SEASON

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The Miami Hurricanes knocked off the North Carolina State Wolfpack in the eleventh game of the season, a week after convincingly topping the Virginia Cavaliers. Prior to that, an offensive explosion and 51 points scored against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Hard Rock Stadium.

A convincing home beat-down and two back-to-back road wins now set the stage for this Saturday’s season finale; a home showdown against the Duke Blue Devils.

It should all feel better, but for some reason, still hollow and disheartening—searching for November silver linings after an October face-plant decimated all season moral; the Canes dropping four in a row against the toughest competition faced this fall, while looking at its best when pounding on nobodies back in September.

Prior to getting on the comeback trail at home three weeks back, Miami fell to a sub-par Notre Dame squad in South Bend, courtesy of yet another slow start on offense—a late comeback thwarted when the defense couldn’t reel in a would-be fumble and the Irish knocked through a game-winning field goal.

The week-plus prior, a convincing loss at Virginia Tech—a showdown that even the bleeding hearts penciled in as a loss due to the four-day turnaround, as well as a typical raucous Thursday night in Blacksburg. That came on the heels of a home setback against North Carolina where Miami chose to sleepwalk through the first half, before waking up at intermission and still coming up short.

Of course those three losses were magnified after coming on the heels of a seventh consecutive loss to Florida State; Miami missing a game-tying extra point in the final minutes that could’ve led to overtime—that Seminoles’ hex bleeding over into the following week against the Tar Heels, for a half, at least.

While the last three wins ring a bit hollow after a four-game losing streak, Miami did check off some boxes in the process. 534 yards against the Panthers, no turnovers, a fast start and strong close—a convincing way to end a losing streak against a Pittsburgh squad that went on to upset Clemson in Death Valley the following week.

From there, another meeting at Scott Stadium, where the Canes are 2-4 since joining the ACC and winless in Charlottesville since 2008. Miami racked up 450 yards on offense while holding Virginia to 289. The Canes capitalized on four turnovers and cut down on penalties; seven for 45 yards compared to the Hoos’ 10 for 110 yards—while rushing for an uncharacteristic 222 yards as the ground attack has oft been stifled.

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The Canes’ defense clamped down on the helpless Cavaliers in Charlottesville.

Whatever the reason, Virginia is a tough road showdown for Miami—yet the Canes won this one convincingly, 34-14. Yes, the Cavaliers are garbage—a two-win squad at kickoff, but lest not forget a four-win UVA team riding a four-game losing streak upended Miami, 30-13 two years back; the Canes in free fall-mode after a fifth-straight loss to the Seminoles.

PROGRESS AND LATE-SEASON SILVER LININGS

Small as it was beating lowly Virginia team, it was a step forward. Same to be said for the recent victory in Raleigh, though Miami more or less “survived” North Carolina State delivering a complete, sixty-minute performance.

Ugly play early led to a 3-3 halftime score—the Canes’ offense again coming out tepid, complete with suspect play calling. The ground game deplorable on the opening offensive possession, Miami went pass-happy it’s next go-around—freshman Ahmmon Richards with two big grabs earlier before Brad Kaaya found David Njoku on the ensuing first down.

Per the norm, a false start penalty turned a 2nd-and-4 into 2nd-and-9, head coach and offensive play caller Mark Richt again going to Mark Walton, who picked up two yards, still leaving the Canes in a third-and-long. Back to Walton again, the sophomore tore off a nine-yarded and picked up the first down.

Richards reeled in an 18-yard grab that set up 1st-and-1o from the 20-yard line—which has oft proved to be the Canes’ kryptonite. Kaaya ran for five, Walton ran for two and on third-and-short, an incomplete pass thwarted a stellar drive and Miami settled for three; a way-too-common theme this season.

Feast-or-famine offensive play calling continued; big passes followed up by runs that went nowhere, errant throws or foolish penalties—the Canes punting three more times before a missed field goal to end the half; an 11-play, 74-yard drive resulting in nada.

Passes to Walton and Richards back-to-back—coupled with a roughing the passer call—resulted in 45 yards for the Canes, with Walton tearing off a 30-yard score after finding a crease in the line and turning on the jets.

Malek Young reeled in an end zone interception on 3rd-and-8, costing the Wolfpack all-but-guaranteed points on the ensuing drive. Next possession, a one-yard Walton score—set up by a 51-yard reception by Stacy Coley.

17-3 early in the third had Miami breathing easier—but the path to a two-touchdown lead was as much a part of incompetence by the Wolfpack than next-level play by the Canes.

The Young interception was the result of a bad decision by quarterback Ryan Finley, while the late hit on Miami’s previous possession was just the spark the road team needed. Unfazed, the Wolfpack drove 70 yards on 14 plays the next possession—another almost-end zone interception overturned before running back Matthew Dayes punched it in on 4th-and-3, making it a seven-point game.

An ugly-as-hell one-minute possession followed for the Canes—Miami going ice cold after an initial 13-yard reception by Njoku. The run completely abandoned, Kaaya threw incomplete passes on second and third down before another Justin Vogel punt.

Returning to the Wolfpack-meltdown narrative, Bra’Lon Cherry muffed the punt, Jaquan Johnson recovered and the Canes’ offense had new life on the 16-yard line.

Seemingly concerned with Kaaya’s red zone abilities, Richt called three consecutive runs with Walton; who ran for eight on 3rd-and-2. Kaaya misconnected with Njoku on first down, Walton got nothing on second and a pass to Chris Herndon in the back of the end zone fell incomplete.

A gimme touchdown opportunity resulted in a 22-yard field goal attempt, which the inconsistent Michael Badgley sailed through.

Down 20-10, North Carolina State responded with a seven-minute drive that would’ve changed the tone of the game had they found the end zone—but a 14-play drive came to a crashing halt by way of a false start.

Clipping on 3rd-and-2 from the Miami 16-yard line called back a would-be score, yet on 3rd-and-18, Finley found Stephen Louis for 19 yards and a first down.

The Canes’ defense clamped down on Dayes on first and third down, but an eight-yard pick-up on second was enough for a 4th-and-1 situation from the four-yard line—North Carolina State already 3-of-3 on the day regarding fourth down conversions.

Movement. Self-implosion. Five-yard penalty. 4th-and-6. Field goal time. Seven-point game instead of three, resulting in less pressure on the Canes’ next possession—a shoddy one bailed out on 3rd-and-12 by a pass interference call.

A fresh set of downs from the Wolfpack 39-yard line, three doses of Walton in a situation where a field goal likely puts the game out of reach—the sophomore back ripped off a 24-yarder on 2nd-and-6, giving the Canes a two touchdown lead and thwarting out any chance of a comeback.

27-13 on the road against a team that took Clemson to overtime in Death Valley, while also giving Florida State a run for its money—leading the Seminoles all game until the go-ahead score with three minutes remaining—impressive on paper for Miami … on paper.

The Wolfpack certainly gave this one away—but being that the Canes have done the same on occasion this year, chalk it up to the football gods balancing things out. Shame that wasn’t the case against Florida State, North Carolina or Notre Dame—all three winnable, with “The U” unable to close.

Stuck in a slumber for weeks, Miami's offense came alive against Pittsburgh
Stuck in a slumber for weeks, Miami’s offense came alive against Pittsburgh.

PROGRESS BEING MADE, BUT STILL A WAYS TO GO

A four-win Duke squad rolls south for Senior Day this weekend and that 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff certainly works in Miami’s favor—a much different atmosphere than the Canes dealt with last Halloween in prime time, surviving the Blue Devils on a miracle kick return in Durham.

Show up with an ounce of passion and spirit and Miami ends the regular season 8-4 and in line for a decent bowl game, yet missing out on a 13th consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference title—the harshest reality in all this.

Virginia Tech—with first-year head coach Justin Fuente—will wrap up the Coastal with a home win over Virginia; the Hokies going 7-6 last year under long-time leader Frank Beamer in his finale. Beamer won four ACC titles since 2004—joining the conference the same year as Miami—as well as five Coastal crowns dating back to 2005; when the divisions went into place. Over that same span, four different Hurricanes’ coaches proved incapable of even pulling off the feat once.

Soon as one wants to give the veteran Richt a pass for year one, you’re reminded that the 40-year old Fuente and his five years head coaching experience returned a six-loss team in Blacksburg and is a win away from guiding the Hokies to their first Coastal crown since 2011.

Is that an indictment on the successful former Georgia coach? Is it a broken culture at Miami? Not enough talent across the board? Maybe all three and then some.

For all the knocks the Canes’ defense took this past half decade; a faulty 3-4 defense and suspect fundamentals, it looks infinitely better than the offense–Manny Diaz running his side of the ball better than the experienced Richt, whose play-calling has come off inconsistent, rusty and pedestrian way too often this season.

INNOVATE OR DIE; THERE IS NO IN-BETWEEN

Another Canes’ site recently offered up a column about Richt sticking to his guns; running the type of system that proved successful at Georgia over the year. Power running back, pro-style offense with the standard, heady drop-back passer and what not.

The piece came off as somewhat defiant and defensive—as well as bleeding-heart; propping up Richt’s success with the Bulldogs over a decade-and-a-half, as if that prevents him from needing to evolve as others are in this modern era of college football.

Looking in the rearview or dealing with those ghosts of Hurricanes’ past; it’s the biggest drawback regarding decades of success at “The U”. Those ghosts and five championship rings loom heavy—as does the swagger, style and brand of football played, as well as the pipeline to the NFL. Present-day Miami will forever compete with teams of yesteryear and the bar will remain high.

This isn’t a time to plant one’s feet, cite past success—neither the Canes or their new coach—and follow an old blueprint in an ever-changing sport. Look across the board at what the top programs are doing; an Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Florida State, et al. It’s 2016, not 1996–or even 2006, for that matter. Look at what’s working elsewhere and attempt to both emulate and improve-upon.

All that aside, Richt does have a secret formula worth bringing from Athens to Coral Gables; his abilities as a recruiter, a way with parents and a true heart for his players that other head coaches at today’s football factories might be lacking.

The stories over the years have been heartwarming, welcomed and are the reason Richt is respected as a man and father figure, as well as a head coach—but don’t for a minute consider him soft or see that as a weakness. Molding young men and is as important as teaching X’s and O’s. Former Canes’ wide receiver and 4-star recruit Sam Bruce learned that the hard way—dismissed by Richt months back for a minor infraction, on top of a few other setbacks that would’ve gone unmentioned elsewhere.

“I want him to handle his business, go to class, go to study hall, go to your tutors, be on time, be prepared, be respectful, do your best in every way you can,” Richt said prior to the final straw. “Go to your treatment, do your rehab, learn what to do when you’re in meetings with your coach, grow up like all of them.”

Bruce was late for rehab regarding a broken leg—which resulted in his time at Miami being over before it began.

FINISH STRONG & SHIFT FOCUS TO A STEP FOWARD NEXT YEAR

The wait-til-next-year rallying cry is a tired one, but for the first time in almost two decades, there’s reason to believe that Miami will pull out of a rut. The Canes’ last two coaches failed miserably in their rebuilding efforts, while the guy before that was handed arguably the best team in the history of the game, before crashing and burning by year six.

Butch Davis was the last Miami head honcho to take a train-wreck situation, change the culture, build depth and coach-up football players, while turning the Canes into a championship-caliber program, again. The first three years were lean, due to probation and the wrong players—but a spark year four, highlighted by a late season upset of second-ranked UCLA.

A year later Miami went 9-4; dropping a heartbreaker to second-ranked Penn State, No. 1 Florida State and second-ranked Virginia Tech; the Noles and Hokies eventually battling it out for the national title. By 2000, the Canes were firmly back.

None of that is meant to compare where Miami was, is or what path Richt should follow to bring the Canes back. It’s simply a reminder that having a capable head coach and proven winner offers up some solace.

All that’s left for this season; the chance to close strong. Beat Duke. Follow up a four-game losing streak with a four-game win streak. Win a bowl game for the first time in a decade. Send the seniors off with a bang and let Richt show his worth in January, locking down any on-the-fence recruits, making from an impressive National Signing Day.

From there, do everything it takes to field a more compete, mature and capable team in 2017—all-around better and another step closer to being a contender.

AN HONEST ASSESSMENT REGARDING THE STILL IN-REPAIR MIAMI HURRICANES

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It was like walking into a buzzsaw from the get-go. A spirited Thursday night in Blacksburg—coming off back-to-back losses, a four-day turnaround and the already-stretched-thin, defensive casualties piling up. The Canes’ sideline looked more like a M*A*S*H unit than an in-repair team looking for a road win to get back on track. This wasn’t going to end well.

Four hours later, Miami’s showdown at Virginia Tech pretty much followed the script; incompetence on both sides early on before the Hokies began making some plays. As has been the case in weeks’ past, the Canes had a glimmer of hope late—but as always something went awry, killing any hope of a much-needed comeback.

As a result, the bloated and padded 4-0 start has quickly turned into a nightmarish three-game losing streak set to define the season. Even worse, there’s truly no quick-fix to stop the bleeding. Miami must shift into overachiever-mode before things fully unravel.

First-year leader Mark Richt did all those post-game things head coaches try to do when making sense of a loss, but it was a wasted exercise. Taking blame for not having his quarterback ready, not doing enough to protect said guy under center and questioning his overall failed offensive strategy. Richt checked off all coach-speech boxes in the bowels of Lane Stadium—but how will that rhetoric translate in regards to having the Canes game-ready the next five weeks?

The answer to that lies in what Richt is saying behind closed doors, or when assessing the program with his coaches. One has to wonder where his head is truly at almost a year into this career change. Does the former Georgia leader feel his alma mater is in need of a full-blown overhaul, or will he stick with his process and core values, running the Canes like he did the Bulldogs and hoping for success in a weaker conference than the mighty SEC?

For the sake of this piece here, reliving and recapping last week’s 37-16 loss seems a fruitless exercise. What good will come from a dissecting a third consecutive match-up where the Canes proved they’re not a four quarter team capable of consistent success. It started with the late-game fade against a beatable Florida State squad, followed by a took-too-long-to-get-rolling showdown against North Carolina, where the Canes ran out of time.

Five days later, a shot at conference redemption as a win in Blacksburg would’ve provided a ‘hard reset’ that would’ve made it easy to chalk up back-to-back losses as a bump in the road. Instead, Miami’s offense was completely exposed by Virginia Tech—blitz-happy on crucial third downs, beating up quarterback Brad Kaaya all night and shutting down the running game, while the raucous environment rattled Hurricanes in position to make a difference, resulting in untimely mental errors.

A worst-case scenario situation that will unfortunately serve as a blueprint for opposing coaches to completely negate Miami’s offense. The Canes best be on guard.

CANES NOT AS GOOD AS EARLY HYPE; NOT AS INCOMPETENT AS LOSING STREAK

That four-game win-streak, ascension into the Top 10 and favorable defensive stats—judged accordingly by most, based on the level competition. The only ones overblowing the start; a lazy, hype-driven media that spouts a lot of gibberish when attempting to fill four hours of coverage. It’s everywhere these days. Miami is hardly immune to the practice.

Opening weekend the Longhorns outlasted the Fighting Irish in overtime; the game-winning score punctuated with a, “Texas is back!” soundbite. In the weeks since, the Horns have dropped four of their past five, with head coach Charlie Strong firmly planted on the hot seat. Next to him, Notre Dame leader Brian Kelly—whose Irish have lost five of seven after starting the season in the Top 10 and expected to make some noise.

Several preseason faves quickly found themselves shitting the bed. Stanford and Oklahoma two others preseason Top 10’s that have fallen way off. Houston showed promise and unraveled, while solid Top 25 teams like Oregon and Southern Cal have been jumped in the Pac-12; the Ducks winless in conference while Washington, Utah, Washington State and Colorado are the new frontrunners.

The storylines remain a work-in-progress on a weekly basis; yet it doesn’t stop the media for hyping teams and pulling choice information to build a case—yet when a team falls, they’re called “overhyped” by the same media who put them on the pedestal to begin with. Nice process.

An entirely separate piece could be dedicated to irresponsible journalism and a lack of depth, insight and talent by way of changes in today’s industry—but that’s for another time. The point of this rant is to honestly asses the current “State of Miami”, question how these Canes will respond regarding a season that tanked quickly and determine what it will take for a measurable step forward next spring.

That starts with a pull-no-punches approach in discussing these present day Miami Hurricanes; a transparency most covering this team will not offer up as they’re too close to the program; reliant upon players and coaches for quotes and in need of credentials that get them in the building.

Part of the machine and forced to play the game, it results in a watered-down message or standard distraction-tactics—hyping current recruits and next year’s class (putting the focus on a promising future instead of frustrating present), practice reports (guys getting chippy as they’re tired of losing’ always a go-to after a few losses) or quotes from coaches about getting back to basics and Hurricanes-style football (evoking memories of yesteryear when Miami was truly “The U”.)

It’s pointless and instead of setting realistic expectations, winds up creating false hope that leads to frustration.

miami hurricanes football the u corn elder virginia tech hokies manny diaz defensive coordinator
UM need more overachievers like Corn Elder; getting it done regardless of depth / talent issues.

HONEST ASSESSMENT, TOUGH LOVE FOR STRUGGLING CANES

All of that noise; it’s to avoid admitting what is painfully obvious—that Miami in its current state is not a good football team and that these Canes remain a far ways off from championship-level style of play. The Hurricanes have essentially been irrelevant for a dozen years now and its going to take some time to flush out the broken culture and negative impact the past few regimes have pushed into the DNA of this program. Three bad-fit coaches over a ten-year span; it gonna take some time to scrub that dirt off.

No doubt the Canes have some standout players and difference-makers—but not enough across the board (or depth-wise) to play the type of consistent football necessary to win divisions and conferences. 0-for-12-and-counting in regards to ACC Championships; it speaks for itself—all these facts making years of irrelevancy easier to comprehend.

Look at other programs across the nation. You know what teams pass the eye test and which ones don’t. Coaching, chemistry, game-planning and execution also required for success—but it’s not a fluke that the nation’s best squads are all loaded with top-flight talent and depth.

Alabama. Clemson. Michigan. Ohio State. Even newer or non-traditional powers like Washington, Louisville and Baylor have the talent to hang with the best. Same to be said for an arch-rival up north; having started their rebuild a decade ago—with a current roster that looks more SEC than ACC.

It’s easy to point to Miami’s one-point loss to Florida State weeks back as a step in the right direction—but it’s the seven-game losing streak the Canes have to the Noles that more indicative of the separation between these two. One program finds ways to win; the other invents ways to lose.

Still not buying it? Make yourself sit through an episode of “A Season With Florida State Football” on Showtime. Not a subscriber? Lucky you, there’s a free episode online. Spoiler alert; the Noles pass the eye test.

Four division crowns, three ACC titles and one national championship the past six seasons under Jimbo Fisher—with a handful of almost-Canes that have been Miami-killers amidst this latest streak. Superior talent, winning out—and when combined with experience and depth, makes you a champion.

Can’t be said for the Canes right now—and so be it. It’s been a shitty decade. Lots of purging in this comeback process. Miami went off course and is finding its way; led for the first time by a former player who at least understands how the program is hard-wired. Long way to go, regardless.

WHERE DO ‘U’ GO FROM HERE…

The first step is admitting you have a problem. Richt has done that. Now figure out a way to get things back on course.

Miami coaches seem aware of what they’re working with and what they want to do; it’s simply been a lack of execution. The Canes had a lot of shots the past three weeks. Instead, a nightmare scenario—three losses in 13 days; a fan base holding its breath to see if another all-too-familiar late season collapse is on deck for November.

The offensive line is a hot mess; struggling in run blocking and and letting Kaaya get killed—though often the result of poorly called, long developing plays destined to fail.

The Canes have to run the football to survive the next five games. There’s no other option and something has to give with this offense. Mark Walton and Joe Yearby are going to have to tough out some more yards and jumpstart this thing.

Kaaya has to then get on board and lead—with receivers holding on to the rock. Too many drops; adding to issues with untimely penalties and lapses in judgement on both sides of the ball. Whatever the issue with this undisciplined style of play; it starts with mental effort and a stronger mind. Like anything of importance with high stakes; it takes tremendous focus.

Smarter football down the stretch; the best way to negate depth issues and any other related roster holes.

Notre Dame is beatable; on the ropes even more so than Miami—2-5 on the season and job security-related stress for a coaching staff four years removed from a title game appearance. What was once a heavyweight title fight and marquee match-up; reduced to a slump-buster —a win providing much-needed, late-season motivation. For the loser; please try again next year.

Two bonus days to plan after playing last Thursday night. Players with extra down time to heal up. Coaches able to dial in and focus on a strategy that will give Miami’s offense the best chance to succeed; while relying on a feast-or-famine defense to make a few big plays, a la Georgia Tech.

Human nature is to fix the problem all at once; and when truly assessing University of Miami football—that simply isn’t an option. It’s going to take time, patience, strategy and three recruiting classes before these Canes resemble anything close to what “The U” was in its heyday; and that’s barring Richt uses the next few years wisely and gets it right. Last two guys had nine years combined and still failed.

Knowing that to be true, set the focus on this week and then worry about the next and the next and the next.

Come with a game plan to beat the Irish. Execute. Buy this program a week of feeling good—and bragging rights over the game’s biggest bunch of elitists. From there, get ready for Pittsburgh. Then Virginia. Then North Carolina State. Then Duke. Then the bowl game. Then closing strong on National Signing Day. Then spring ball. You get the drill.

For four hours on Saturday, may it all come together, Miami. It’s doable—so do it.