The national media jumping on Alabama offensive line coach Mario Cristobal being the preferred front-runner, as well as chatter about Carolina offensive coordinator Mike Shula being contacted—it almost seems planted and like low-hanging fruit, speculation-wise.
The ins and outs of this search are well-guarded—in the same fashion as the recent hiring of a new school president months back. The result; everyone hurling something at the wall with the hopes that it sticks. No one knows anything, yet everyone seems to be talking.
Time will tell how it plays out, but while smoke and mirrors in that form stole national headlines—more telling scoop has been surfacing regionally; especially in the form of search committee talk and how this decision process will take place over the coming weeks. Basic details, but the type of information those close to the program can make a run at dissecting.
CANES’ HIERARCHY CHOCK FULL OF DAVIS SUPPORTERS
The Sun-Sentinel’s Dave Hyde broke it down in his Thursday column, laying out some key components for those into reading tea leaves, solving riddles or connecting the dots.
Where former Miami president Donna Shalala had a hand in all things, current leader Julio Frenk is taking a more hands-off approach to this coaching search—leaving the search process in the hands of athletic director Blake James, and some key Board of Trustees members.
Opinions on Shalala will forever vary in retrospect, but it’s hardly a stretch to state that building up the medical school was her passion, while football came off like a necessary evil.
Guaranteed money by way of a large ACC television contract has Miami paid handsomely, whether the Canes go 7-5 or 10-2. That being the case, image seemed to outweigh substance and success with Shalala—morally-sound head coaches and players kept in line, versus the financial sacrifices and reprioritizing that comes with putting together a winning football program.
Whether that’s truth or mere speculation, fact remains that the former president was deeply involved in situations like these, whereas the new guy’s approach is to let the professionals do what they do best, standing by until it’s time to decide on a finalist.
What a novel concept.
With Frenk taking the backseat, the vetting process with potential head coaches will be left to James—as well as Paul DiMare and Stuart Miller; two high-ranking Board of Trustees members who have written enough checks to UM to have every other building on campus named after them.
Hyde points out in his piece that the Lennar Corporation—the Miller family’s homebuilding company—has given upwards of $221 million towards UM’s medical department, while DiMare’s latest donation was around $12.5 million—$6 million earmarked for the Leonard Miller Medical School.
DiMare also donated $3 million to the athlete department in recent years—resulting in the Paul J. DiMare Gallery of Champions, a building showcasing the Hurricanes’ hardware in a way that the Tom Kearns Hall of Fame never quite achieved.
Leonard Miller founded Lennar. He’s also Stuart’s late father and was chairman of UM’s board from 1995 through 1999—with a hand in hiring head coach Butch Davis two decades ago.
What Hyde didn’t mention—for the sake of journalism and laying off the speculation; the fact that there’s been constant rumblings of support for Davis amongst James, DiMare and Miller.
In the past, these three might’ve been in the minority regarding Davis—but after a charity hiring in his wake and two back-to-back flops since, support for the former Canes coach has been growing and timing might be ripe for them to help push this hiring through.
BUTCH’S HOLLYWOOD-ESQUE RISE FROM THE ASHES
Davis somewhat rose from the ashes a year ago when “The U Part 2” premiered mid-December at The Colony theater on Miami Beach.
In attendance for the event, drawing cheers from fans and featured prominently in the first act, Davis stole the limelight all night—while his on-screen efforts served as a well-crafted resume. The film also provided his first true mea culpa since leaving the University of Miami almost 14 years prior; fuel for Davis’ supporters and an olive branch for those still harboring turn-of-the-millennium resentment.
Meanwhile, the present-day Hurricanes were riding a three-game losing streak with then-head coach Al Golden getting his squad prepped to lose a bowl game weeks later to South Carolina.
Miami’s past successes and present day failures on full display for all to watch as last December unfolded.
While outsiders will never know what has been brewing internally at Miami, if reverse engineering this past year it’s pretty clear that Golden’s free pass for earlier loyalty was slipping away and the stakes began to change.
The first installment of Rakontur’s “The U” as part of the 30 For 30 series premiered in December 2009; weeks before Miami’s bowl loss to Wisconsin. A few games into the following season the Hurricanes were smashed at home by an equally-talented Seminoles team, earning Randy Shannon a pink slip late November after a season-ending overtime loss to South Florida.
When comparing and contrasting the ebbing and flowing state of Miami and the impact of the Canes-themed documentaries evoked on the fan base—timing, history and content certainly play into both.
“THE U” WAS A NOSTALGIC TALE; PART II WAS THE BLUEPRINT
The first installment by Billy Corben and crew focused on the ascension of the program and how Miami became “The U”. The process started in the late 1970’s and the film came to a close showing probation hitting in the mid-1990’s.
Davis was shown in the film’s final moments—an in-over-his-head type of manner as old ESPN footage rolled, highlighting uncharacteristic losses for a program that was used to dominating.
Anthemic music played as slow motion footage of the Orange Bowl being torn down played, credits rolled and as fans it was hard to come to terms with what just took place and how it compared to present day.
Miami put together a 9-3 regular season the months before “The U” premiered—knocking off Florida State, Georgia Tech and Oklahoma earlier in the year and climbing into the Top 10 by mid-season. In a sense, the Canes seemed on the mend—Shannon, an old schooler from the era highlighted in the film—potentially on track to help script the final chapter comeback.
Even if there wasn’t a full buy-in, there was a sense of hope for the first time in a long time.
Act II of Corben’s film had a completely opposite effect.
Where the original felt like another place and time, the sequel held a mirror up to the current state of affairs—a program sporting a 35-27 record in the five-year span between U-themed films, with no positive take-aways.
The players. The imagery. The dominance. The type of football being played and level of success achieved. These weren’t ancient memories. It all felt like it took place yesterday—and bringing it back to the original point of this long-and-winding rant; there were Davis and Golden at opposite ends of the Hurricanes’ spectrum last December as current history versus a trip down memory lane played out for all to witness.
The events of last December—the current Canes capping off a four-game losing streak, while the Davis era was rerun incessantly on ESPN and eventually made its way to Netflix—that was the tipping point; everything from that point seemingly stacking the deck against Golden.
GOLDEN’S “SHANNON” MOMENT; LOSING AT CINCINNATI
A recruiting class that was once ranked in the top five—by way of loading up on verbal commitments in fall—sputtered to the finish, ranked 26th by Rivals last February. Months later, the NFL Draft saw seven Canes selected—putting Golden’s 6-7 record under even more scrutiny.
Once a new season got underway, there were slow starts against Bethune-Cookman and Florida Atlantic, while a blowout of Nebraska was quickly reduced to an overtime win and needing to steal a victory late.
From there, an inexplainable Thursday night loss at Cincinnati, which seemed to seal Golden’s fate. Miami lost to Florida State next, bounced back against a sub-par Virginia Tech team, were throttled by Clemson and Golden was out—UM eating big-time money with the midseason firing, but doing so to send a message that change is needed.
Where Davis’ name was never considered in late 2006 or after the 2009 season, timing and circumstance have him back in the fold this time around—with no bigger x-factor than the hands-off Frenk replacing Shalala.
In a recent Miami Herald piece about Miami giving Davis a “fresh look”—a Shalala-related blurb jumped off the page.
“A UM official who was close with former president Donna Shalala said it was obvious speaking to her that she felt strongly that Butch Davis should not be considered if the UM job opened,” wrote Barry Jackson. “But with Shalala now working at the Clinton Foundation, UM has been taking a fresh look at Davis, examining the circumstances that led to his firing at North Carolina and evaluating his viability as a candidate, according to multiple sources.”
Jackson went on to write that Miami is taking a “hard look” at the former coach and that his North Carolina past will play into any potential future at “The U”. Jackson also wrote that aside from Davis badly wanting the job and having tremendous fan support, he also has the support of “a few notable Board of Trustee members”.
Enter DiMare and Miller as your “notable” duo.
MIAMI DECISION-MAKERS GOING THROUGH LOGICAL STEPS
It doesn’t take a sit-down with Miss Cleo for one to realize what’s going on here, why the process is unfolding as it is and the direction this thing is being steered internally by influential folks in power looking at a bigger picture.
James, DiMare and Miller realize this is more than just about hiring the next coach at the University of Miami—it’s about making the right move at a pivotal time in UM’s history, as the wrong one could send this program past a point of no return.
That said, there’s a process. There are checks and balances. There’s a tightrope that has to be walked when dealing with high-ranking officials, big money people, university administrators and the egos that permeates within all those folks.
In short, even if James, DiMare and Miller are laser-focused on Davis, they need to do the dance, play this thing out and conduct this search in a manner that keeps all parties satisfied—especially with other high-ranking officials and donors who haven’t yet come around regarding Davis.
Where others chiming in on this subject believe the more time passing without Davis being hired actually hurts his chances, honestly, it has no bearing.
How many times in professional sports or in the business world has a candidate been targeted or zeroed-in on—yet a due diligence process continues, partly to keep the rest of the decision-makers happy and partly for politically correctness?
DiMare and Miller have been successful in their careers. Both men are fully aware of how the game works. Slow-play your hand and naturally guide things towards an optimum outcome—yet in a manner where it seems organic and thoroughly flushed out.
Rebuilding things the right way. Properly evaluating talent and developing players. Building solid depth. Turning around a broken culture and bad situation. Davis has those successes—and more—on his resume.
Age is being used by some as a factor, but at 63 years old there’s no question this would be Davis’ last stop. He’d plant his feet firmly, knows how to right the ship, would bring in past Hurricanes to help him complete the task and would be open to a coach-in-waiting scenario, allowing Miami to effectively put a long-term game plan in place.
Furthermore, don’t bet against a driven and focused man who is getting one of those rare second chance and life do-overs regarding the one that got away. Davis knows what he left behind in January 2001 and it’s haunted him ever since.
The fervor at which he’ll attack his “The U” Part II moment—this is a man who will go balls-to-the-wall in an effort to atone for past sins—while gunning for the hardware he missed out on last time around. Even if he falls short, he’ll again do his part in stocking the cupboard for the next guy—which Miami hasn’t experienced since his last departure.
DAVIS OFFERS PACKAGE-DEAL OPTIONS LIKE NO OTHER
What other candidate even comes close to providing that type of scenario? None.
Flavor-Of-The-Month, up-and-comer types? No thanks. Miami can’t afford to roll the dice on a guy who might have his sights set on a higher-profile collegiate gig or who wants to scratch that NFL itch—as many former Canes’ coaches ,including Davis, have.
For those hyping a Mario Cristobal and banging the drum that modern-day recruits are buying what he’s selling by way of his impact at Alabama—there’s your obvious coach-in-waiting candidate.
This is a no-brainer, two-for-one; not an either-or. Especially with all this Board of Trustees talk about $4-million being available for the Canes’ next head coach. Split that up properly and Miami will have the best coaching staff it’s seen in its history—especially knowing Davis has had guys earmarked for a while while. (Former South Florida head coach Jim Leavitt for defensive coordinator, anyone?)
Give Davis the keys now, let Cristobal ride shotgun and he can take the wheel five years down the road. Offensive coordinator, head of recruiting, assistant head coach and coach in waiting at the University of Miami greatly trumps Cristobal’s current gig in Tuscaloosa.
Aside from Cristobal being unproven and not-quite-ready for prime time, there’s simply no wow factor with that hire for Miami. Zero. Nada. Zilch. UM didn’t can Golden mid-season, eating millions of dollars in the process, to hire the Crimson Tide’s offensive line coach—even if he is a member of the U Family. “The U” needs to swing for the fences with this hiring.
As bad as things got for Miami under Golden regarding defensive schemes, the types of athletes recruited on that side of the ball, the National Signing Day misses and lack of killer instinct and ability to close—UM needs to immediately deal with its game day public relations disaster and no asses in those freshly-renovated Sun Life Stadium seats.
The University of Miami is selling a product and while the “winning cures all” approach has merit, it can’t be solely relied upon. Some of that old school Howard Schnellenberger needs to come back into play; that P.T. Barnum salesmanship and hype.
Fans need a reason to be excited before this program is a winner again. They need to be invested in the rebuilding process and the climb back to the top. They have to buy into the guy in charge and need to get a “coaching victory”—something that tells conference and state rivals that Miami is serious about getting back to being U-status.
Good as Cristobal may be in time, hiring a washed out head coach from Florida International who has spent the past few seasons as a cog in the Nick Saban machine—it still reeks of amateurism, unproven and cheapening-out after all this talk about a home run hire.
Of course that doesn’t mean it has to be Davis-or-bust. There are other options for Miami—guys with better resumes and more star power than a Cristobal or Shula.
If UM is going to skip on Davis, it better be looking higher up the list—not lower, credentials-wise.
Still, when trying to channel that inner, high-rolling Board of Trustees member or athletic director trying to make a name for himself, no other candidates checks off more boxes than Davis. It’s not even close.
Miami needs an all-encompassing hire this time around—hitting on every levels. If there’s a candidate who does that better than Butch Davis, may he please step forward, and soon.