Those three words were written in a different context almost two decades back when Sports Illustrated attempted to make a statement, shaking its fist at a Miami Hurricanes program succeeding on the field, but failing miserably off of it.
Uttering them today; it’s a simple question after a fourth consecutive loss—has “The U” passed a point of no return and can these wrongs ever be righted?
Head coach Al Golden just guided his team to a 6-7 season, back-to-back bowl losses and is 28-22 after four seasons—his record identical to the one that earned his predecessor a pink slip, yet no change is expected in Coral Gables this off-season.
For the longtime observer and enthusiast of the University of Miami’s once-dominant football program, an understandable question.
Miami fell to South Carolina in this year’s Independence Bowl and the game recap could literally be cut-and-pasted from a handful of losses this year. Dismal on third down (6-of-14), settling for field goals by way of conservative play calling, an inability to shut down an opponent’s biggest playmaker, as well as untimely turnovers that again cost the Canes in the end.
The opening 11-play, 65-yard drive ended with a field goal after a one-yard loss on 3rd-and-7—Miami coaches believing that a Duke Johnson run was the best option to convert. On the ensuing drive, when faced with a 3rd-and-3, quarterback Brad Kaaya tried to hook up with the ice-cold-all-season Stacy Coley, but the two couldn’t deliver.
Prior to that play Johnson ran for 23 yards on 4th-and-1 and the Canes went run-run again with Joe Yearby and Gus Edwards on first and second down before the pass attempt and eventual field goal for the 6-0 lead.
On the other side of the field, Gamecocks’ head coach Steve Spurrier decided to abandon his original game plan and went back to what he’s known for; letting his quarterback air it out fun-and-gun-style.
“We’re going to chuck it down the field and see what happens,” Spurrier admitted afterwards regarding his in-game improvisation. The result; a 17-0 run in less than seven minutes to close out the half with full momentum and a nine-point lead.
Dylan Thompson hit Pharoh Cooper for a 78-yard touchdown to get on the board midway through the second quarter and followed up with a 15-yard strike to Mike Davis. Thompson finished with 284 yards and two scores on the day, while Cooper was unstoppable with nine receptions for 170 yards.
The Gamecocks were also turnover-free on the day, while the Hurricanes again unraveled at the most untimely of moments.
Down 14-6 late in the second, Kaaya forced a pass over the middle to Johnson, going off the running back’s hands and into the mitts of Jonathan Walton, eventually resulting in a South Carolina field goal.
Midway through the fourth quarter, trailing 17-14, Johnson fumbled on the Miami 29-yard line and the Gamecocks recovered. Thompson found Cooper for a spectacular 25-yard hook-up, burning safety Deon Bush and the quarterback ran in untouched a play later, extending the lead to ten.
Outcoached. Outhustled, Outplayed. Outclassed. Deja vu all over again.
SIX-WIN SEASON; EVEN WORSE IN REALITY THAN ON PAPER
A program that once boasted a Decade of Dominance is now dealing with a decade-of-disaster and another bottoming-out moment; a four-game losing streak to end the season, no signs of life on the horizon, a dozen key players NFL-bound and a valid gripe that UM’s top brass is content with mediocrity.
Even those six wins are padded stats as two came against the likes of Florida A&M and Arkansas State. Virginia Tech and North Carolina were down this year, while Cincinnati was also a sub-par bunch. Miami’s “signature win” came against a solid Duke squad—the Coastal runner-up—while the Hurricanes finished dead last in the weak-ass division it was predicted to win.
Had there been an eight-team playoff for the ACC Championship, Miami still wouldn’t have been eligible. Marinate on that for a moment.
While outbound president Donna Shalala created a solid legacy in regards to her advances with the University of Miami’s medical school and tremendous fundraising efforts, when it comes to the athletic department it’s been failure upon failure.
The biggest reason? Laziness created with a bottom-line being met by way of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s monster television deal; Miami’s ultimate reason for bailing out on the Big East Conference after the 2003 season.
The ACC distributed a record $291.7M in total revenue last June, with each of the full 14 conference members receiving an average of $20.8M—up $1.2M from last year. This numbers is almost identical to what the 14-team SEC received, while the Big XII doled out upwards of $23M to its ten members.
How the University of Miami has chosen to redistribute that money or reinvest in the program remains an unknown as the private institution doesn’t have to release such information, but it’s painfully obvious that “The U” isn’t breaking the bank with big time personnel additions or upgrades. Second-rate hirings in regards to athletic directors and head coaches are the unfortunate norm.
HIRE CHEAP TALENT, EXPECT CHEAP-TALENT RESULTS
The inexperienced Kirby Hocutt was poached from Ohio University after four years on the job and after he used UM as a stepping-stone to take over Texas Tech, Miami took a giant leap backwards when hiring Shawn Eichorst, the University of Wisconsin’s Deputy Athletic Director under Barry Alvarez, where Shalala has deep-rooted ties.
In short, no proper vetting process for an ideal candidate and rolling the dice on a supposed up-and-comer, who like his predecessor treated Miami like a rest stop, before getting back on the road to a better resume and taking the athletic director gig at the University of Nebraska (where he was recently trashed for the gutless manner in which he fired head coach Bo Pellini—via email, after a nine-win season—weeks back.)
Eichorst’s sudden departure and short-stint left Miami flat-footed and in a pinch the loyal Blake James was given a stab at the opportunity—again, another inexpensive, convenient hire for UM, while James’ inexperience leaves him in a position with little overall power or say.
On the football field, the process has been equally as bad.
Shalala arrived at Miami in the summer of 2001—four months after Butch Davis left for the Cleveland Browns opening, where Larry Coker was promoted from within at the request of the players—who feared Shalala would turn the championship caliber team over to her friend Alvarez.
While the long-term ramifications of “Chaperone Larry” taking over have had a terrible ripple-effect, the Hurricanes were knocking of the door of a national title and felt they could achieve that on autopilot, which they did six months later after an undefeated season.
When the doomed-to-fail Coker experience finally bottomed out in 2006, Miami allegedly targeted Greg Schiano, couldn’t strike a deal, hired an outside consultant and eventually settled in-house again, giving the job to another long-time assistant, defensive coordinator Randy Shannon.
Shannon came with the right price tag and was thought to be a staunch disciplinarian, which fits the ongoing theme regarding Shalala being more concerned with Miami’s off-the-field image, opposed to on-the-field success.
Again, when the ACC is doling out the same money top programs like Florida State and cellar-dwellars like Wake Forest, a positive image and staying out of the police blotters sat atop the to-do list.
A hiring like Shannon’s also gave Miami a positive narrative regarding a rebuild with a Hurricanes alum. It also bought the university half a decade to get things right as things were a mess, Shannon was a first-time head coach and the issues weren’t expected to righted overnight.
Four years later, zero progress, while the supposed disciplinarian created a broken culture, called-out by former defensive back Ryan Hill months after the bowl loss to Notre Dame.
Insubordination. Entitlement. Indifference. Laziness.
“Guys would come late to meetings. They would schedule appointments and not show up or listen to iPods in class. I was always told by academic advisors to talk to [teammates]. Some kids got worse after they got here. People were purposely doing stuff to mock Randy Shannon or do their own thing,” Hill told Yahoo! Sports in the summer of 2011.
“Coach Shannon tried to make sure guys went to class and presented themselves well. But as soon as he turned his back, they would do what they wanted. There are a lot of guys who didn’t produce, and how they act off the field has a lot to do with it. That has to change.”
In theory it did, as Golden was projected to be the CEO-type with the skills set to turn things around. Temple was a doormat when he took over—3-31 and on the verge of shutting down football before he made it an eight- or nine-win program annually, reaching the post-season, while is akin to the a championship for a a squad like the Owls.
Like Shannon before him, the four-year mark is exposing Golden’s warts and in this case, a lot of smoke and mirrors, motivation tactics and both core values and schemes that seem antiquated in regards to South Florida talent.
FLAILING GOLDEN: A SQUARE PEG IN A ROUND HOLE
Months back the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson quoted an NFL personnel man on the Hurricanes’ coaching situation and to date, the following words still jump off the page:
“I think Al Golden is a better coach with overachiever kids and a program he’s building from the bottom. You can’t coach [highly-talented] kids the same way as overachievers. I just don’t see kids getting significantly better there.”
Psychologically it truly is a completely different beast; motivating the 2-star overachiever versus knowing how to make sure elite 5-star high school talent makes that transition to college, becomes a next-level player and goes on to NFL stardom.
Looking at Miami’s current situation, it’s hard not to notice guys like cornerback Tracy Howard or wide receiver and return specialist Stacy Coley in significant funks, while Bush, albeit injury-prone, isn’t playing at the elite level most expected three years in.
Attitude-wise, even those who are achieving on the field don’t seem to have the same vibe or mindset that defined the past greats.
On a day when one of the better running backs in Miami history decided to forego his senior season and enter the NFL Draft, it might come off as sacrilege to take any form of a shot at The Duke Of Coral Gables, but facts are facts.
Johnson was a 5-star prospect that was all-Canes from day on and never wavered. He’s the type of kid you build a program around and his efforts the past three seasons were tragically wasted as this team went 21-17 during his tenure.
That said, when reading Johnson’s quotes from today’s presser at “The U”, standing before the media was another Miami great who has in a sense been Goldenized. When summing up the seven-loss season, Johnson responded, “We could have done better, but we were always a play away every game, a play away from a win.”
While that may very well be fact regarding a few losses this year, it’s still not the type of answer any supporter of this Miami program wants to hear from it’s biggest current superstar.
Even worse, Johnson’s mother Cassandra Prophet-Mitchell took to social media days after the bowl loss, engaging with fans and delivering this blow; “I will tell you this, if those boys can transfer an didn’t have to sit out a year, majority of the team would not be there.”
This came on the heels of Walford giving his response to the local media on why Miami finished with seven losses; “Lack of determination and not buying into the system.”
Contrast Johnson’s or Walford’s attitude toward this disastrous season to former safety Ed Reed on camera for Billy Corben in “The U Part 2”, which first aired weeks back.
When talking about that 5-6 campaign in 1997 and a 47-0 loss at Florida State, Reed comes off visibly sickened some 17 years later, explaining that enough was enough and that those Hurricanes weren’t going to tolerate losing ways any longer.
Forget a 12-year career in the NFL, Pro Bowls, a Super Bowl victory, millions of dollars and his ticket soon punched for the Hall Of Fame—to date Reed is STILL pissed off over things that transpired his freshman season at the University of Miami and prideful of the turnaround that happened on his watch, while today’s players have already dismissed and moved on from a bowl loss to South Carolina in less than 24 hours.
TIME TO ADMIT IT; (MANY) CURRENT CANES ARE SOFT
And there in-lies your problem Miami fans; a loser’s mentality that starts from the top has trickled down into the lifeblood of this program and has the type of athletes being recurring all right with the losses, as long as they can be explained, justified and part of a “process”.
For so long a chicken-or-the-egg type question has existed in regards to “swagger”. Does winning produce that swag, or does it come from within, eventually resulting in wins.
If for some reason this was still up for debate, Corben’s film, as well as “The U: Reloaded” by former running back Najeh Davenport have officially solved the riddle—swag comes first. It’s inherent. You have it, or you don’t. It’s in you, it ensures you find a way and it makes it abundantly clear that there are no excuses and losing isn’t an option.
Salesmen are said to be made not born; swag is the complete opposite, as proven by the slew of nineties-era Hurricanes on film over the last few months, explaining their process and how they took control of their destinies, putting Miami back on the map, proper.
Any notice running back Frank Gore running off the field Sunday in what was arguably his last game with the San Francisco 49ers—his contract up, head coach Jim Harbaugh headed to Michigan and a pair of younger, less expensive options on the roster to “replace” the veteran Pro Bowler?
“This could be my last year (with the 49ers). It’s (Harbaugh’s) last year. I just wanted to finish it right for him. I also wanted to finish it right for my fans, who’ve been with me since I was 21,” explained Gore, as tears streamed down his face post game.
“I just wanted to finish it right. If I’m not here, I just wanted to show my fans the way a 49er is supposed to play.”
That’s swagger. That’s heart. That’s a true Miami Hurricane and who Gore was during his time at “The U” … and zero of that attitude is currently embodied by this program-gone-soft.
HEADING INTO A DISASTROUS, DEFINITIVE OFF-SEASON
In regards to anti-swag, Shalala has publicly backed Golden due to the loyalty he showed, sticking with the program when he was blindsided by the NCAA investigation—to the point where out of a fear he’d run, signed him through the 2019 football season.
As for James, a constant backing of Golden in every way, shape or form, week-after-week, loss-after loss. After this season’s seventh loss, James talked about the lack of success being unacceptable and things needing to change. When pressed for a timeline, the excuse-machine was again in overdrive.
“I don’t want to put a time on it, `this date’, but we have to continue to move forward,” said James. “I think there was a lot of progress made this year, unfortunately it wasn’t in the win and loss column. At the end of the day it’s about wins and losses, and I understand that, and I understand why fans are frustrated.”
James may understand that it’s about wins and losses, but if he’s answering honest questions in this double-talking manner, he is certainly off-base as to why supporters of this program have had it; precisely due to talk like this, with zero action.
Progress? Where? How? By whose standards?
Another off-season approaches and the University of Miami continues migrating towards irrelevance while rivals accelerate at a rapid pace.
Florida State just re-upped with Jimbo Fisher, while Florida cut ties with the maligned Will Muschamp and went with the offensive-minded Jim McElwain—who spent three years turning Colorado State around as head coach of the Rams after a four-year stint at Alabama’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, under the tutelage of Nick Saban.
Further north the University of Michigan is set to welcome Harbaugh home, and while few would expect a private school like Miami to do something so Wolverines-esque, a fraction of that commitment to football would be refreshing.
Insanity is defined as doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.
With Golden set to return and minimal staff changes made—at best—bust out the straight jackets and prepare for another year in a padded room, U Family.