November 2, 2021

CANES CLOSE WINS DON’T DERAIL DISASTROUS DIAZ NARRATIVE

The Miami Hurricanes are back to .500 football after eking out unexpected wins against North Carolina State and Pittsburgh in back-to-back weeks.

Left for dead after heartbreaking losses to Virginia and North Carolina weeks prior, Manny Diaz and his squad appeared headed for 2-6—games against the ranked Wolfpack and Panthers looking like even bigger uphill battles than “lesser” opponents in the Cavaliers and Tar Heels.

The football gods tooketh away earlier in the season—a kick hitting a goal post, or tipped and intercepted ball—but they gaveth back since; opponents dropping balls, a reversed turnover or a veteran quarterback making two rookie mistakes.

Conversely, quarterback play has absolutely saved Miami in back-to-back weeks—freshman Tyler Van Dyke slapping together two Heisman-worthy performances—throwing for 751 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception in season-altering victories.

To some, Miami has gone from left-for-dead—back to winning-out and favored to beat everyone left on their schedule—Georgia Tech heading south this weekend, a road trip to Tallahassee next up, Virginia Tech down south for Senior Day and a regular season finale at Duke.

On paper, the Canes should extend the win-streak to six—but Miami also should’ve beaten Virginia and North Carolina, while potentially stumbling against North Carolina State and Pittsburgh—so plotting out and making predictions means absolutely zero regarding this consistently-inconsistent program.

The sadly-familiar, annual we’re-still-in-this-thing Coastal Division refrain is again pumping full-force—if A beats B and C can get upset by D—strangely more plausible than in years passed, as the underwhelming ACC is that wide open this season.

Inconceivable as it’d be in a more competitive year—a once 2-4 Miami can actually roll to 9-4 with its first conference win, setting up and Orange Bowl berth as ACC champs.

Even if Miami somehow rattled off seven wins since the tip heard ’round Chapel Hill—there are still deep-rooted issues surrounding this broken program and a wrong-fit head coach; all of which seemed closer to being addressed before Van Dyke’s yeoman’s effort saved Diaz from a year three in-season firing.

Without this rejuvenated offense, Miami would be sitting at 2-6—and 2-8 dating back to what would’ve been the Canes last Power Five victory (a 48-0 rout of Duke last December)—a four-game losing streak and 0-4 conference start arguably enough to see the joker Diaz out on Halloween morning.

Instead, the MVP-like performance from Van Dyke propelled the Canes to back-to-back wins—by a combined five points—short-term memories going full-throttle, working overtime to forget how disastrous and embarrassing the first half of this season played out.

DISASTROUS DEFENSE DESERVES HEADLINES

31-30 and 38-34 are the only numbers some want to focus on—instead of 587; the amount of yards Pittsburgh dropped on Miami’s struggling defense. Senior quarterback Kenny Pickett carved up the Canes secondary for 519 yards through the air—done-in by two uncharacteristically bad decisions that ultimately cost the Panthers the game.

Had the veteran Pickett seen Jordan Addison midfield and streaking past the Miami secondary—he’d have dropped an easy 45-yard game-tying touchdown in the sophomore receiver’s mitts. Instead, Pickett didn’t identify the gimme, looked left and forced his pass into double coverage—Tyrique Stevenson jumping the rout and taking the pass 18 yards the other way.

Four plays later, Miami was in the end zone and up 31-17—a defensive breakdown and sure score fast-swept under the rug when Pickett whiffed and Stevenson capitalized on the mistake.

Late fourth quarter, trailing 38-34 and looking for the game-winner—Pickett was again moving the Panthers at-will against a backpedaling Canes defense—Addison again wide open for a would-be 31-yard touchdown, but his all-everything quarterback overthrew a pass landing in the arms of roving safety James Williams.

Van Dyke cooly responded and got Miami out of a jam with a clutch 18-yard, timed sideline hook-up to Charleston Rambo—the Canes facing a 3rd-and-11 from the one-yard line without the completion. Instead, a first down, some space, an opportunity to run Jaylan Knighton for a huge seven-yard gain—the Panthers blowing timeouts on back-to-back plays—before Van Dyke found tight end Will Mallory for six-yard dagger on 3rd-and-4, resulting in victory formation and the ballgame.

Still, lost in the elation of the victory, the fact that Pickett—who had one interception on the season—gifted two to the Miami secondary. The gaffes cost his team 14 points, the ballgame and a personal stat line that should’ve read 41-of-55, 595 yards and five touchdowns—further proving the Canes’ defense couldn’t stop him; Pickett stopped himself.

Two plays were the difference between 38-34 and 48-27—the loss hurting Pitt’s chase of a Coastal title, while allowing Miami to ignore glaring defensive issues, now overshadowed by the false glow of back-to-back wins.

None of that takes away the credit these Hurricanes deserve for not packing it in when backs were to the wall after the program’s worst start since the 1997 season. A youth movement is finally underway in Coral Gables—Diaz’s hand mostly forced due to injuries—but Miami’s underclassmen have some bounce in their step, are showing heart and have played balls out the past two weeks, amidst some mistakes.

Still, to see so many going from the low of lows after two conference losses weeks back—to fully on board after eking out two wins—it’s borderline insanity. A Heisman-caliber performance from a freshman quarterback over an eight-day span cannot negate the fact that Diaz is fielding a train-wreck defense; a unit he put himself in charge of last off-season, which has regressed since.

Van Dyke showed tremendous moxie in the wake of his game-sealing interception against North Carolina—calling his shot against North Carolina State and then delivering a 325-yard, four-touchdown performance—as the Wolfpack wound up as snakebitten as the Canes had been weeks prior.

Case in point, an early third quarter muffed punt by Jacolby George looked like another here-we-go-again moment for Miami.  Danny Blakeman recovered the ball on the five-yard line and the Wolfpack looked to be in business—until a review on the play saw a helmet-less Anthony Smith in the scrum, resulting in an unsportsmanlike call, offsetting a Canes’ holding penalty and forcing a re-kick.

North Carolina State forced a three and out, but lost the field position battle—settling for a field goal on the ensuing possession—the quirky, overturned turnover resulting in a four-point swing in an eventual one-point game.

CLOSE WINS; SHORT-TERM ENDORPHINS RUSH

Before any retort or rant about how this is football and games are made up of small moments like this every week—no shit and well aware. Teams can play good football and lose, bad football and win, good football and win or bad football and lose.

The point being made; that recent wins are seemingly clouding judgment and perspective regarding Miami fielding a good enough football team—one that can back into wins, while continuing to suffer head-scratching losses, en route to 8-4 type seasons—versus the type of fall that would’ve sent Diaz packing; capitalizing on negative national media calling out the university’s commitment towards rebuilding a champion.

An early-season, sympathy-driven narrative was spun by maligned athletic director Blake James and local bleeding heart media—an implication that the Canes were victims of bad luck in last-second losses to Virginia and North Carolina—when in realty, Miami played some really piss-poor football against both; slow starts, dropped passes, untimely penalties, mental errors and trash fundamentals when it came to angles taken or lazy tackling.

Conversely, an offensive resurgence and Van Dyke slapping an “S” on his chest, playing Superman—the only difference-maker in Miami stealing two victories which their defensive did everything to blow. The final score remains the only headline, while desperate fans feast on empty-calorie, meaningless-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things wins—the type of sad victories that give a lazy University of Miami athletic department enough fuel to roll an “improved” Diaz out for another go-around.

Lost in this two-game win-streak and 2-2 stretch—the fact this Diaz-led Hurricanes’ defense surrendered 1,839 yards and 139 points over that span—forcing two turnovers in three games, before Pickett’s unraveling and two gift-wrapped interceptions; his second and third of the season.

Miami’s defense has played poorly enough for 4-4 to easily be 2-6 going into this final stretch—but the Hurricanes’ offense outperformed expectations, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat—which begs the question, how much longer can this current ecosystem of next-level offense and abysmal defense survive?

The Canes are currently running a one-dimensional passing offense, with zero power running game—Miami limited with both Don Chaney Jr. and Cam Harris lost for the season, while working to break in newbie Thad Franklin; the thunder to Knighton’s lightning.

Impressive as Van Dyke was throwing for 325 yards against North Carolina State and 426 at Pittsburgh—the Canes only amassed 95 yards on the ground against the Wolfpack, and 64 yards against the Panthers, 40 of which came on a touchdown run by Knighton.

Despite the fact this final month of football is anything but a Murder’s Row schedule for Miami—doesn’t take a world class defensive coordinator to see the chinks in the Hurricanes’ offensive armor and to believe Van Dyke will start to feel more pressure, while offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee will have to dial up some form of a ground attack to survive.

The Canes’ offensive game plan over the next four games needs to consist of more than Van Dyke airing it out—playing mistake-free football and averaging 4o0 yards and three or four touchdowns-per game. Miami’s defense better figure things out—and fast.

WINS DON’T CHANGE OVERALL DIAZ NARRATIVE

The pressure to solve these defensive setbacks sits squarely on Diaz’s shoulders—noise levels needing to rise within this rowdy fanbase, as too many have gotten fat and happy—forgiving bad defense due to success on offense.

The lead story and headlines have been built around a baller freshman quarterback, a youth-led movement and the show-their-heart Canes “finding a way”—while the defense bleeds out weekly on Manny’s watch.

Weeks back, social media was flooded with memes, imagery and comparisons to the plight of former Canes head coaches Al Golden or Randy Shannon in year three of their runs run at Miami—versus where Diaz stands as many games in—Golden at 19-11, Shannon at 17-13 and Diaz at 16-14 after falling in at North Carolina.

Two weeks later, a complete narrative shift for those blinded by two wins—some going as far as to lob Dabo Swinney comparisons (seriously)—who was 23-12 eight games into year three, not counting going 4-3 in an interim role at Clemson in 2008.

Weeks ago this fan base was afraid of Miami potentially losing out—yet is now daydreaming about taking the ACC and pulling off a big bowl victory, en route to the same 10-4 record Swinney posted in 2011; the Tigers’ head coach also winning the conference in his third year.

Left out of that clunky, stretch of a comparison—the fact West Virginia rolled Clemson’s shoddy defense in the Orange Bowl, 70-33—a massacre that saw Kevin Steele and Charlie Harbison removed from their co-defensive coordinator posts, before Swinney chased down one of the baddest defensive minds in the game and landed the coveted Brent Venables, now in his tenth season with the Tigers.

While Clemson reeled in the biggest defensive fish they could hook after Swinney’s third full season—the missing piece to chasing championships—Diaz used his year-three off season to promote and demote himself. The current head coach decided he was Miami’s best defensive option—splitting time in a role held by Blake Baker the past two seasons; who Diaz protected, helped coach-up and was saved from having to fire after LSU bailed him out and brought Baker to Baton Rouge to coach linebackers.

Not that Venables-caliber coordinators grow on trees—but Diaz could’ve turned the keys over to quality, veteran alpha that would put a foot up the ass of kids on that side of the ball—while he focused on his learn-on-the-job new CEO gig.

Diaz rolled into this new season on shaky ground—14-10 overall, and two games removed from a 62-24 beating former boss Mack Brown laid on him in last year’s season finale—yet his immediate answer was to play part-time defensive coordinator, while making sure fifth version of the Turnover Chain and third incarnation of Touchdown Rings were bling-tastic and camera-ready.

Teeth kicked in by Alabama. Nail-biter against Appalachian State. Outlasted and steamrolled in the fourth quarter by a tougher Michigan State team.  Over-celebrating and looking like buffoons while smacking around Central Connecticut State. Back-to-back, slow-start losses to go 0-2 out the gate in conference play.

Miami was in complete crash-and-burn mode—a megalomaniac head coach in over his head, about to have the leg swept—before two pedestrian wins arguably saved his season. This short-term buzz some are feeling; in realty a huge step backwards for the movement, if the goal was to ultimately punt daze in favor of a better-fit head coach for 2022.

BEWARE AS EVERY GAME NOW “WINNABLE”

The good news for these Hurricanes is that the meat of the schedule is in the rearview and they’ll be favored in all four remaining games. The bad? The fact that Miami is prone for late-season shitting of the bed since joining the ACC; pissing away countless winnable games, despite everything—or nothing—being on the line.

From that still-painful late-year stumble against Georgia Tech in 2005 as the No. 3 team in the country—blowing a shot at an Orange Bowl match-up with Penn State as ACC champs, or runner-up Gator Bowl showdown versus Louisville—the Hurricanes drop the ball, literally and metaphorically.

Miami and Virginia Tech both joined the ACC in 2004; the Hokies taking the title outright year one, beating the Canes in a winner-take-all season finale. UM’s former Big East rival has won the conference four times and taken the division seven—while Miami’s lone Coastal Division championship (2017) resulted in a 38-3 bloodbath at the hands of Clemson.

Diaz’s Canes also admittedly have an issue handling success.

In the wake of arguably the program’s most-embarrassing loss—upset by commuter college Florida International in 2019—Diaz stated that his team was believing their own hype, reading the headlines and rolled in big-headed after a three-game win-streak over Pitt, Florida State and Louisville.

The Canes fell into a 23-3 fourth quarter hole against the Golden Panthers, before waking up and falling short—only to get upset by a basketball school the following week in Durham, North Carolina and then no-showing a fourth-tier bowl game; shutout by Louisiana Tech, ending 2019 with a massive thud.

Georgia Tech stumbles in with a 3-5 record—which has Miami faithful like those odds, until recalling the Yellow Jackets were 1-5 the last time these two met in 2019; weeks removed from a loss to The Citadel, before outlasting the Canes in overtime.

Miami’s had Florida State’s number the past four tries—but anyone who’s followed this rivalry knows the law of averages kicks in and the pendulum swings the other way. The Noles stumbled hard out the gate, but have won three of their past four—upsetting North Carolina by double-digits on the road—while having Clemson dead to right, before stumbling late last week.

Everything goes out the window when the Canes and Noles get after it—and a porous defense isn’t the answer for a road game against a Florida State squad starting to wake up from a multi-year slumber.

Virginia Tech is a hot mess, but like both Georgia Tech and Florida State—the Hokies have some pretty decent muscle memory when it comes to upending the Hurricanes over the years. Miami is 6-3 dating back to 2012—but Virginia Tech had a 7-2 run prior-to and Diaz 0-1 against the Hokies at home after an embarrassing 2019 showing where the Canes fell into a fast 28-0 hole.

Even lowly Duke has gotten in on the action—beating Miami in two of the past three showdowns of this insanely lopsided series the Canes lead 14-4.

IN THE END…

The point in this rant; based on Diaz’s overall track record and the Canes late-year slip-ups—there are no gimmes these next four weeks. Nor should newfound excitement over a young quarterback’s efforts cloud judgment in regards to a painfully bad defense in need of a coaching overhaul.

Some want to waste energies battling over allegiance and alliance; as if rooting for these Canes, or against—in the name of building for a better future—has any bearing on the outcome. The only conversation worth having; those who actively go head-in-the-sand over glaring weaknesses, in favor of short-lived jubilation when close wins are squeezed out against marginal opponents—as long-running problems won’t go away without sweeping change.

Whether Miami finishes 4-8 or a miraculous 10-4—a reckoning must still in the cards. Diaz must be judged as harshly for the hole he’s put Miami in—4-6 since last December, saved by three late-game wins—opposed to being let off the hook or keeping his players engaged and “showing up” these past two weeks.

8-4 is certainly doable as the regular season winds down, though 7-5 seems more realistic—Miami a combined 25-16 this past decade regarding the final four games of each season—the Canes losing focus and ultimately stumbling.

This up and down 2021 rolls on—one-game seasons and fast-changing narratives the name of the game, while the ongoing issues seem to stay the same.

Arguably less appropriate on the heels of back-to-back wins—but refuse to be blinded by fool’s gold and staying the course; Dead Manny Walking.

Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello is a storyteller for some exciting brands and individuals—as well as a guitarist and songwriter for his band Company Jones, who just released their debut album “The Glow”. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.

(Screengrab courtesy of ‘The U’ 30 For 30—by Rakontur Films.)

Miami Hurricanes legend Alonzo Highsmith guested on the Orange Bowl Boys’ podcast last week—the episode powerful enough to make you want to run through a wall, as well as jump in front of a speeding bus.

Highsmith obviously knows the Canes’ football DNA like few others; part of that 1983 national championship, as well as an infamous Fiesta Bowl title game loss in 1986—the lynch-pin “first domino” for legendary head coach Howard Schnellenberger—whose five-year dynasty-build was anchored in keeping South Florida’s best talent home and gaming the system.

Everything that Highsmith discussed and laid out, there’s zero doubt he is Miami’s secret weapon, should this university choose to roll up its sleeves to build a winner. The football icon spent the past decade in a general manager / player personnel type NFL role with Green Bay, Cleveland and currently Seattle—making him an ideal candidate for a cutting-edge, football-only type head honcho; athletic director-eqsue, but solely focused on the game he knows and loves.

Of course, that only works if Miami were to clean house and prepare a rebuild from the ground up—a commitment from the board of trustees to go all in financially, doing what it takes to build a champion—while employing a new athletic director who understands the mission, as well as a born leader head coach who understands that the University of Miami’s football program marches to its own beat, and is ready to go all-in on what’s become a two-decade quest to resurrect ‘The U’.

Captivating as it was listening to Highsmith’s entire story—some harsh realities came to light regarding the zeros to heroes challenge that lies ahead.

The pair that Miami would have to grow to go all-in on a champion-caliber, football-heavy rebuild? Monstrous. Same to be said regarding how the Canes pull it off in this era of a softer athletes; most lacking the toughness, selflessness, discipline and attention span needed to be seed-planters for the movement.

The task at hand is daunting and overwhelming, albeit not impossible if UM implements the right game plan and empowers top-flight personnel.

HIGHSMITH HISTORY: 101

For those unfamiliar with the Highsmith backstory, the episode is equally as full of historical building-block information, as it is  exciting to see there’s a way out of this current mess in which ‘The U’ resides.

The Canada-to-Coral-Gables southbound journey—almost as an emancipated minor—with Highsmith living alone in early 80’s era Miami and and playing football at Christopher Columbus High, after Killian and Southridge turned him away; that portion of the tale could’ve been it’s own standalone episode.

Highsmith originally seemed destined to play for one of the traditional bigs; relocating to South Florida to get on the radar for programs like Notre Dame and Michigan—who almost earned his services—until eyes were opened to the Sunshine State’s brand of football.

Florida and Florida State were early leaders for Highsmith, before Schnellenberger delivered his sales pitch and explained how a handful of the right local kids staying home in 1983 could have a decades-long impact on University of Miami football. Aside from Highsmith, Miami Northwestern’s Melvin Bratton was another key figure in Schnelly’s masterplan—a couple of alphas that could be the face of a movement.

An official visit to Miami—which almost never happened, as Highsmith thought he’d seen enough on unofficial drop-bys—changed everything, when he first crossed paths with the one-of-a-kind Jerome Brown, the bad-ass Winston Moss, a brooding Brian Blades and a handful of other future greats.

One can only imagine Schnellenberger’s scheming to get these individuals in front of each other, letting nature take its course—no sales pitch needed from that point on—this future wrecking crew immediately solving how they’d turn the entire sport on its ear if they agreed to come together.

This was the class Schnellenberger felt would start a long-term movement; but in the short term, the Canes won their first ring this crew’s freshman season—left two on the table in 1985 and 1986—but won it all again in 1987; year four under the legendary Jimmy Johnson.

The regard in which Highsmith holds Schnellenberger and Johnson is palpable; talking of both with such respect—their influence changing his life and career, while their winning ways and drive is what earned them the buy-in everywhere these two coaching legends wound up.

Highsmith also spoke of Nick Saban in a similar regard in the podcast—regarding being a winner who builds champions—making it crystal clear that what Alabama has created is precisely what Miami must do to win big’; albeit sticking to their unique brand formula.

As has been discussed on this blog over the years, the University of Miami has always been a different animal—the small private school in the large, diverse metropolitan city. Miami has always been an events town and never a sports town. Anytime the Orange Bowl or Hard Rock has rolled; it meant whoever was lining up and doing battle on that field made that game the place to be in The Magic City that night.

(Screengrab courtesy of ‘The U’ 30 For 30—by Rakontur Films.)

CANES ALWAYS WENT AGAINST GRAIN; EMBRACED UNIQUENESS

Former Miami greats knew that they weren’t an Alabama, Penn State or Notre Dame—nor did they aspire to be. It’s almost too easy at those small-town football factories; the built-in fan bases in rah-rah college towns—a built-in love and adoration, because you’re all those townsfolk have got; the ultimate participation trophy.

Kids who came to Miami for all the right reasons; fast to bask in average facilities, sparse crowds and the challenge of having to perform to garner the city’s attention. Nothing was ever going to come easy—but if you beat the odds at this private university at the bottom of the Sunshine State; prepare to be respected locally and revered nationally.

Highsmith drove it got; as long as Miami was winning—everything was all good in the ‘hood. The decade of dominance era Hurricanes were treated like a pro sports franchise, opposed to a standard powerhouse college football team. Winning was everything and was the mantra; from the head coach, to the assistants, to the staffers and athletic department employees—”national championship, or bust” was the goal every fall; the standard and expectation.

“When you’re from Miami, you have to be good in order for the people to come out—Howard Schnellenberger understood that. Jimmy Johnson understood that. The importance of football was manifested through our coaching—everything we did at the University of Miami was to be a national champion,” Highsmith shared. “If we wanted 80,000 people in the stands—we knew we had to win. Football was of the utmost importance—and the urgency was always high. The standards were set at the University of Miami; it was either national championship, or bust—and that’s how we approached every season.”

Outside of the University of Alabama, the championship-or-bust mindset no longer exists in college football—as it took building a modern day machine in Tuscaloosa to attract the best national talent annually. Play for the Crimson Tide for three to four years—a player is all but guaranteed a few SEC Championships and at least one national title; a turnkey process.

Bama’s process is so tried and true, Georgia has gone all-in copying the blueprint—starting with a $200,000,000 investment into football and athletic three years ago, literally called the “Do More” campaign—verbalizing their attempt to chase and topple a giant.

Quoting the flamboyant Ric Flair, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man”—and as the 2021 seasons unfolds, No. 1 Georgia finally looks up for the challenge of dethroning a champion—on a collision course to meet Alabama in the SEC Championship game, though Saban and the Tide are never to be counted out.

HOW TO WIN BIG WITHOUT BIG TIME PLAYERS?

The only thing Highsmith wasn’t asked to quantify or to answer—the age-old chicken and the egg dilemma that has plagued Miami for years; how do the Canes find a way to win with the talent they have, to attract the talent that they ultimately need to win big?

Obviously a top-tier head coach and well-paid staff could recruit and develop talent better than the low-rent hires Miami has employed over the past two decades—but even a great sales pitch isn’t going to top the millions of dollars big winners like Alabama and Georgia throw annually at their recruiting experience.

Attracting top 5-Star talent that the biggest and best are chasing down—it requires being a winner, not selling a long-term, how-to-win game plan. Miami is faced with having to win big without the big time talent it’s working to attract.

Furthermore, how do you sell today’s me-first athlete on something bigger than themselves?

Listening to Highsmith talk about how he, Bratton, Brown, Moss and others were willing to get on board with Schellenberger’s long-term vision—how can that even resonate in today’s instant-gratification world and with today’s self-absorbed, short-sighted athletes?

Selling players on being the foundation or building block for something that might not take root until after they’re gone—most will choose going somewhere the process is already in place; setting them up to win big immediately and to gain massive exposure as a result—which impacts personal brands, social media engagement rates and the ability to get paid in this new NIL college athletics landscape.

Miami hasn’t seen a collection of these kind of selfless athletes since Butch Davis was pitching a probation-era rebuild and a next-generation player like Edgerrin James bought in—that 1996 class also landing foundation-layers Damione Lewis, Daniel Franks, Nate Webster, Al Blades and James Jackson—en route to an unthinkable 9-3 run, for a program conditioned to be in the hunt every year.

Probation bottomed the Canes out the following year—the 5-6 run Miami’s first losing season since 1979—but the ballers kept lining up and buying in; that 1997 class including Ed Reed, Najeh Davenport, Dan Morgan, Kenny Kelly, Reggie Wayne, Daryl Jones, Martin Bibla and Markese Fitzgerald, as well as Santana Moss—who agreed to come to Miami on a track scholarship in order to play football.

Three years later, Miami was national championship-ready again—the best team in college football at the end of the 2000 season, before winning it all in 2001 and having it stolen in 2002—all because of the buy-in, belief, hard work and chances this collection of kids was willing to take a few years prior.

(Screengrab courtesy of ‘The U’ 30 For 30—by Rakontur Films.)

Proven winners like James, Franks, Jackson, Webster, Wayne, Moss and Morgan all left Miami without a ring—but became legends as the guys who sacrificed and put this program on their back—in effort to carry the Canes to the top again.

Highsmith believes Miami has enough talent-wise right now to at least win the ACC Coastal—but stopped short of saying the Canes could win the conference, reach the College Football Playoffs or chase championships in this current state. He also stayed away from the topic of Manny Diaz—politically correct in offering up nothing more than not knowing what Miami’s third-year guy has or doesn’t have in the tank as the guy currently in charge.

PLAY YOUR BEST, NOT YOUR FAVORITES

An indirect shot was taken, though—the topic of playing the best players, versus the discontent that brews when coaches subscribe to a safe seniority system—rewarding those who have simply been around longer, versus those who pass the eye test. Highsmith called it the recipe for disaster it’s been for years at Miami—predating Diaz and going back to the post-Davis era.

The hard-hitting former running back talked about famed practice battles at Greentree and how the greats would refuse to come out of games—not wanting to lose their job to hungry back-ups, while confidently believing no one could to the job as good as they were doing it. Anyone not on the field that wanted to play—you better good-and-hell-well snatch that opportunity in practice, or the rare game moment where it was time to shine.

The best way for a back-up to see playing time was when Miami was rolling heads and destroying the competition, to the point where second stringers were theoretically in the game to take some heat off—except that Hurricanes back-ups played like their lives depended on it.

Johnson was crucified for running up the score on Notre Dame in 1985—crushing the Gerry Faust-led squad 58-7 in the beloved coach’s final game—left to forever explain that his back-ups were overachievers, using these “garbage minutes” as their audition and real-game chance to shine.

That balls-out attitude was precisely what scouts have told Highsmith they loved over the years; always relishing a Miami practice, as those moments showed them everything they needed to know about said player. Scouts in that era would even jokingly ask of the Canes realized they had a game that particular weekend, as guys were going all out at the highest level.

There was no off switch back then—which was the brand—Miami players always full-throttle. that was the expectation, how they were wired and who they were at their core. Can Miami ever get back to that place? Doubtful, as it no longer exists. One would have to imagine that even today’s Alabama and Georgia players don’t come close to that level of intensity—or insanity—as these older cats were just built different.

Still, Highsmith is correct that Miami is a carefully-crafted brand and it must follow a different script than what other traditional powers do to succeed.

IDENTIFY “THE GUY”; BRING HIM IN & LET IT RIP

Knowing thyself is the jumping off point—as is setting proper expectations and then having the proper leadership in place to execute; which hasn’t been the case since Butch pulled out of town 20 years ago.

Look at those past Hurricanes coaching legends and their career trajectories after succeeding at Miami; Schnelly to the upstart USFL, Johnson taking over the Dallas Cowboys, Dennis Erickson parlaying two rings into the Seattle Seahawks job, while Davis headed to Cleveland after rebuilding the probation-era Canes.

Now look at everyone since; Larry Coker propped up as the face and mascot for a new University of Texas-San Antonio program for a few years, simply because he won big with Davis’ kids. Randy Shannon coached linebackers in the SEC for a few years before even landing a full time defensive coordinator position again—while Al Golden has coached linebackers for a few low-rent NFL franchise since Miami sent him packing; neither coming anywhere close to a head coach or CEO-type role again.

Mark Richt had the cachet after 15 successful years at the University of Georgia; but the Canes needed him in 2006, not 2016—a watered-down version of himself, ready to retire and only taking Miami’s call because it was his alma mater. Three years in, Richt waved the white flag—admitting he didn’t have the stomach to rebuild this thing from scratch.

As for Diaz, his prowess has been discussed here ad nauseam these past couple of years—now sitting at 16-14 and in a downward spiral; wanting to be liked and accepted by his players, opposed the healthily feared and respected. Diaz is all flash and no substance—proven this season as his 2-4 Hurricanes are still breaking out stupid chains and rings for sideline photoshoots in games Miami where is getting its teeth kicked in and ultimately loses.

Listening to Highsmith’s reverence for the iconic coaches he played for; a reminder just what it takes to build a champion. Miami needs the right, proven guy at the helm—not another lazy, cheap, inexperienced, up-and-comer hire it hopes can learn on the job and figure it out.

(Screengrab courtesy of ‘The U’ 30 For 30—by Rakontur Films.)

The program also needs a complete buy-in within the walls of Hecht Athletic Center—a board of trustees willing to do (and spend) whatever it takes to win, an empowered athletic director who puts that plan into motion on a daily basis, as well as a university president who is all-in and speaking the same language—realizing the importance a powerhouse football program does to enhance the university as a national brand.

BURN IT ALL DOWN & TRULY BUILD BACK BETTER

Sadly, the first step forward in this process requires two steps back—losing big now, to wipe the slate clean and to start over.

Kirk Herbstreit fired a big shot when calling out the University of Miami on ESPN’s College GameDay—the general incompetence, the noticeable drop-off and a laissez faire approach to running an athletic department and once-proud football program—which exposed and embarrassed UM internally; proven by their attempts to defend the current process.

With all eyes on Miami, to see how year three of the Diaz era plays out—crushing losses must follow—turning 2-4 into 2-6, if not worse. This season needs to be put out to pasture, while this current coaching regime is put down like a dying dog. Sympathy was evoked by way of two heartbreaking, final second losses for the Hurricanes—which unfortunately negated the argument that should’ve been built about games against Virginia and North Carolina being given away the first 59 minutes, by way of slow starts, sloppy play, mistakes, mental errors and garbage fundamentals.

No. 18 North Carolina State heads to town on Saturday—in what should be a barren HardRock, outside all the red and black adorned fans who made the 10-hour drive south from Raleigh—in what could be a very lopsided loss for the Hurricanes; the Wolfpack packing a punch this fall. Next, a road trip to take on a gritty No. 23 Pittsburgh team, ready to throw a stout defense against an inept, mistake-prone offense.

Should both do the trick and send Diaz packing, it should send Miami’s top brass back to the drawing board—spending the coming months devising a plan to build a winner again. When that happens, the hiding-in-plain-sight Highsmith needs to be on speed-dial and welcomed back to this program with open arms—as no one gets the brand, the blueprint and balls needed to tap into a tried and true recipe for success at The U.

Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello is a storyteller for some exciting brands and individuals—as well as a guitarist and songwriter for his band Company Jones, who just released their debut album “The Glow”. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.

October 21, 2021

HELP MIAMI, ALONZO HIGHSMITH—YOU’RE THE CANES’ ONLY HOPE

Miami Hurricanes legend Alonzo Highsmith guested on the Orange Bowl Boys’ podcast last week—the episode powerful enough to make you want to run through a wall, as well as jump in front of a speeding bus. Highsmith obviously knows the Canes’ football DNA like few others; part of that 1983 national championship, as well as […]



The past eight quarters haven’t been easy on the the University of Miami’s football program—coaches and players alike—while a fan base is also at a breaking point, as the incompetence and failure reaches a new low.

All that to say, another rock bottom moment for this program—and for Manny Diaz specifically.

Not only back-to-back weeks where Miami started slow, rallied late and painfully came up short—snatching defeat from the jaws of victory—it was a somber post-game moment making the rounds which showed the world how the son of the city’s former mayor responds in adversarial moments.

The blurry snapshot even came with an accompanying Sunday morning write-up from a Canes site whose articles are usually premium account pieces—not that anyone would’ve paid for this propaganda and  an attempt to elicit sympathy from supporters instead of understandable frustration.

SPIN CITY: SHAPING THE DIAZ NARRATIVE

Despite falling to North Carolina, 45-42—just over a week after throwing away a 30-28 home game to Virginia on a missed kick, CaneSport ran an op-ed titled, “Now Is Not The Time For Verdict On Diaz”—with a lead image of a sullen Diaz in the corner of the end zone, leaning back, legs crossed with a thousand yard stare at the field where the unthinkable just took place.

For those who thought a game-winning field goal off the goalpost was the most-heartbreaking way to lose a game, a “hold my beer moment” as a last-gasp Miami third down pass was tipped and intercepted with mere second remaining—preventing a redemptive kicking moment that would’ve sent the game to overtime.

While the hurt and pain for all tied to this program are real—so is the fact that the Hurricanes bled out for 59-minutes these past two games, before dying in the final seconds; a missed kick or tipped pass weren’t the culprits.

As a result, the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of Diaz—unmotivated to play early, untimely penalties mental mistakes and shoddy fundamentals; namely forgetting how to tackle. The third-year head coaches always quick to say these issues are “on him” and that he needs to find a way to get things fixed, only to see his teams making the same year three gaffes that were a problem year one.

Everyone processes grief differently—and maybe there was some authenticity in Diaz finding a quiet moment in the corner of an empty stadium—by any cynic would be quick to remember that a politician always knows where to find the camera; which includes the son of a politician.

The article states that “10 minutes turned to 15” as Diaz “stood there thinking”, before being summoned to the bus for the ride to the airport and team flight home.

One could argue Diaz could’ve found a private place to (understandably) sulk—in the bowels of Kenan Memorial, where he did his post-game presser—but no cameras would’ve been there to capture it. Shuffling out to the field, where stadium lights were still cranking—posting-up about about 2 o’clock from the press box, where writers were still banging out recaps; it seems a bit calculated and opportune.

It also appears to have worked, as CaneSport and others bought right in.

This particular piece cherry picks any positive moments and sells optimism based on the effort, not the result. There’s no owning any early failures—it was all about the second half effort; the Canes waking up and out-gaining the Tar Heels in the second half and overall, without ever asking why Miami never hits the ground running under Diaz, always having to play catch-up.

“It’s the magic of sports. There are things that sometimes you just marvel at, don’t try to explain.” the piece read; gobsmacked that Miami could finish with more yards, while still falling short.

A flubbed defensive play here or there was discussed—but not the fact that Diaz chose to call those shots this season, instead of bringing on a veteran coordinator as he focused on a CEO role that is still new to him. Despite being praised for his defensive ways years back, Diaz’s Canes are statistically one of the the worst-tacking groups in the nation this fall.

Worth noting, no?

FAIRY-TALE STORYTELLING; NIGHTMARE ENDING

Breaking down Miami’s “scrappy” comeback in some Remember The Titans fashion—as if this wasn’t another in a long line of forgetting games where the Hurricanes played down to a mid-tier conference opponent, coming up short again.

“It was time to buckle up for the fourth quarter. Four fingers were in the air on the Miami sideline. Diaz jumped up and down like a little kid,” the piece waxed poetically.

CaneSport even made light that maybe Mack Brown was “giving Diaz a gift to makeup for the un-ceremonial firing at Texas when Diaz worked for him as a defensive coordinator”—as if the third-year defensive play caller didn’t deserve to canned two games into the 2013 season, when the Longhorns surrendered 550 rushing yards at BYU.

Diaz was even praised for not playing for the field goal like he did against Virginia—smug on the sideline in the recent Thursday night contest, where Miami faced a first down from the 15-yard line with :97 remaining—before running three plays to set up a game-winning kick, which sailed wide.

Where a field goal would’ve beaten the Cavaliers, one against the Tar Heels would’ve merely forced overtime in front of a raucous night crowd—so of course Diaz and Miami were playing for the win. How is this even a conversation?

“Standing there all alone in the shadows in that corner of the stadium, you can bet Diaz replayed every second of those rapid fire decisions,” as the piece came to a close. “He believes that these sequences will start going his way soon, that his team of figures will become winners before the clock runs out again.”

Those able to cut through the gaslighting are fully aware that the time to win as these past few weeks and that the clock has pretty much run out, for al intents and purposes. Virginia and North Carolina were two of the easier games left on the schedule between now and Virginia Tech and Duke as the closers.

Technically speaking, sure—Miami is two plays away from 4-2, instead of 2-4—but those two plays now have the Hurricanes 0-2 in conference play, instead of atop the Coastal at 2-0. These two setbacks all but kill the annual rallying cry of still being in the hunt for the program’s second divisional title since joining the ACC in 2004.

No sadder words utter by Miami fans every fall than the phrase, “We’re not mathematically eliminated yet!”

MORALE FADES WITH EACH CRUSHING BLOW

Not to be callous, but what will this team play for these next few weeks and where will coaches find motivation for a season’s that’s reached its tipping point? If Miami couldn’t muster up the gusto to get after it for 60 minutes these past two weeks—both on offense and defense—how will that bode for two surging opponents who are on deck?

HardRock will be a morgue next Saturday night when No. 18 North Carolina State heads south—sans the Wolfpack fans eager to make the 10-hour drive to Miami Gardens to watch their 5-1 team attempt to exact some revenge on a Hurricanes squad that stole one late last year in Raleigh.

The following week Miami heads to No. 23 Pittsburgh—another 5-1 team—who incredibly will be led by quarterback Kenny Pickett, the maestro in the Panthers’ upset against the Hurricanes as a true freshman in 2017.

The odds of winning either—outside of a gift from the football gods to make up for the past two weeks—seems slim, to none. This would put the Hurricanes at 2-6; Miami’s worst start since 1975—year one of the two-year Carl Selmer era—Miami finishing 2-8 that dismal season.

As for this current 2-4 run; Miami hasn’t seen days this dark since 1997—the program bottoming out under Butch Davis as probation and lost scholarships took a toll. Those Canes went 5-6 on the year—Miami’s worst run since the same record in 1979—year one of the Howard Schnellenberger era.

Diaz is now 16-14 in his two-plus years at Miami and is realistically looking at 16-16 by month’s end, barring a miracle. That would also put the Hurricanes at 2-8 dating back to the program’s last Power Five win—a 48-0 rout of Duke last December 5th—with the two lone wins coming via a late field goal against Appalachian State and a glorified scrimmage rout of Central Connecticut State.

BROKEN & FLAWED FROM THE GET-GO

Miami is cloaked in failure under Diaz—something that started with his first two games at the helm—right up through these last two. The Hurricanes had a shot at knocking off an overrated No. 8 Florida in the 2019 season opener, but special teams errors, metal errors and poor execution resulted in a 24-20 loss.

The next time Miami took the field, the Gators hangover was real and the Canes were fast down 17-3 to the Tar Heels—before scrapping back late, taking a lead, surrendering a 4th-and-17 conversion that led to a game-winning touchdown—UM’s long, game-tying field goal attempt in the waning moments not having a prayer.

The rest of the 6-7 season was also nightmarish; falling into a 28-0 early hole to a Virginia Tech team wrecked 45-10 at home by Duke a week prior—the Canes knotting things up 35-35 but unable to get one final defensive stop, falling 42-35—a sign of things to come under Diaz.

Weeks later, an under-motivated Miami sleepwalked through an overtime loss against a one-win Georgia Tech team, fresh off a loss to The Citadel and in their first year having abandoned their long-time triple option offense.

Miami rattled off three wins in a row against low-grade competition; winning at Pittsburgh, Florida State and snuffing out Louisville at home—yet inexplicably got big-headed at 6-4 and no-showed against Florida International.

In what was by far the biggest game in the commuter college’s history—on the hallowed grounds where the Orange Bowl once stood.

A former UM head coach running the Golden Panthers, with several former Canes players on his staff—yet Diaz and his cronies were down 23-3 early fourth quarter before they knew what hit them—en route to arguably the most-embarrassing loss in program history, 30-24.

A loss at Duke the next week, followed by a bowl shutout to Louisiana Tech to end 2019 with a thud.

A KING-SIZED SAVE FOR DIAZ IN 2020

To Diaz’s credit, he again robbed the Transfer Portal—a Band-Aid for a Canes program that struggles on National Signing Day, while Miami has become a great one-year destination for guys’ last hurrah.

D’Eriq King was all that and more in 2020, leading the Canes to an 8-3 season—directly having an impact on 3-4 games that would’ve gone south without him—saving Diaz, as a result.

Led by King, Miami eked out wins over Virginia, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech, by a combined total of nine points—down 44-31 late in Raleigh, before pulling out the 44-41 victory and staring up at a 24-13 deficit in Blacksburg, before escaping, 25-24.

King famously tore his ACL in a slow-start, bowl loss to Oklahoma State—Miami down 21-3 before rallying late and falling short, again—and despite the well-intended attempt to run it back in 2021, King’s elusiveness wasn’t the same post-surgery and his body took an early-season beating that now has him out for the year.

Injuries have plagued Diaz’s squad halfway through year three; running backs Don Chaney Jr. knocked out early with a knee injury and Cam Harris lost for the year this weekend at North Carolina. Jake Garcia also had surgery on an ankle, sidelining him for weeks—which ended any quarterback battle for supremacy with Tyler Van Dyke, who as tossed the keys to the offense by default as a result.

Still, none is an excuse for how Miami underperformed against Virginia and North Carolina—two average, beatable football teams.

Even with the injuries and setbacks, as the CaneSport fluff piece pointed out—Miami out-gained North Carolina yardage-wise, 421 to 382 and 341 to 107, after that head-scratching 176 to 12 start and 275 to 80 halftime deficit—which only proves what was there for the taking if Diaz had his team ready to play football.

Georgia Tech rung North Carolina up for 45 points and 394 yards weeks back; the Yellow Jackets’ defense surrendering 369 total yards and only 22 points—while Florida State scored 35 points on 383 yards and limited the Tar Heels to 25 points.

Miami’s defense gave up 45 points to an offense averaging 35.5 points-per-game—one that only laid 38 on a terrible Duke team shutout by Virginia this past weekend, 48-0.

DIAZ-LED DEFENSE; COMPLETELY LOST

Under Diaz, this Hurricanes defense bends, breaks and damn near forgets everything it’s been fundamentally taught since Optimist era football. Over the past eight quarters, almost every time Miami finds the end zone or settles for a field goal—the defense has been unable to make a stand, sending the offense back on the field with a hot hand and some motivation.

Canes pull to within 19-14 against Virginia mid-third quarter—Miami gives up a seven-play, 75-yard drive (and two-point conversion), pushing the Cavaliers’ lead to 27-14. Harris breaks off a beast of a 57-yard run; the defense takes the piss out of it, allowing a field goal that pushed the lead to nine—proving to be the deciding factor in what was a two-point loss.

Same to be said for this loss at North Carolina; the Tar Heels going 150 yards on 13 plays in just over five minutes of football—the saving grace, a Jahfari Harvey pick-six on the first Sam Howell pass from scrimmage—which lost all its luster moments later, when Gurvan Hall got tangled up on a 45-yard pass from Howell to Josh Downs, pushing the lead back to 14-7.

Jaylan Knighton punches in a late second quarter touchdown, cutting the lead to 28-17—Miami gives up two field goal attempts in the final minutes of the half. The first would sail right, but after a second Van Dyke interception, the Heels had new life and drilled a 48-yarder, taking a 31-17 lead into intermission.

Miami’s offense manufactures a solid, 75-yard opening drive, cutting the lead to seven? The Tar Heels are back in the end zone four plays later; the Canes’ defense missing a half dozen tackles as Howell scampered 30 yards to pay dirt.

Knighton rumbles 60 yards on a dump-off from Van Dyke, cutting the lead to four? Howell scores on the next possession after a three-and-out.

As a program, Miami’s modus operandi was always defense-driven—wreaking havoc on offenses, creating turnovers and getting momentum-shifting stops that ultimately altered football games. Should the offense make a mistake, a confident defense always strutted onto the field with a, “Don’t sweat it, we got you” big-baller energy and delivered.

When the Canes’ offense came to play and delivered, the defense took pride in working hard to get the ball back to keep the momentum rolling.

The Hurricanes haven’t played that brand of football since that aberration of a a season in 2017.

An upperclassmen-heavy defense—loaded with Al Golden recruits, shockingly—took a massive step forward and paved the way to that 10-0 start, highlighted by an upset of No. 3 Notre Dame, 41-8.

This was also the year of the iconic-turned-infamous Turnover Chain—a true motivational tool and one of college football’s biggest stories, as Miami seemed to over-perform by way of this good luck charm—until it was lucky no more.

RICHT’S DEPARTURE; UM’S KNEE-JERK MOVES

Miami’s 10-0 start year two under Mark Richt was a 7-9 disaster from that point; 0-3 to close out the 2017 season—including a 38-3 rout via Clemson in the Canes’ first ACC Championship appearance, followed by a double-digit Orange Bowl loss to Wisconsin.

A 5-1 start went to hell in a handbag in 2018—Miami dropping four in a row and left fighting for bowl eligibility with two to play, before beating Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh to get to 7-5—only to crash and burn in the Pinstripe Bowl, where a rematch against the Badgers resulted in a 35-3 bloodbath.

Richt called it a career three days later, which ultimately led to the University of Miami’s “sliding doors” moment—December 30th, 2018—where the program flinched and choked in an unexpected big moment, making a knee-jerk hire that landed the Hurricanes where they are today.

Despite that 7-5 regular season in 2018, Miami’s offense was the culprit—not Diaz’s defense—meaning the third-year coordinator’s name still carried some cachet, tabbing him as an up-and-comer Temple wanted to fill their head coaching vacancy.

Diaz accepted the job mid-December, but strangely found his way back to the Hurricanes’ sideline in the postseason—odd in the sense Miami was a five-loss team in a third tier bowl, playing for absolutely nothing. This wasn’t a coordinator leaving behind a Playoffs-caliber team, in the hunt for a title and playing the “unfinished business” card, chasing a championship.

This was simply a case of not letting go of the past and fully embracing one’s future.

All focus should’ve been on Diaz’s new opportunity in Philadelphia; instead, a sign of things to come regarding an individual quick to take on a new title and role—only to not know how to move on from his former position; delegating those tasks to a new quality hire.

Miami panicked upon Richt’s abrupt departure, immediately reaching out to Diaz—the safe, cheap play—to gauge interest. Diaz, again, the son of a politician and masterful in the art of spin, posturing and self-promotion—manufactured a false timeline with UM; demanding they act fast, or he was all-in with the Owls and no longer an option.

Despite that empty threat, Miami caved and hired Diaz by sundown on the same day that Richt retired—paying Temple a reported $4 million, for the inconvenience caused by poaching their “undefeated” new head coach.

Similar to Diaz double-dipping and coaching the Canes’ 2018 bowl game, while making some initial head coaching moves with the Owls—the third-year head coach managed to promote, demote and empower himself this season when micromanaging and re-assuming his old role as defensive coordinator.

Diaz caught a break when second year, maligned defensive coordinator Blake Baker was poached by LSU and the end of last season—taking over linebackers and helping the Tigers with recruiting—all of which saved Diaz from having to fire his protege days after North Carolina laid a 62-26 beating on Miami; rushing for more yards (554) than BYU did Texas’ defense in the game that ran Diaz out of Austin.

HEAD COACH & MOONLIGHTING AS COORDINATOR

The logical move for a first-time CEO would’ve be to bring on a heavy hitter to take defensive responsibilities off his plate; a salty veteran and alpha like a Jim Leavitt—allowing Diaz to focusing on higher-level initiatives as he rebuilt the Miami program top to bottom.

Instead, the ultimate beta move as he continued to handle his previous duties in effort to stay busy and to avoid letting someone else both calls the shots, or to show him up if the defense actually improved—failing to realize he’d share in the success as the top-dog who hired and empowered a new coordinator.

What Diaz failed to realize; that riding the fence and playing part-time CEO and part-time defensive coordinator was a recipe for disaster—and that if or when Miami tanked this season, he’d take a double dose of grief—as both head coach and defensive shot-caller.

There are no do-overs in life, or sports—bur realistically all parties involved have to questions the moves made in December 2018 which got Miami here.

Deep down, Diaz has to know he wasn’t ready for prime time and to lead his hometown Hurricanes to the promised land. The pragmatic move would’ve been to cut his teeth at temple—where he could’ve learned on the job at a low-expectation program, outside of the national spotlight.

One could counter this suggestion, stating that the Temple job could’ve gone south—as long-time Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey isn’t setting the world on fire with the Owls.

Carey put together a respectable 8-5 run in 2019—Diaz’s would-be first season—before things went sideways in a COVID-shortened 2020; Temple going 1-6. Year three is now 3-3 at the halfway point, with Temple trounced by Rutgers (61-14), Boston College (28-3) and Cincinnati (52-3).

That said, good coaches can fail on paper in dead-end programs—reinventing themselves and returning to top-tier jobs in due time.

DIAZ NEEDED GROWTH MOMENT AWAY FROM UM

Mario Cristobal spent six seasons as head coach at dead-end Florida International—suffering through an 1-11 first year, but getting the Golden Panthers bowl-eligible by year four; 7-6, winning the conference and topping Toledo in a bowl game—the program’s first trip to the post-season. Cristobal went 8-5 the following season, lost a bowl game and followed up with a 3-9 before getting let go year six.

Back to the ranks of assistant, Cristobal took his talents to Alabama and spent four years coaching and recruiting under Nick Saban—much like an early career move brought him to Rutgers for three seasons to work under Greg Schiano. Cristobal joined a Willie Taggart-led Oregon staff in 2017—and when Taggart made the move to follow Jimbo Fisher at Florida State, Cristobal was named head coach of the Ducks.

Where is Diaz’s career trajectory, years spent learning under true mentors, or years spent buckling in for the lesser gig and learning experience that sets the stage for tomorrow? Four years coaching the defense at Middle Tennessee under Rick Stockstill? One year under Dan Mullen at Mississippi State—returning four years later for a second stint, after failing at Texas and one rebuilding year under Skip Holtz at Louisiana Tech?

When dissecting it in retrospect, the University of Miami must own up to the fact that their overreaction to Richt’s swift retirement late 2018 is specifically while things are so dire halfway through the 2021 season; Diaz never had the resume to take over as the Hurricanes’ 25th head coach—and when looking as the deep-rooted cultural issues within the program, he lacks the leadership traits needed to negotiate this rugged, high-level coaching terrain.

It’s been stated here that Diaz comes off as wanting to be liked and accepted more than commanding the necessary amount of fear and respect top-flight college athletes need to be successful.

The odd tackling dummies WWE-style event in spring 2019, where Diaz got in on the action like big brother home from college and playing cool with high schoolers—to his victory cigars, sliding around in the rain after wins, floating into booster events on big yachts, or his once-clever, now-quiet social media game.

All would be forgivable if he was winning—just as everyone eventually came around on the aw-shucks Dabo Swinney act—originally seen as a rube and Tommy Bowden staff holdover for years, until reeling Brent Venables to run the defense and building a juggernaut.

The Tigers have taken  step back in 2021, while Swinney’s star has plummeted—a feeling he’s lost his mojo and invincibility.

LOSE THE JEWELS & GET IT TOGETHER

Sadly, losses aside, nothing defines this Diaz era more than how his once-legendary motivational chain experiment has since turned into college football’s saddest joke—which he’s done nothing to curb, counter or reevaluate.

No sooner did Diaz take over in 2019, the first-year head coach rolled out Touchdown Rings to go with the third incarnation of the popular Cuban-link chain—both of which continue showing up in poorly-timed moments that should be better policed by Diaz, his staff and any player on this team with a modicum of leadership pumping through their veins.

The fifth version of the chain showed up as Miami trailed Alabama, 27-0 in the season opener—quickly turning into a laughing stock as soon as the fumble recovery was overturned and the hardware was sadly returned to its case. As if that weren’t humiliating enough, rings were rolled out when the Hurricanes finally found the end zone in the third quarter of what was then 41-10 game, at the time.

The fact there is no internal process to temper in-game celebrations while the Hurricanes are getting their teeth kicked in, or are running up video game numbers against a glorified high school a week after getting dick-punched in the fourth quarter by a Big Ten team that was supposed to wilt in the South Florida heat—beyond problematic.

One week after Michigan State outlasted Miami—a lopsided 21-3 run over final fifteen minutes, putting the game away against the program once known for “four fingers” and fourth quarter dominance—ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit took ‘The U’ to task on College GameDay.

“I don’t think it matters who the head coach is. Until you get a president and an AD and a coach together on the same page, I guess football doesn’t matter,” Herbstreit vented. “It matters to the alums, to the brotherhood of ‘The U’. But I don’t know if it matters to the people making the decisions at Miami.”

The shots fired reverberated throughout the college football world, trickling down to the local South Florida media—who seem a little more empowered when talking about the current State of Miami under Diaz as the losses pile up.

Hours after Herby’s spirited take-down, Miami players were seen mugging for cameras on the sideline while putting a 69-0 beating on Central Connecticut State; photographers quick to assemble players involved in any scoring drive, for calculated and choreographed poses and shots.

Anyone tied to this program should be mortified by the amateur hour approach and laissez faire management style taking place; from the inability of managing celebrations, to a cultural issue where seniority rules and personnel issues are birthed by the best players not seeing the field, in order not to rock the boat with upperclassmen.

All this to say, hard not to feel like the end is near. Back-to-back last-minutes losses are morale-crushers, and teams like North Carolina State and Pittsburgh look ready to bring a different fight and more stable attack than Virginia and North Carolina these past two weeks.

Halfway through, 2-4 is bad—but 2-6 is sound-the-alarm catastrophic—which is a very realistic scenario between now and month’s end.

“There’a a really good team in that locker room,” a struggling-for-words Diaz shared post-game. “We are what our record is, I understand that. But we stay the course, it’ll show.”

Unfortunately, time is running out on the goal being pursued and these 2021 Hurricanes appear to be past the point of no return in saving both this season—as well as Diaz’s dream job.

Dead Manny Walking.

Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello is a storyteller for some exciting brands and individuals—as well as a guitarist and songwriter for his band Company Jones, who just released their debut album “The Glow”. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.

October 17, 2021

DIAZ ERA ON LIFE SUPPORT AFTER CANES’ FOURTH LOSS OF YEAR

The past eight quarters haven’t been easy on the the University of Miami’s football program—coaches and players alike—while a fan base is also at a breaking point, as the incompetence and failure reaches a new low. All that to say, another rock bottom moment for this program—and for Manny Diaz specifically. Not only back-to-back weeks […]

October 1, 2021

VIRGINIA TAKES DOWN MUST-WIN MIAMI; OFFICIAL BEGINNING OF DIAZ’S END?

© VirginiaSports.com

The same foot that saved Manny Diaz weeks back against Appalachian State might be the one that eventually kicks him to the curb—with no one to blame but himself.

Miami lost a must-win showdown against a very average Virginia team on Thursday night—a game the Canes were never in until late—scrapping back, only to send a chip-shot, time-expiring, game-winning field goal attempt off the uprights.

It was a fitting end to an ugly game Miami lost a dozen times before a reeling head coach put the game on the foot of a freshman kicker for the second time in three games—and it could ultimately serve as the tipping point for The Diaz Era.

Andres Borregales will drill many a big kick or the Canes in the coming years. Until then, he’ll remain a footnote for how Miami theoretically lost this one. A kick he could’ve made in is sleep—this one will give him nightmares for the foreseeable future.

Still, The Doink At The Rock wasn’t the story. It was Diaz’s team rolling in ill-prepared for another must-win moment—all the pregame sideline hooting and hollering—only to go three-and-out on the first two possessions and taking a safety on the third, winding up in a 9-0 first quarter hole.

Appalachian State became must-win after Alabama broke Miami’s spirit; the Canes barely got out alive. Michigan State was the next big-time moment—yet it was the Spartans and their second-year head coach with the late-game domination of the program once known for holding up four fingers and taking over; while Miami’s third-year head coach was out there making year-one blunders.

Central Connecticut State was a glorified scrimmage; yet instead of a 1-2 team humbled by an inauspicious start—Miami’s sideline resembled a South Beach photoshoot; rings, chains and flash bulbs galore, while Hurricanes players mugged for the camera and struck poses through the 69-0 rout of a scrub.

Both Miami and Virgina entered Thursday’s contest with matching 2-2 records; both well aware the victor had a new lease on life, while whoever fell to 2-3 was in for a world of hurt. Still, based on pre-season expectations and what Diaz and his Hurricanes were to deliver year three, UM’s free fall was set to be greater if losing at home under the lights.

DARK CLOUD HOVERING OVER DIAZ’S CANES

Diaz now sits 16-13 overall in two-plus years at the helm; his first season a brutal 6-7 run—defined by his inability to get Miami up after bye weeks, or tempering out-of-control egos.

After a late-season three-game win-streak against average competition—Pittsburgh, Florida State and Louisville, on the heels of losing in overtime to a one-win Georgia Tech squad—Diaz expressed that his team was reading headlines and believing their own hype, which caused the embarrassing three-game skid against Florida International, Duke and Louisiana Tech, who shut the Canes out in a third-tier bowl game.

Last year’s COVID-defined season saw Miami getting out to a house-of-cards 8-1 start—the 42-17 one-sided loss at Clemson the true measuring stick regarding how far Diaz’s team was from competing with the big boys.

The 2020 Canes also got the kind of breaks and bounces they didn’t receive last night—comeback wins after slow starts at North Carolina State and Virginia Tech, while barely surviving this same Virginia team—quarterback D’Eriq King literally willing Miami to at least two or three wins as a transfer.

Anyone paying attention knew that 8-1 could’ve just as easily been 5-4 going into the regular season-ending home showdown with North Carolina—who demolished the Canes, 62-26, before Oklahoma State capitalized on another Diaz-inspired slow start in a second-tier bowl game this time around.

Miami’s third-year head coach is now 2-5 in his last seven games—the pressure mounting more each week he can’t find a way out of the mess he’s created.

If the natives were restless when Diaz was a rushed hire in the final days of 2018, they’re out for blood now.

Kirk Herbstreit delivered a vicious blow to the University of Miami’s administration with his takedown of a flawed internal process; one that has resulted in a sub-par on-field product for the past 16 years, as well as five different head coaches between 2006 and 2019.

Neither Herbstreit or his other ESPN cohorts believe that UM cares about fielding a quality football program—and that Diaz is only a symptom of a bigger internal cancer.

“I don’t think it matters who the head coach is,” Herbstreit lamented. “Until you get a president, AD and coach together on the same page, I guess football doesn’t matter.”

UM president Dr. Julio Frenk attempted an academic-inspired, pre-game hail mary—by way of a lengthy release that said a ton, without really saying anything. An excerpt of the doctor’s madness:

“We must pay equally close attention to the drivers of disruption and the ways lines are being blurred between amateur and professional sports by factors including NIL legislation, antitrust rulings, promotion of gambling, conference realignments, and a corrosive discourse that falsely portrays college athletics as a means to exploit talented players, instead of what it really is: an avenue to expand opportunities for young people through access to higher education. We can either be disrupted, or we can play a role in strategically shaping the course of disruption.”

Channeling that big Billy Madison principal energy for Dr. Frenk, “What you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”

Despite getting outscored 82-30 by Alabama and Michigan State combined, “The U” was all smiles at 1-2, while routing Central Connecticut State, 69-0.© StateOfTheU.com

NATIONAL WRITERS TURN GUNS ON UM

The national shaming has since a ripple effect—local columnists now green-lit to say what everyone else has been thinking.

The Sun-Sentinel’s Dave Hyde came out guns blazing this morning; stating in his op-ed that the Diaz era “is past the point of no return”—and that was just the headline—before opening with, “Game, set, Manny Diaz Era, 2019-2021”.

Hyde referenced the Herbstreit take-down and Frenk’s desperate we’ll-get-this-fixed rant—while quick to point out that Miami’s evening takeaway was merely coming close to a last-second win over a Virginia team who was coming off of back-to-back beatdowns courtesy of Wake Forest and North Carolina.

“Miami was weirdly off-kilter and lacking energy in the first half,” Hyde explained. “It trailed 9-0 thanks to a safety. Virginia had 28 plays after the first quarter to Miami’s ten. Miami had all of 95 yards on offense at half. That was against a Virginia defense that allow its first two conference opponents an average of 587 yards and 48 points.”

The veteran South Florida columnist continued,”Who’s teaching tacking to these players? And, as for meeting the moment, each time Miami score its first three touchdowns to try to pull back into the game, the defense gave a score right back to Virginia.”

The only thing Hyde could’ve and should’ve also hammered home—the fact that Miami’s defensive regression, the piss-poor tackling, bad angles and garbage technique all fall on Diaz’s shoulders.

The megalomaniac head coach somehow promoted-demoted himself this off-season—re-assuming defensive coordinator duties, instead of bringing in an alpha dog to get that unit back on track; as if playing CEO and rebuilding a flawed program with a broken culture isn’t enough to handle.

Many will argue that Diaz was playing the percentages and that Borregales simply whiffed on a gimme kick—which is technically correct—but as proven, even playing odds isn’t fool-proof and there was something bigger at play for Miami and their desperate head coach.

An offense that struggled the majority of the evening was finally finding its groove late, as was a defense that was getting pushed around early—but was finally getting stops—keeping the Cavaliers out of the end zone the entire second half, sans one freakish, miracle grab for the highlight reels.

The Canes have struggled in the red zone for years, settling for too many field goals which come back to bite Miami—and with high-scoring North Carolina and North Carolina State on deck—UM needs a better offensive game plan that relying on Borregales’ right leg.

Had Miami escaped 31-30 with a last-second kick—a fitting final score only in the fact Howard Schnellenberger was posthumously inducted into UM’s Ring of Honor at halftime—it still would’ve been a missed opportunity for a bigger moment this broken team needed regarding all that lies ahead.

PLAYING STATS & ODDS; FOR LOSERS

Diaz and Miami are well past play-it-safe mode—the pressure is mounting and the season is fast-slipping away. As the losses pile up, the outside noise gets louder—forcing coaches and players to turn inwards towards reach other, embracing a head down, us-against-the-world mentality, which makes the victories that much sweeter, while insulating the unity from the heavy criticism when things go south.

Weeks back the Baltimore Ravens faced a 4th-and-1 at home against the Kansas City Chiefs—midfield and nursing a one-point lead with just over a minute remaining.

Percentages would tell head coach John Harbaugh to punt; pin the timeout-less Chiefs deep with virtually no time left and better his chances for victory. Godforbid the Ravens get stuffed and don’t pick up the yard, Patrick Mahomes is one quick throw away from getting his squad in field goal range for a game-winning kick—the Chiefs in position to win their fourth in a row against Baltimore.

Harbaugh intended to go for it all along—knowing three short feet would put the game away—but saw a potential rallying-cry moment and trust-building opportunity, asking quarterback Lamar Jackson if he wanted to go for it.

Harbaugh empowered his leader in that moment, even though the decision had been made—and proved the level of trust he had in his offense to put the game away. Jackson emphatically said ‘yes’—tucked the ball and ran a yard for the first down—Baltimore able to run out the clock and secure victory.

“Examined together, the final sequence in Baltimore’s win is a brilliant example of analytics, coach, and player acting like one. The team knew they were going for it. The coach knew his players would want to go and then put the decision on them,” wrote Tyler Lauletta of Insider.

Had Jackson gotten stuffed and Kansas City emerged victorious, Harbaugh would’ve been lambasted by every local newspaper and TV talking head—but he’d still have built necessary trust with his star player and sent a message to his team that they ride-or-die with Jackson; crucial after the young quarterback’s Playoffs struggles in Buffalo last year and Tennessee the year prior.

The momentum even carried over in the short-term, Baltimore down 17-16 at Detroit days later—Jackson completing a 4th-and-19 that set up the kick heard all around the league, as Justin Tucker drilled a record-setting, 66-yard game winner to crush the Lions.

Diaz and Miami needed more than to eke out a win Thursday night against one of the easier teams remaining on their 2021 schedule. Analytics, playing the percentages—the Hurricanes are well past that point, as yet another head coaching hire looks like a wrong-fit disaster, with the next rebuild on the horizon.

Borregales drilling the kick would’ve solved the evening’s problems, but there’d have been no teachable, bonding moment for both sides of the ball in need of serious growth. The only thing Diaz proved here is that he trusts his freshman kicker’s right foot more than he does his offense’s ability to find the end zone, or his defense’s skills regarding keeping a timeout-less Virginia from going 75 yards in under a minute.

Miami’s offense needed a touchdown, the defense needed a big stop and this Canes team needed a trusting head coach to put his balls on the line for their greater good—not to save his own ass, or to avoid another downtrodden post-game presser with more tired clichés and rah-rah rhetoric.

Miami’s Marcus Clarke (#28) had his hands on a would-be interception, which turned into a catch-of-the-year candidate as Dontayvion Wicks (#3) came up with the ball.

“The give games have been disappointing,” the head-slung-low Diaz shared in the bowels of Hard Rock. “There’s no excuse for it. There’s more to this team than that … We were on the verge of doing something really, really special tonight. We’ve got to take that part and build off that.”

Not quite sure how over a half of sub-par football, poor tackling, sub-par offensive execution, letting an opponent answer three scores and hoping to survive against a Virginia squad that other ACC programs have had their way with the past two weeks would’ve been “something really, really special”—but Diaz never met a hyperbolic statement he wasn’t all in on.

Really “special” would’ve been putting full trust and faith in his offense and defense to play football—riding the hot hand and punching in the score, while letting the defense pick up the slack and get a game-ending stop, for some real momentum going into the bye week.

If that somehow failed, Diaz at least had a bulletproof answer as to why—trusting his players on both sides of the ball to deliver in a big moment, setting the stage for some defining games on deck.

Now a conundrum exists for Miami faithful; never wanting to see this team lose—while knowing it will take a complete and utter collapse this season for a Diaz ousting and fresh start in 2022. How does one even attempt to rectify these feelings—actively rooting against the Canes now, with the hopes it sparks much-needed change tomorrow?

The brutal 2-3 start, the way the Hurricanes have lost—wrecked by Alabama and Michigan State, while outpaced by a sluggish Virginia team. There’s also the embarrassing practice of over-celebrating mediocrity with rings, chains and sideline photo shoots when players actually do their job—players mugging for cameras in games they’re losing, while no one in charge is pushing back on the antics, by simply acting like the adult in the room.

Diaz has long come across as the type of coach who wants to be liked and accepted over healthily feared and respected—but the “evolution” of Miami’s sideline hardware is giving off a vibe that the Canes’ head coach is working too hard to be “one of the guys”, instead of “the man”.

HERO TO ZERO: LOSE THE JEWELRY

The once-clever Turnover Chain captivated college football in 2017—and was a legitimate motivational tool that had Miami’s defense out-performing their 2016 efforts, sparking a 10-0 start to the season. From there the Mark Richt-led Canes went 7-9; bottoming-out with the 35-3 bowl loss to Wisconsin that sent Richt to retirement.

Where Diaz could’ve and should’ve rethought of ways to reshape a broken culture—he not only dialed up a third-incarnation of the chain; he doubled down with Touchdown Rings, for offensive players to celebrate doing their job when actually finding the end zone.

The phrase “jump the shark” itself has since jumped the shark, but so has Miami’s gaudy hardware experiment—bottoming out week one; the Canes busting out the hardware after a turnover—down 27-0 to Alabama—only to have to sheepishly return it to it’s case when the call was overturned.

Later in the game, the rings made their lone appearance after a Miami touchdown that pulled the Canes to within 31, down 41-10 at the time. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide was expectedly all business—outside of a post-game, well-earned “IT’S ALL ABOUT THE W” social media dig—while the Canes monkey business ways roll on, despite getting embarrassed every other week.

Like a parent delivering some tough love on their kids, Diaz needs to end this chain and ring experiment for the foreseeable future—until there’s actually something worth celebrating again. What was once trendsetting has since made Miami a laughing stock; which even the most laid-back of commentators is making mention of the absurdity of the Hurricanes celebrating in-game while actually trailing.

Every game of the Diaz era now takes on a must-win, most-important vibe—while the season’s biggest challenge is now on deck at Miami’s most-vulnerable time. Chapel Hill has been a house of horrors for Miami—now 3-5 since joining the ACC in 2004.

Mack Brown schooled his former pupil year one, jumping out to a 17-3 first quarter lead in 2019—the Canes coming off the bye, but still hungover from the late loss to Florida in the opener. Miami would scrap back, taking a short-lived 25-20 lead in the fourth—only to give up an unforgivable 4th-and-17 conversion, where a stop would’ve all but ended the game.

The Tar Heels were in the end zone five plays later, taking a 28-25 lead—the Canes going limp, missing a game-tying 49-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds.

A year later, a regular season-ending massacre in South Florida—North Carolina rushing for 554 yards and gashing Miami for 778 yards total—just steamrolling, out-toughing and smacking around a Hurricanes bunch that rolled in soft and was in no way ready for the fight the Heels were bringing.

North Carolina stumbled out the gate this season, upended in a low-scoring road opener at Virginia Tech—while on-the-rise Georgia Tech smacked the Tar Heels around to the tune of 45-22 last weekend; the home team turning it over three times while the Yellow Jackets protected the ball.

A week prior, UNC trounced the same Virginia team Miami struggled with—laying 699 yards and 59 points on the Cavaliers.

Make no bones about it, the Tar Heels will find another gear with the Canes are in town next week—and all sings points to a raucous environment at Kenan Memorial Stadium, regardless of an afternoon or evening kickoff.

Dazz Newsome (#5) hauls in a game-winning score against Gurvan Hall (#26) moments after the Tar Heels converted a 4th-and-17 against the Canes. — © TarHeelBlue.com

Miami will have to dig deeper than any point before in the Diaz era if they are going to get the better of Brown and North Carolina—avoiding a 2-4 skid with feisty North Carolina State heading to Hard Rock and looking for revenge for the Canes’ late comeback in Raleigh last fall.

The Wolfpack are fresh off an overtime upset of Clemson—where they outplayed the Tigers all night and would’ve won in regulation, had their kicker not pulled a Borregales. (Too soon?) Prior to their South Florida visit, North Carolina State hosts Louisiana Tech and travels to Boston College—all signs pointing to a 5-1 record and a massive game at Miami for their players and fans.

Virginia was Miami’s best chance to turn around a dismal start to their season—as the schedule only tightens up from here. Diaz barely got his team past Appalachian State; the playing-with-fire energy resulting in getting completely burned by Michigan State days later.

The Canes turned those frowns upside down when getting to ham it up while beating up a glorified high school the following week—only to show up flat five days later against Virginia; rallying late, but not getting it done. The result; another moment where Diaz praised the effort in an attempt to mask the end result.

“Our fourth-quarter effort was worthy of victory,” Diaz said. “And ultimately, we came up one play short.”

GAMES LOST FIRST 59:57—NOT FINAL :03

Those that know, know—there is no bigger loser statement than a head coach attempting to pin a defeat on one play. Diaz’s Hurricanes didn’t lose because a freshman kicker clanked one off the upright; Miami lost because of a slew of lazy, poorly-executed football moments the previous 59:57 of the game.

— It was poor offensive line play for about three-and-a-half quarters of football.

— It was Tyler Van Dyke not finding his groove until the second half—as well as players like Will Mallory not holding onto the football—or offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee figuring out how to attack holes in Virginia’s defense until late.

— It was Kamren Kitchens dropping a sure-interception in the end zone—which might’ve gone the other way, a la Maurice Sikes at Florida in 2002—instead leading to Virginia’s first touchdown moments later.

— It was Marcus Clarke letting a takeaway not only slip through his hands—but the fall to the ground creating a circus-act catch as Dontayvion Wicks saw the ball fall into his lap for a third quarter touchdown.

— It was Diaz’s defense unable to get a stop after each of Miami’s first three touchdowns—Virginia going 80 yards after the first, 75 after the next and settling for a quick field goal after the third; 18 of the Cavaliers’ 30 points coming from this three responding drives.

— It was Harris running for no gain twice and Van Dyke falling for a two-yard loss when setting up a middle-of-the-field attempt for Borregales; the Canes not even executing this conservative series correctly. A few inches would’ve been a difference-maker on the missed attempt; let alone a few extra yards.

Van Dyke started slow, but found late footing—dropping some dimes and making some clutch plays—none bigger than his 24-yard mid-fourth quarter touchdown scamper, pulling Miami to within two. The defense came back with a clutch stop; the Canes taking over at their own nine-yard line—trailing by two, with 5:29 to play.

Miami was on the move; Van Dyke to Charleston Rambo for a big conversion on 3rd-and-14 and a big Cam Harris rumble on an ensuing 3rd-and-9—the back going for 22 yards, setting up 1st-and-10 from the Cavs’ 14-yard line; Virginia burning their first timeout.

With :91 remaining, the tipping point moment that fans will bang heads on the morning after—split between playing odds and setting up a true freshman to hit a makable kick, versus empowering the offense to keep the momentum going and trusting the defense to get a game-saving stop.

Miami ran Harris into the teeth of the defensive line on first and second down, but Van Dyke scrambled towards mid-field on third down, trying to give Borregales the best option at success. The rest was history, the snap, the kick, the clank, the let-down and the opposition’s celebration.

“Got to put him in a better situation. Offense has got to score,” said Harris post game—trying to take some heat off his young kicker. “We shouldn’t have put him in that situation.”

Big of Harris to take ownership, but it’s Diaz who must shoulder the blame for putting his entire team in this situation. Miami shouldn’t have been in a dogfight with an average Virginia team that North Carolina and Wake Forest demolished.

Nor should the Canes need to steal wins from Appalachian State, get outworked in the fourth quarter by Michigan State in South Florida’s head, or act like sideline buffoons when running up the score against Central Connecticut State last week.

Same to be said for countless other critical moments over the past year that helped add to this embarrassing 16-13 run that is about get worse.

At no time over the past two seasons has Diaz proven he has a team built to bounce back from a gut-punch like this—especially with a road trip to Chapel Hill on deck, even if the Tar Heels are slumping a bit. Same to be said for handling revenge-minded North Carolina State at home, a gritty Pittsburgh program on the road, or a surging Georgia Tech—who like Michigan State—is also taking a step forward year two under a new coach.

Florida State is arguably the easiest game-on-paper remaining—and even that isn’t a gimme—as rivalry games bring out the best, even when one, or both is down in this rivalry. Duke in Durham? That basketball school has taken two of their past three against the Canes.

Virginia was the must-win moment to stop the bleeding; a hard-reset that theoretically could’ve been built upon—1-0 in conference play, 2-2 in the rear view and the conference race wide open in a wonky year for the ACC.

Instead, the Hurricanes stumbled brutally in a game it they absolutely needed—which feels like a back-breaker for this fragile program in its current state.

A win over the Cavaliers would’ve delivered Diaz a stay of execution and 12-day reprieve.

Instead, it’s Dead Manny Walking and seemingly the beginning of another end.

Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello is a storyteller for some exciting brands and individuals—as well as a guitarist and songwriter for his band Company Jones, who just released their debut album “The Glow”. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.

In the wake of an embarrassing loss to top-ranked Alabama, Miami head coach Manny Diaz talked about his team’s story not yet being written and a how a 44-13 loss wouldn’t define his Hurricanes. After an equally-as-crushing 38-17 home loss to Michigan State this past weekend, few need to finish this book to know how this third-year head coach’s story is going to end.

Miamians have seen this show before—painfully aware that Diaz isn’t the guy to lead the Hurricanes back to national prominence—and with that the case, zero reason for the University of Miami to continue this flawed experiment any longer. Cut bait, move on and get it right next time, as the clock is ticking and ‘The U’ is officially on the brink of extinction—if not already past a point of no return.

Diaz isn’t built to run this program—and that fact that anyone yielding power lobbied to put him in this position is downright scary. This was an unvetted, panic-driven, knee-jerk hire that took place hours after the abrupt retirement of third-year head coach Mark Richt—UM’s board of trustees and athletic director Blake James extending an offer by sundown the same day Richt hung it up, less than two weeks after Diaz signed on fill Temple’s head coaching vacancy.

UM looked even more amateurish paying the Owls a reported $4M for the inconvenience of bringing Diaz home to cut his teeth as Miami’s fifth head coach in 14 seasons—now 15-12 after 27 games and a 1-2 in his third season where the Canes were outscored 82-30 in those lopsided losses to the Crimson Tide and Spartans—while almost choking away last weekend’s home opener against Appalachian State.

Southern Cal parted ways with Clay Helton two games into his seventh season with the Trojans; a hearty 42-28 home loss to Stanford the final straw—with USC sending a clear early-September message to the college football world that they’re making changes today to build a winner tomorrow.

Zero reason the University of Miami to not follow the lead of their like-minded, coastal, private school with a rich football history—stopping the bleeding and sending that same message, now—not late November after the Canes wrap what looks on pace to be a 5-7 season, as this 2021 team doesn’t pass the smell test.

Brutal as it is to accept, this is not a good football team and that is a direct result of Diaz not being a quality head coach. He lacks the *it* factor and is making year-one mistakes in year three, in what was supposed to be a step-forward season for both he and the Hurricanes.

CANES FOOTBALL: SPIRALING FOR YEARS

Miami’s football program hasn’t been right since a bogus yellow flag hit that end zone Sun Devil Stadium turf in the wee hours of January 3rd, 2003—a 34-game win-streak prematurely ended and a bid for back-to-back national championships completely stolen.

Butch Davis took six years to build a powerhouse, navigating the Hurricanes through mid-nineties probation and back to the promised land—before the imperfect storm of NFL dollars and UM’s athletic department mishandling an extension occurred. Larry Coker was promoted as a stop-gap option, as Miami was sitting on national champion caliber roster—the former offensive coordinator a two- or three-year option, at best—but never intended to be in charge for six.

Coker went 35-3 the first three seasons—three BCS berths, two national championship games and one title—which should’ve really been 36-2 with a pair of rings. His final three years, a 23-13 run and a complete 7-6 bottom-out year six.

Miami was almost tripped up twice in early 2003, barely surviving Florida and West Virginia. Still, something was noticeably off and the tipping come came on the road when the second-ranked Hurricanes were demolished 31-7 at Virginia Tech. The following week, a complete offensive collapse as Miami fell to Tennessee, 10-6.

The Canes hadn’t lost a regular season game since 2000, or back-to-back games since 1999—only to be outscored by the Hokies and Volunteers, 41-13 over an eight-day span—costing Miami a shot at Fiesta Bowl redemption and a Sugar Bowl title-game rebirth.

Miami kicked off ACC play the following year—the third-ranked Hurricanes upset by a flailing North Carolina team, 31-28—unable to bounce back at home against Clemson the following week, blowing a 17-3 halftime lead and falling 24-17 in overtime. The Canes still could’ve won the conference in their season finale—earning  Sugar Bowl berth against undefeated Auburn—but fell to Virginia Tech at home, 16-10.

Big time players were no longer making big time plays, or stepping up in big games. Coker had lost total control; the mighty had fallen and any air of invincibility disappearing with each new loss.

Championship-caliber football was no longer a priority for Miami under then-president Donna Shalala—hired in 2001 and putting all her focus an energy into the medical school—content with mailbox money from Nike and the Atlantic Coast Conference, setting football’s bar at players staying out of police blotters and staving off any negative PR for her university.

9-3 seasons under good-guy head coaches with an in-line team held more currency than 12-0 runs and a football-reigns-supreme mentality.

January 1st, 2006 should’ve unequivocally been the end of the Coker era, put out to pasture the morning after No. 8 Miami was throttled 40-3 by No. 9 LSU in the 2005 Peach Bowl—made worse by a post-game tunnel brawl fueled by an embarrassed Hurricanes bunch. 

Instead, a lazy administration stuck with Nice Guy Larry, barring he parted ways with four assistants—including brash, hit-stick-and-bust-dick old schoolers like Don Soldinger and Art Kehoe—while forcing Coker to bring on retread offensive coordinator Rich Olson, when the on-fumes Canes leader lobbied for Todd Berry and had to settle with shoehorning him in as quarterbacks coach, causing unavoidable friction.

The result, a chaotic and disastrous six-loss season—Miami’s worst since a probation-fueled 5-6 run in 1997, when the program hit rock bottom, before rebounding the next year.

November 13th, 2006—days after Miami played its first football game since the murder of beloved defensive end Bryan Pata—the University of North Carolina hired an out-of-work Davis as their new head coach. Five days after that, the Canes lost an unthinkable fourth game in a row for only the second time since 1977.

In a 2006 season where Miami also started a now familiar 1-2—dropping the opener to Florida State, before getting embarrassed at Louisville after a pre-game logo stomp—the Canes saved their coup de grâce for a battle royale-style, on-field brawl with Florida International, resulting in dozens of suspensions for both teams.

Coker was finally relived of his duties 11 days after Davis was hired to coach the Tar Heels—trotted out once more for a meaningless bowl game against Nevada on Boise State’s awkward blue turf—a disastrous end to a doomed-from-the-start campaign, for a head coach whose first win came six seasons earlier in front of a sold out Penn State crowd.

MORE ‘SLIDING DOOR’ MOMENTS FOR UM

The 2006 season was a watershed moment for the University of Miami and the start of a dismal 16-year run, marked in underachievement, unprofessionalism and amateurish moves that have completely derailed a once-proud football program nestled in the hottest recruiting region in the nation.

Truth be told, football was never a priority for UM’s administration—former Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator Howard Schnellenberger brought on as a last-ditch effort in 1979—the program on its last legs, almost dropped all together a few years prior. Schnelly changed the game by focusing on selling local talent on staying home—his eye for talent allowing him to pluck the state’s best, while cherry-picking elite national talent.

Within five years, Schnellenberger delivered on his promise and brought Miami its first national title; an uphill battle the entire way with a second-rate athletic department.

Still, the floodgates were open; a brand was built during a brash era for The Magic City and the Canes were fielding the fastest, nastiest, hardest-hitting, shit-talking-ist players in the country—laying waste to the option, the wishbone or any three-yards-and-a-cloud of dust boring garbage-football that had dominated up until that era.

The rest of the college football world eventually caught up with Miami—whose athletic department still thankfully failed upwards for the next decade. The next two lesser-known, up-and-comers—Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson—broke big and won titles, though not without scandal, which eventually caused Rome to fall for the first time in 1994, before rising again at the turn of the century.

Properly running and maintaining a championship-caliber program was never a sussed out process, though—the “U” on the side of the helmet and a rich history of NFL talent is what Miami relied on to keep the train barreling down the tracks. Facilities were so prehistoric, it took ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit shaming UM during the broadcast of Thanksgiving weekend’s Pata-inspired win over Boston College in 2006 to help light a fire.

Had Miami a well-oiled athletic department over the years—a president, athletic director and board of trustees with an understanding of what it takes to build a winner, opposed to relying on quality football talent to carry the Canes—at minimum, Coker would’ve been out after the 2005 Peach Bowl and Davis would’ve returned five years after his departure.

In reality, if UM was even close to having its collective shit together, Davis would’ve been extended at the end of the 2000 season—never leaving for Cleveland and ultimately seeing through the dynasty he resurrected—and by that same rationale, a capable Miami would’ve done the same for Schnellenberger a decade earlier instead of letting him bolt for the USFL soon after winning the program’s first championship.

The incompetence knows know bounds inside the walls of Hecht Athletic Center.

On January 6th, 2006—the day Coker pushed out four assistants to save his own ass and to buy another year—Davis was out of work and available, but his phone would never ring. UM’s board of trustees took umbrage with “how” Davis abandoned the program five years prior; despite the fact it was then-athletic director Paul Dee and the university’s administration that dragged-ass on getting an extension done in-season.

Knowing this type of pettiness has existed internally over the years, is it any surprise that the University of Miami still hasn’t been able to get its collective shit together when it comes to properly rebuilding a football program—forever zigging when it should’ve zagged, with too much foolish pride driving bad decisions?

Coker was gone 11 months later—three years too late—with a firm brought on to conduct a “national search” for Miami’s next head coach. The result, a reach-out to former defensive coordinator and Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano, who ultimately chose Piscataway over South Florida and remained with the Scarlet Knights.

LAZY HIRES & WRONG-FIT LEADERS

In less than two weeks, the nationwide scouring had UM taking the long way to their own backyard, where defensive coordinator Randy Shannon was handed the job.

Shannon—long known as an introvert and loner—was never head coaching material, but that didn’t stop Miami from trying to sell the one-of-ours, U-FAMILY narrative about the former player and assistant—when in reality it was a cheap, lazy hire by UM at a pivotal crossroads for the program.

Over the next four seasons, a 28-22 record was amassed and—three of those losses coming against Davis and the Tar Heels; Shannon’s former boss and coordinator owning him on game day—similar to the way North Carolina and Mack Brown has stuck it to former pupil Diaz the past two seasons.

Shannon never won a bowl game during his tenure—and he’d never sniff a head coaching opportunity again—bouncing around as a linebackers coach at TCU, Arkansas and Florida, before finally re-earning the defensive coordinator gig in Gainesville and then Central Florida; since falling into a “senior defensive analyst” role at Florida State in 2021.

Al Golden followed, with an ounce more experience than his predecessor—peaking in his famed, forced are-you-kidding-me press conference at Miami weeks after Shannon was fired for a 7-5 run and overtime loss to South Florida; Golden proving to be another bogus hire, canned halfway through year five after a 58-0 home loss to Clemson.

Golden inherited a disaster by way of the Nevin Shapiro scandal and went 32-25 at Miami—also losing both bowl games he coached—while following up a cupcake 9-4 run in 2013 with a 6-7 losing season in 2014.

The guy-with-the-tie should’ve been gone after a four-game skid ended year four—but Miami decided to stick with the out-of-place hire who beat out UConn’s Randy Edsall and quirky USFL head coach Marc Trestman during the late 2010 “national search”.

Golden was off-brand from the start; a former Penn State tight end and disciple of both Joe Paterno and Al Groh—running a bulky and sluggish 3-4 defense not tailored to the elite South Florida athletes he was recruiting—but UM’s board of trustees fell for an empty suit with a big, dumb 300-page binder about “deserving victory” and “pillars of success”—that wouldn’t have motivated an Enterprise Rent-A-Car training seminar, let alone a room of Miami football players.

Like Shannon, Golden has faded into oblivion since—the former Miami head honcho last seen coaching linebackers for the Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals—never again in the running for a head coaching position at a high school, let alone a prominent university.

As or Richt, the right kind of guy at absolutely the wrong time in his career.

A shell of himself after doing 15 hard years of that SEC grind at Georgia—the Canes needed Richt in 2006, not 2016 when set to retire before his alma mater called—and regardless of his pedigree, still another lazy hire for the University of Miami; no national search conducted as the former Bulldogs’ coach was hired with 72 hours of stepping down at UGA.

Then-Mississippi State head coach—and current Florida top dog—Dan Mullen was interviewed in this era, as was Davis—but James and the board felt that Richt’s name and laid-back ways carried more cachet.

Richt ran out of gas after three short seasons at Miami—highlighted by a 10-0 run in 2017—but ending the year with three game losing streak and 7-9 record from that point on. The Canes were rocked 35-3 in by Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl on a Thursday evening in late December and by Sunday morning, Richt called it a career—not having the heart or drive to shake up his staff, or to rebuild his offense.

By Sunday evening on December 30th, the University of Miami announced Diaz’s hiring—no national search taking place, while UM’s top brass was played by their former defensive coordinator and new Temple coach of less than two weeks—stating that if a decision wasn’t made quickly, Diaz was taking his name out of the running to focus on his new gig.

James and the board of trustees folded like a house of cards and handed the reigns to a first-timer who was still in the process of reinventing himself as a defensive coordinator, bouncing around for years after getting ousted by Brown at Texas during the 2013 season.

DIAZ PLAYING GAME AS IF POLITICIAN’S SON

Despite filling the Temple vacancy on December 12th, Diaz still found his way back to Miami’s sideline for the bowl debacle in New York two weeks later—the first of two occasions where the long-time coach refused to let go of an old job in favor of a new one.

Diaz has since named himself defensive coordinator for the 2021 season at Miami—after unofficially inserting him into the role halfway through the 2019 season when first-year assistant Blake Baker struggled in the role. The Hurricanes’ defense ranked 23rd nationally, before plummeting to 51st overall in 2020 and bailed out by a new-look offense during an 8-3 season.

Diaz was quick to fire offensive coordinator Dan Enos after a miserable 2019 season, but cut Baker extra slack due to their Louisiana Tech ties—Baker coaching safeties under defensive coordinator Diaz in 2014 and replacing his former boss when Diaz took the same role at Mississippi State in 2015.

LSU ultimately bailed Diaz out—saving him from having to punt one of “his” guys—hiring Baker away this off-season, but instead of bringing in a true alpha-dog to run Miami’s defense, Diaz took the easy way out and promoted-demoted himself—a narcissistic belief that no outsider can run his defense better than him.

A general rule of thumb of the uber-successful when promoted; letting go of old responsibilities to focus on the new job description and set of tasks. The role of CEO and head coach of the University of Miami’s long in-repair football program; it needs every ounce of energy that an individual has to give—so there is zero reason for Diaz to live-action-role-play the defensive coordinator role he was promoted from and should’ve left behind over two years ago.

Even worse, the fact that Diaz is failing in both—15-12 in two-plus seasons leading Miami and an embarrassing start to year three, while his defense is falling part.

AN UNFUNNY COMEDY OF ERRORS AGAINST SPARTY

The Hurricanes missed 30 tackles in the 38-17 weekend loss to Michigan State—low-lighted by what can only be described as a video game-like glitch when safety Gurvan Hall set to tackle the guy with the ball, only to inexplicably turn right and hit a blocker while said receiver scampered for a 51-yard gain.

The incompetence didn’t stop there. Tyrique Stevenson couldn’t haul in a routine interception on a drive that led to a Spartans’ field goal, Mike Harley dropped an early third down pass that would’ve kept the Canes offense moving, Dee Wiggins proved too lazy to get in the scrum for an early fumble the Spartans recovered and Will Mallory couldn’t haul-in an end zone pass that drilled him between the “8” and “5”—setting up a 27-yard wide left attempt from Andres Borregales moments later.

Quarterback D’Eriq King looks like a shell of his old self this swan song season—his post-ACL tear wheels not what they were pre-injury. Slammed to the ground by Michigan State defenders, King needed his shoulder looked at in-game, only to return in gutsy fashion—short-arming passing and looking off in the four-turnover performance—two fumbles and two picks credited to the sixth-year senior.

Cam Harris runs tentative isn’t hitting the hole like he did last year, Don Chaney Jr. is out for the season due to injury and Jaylan Knighton will miss one more game in a four-game suspension—laying waste to any claims of a three-headed monster attack this fall—while a porous offensive line’s combined starts stat shown on screen every week is about as meaningless as Diaz’s post-game coach-speak.

Charleston Rambo was a bright spot for the Canes, with 156 yards and two touchdowns on 12 receptions—halted only when the ball stopped going his way after a late third quarter score. Rambo is no longer a secret to ACC coordinators, who will game plan against him the way the Canes’ first three opponents have put the clamps on Mallory thus far.

ACC PLAY WILL SEPARATE MEN FROM THE BOYS, SADLY

Miami will get through Central Connecticut, just like it did a garbage team like Savannah State years back—the Canes playing at 12:30 pm on Saturday in front of what will be an embarrassingly sparse crowd that will get lambasted on social media—before getting to 2-2 and a short week before hosting Virginia next Thursday night. From there it’s off to Chapel Hill, where the Canes are 3-5 against the Tar Heels since joining the ACC—last season’s 62-26 end-of-year beating still looming fresh.

The Cavaliers and Tar Heels faced off hours after Miami got rolled by Michigan State—a 59-39 win for UNC, while the two combined for 1,276 total yards. Virginia threw all over North Carolina—553 yards in the air—while the Heels ran for 392 yards against the Hoos.

Diaz’s defense can’t tackle, stop the run or defend the pass—while this year’s Rhett Lashlee offense remains identity-less behind a hobbled quarterback, a brutal line and an indecisive running back. Does anyone really expect Miami to score more than 20 points against these first two ACC foes in the coming weeks—and what is this defense going to do to stop them, having given up 44 points to Alabama and 37 to Michigan State?

The wheels are just about off for this team after taking to big kicks to the face right out the gate—and things aren’t going to soon get easier as the Canes are lulled into a false sense of hope when smacking around the Blue Devils of Central Connecticut this weekend.

It’s time to sound the alarm in Coral Gables—Miami has a coaching problem, personnel issues and the big decision makers have been asleep at the wheel for years. In the past, a head coach would get his four or five years to right the ship—but in 2021, with the clock ticking and programs like USC making early-September moves—the Canes don’t have the luxury of letting this Diaz experiment “play out”.

The writing is on the wall and the college football world has seen this play out bad hire after bad hire the past decade-plus for UM.

They’ve also seen “national” searches result in a bevy of up-and-comer hires, or unproven options sliding into a critical and powerful head coaching role—so even more reason start sending smoke signals in the coming weeks regarding inevitable change.

Davis was the obvious answer back in 2006, but that ship sailed as the former Miami leader turned FIU head coach will turn 70 this fall—a far cry from the 44-year old who took over the program in 1995, fresh off of two Super Bowl wins with Jimmy Johnson in Dallas.

BACKED INTO A CORNER, IT’S NOW MARIO-OR-BUST

With time running out on the University of Miami after so many swings and misses, the only call left is to Mario Cristobal—offering him the dream job he should’ve been presented in late 2018 when Diaz was hired, and breaking whatever bank UM has to bring the Columbus High grad and two-time national champion back home—which is no gimme based on the blank check Oregon will offer to retain him.

Cristobal got his start as a grad assistant at UM under Davis from 1998 through 2000, but was poached by Schiano to coach offensive line and tight end at Rutgers from 2001 through 2003. Coker brought Cristobal back to handle tight ends for two years and offensive line for one, before Florida International offered him their head coaching gig, which he held for six seasons—doing the most with a crosstown commuter college—highlighted by a 7-6 run and bowl win in 2010 and 8-5 season in 2011.

Fired in 2012 after a 3-9 season, Cristobal appeared headed back to UM in an associate head coach, working with tight ends under Golden, but was hijacked by Nick Saban six weeks into the gig—hired to be Alabama’s offensive line coach, assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator; bringing in top-ranked classes and named National Recruiter of the Year on two occasions.

Cristobal jumped for Oregon and an offensive line role under Willie Taggart, where he also handled co-offensive and run game coordinator duties—taking over an interim role in early December 2017 when Taggart left for Florida State, only to be named head coach three days later.

The Ducks went 9-4 out the gate in Cristobal’s first season—beating Michigan State in a bowl game—followed up by a 12-2 run in 2019, winning Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors and the conference, capping it off with a Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin.

COVID derailed football out west in 2020—the Pac-12 starting their season early November—two games cancelled in what became a 4-3 season, ending with a Fiesta Bowl loss to No. 10 Iowa State—but the Ducks hit the ground running this year with an opening win over Fresno State—who upset No. 13 UCLA this past weekend—as well as a takedown of No. 3 Ohio State in Columbus in Week 2.

Cristobal’s teams are physical—beating teams like Michigan State and Wisconsin, who have had their way with a finesse Miami program—and his offensive lines solid and sound; something the Canes haven’t seen in almost 20 years.

Sure, Oregon choked away two big games in 2019—a mismanaged road opener against Auburn in Dallas, as well as a quirky road game at Arizona State—but outside of Saban and maybe Dabo Swinney, such is the case with most coaches and programs in the game. Perfection is near impossible, but winning the conference and knocking on the door of the College Football Playoffs will never happen with Diaz, as Miami drifts further and further into oblivion.

The University of Miami job isn’t for the weak; a private school in a large, diverse metropolitan city—a school with roughly 11,000 undergrads and an NFL stadium 20 miles north of campus—Miami will forever be an “event” town and never a “sports” mecca, which isn’t exactly music to the ears of collegiate head coaches and their families accustomed to college town living.

A head coaching role at “The U” is more akin to a second-tier sports franchise in a city that already has a superstar. Sold out stadiums and the pageantry that comes with college football; not to be found at a program where most fans didn’t attend UM and are quick to sour on the program as they don’t have a vested interest as alumni.

The lone selling point on Diaz years back; he’s Miami through and through—born and raised, graduated from Miami Country Day and grew up going to games at the Orange Bowl during UM’s decade of dominance. He saw those great teams, he know how unforgiving the city and its fans could be—and if he found a way to assemble a staff and inspire his team, he might just have a chance.

Instead, Diaz comes off like a man-boy that wants to be liked and accepted by his players, opposed to instilling the type of fear and respect that the greats in this game possess. Diaz is roughly the same age Davis was in the mid-nineties—but their resumes were night-and-day difference; as was the healthy fear Davis’ players had of him and respect that followed, which translated to on-field production.

WRONG FROM DAY ONE; TIME TO MOVE ON

Diaz started his tenure floating into a booster event on an 88′ yacht, went WWE-style on tackling dummies with his players to kickoff his first spring (yet players can’t make tackles in games), chomped down victory cigars after beating one of the worst teams in Florida State history and played slip-and-slide like a kid in the rain after Miami barely survived against Virginia last fall.

Year three was supposed to be a step forward, but feels like a colossal step back—first-year mistakes still on display—while Michigan State’s Mel Tucker has his second-year squad firing on all cylinders in last weekend’s 21-point win at HardRock as a touchdown underdog.

Tucker brought in 20 transfers this off-season, knowing he needed to change the Spartans’ culture—declaring all positions open this past summer; may the best man win. One of which—Wake Forest transfer and running back Kenneth Walker III—who carried 27 time for 172 yards, steamrolling the Canes’ arm-tackling defense—after a 264-yard opening performance against Northwestern.

Smoke and mirrors is on deck this Saturday as Miami gets back to .500 after Week 4—but it’s ACC time the following Thursday and back-to-back physical teams ready to punch Diaz’s Canes in the mouth, barring and about face that this team doesn’t appear ready for.

Should the backsliding continue, Miami will have no choice but to make another coaching change—while legitimately out of options, other than a Hail Mary fired from Coral Gables to Eugene, with the hopes a native son has the stomach to return home to clean up this long-time mess.

Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello is a storyteller for some exciting brands and individuals—as well as a guitarist and songwriter for his band Company Jones, who just released their debut album “The Glow”. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.

September 20, 2021

THE MANNY DIAZ ERA; ANOTHER COLOSSAL FAILURE FOR MIAMI


The Miami Hurricanes survived the Appalachian State Mountaineers last Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium—leaning on the foot of a true freshman kicker, as well as a the spottiness of an average opposing transfer quarterback, for a too-close-for-comfort 25-23 victory.

As far as a recap goes, what is there to say? Miami rolled in lethargic a week after Alabama smashed them and Canes coaches didn’t appear to have any strategy or noticeable game plan for the Mountaineers—who played with passion and purpose and probably would’ve pulled off the upset had a former Duke quarterback been a little bit more accurate with his deep ball.

Year three of the Manny Diaz era has started with more questions than answers and one would be hard-pressed to find a logic-driven Canes enthusiast that wasn’t concerned with the overall state of this program, yet again.

No sane person expected Miami to topple the giant that is the Crimson Tide—but the 44-13 shellacking, an early 27-0 hole and a 41-3 mid-third quarter deficit before Nick Saban put it into cruise control—it was everyone’s worst-case scenario come to life, while exposing the the insane segment of this fan base with the audacity to call for the Canes to roll by double digits.

Equally as disheartening—any attempts to figure out whatever second-year Canes coordinator Rhett Lashlee rolled out as his offensive game plan; running delayed draws into the teeth of Alabama’s defense on second- or third-and-long—as if waving a white flag and trying to run out the clock in the first half, limiting Bama’s offensive touches.

Back in the day, the last team anyone ever wanted to face was Miami coming off a loss. For the better part of this century, no one has feared the Canes—who are now 49-28 dating back to the start of the 2015 season—on their third head coach over that six-plus year span.

Taking it back to the end of the 2005 season—No. 9 LSU dismantling No. 8 Miami, 40-3 in the postseason—the Canes are an embarrassingly bad 121-81, with two measly bowl wins and zero conference titles.

Regarding the mention of that 16-year old Peach Bowl; a true turning point moment where UM’s top brass made it clear they didn’t give two shits about its football program or rebuilding a contender—hanging on to a lame duck head coach one season too long (after forcing him to can some long time position coaches, in favor of some retreads)—and passing on an opportunity to bring home the architect of the most-recent dynasty five short years after departing.

Every coaching move since Butch Davis bailed for the NFL in early 2001 and Larry Coker was given a six-year substitute teacher-like position; nothing but theatre, smoke and mirrors or jumping the gun prematurely—amateur hour at its finest.

DO-OR-DIE FOR DIAZ; ALREADY IN “MUST-WIN” MODE

Two games into Diaz’s third season at Miami, there is cause for alarm—just as there was when UM went knee-jerk in their hiring of Diaz, weeks after he was lured away … by Temple. Miami’s barrage of swing-and-miss hirings over the years has made it easier to sniff out wrong-fit guys as this program has become known for making cheap or safe choices, instead of the ballsy type of moves that prove it wants to get back to championship ways, or to build a contender.

On the surface, great—the Canes survived the Mountaineers. They did what they needed to do to get the win—and hey, all teams have games like this throughout the season. Even the vaunted 2001 Hurricanes needed a miracle to survive Boston College on the road, a well as a batted down two-point conversion at Virginia Tech in the finale to hang on for a close win, right?

Wrong.

Great teams catching the occasional trap game is night and day from present day Miami eking out a win over Appalachian State—a year three stumble that felt exactly like Diaz’s first-year showdown with Central Michigan in 2019, where the Canes held on for dear life in a 17-12 victory that theoretically should’ve been put away in the first quarter.

When Miami next took the field, that Chippewas hangover was real and the Canes found themselves in a 28-0 late second quarter hole to a Virginia Tech squad that got smoked—in Blacksburg—by Duke the previous weekend, 45-10.

Months prior, Diaz rolled into spring ball with “7-6” on the chest of practice dummies—all too eager to get in the WWE-style player-intended fracas—only to stumble into a losing season and the most-embarrassing loss the program has seen in recent memory; beaten and mocked by a commuter college on the site of the old Orange Bowl.

There was a pattern in 2019 that doomed that 6-7 campaign and is the biggest riddle Diaz needs to prove he has solved year three—the up-and-down nature that came from not having his team ready to go week-after-week.

Survive a year-one slugfest with Virginia after falling to the Hokies—choke in overtime the following week against a one-win Georgia Tech squad that had not only lost to The Citadel, but was in year one without a triple-option offense for the first time in over a decade.

Over-celebrating mediocrity—big-headed over victories against sub-par Pittsburgh, Florida State and Louisville squads—show up flat for regular season-ending road losses to Florida International and Duke, before getting shutout in a third-tier bowl game against Louisiana Tech.

PERCEPTION VERSUS REALITY WITH MANNY’S “U”

Diaz would love to consider a 52-10 rolling of Florida State a signature win in 2020—but when the Noles are a combined 3-8 in the Mike Norvell era, including getting upset at home by Jacksonville State this past weekend—makes those FSU-inspired victory cigars seem a big egregious and amateurish last fall.

An early October 2019 drubbing at No. 1 Clemson—42-17—or this year’s season-opening loss against Alabama, where Miami players were running prematurely for a Turnover Chain—down 27-0 at the time—or celebrating with Touchdown Rings after finally finding the end zone late third quarter when trailing, 41-3—those are the most-memorable “Manny Moments” to date.

How you match-up against the best in the game—out-played, out-hustled, outclassed and outscored 86-30 by two national championship-caliber program—that is who this program currently is under their third-year head coach.

Diaz also showed his ass a bit after the Canes’ first two games of the 2021 season. In the bowels of Mercedes Benz Stadium, after Alabama absolutely had their way with Miami, Diaz channeled his inner politician and dug into his coach-speak archives for a quote with all the feels, but absolutely zero substance or accountability:

“This team’s story is not even close to being written yet,” the third-year head coach shared. “And we’ve got a lot of guys that have a lot of pride to make sure it goes the way they want it to.”

Honesty question, is hanging on for a two-point win over Appalachian State something to be prideful of—or should it infuriate this underachieving Miami program; especially any players experience déjà vu moments regarding the Central Michigan slugfest of 2019?

The answer probably lies somewhere in their leader’s reaction as the Mountaineers’ last-gasp pass on 4th-and-6 fell incomplete with under a minute remaining— Diaz’s and his assistants arms raised in a “V” like Miami just batted down a potential game-winner in the end zone against Clemson in an ACC Championship game.

Sure, a win is certainly a win and 1-1 is mathematically better than 0-2, but if leaning on past Miami history—or that gut feeling and instinct as a long-time Hurricanes supporter that just endured the past 16 seasons of mediocrity—who really feels like a noticeable step forward is on the verge of taking place?

Wanting to believe, versus truly believing—two very different emotions and sentiments—and right now it feels like many have seen this show play out before—therefore expectations are low while skepticism remains at an all-time high.

The Miami masses expecting and preparing for the worst under Diaz, or pleasantly surprised should he grow into the coach he needs to be, bringing the Canes back along the way.

UM’S CIRCUS ACT ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT MOVES

The University of Miami has legitimately whiffed on three of it’s previous coaching hires in the post-Butch Davis era—giving Larry Coker Coker six years when the writing was on the wall after three, making a cheap hire in a lifer assistant in Randy Shannon and betting on a wrong-fit up-and-comer type in Al Golden.

Mark Richt was the right guy at the wrong time; the Canes needing their alum in his 2006-era prime—not in 2016, when on the brink of retirement but only answering the call because his alma mater rang—Richt paving the way for Diaz, employing him as defensive coordinator for three seasons before stepping down after the 2018 bowl loss.

When looking at these coaching hires in the new millennium, one would be hard-pressed to explain *why* the University of Miami’s board of trustees, president and athletic director chose as they did—other than path of least resistance and the price tag being right.

Outside of Richt—and even Coker, as a short-term stop-gap option based on Davis leaving the cupboard full—Miami’s process in hiring Shannon, Golden and Diaz was bush league, to put it bluntly.

Talk of bringing on an outside search firm in late 2006 and nothing more than a name like Greg Schiano getting kicked around—the entire exercise itself led UM to a former defensive coordinator turned Rutgers head coach, and his replacement—a former player and long time coordinator with an introverted personality and zero head coaching experience, who’d spent the past six years as an assistant at “The U”?

Shannon went 28-22 when leading the Canes—16-16 in ACC play—and since departing Miami has made five different stops, either as a linebackers coach or short-term defensive coordinator, while never again considered head coaching material.

Golden landed the job in early 2010, beating out names like UConn’s Randy Edsall, or Marc Trestman of USFL coaching fame—again, not a quality name to be found, due to incompetence or lack of interest from outside parties.

In a year when Florida State promoted Jimbo Fisher, Notre Dame reeled in Brian Kelly, Southern Cal brought Lane Kiffin home and Louisville hired Charlie Strong—the University of Miami went all-in on a former Penn State tight end and off-brand disciple of both Joe Paterno and Al Groh—who believed in a 3-4 defense and a style of football that couldn’t have been less on-brand for South Florida’s best athletes.

Golden was Shannon-esque with a 32-25 record—17-18 in conference; landing in the ACC losing column by way of a 58-0 ass-kicking at home in late October 2015 and fired the next morning. The former tie-wearing, empty-suit has spent the past half decade coaching tight ends or linebackers with the Detroit Lions, before taking a linebackers coach job with the Cincinnati Bengals last season.

Richt was at least an attempt at Miami to get it right; paying the long-time Georgia head coach a respectable $4M annual salary—a first for the notoriously cheap private university—but again, a 56-year hold head coach that just spent 15 seasons in an SEC pressure cooker, coming up short helping the Bulldogs win their first national championship since 1980; hardly the 41-year old who trekked to Athens in 2001, fresh off of a dominant run as Florida State’s offensive coordinator under Bobby Bowden.

The untimeliness of Richt’s departure—fueled at the time by rumblings that the long-timae head coach didn’t want to remove his son from the staff, nor change his offensive scheme. UM skipped anything resembling a search this go-around—panicking at their fork in the road, as Diaz took the vacant head coaching job at Temple less than three weeks prior—meeting-up with the Canes in Brooklyn for a Pinstripe Bowl farewell; ending with a 35-3 thud against the Badgers for a second straight year.

CHANGE FEELS INEVITABLE, YET UNREALISTIC

Realistically speaking—and based on recent history—it would take a massive collapse out of Diaz this year for Miami to even contemplate pulling the plug after year three. Shannon got four years and Golden was fired late in his fifth season.

Still, more should be expected out of Diaz this year than a few of his predecessors in their year three—especially Golden, who was in the throes of the Nevin Shapiro scandal—while Shannon at least topped Florida State and No. 8 Oklahoma year three, but stumbled at Virginia Tech, against Clemson and at North Carolina, en route to a 9-3 regular season.

Diaz has a a veteran quarterback, a seasoned offensive line, young talent challenging upperclassmen at receiver, a stable of running backs (the loss of Don Chaney Jr. can’t become a scapegoat), proven talent on the defensive line, untapped talent at linebacker and a secondary with some older skilled players—as well as a key cornerback transfer—not to mention stability with special teams, which has been detrimental in years passed.

Outside of Alabama, this schedule is hardly Murderer’s Row for Miami—though it doesn’t bode well that Appalachian State was theoretically one of the easier match-ups and the Hurricanes had their hands full.

Based on Miami’s recent struggles with Wisconsin and Big Ten-style football—Michigan State won’t be a pushover; even with that noontime kickoff to maximize that South Florida head and humidity. As well as Diaz is known for robbing the portal, Spartans head coach Mel Tucker reeled in 20 new transfers this off-season—opening up competition and employing a best-man-wins attitude with his second-year approach.

Michigan State—an odd-looking 2-5 in last year’s COVID-defined season—topped Northwestern for a second straight season; up 28-7 early in the fourth quarter, before topping the Wildcats, 38-21. Last weekend, a convincing 42-14 over Youngstown State—the type of game many expected Miami to give Appalachian State, but didn’t.

Still, the most-relevant Big Ten story this new season has nothing to do with a new-look Sparty and everything to do with Ohio State losing their first regular season home game since Baker Mayfield planted an Oklahoma flag midfield in early 2017, as the Sooners rolled, 31-16.

CRISTOBAL: MIAMI’S LEGIT LAST HOPE AT RELEVANCE

This time around, a Mario Cristobal-led Oregon squad rolled into town and pushed the Buckeyes around the way the Hurricanes used to treat Big Ten opponents back in the day. While Miami fans try to make sense of their third year head coach’s on-paper “process”, another native son—and two-time national champion—is watching his play out to perfection.

Not only did the Ducks beat the Buckeyes for the first time in school history, Cristobal did it short-handed—defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux and all-world freshman linebacker Justin Flowe sidelined—in what the fourth-year head coach called “a testament to the process”.

“We’ve been building toward this for a while now, but we’re not there yet,” Cristobal shared, post-game. “I don’t want to in any way shape or form give that impression. We’re not, and our guys know that too, but we’ve taken massive steps, and I think even more importantly, we’ve taken massive psychological steps, understanding how important that is going to be on Saturdays. … All those things, they just come into play and they just further strengthen the culture and the direction of the program.”

Cristobal went on to praise his assistants, but stated that his players’ heart, toughness and a discipline that “executed a high level against a great football team” was the difference-maker at The Horseshoe. Conversely, Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day—who lost his first regular season game since taking over at Ohio State—lamented his team never being in control and playing catch-up all day as Cristobal’s Ducks set the tone.

Comparing and contrasting pre-game chatter or post-game sense-making—probably a futile exercise—but throwing out any hyperbole or clichés, Cristobal—who has also choked away a few big game moments in his time at Oregon—still comes off sounding like someone who not only played at Miami during the program’s hey day, but also spent time in Saban’s system in Tuscaloosa, cutting his teeth as an assistant; total pro ready for the challenge and not in over his head.

“I think identity showed up,” Cristobal said. “I think resilience showed up. All the things that you hammer home—why we practice like we practice—it’s validated when you come out here and you do something like this. That locker room right now is spent, they’re exhausted, but they’re also realizing that we can be a really good football team, and we’ve just got to continue along the lines of that practice-preparation to make it a real thing on game day.”

Cristobal had his personal growth and face-plant moment when taking the head coaching job at Florida International from 2007 to 2012—starting out 1-11, finishing 3-9 and slightly above mediocre those years in between—doing his best at Miami’s commuter college working to field a football program.

When Diaz took the Temple gig for a few weeks in December 2018, a hope from many that he would take his rookie licks in Philadelphia—and if proving head coach-worthy—would’ve found his way back to his dream job at Coral Gables in due time.

Instead, Miami’s flawed hiring process reportedly had UM writing a $4M check to their former Big East punching bag—buying back the rights to an inexperienced coach no one else was clamoring for—which seemed egregious at the time, but feels even more maladroit when charting Cristobal’s path to Eugene and the Ducks backing into what appears to be a perfect-fit hire.

Cristobal joined the Willie Taggart-led staff in January 2017—comical consider how Taggart’s stock plummeted after a 9-12 run at Florida State the next two seasons.

The one-time Alabama offensive line coach who assumed the same position at Oregon, was now interim head coach upon Taggart’s departure—going 9-4 in 2018 and earning Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors in 2019, after an 12-2 run and Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. A mismanaged, season-opening loss to Auburn and collapse in Tempe against Arizona State cost the Ducks a spot in the College Football Playoffs, but the season was a success nonetheless.

COVID did a bigger number on the Pac-12 than most other conferences—the season not kicking off until the first week of November—a 4-2 “regular” season ending with a lopsided Fiesta Bowl loss to Iowa State, but it’s all in the rearview after a 2-0 start to 2021 and a colossal upset of No. 3 Ohio State last weekend.

Attempting to predict the rest of the season in mid-September is always funky, but outside of showing up flat for road games at Stanford of UCLA next month, Oregon has a pretty clean path to a conference title game and a potential playoff berth.

Conversely, Miami’s road with Diaz looks pothole-filled, with cause for some white-knuckling, based on the muscle memory that’s embedded in this program’s modern-day DNA.

AN ONSLAUGHT OF ONE-GAME SEASONS REMAIN

Should the Canes upend the Spartans, a 4-1 is a shoo-in with Central Connecticut on the horizon. From there, a Thursday night home game against Virginia—the Cavaliers a bad late week match-up for the Canes in years passed—before a road trip to Chapel Hill, where Miami is 3-5 since joining the ACC in 2004.

North Carolina at Hard Rock, a road game at Pittsburgh and a home showdown against Georgia Tech are all crapshoots based on which Miami chooses to show up for these mid-season conference battles—followed by a mid-November road trip to Tallahassee, before hosting a feisty Virginia Tech squad for a home finale, prior-to a final regular season game at Duke.

The sentiment may be unspoken by the media or the masses, but it really is “Coastal-Or-Bust” for Diaz this season—sixth-year senior D’Eriq King under center, the highly-vaunted Tar Heels brought down to earth by the Hokies, as well as Miami getting Virginia Tech at home.

Anything less than taking the ACC’s much-weaker division year three—Diaz’s leash is shorter than his predecessors, as he will fairly, or unfairly pay a price for Miami’s repeated lack of success and years of irrelevance.

Based on recent history, 9-4—a number both Shannon and Golden hit a few years in—will probably be “good enough” to the top brass, though it won’t win the division. It’d probably take 7-6 with a bowl loss to put this one out to pasture—and unless things turn around quickly, five more losses sadly isn’t out of reach.

Seems Miami’s only logical coaching answer is currently making his name out in the pacific northwest. Curious to see how things play out between now and when. Until then, all eyes are on Sparty and Diaz avoiding a knockout blow three weeks into his third season—staving off execution for a couple of weeks, at least.

Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello is a storyteller for some exciting brands and individuals—as well as a guitarist and songwriter for his band Company Jones, who just released their debut album “The Glow”. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.

September 14, 2021

‘THE U’ & MANNY DIAZ—A SLATE OF MUST-WIN, ONE-GAME SEASONS ON DECK


Alabama made mincemeat of Miami in Atlanta over the weekend—hardly a shock for a powerhouse program that is now 80-6 the past six seasons—versus the one in perennial rebuild-mode; 48-28 over the same span.

The Crimson Tide with three national titles during that run, while the Canes have boasted three different head coaches—rather telling as this display of the haves versus the have-nots unfolded in front of a nationally televised audience last Saturday.

Anyone with a modicum of common sense knew Miami’s odds of winning this game were slim to none. Outside of Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide being an NFL farm team and college football factory juggernaut—the Hurricanes have struggled against ranked teams over this past decade-plus; let alone the lopsided outcomes when facing the best-of-the-best.

One measly Coastal Division title since joining the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004—a 10-0 start in 2017, followed up with a regular season-ending loss to a four-win Pittsburgh team, a conference title game blowout at the hands of N0. 1 Clemson (38-3) and an Orange Bowl faceplant against No. 6 Wisconsin (34-24)—a program that used to clamor for college football’s brightest spotlight has spent the better part of this millennium wilting under it when on the main stage.

This callout really has little to do with Alabama and everything to do with Miami’s unrealistic perception of itself, as well as an honest assessment regarding where these Hurricanes are as a contender year after year.

The blessing and curse of this historic program—the unprecedented success Miami experienced with its meteoric rise to modern day power; a little nothing private school in South Florida who began keeping local talent home and knocking off traditional power, not just en masse—but with style points. Where that’s a setback; an inability to divorce what was, from what has been and currently is.

Alabama’s six national titles in 14 years under Saban since 2007; college football has become accustomed to that level of dominance—but outside of Miami’s run in the 80’s and early 90’s, that consistent level of success hadn’t been seen since the leather helmet era of the game, where powerhouses were “claiming” championships, before there was a proper system in place.

The fact the Hurricanes racked up those first four rings with three different coaches—leaving a few titles on the field, as well—it made the feat even that much more impressive, creating the kind of folklore that resulted in two different 30 For 30 documentaries and some unique storytelling.

LIVING IN PAST; ‘THE U’ = YESTERDAY’S NEWS

While all of the attention has helped created the brand that is “The U”—perception is no longer reality in this case. Miami’s bark has long been louder than its bite and these standard big game, night-before rallies and events—where former players in their forties and fifties woof about “swagger”, wanting it more than the guy across from you, going out there and taking what’s yours in another primetime showdown.

It’s a message eaten up by a fan base who grew up watching these old schoolers practice what they now preach—but it falls on deaf ears without the championship-caliber coach, roster and current players more concerned with their personal brands, of influencer lifestyles.

Even worse, Canes football’s own Instagram account gives off the same big-talk, empty calorie vibes. 24 hours before the game, a “Big time players, make big time plays…. yeah, you know the deal”—a callout to a Santana Moss, post-FSU sentiment in 2000, borrowed from a Rohan Marley sideline statement ESPN picked up in 1994 against the Seminoles, after a Carlos Jones pick-six.

Great phrase when big time players are making those old school big time plays. Sort of foolish when—yeah, you know the deal…

The following day, a pre-game hype video—accompanied with the following sentiment; “We’ve put in the work. We’ve made the preparations. Why not us?”

Maybe cause Alabama has also put in even more work and made more preparations every day over the past 14 years, under their all-everything head coach—the type of guy whose team is always running high-octane, business-like and and would never think of celebrating a turnover with a gaudy chain when getting their teeth kicked in 27-0 in the second quarter.

The understatement of this piece and biggest master-of-the-obvious sentence in this article—that UM head coach Manny Diaz is no Saban—goes without saying, but emphasized here to make a bigger point.

Diaz is year three isn’t supposed to hold a candle to the seven-time national champion, chasing his eight ring in year 27 of his head coaching journey. All that to say, year three is undoubtedly Diaz’s make-or-break season—the season his program takes a step forward, his coaching style and approach are solidified and enough is proven that the next batch of 5-Star talents ready to sign over the next three years of their lives to play for the Canes.

Getting smoked by Alabama doesn’t define Diaz; how Miami responds in the coming weeks to Appalachian State and Michigan State—both in front of home crowds—does. Pressing second-year offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee to explain just what his offensive strategy was against the Crimson Tide, as the Hurricanes offense showed no signs of life early-on and didn’t even cross midfield until in a 27-point hole.

If looking for some silver lining, Miami showed fight and didn’t quit—which has been an issue in recent years when defeated, down and distraught. A late third quarter hook-up between quarterback D’Eriq King and Xavier Restrepo for a superb 29-yard touchdown grab by the freshman—a step in the right direction considering how atrocious Hurricanes’ receivers were last season with something as simple as catching a football.

Still, the moment itself was tainted by a sequence four minutes prior where a 14-play, 74-yard drive came up short on a hurry-up 4th-and-Goal—as if a Diaz-led team had any advantage over a sound Saban-fueled defense.

Donald Chaney Jr. came close to punching it in from the six-yard line on 3rd-and-Goal, but was stopped—setting up a quick snap to King; where the quarterback went low, instead of launching the ball and a hand across the goal line.

Bama took over on their one-yard line, rushed for five yards on first down—and with a smidge of breathing room, saw true freshman quarterback Bryce Young launching a rocket that Jameson Williams hauled-in for the 94-yard touchdown; Miami safety Gurvan Hall choosing wrong in a split second, taking himself out of position to offer support.

What should’ve been 27-10 was instead a back-breaking 34-3—and no, even down 17 with 9:29 remaining in the third quarter, Alabama was arguably going to ride roughshod over Miami. Still, the non-blowout, “respectable loss” that the Canes could’ve built off of—yes, there is such a thing when playing unflappable Saban and invincible Bama— all hope was gone with how that 14-point swing played out.

STILL PAYING FOR FOOL’S GOLD IN 2017

This once-proud Miami program really hasn’t had much to celebrate for the better part of the past two decades—outside of one aberration of  a day in early November 2017, when ESPN’s College GameDay showed up on campus and a perfect evening unfolded en route to a 41-8 throttling No. 3 Notre Dame.

A week later, Miami was back to familiar 2017 territory of slow starts and needing to rally—a 14-0 and 28-14 holes, before peeling off 30 unanswered second half points against a Virginia team that was 6-5 by their evening flight back to Charlottesville.

Within weeks, that Cardiac Comeback Canes 10-0 start was an embarrassing 10-3, setting up a 7-6 run by Mark Richt in 2018, an unexpected retirement and the hiring of Diaz—who slapped “7-6” signs on tackling dummies in a WWE-like motivational moment, where the then 44-year old former defensive coordinator got in on the action like an insecure freshman trying to impress his senior teammates.

Fast-forward just under a year and Diaz was on the wrong end of a 6-7 campaign at Miami—with arguably the program’s most-embarrassing loss on his resume; upended by a former head coach and current commuter school on the hallowed grounds where the Canes once won 58 home games in a row a lifetime ago.

From there, a second straight loss to Duke and bowl game shutout against Louisiana Tech followed—leading to the firing of a wrong-fit, first-year offensive coordinator.

Baby steps when Diaz cxut bait with Dan Enos after one season of running his four-play Tecmo Bowl offense, followed by the removal of Blake Baker when the 2020 defense proved flawed—Diaz taking on even more pressure but assuming his former role, instead of reeling in a veteran defensive-minded bigger fish while he continued his role as CEO.

Outside of watching for a different, more-aggressive, attacking defense this fall—paying attention to Diaz’s overall demeanor, energy and approach to his overall head coaching role is also another massive 2021 subplot. The third-year head coach played it close to the vest in his post-Bama presser, which in reality doesn’t mean any more or less than if it’d been an onslaught of coach-speak and riddles to sum up the lopsided loss.

“College football is famous for its overreactions after Week 1,” Diaz shared. “We don’t get our story written one game into the season.”

Fair sentiment, and again, bouncing back at home against Appalachian State and Michigan State—as well as hitting the ground running at home against Virginia, before a mid-October road trip to North Carolina, with massive divisional implications—these are the moments that will define both Diaz’s future with this program, as well as tangible year-three measuring sticks.

Diaz is still fresh off of what can be described as an amateur hour run his first two years at Miami—though it should be noted he took over a program 7-9 since the Canes’ late 2017 upset of the third-ranked Irish. The cupboard wasn’t bare, but it also wasn’t full, either—and culturally Miami has been lost for the better part of the past 16 years.

Still, the tackling dummies moment, followed by the 6-7 run—sloppy in the opening loss to Florida, blowing a comeback at North Carolina after giving up a 4th-and-17 conversion, falling into a 28-0 hole in a loss to Virginia Tech, getting upset by a one-win Georgia Tech team, as well as the three game skid and the FIU stumble—not good looks for the rookie head coach.

The following season, Diaz reeled in Lashlee and King to help address Miami’s offensive problems—though a handful of amateur hour moments defined the Hurricanes’ 2020 season—even more than some on-the-field steps forward.

AMATEUR HOUR ERA MUST END NOW

Any win over Florida State deserves recognition and celebration—but victory cigars for a 52-10 beatdown of arguably the worst Seminoles team in recent memory—a bit egregious the opposite of any, “act like you’ve been there before” moment. Same to be said for playing slip-n-slide in the rain with players, after surviving Virginia and getting outscored 14-12 after going up a touchdown two plays into the game.

Eking out victories over below average conference foes, or rolling up a rival that went 14-20 the past three seasons—that’s not where progress is measured at Miami. It’s getting outworked, outclassed and out-talented at Memorial Stadium, 42-17 against No. 1 Clemson last October and then writhing around in the rain two weeks later after the five-point home win against the Cavaliers.

It’s falling in a 27-0 hole against No. 1 Alabama this past weekend and not having protocol in place for assistant recruiting director Edwin Pata to keep a celebratory chain under wraps—while building a culture of players too sick to be down almost four touchdowns that they don’t even want it around the neck to mug for cameras and fans.

It’s not letting a team get so big-headed after wins over Pittsburgh, Florida State and Louisville year one, that players felt invincible enough to no-show against a local little brother school that prepared all week for the biggest game in their program’s history—college football’s late season punchline after losing to a three-touchdown underdog.

Nitpicky as it might come across, facts and details matter—and everything these players say, do, show up for and react to—a direct reflection on the head coach calling the shots. Diaz was praised for his strong, swaggy social media game in early 2019 after he assumed head coaching duties—rolling into booster events on 88-foot yachts, as well as cryptic, clever messaging during recruiting season and what not.

This being the case, is any shocked that Miami players’ Instagram accounts are littered with Getty Images of self-absorbed, one-off moment in a game where they got their teeth kicked in by 41 points?

Is anyone shocked that Tate Martell—star of a Netflix series (“QB 1: Beyond The Lights”), who left Ohio State for Miami in early 2019, became his own one-person PR team and hype man—unable to beat out to sub-par quarterbacks for a staring job, while spending any waking moment on South Beach with an Instagram model girlfriend—causing a family fallout and New York Post story about his “mysterious absence”, only to go big-fish-in-a-little-pond, transferring back home to UNLV without so much making a football dent at UM?

SOCIAL MEDIA FAILS…

Clemson had some internal player drama surrounding their program in 2012 and as a result, players implemented their own in-season social media ban—something they voted on years back, while voting to lift in 2020—feeling it was a no longer a distraction, while also using their platforms for “March For Change” and “We Are United” campaigns last fall during a pandemic, when players voiced a message that they wanted to play football.

Over eight years team after team eliminated the in-season distraction, the Tigers have reached the College Football Playoffs all six years it’s been in existence, winning two championships, earning two title game berths and going a whopping 101-12 over that run.

Does Miami need to implement a social media ban? That ship has sailed with this new NIL ruling handed down from the NCAA; college athletes’ social media platforms are their biggest brand voice and money-earner. Still, there seems to be a direct correlation between athletes who take their business seriously, versus those who took a page from page from Martell’s book—documenting the “hustle” or “grind” of a third-stringer the past few years.

As King enters his sixth season of college football, the Houston transfer and second-year Miami quarterback has lined up his fair share of sponsorship deals—which appears to be the only reason he’s posting five times since mid-July; each social media shout-out in regards to brands he’s working with.

No imagery from the Alabama loss with any faux motivational chatter about hustle, heart or needing to dig deeper—just quietly got back to work. Same for senior Mike Harley, who has stepped into a leadership role since an off-season revamping after some on-field setbacks last fall. The senior receiver has a half dozen posts dating back to last year—as well as an email address in regards to NIL-related inquires.

Alabama’s first-year freshman quarterback put on a clinic and first-game record with344 yards and four touchdowns against Miami’s defense; Young with four total Instagram posts and nothing since June 11th, since a little gallery of shots from Saturday’s win, as well as contact information for business-related correspondence.

As for Saban, the biggest name in college coaching doesn’t have an official Instagram handle—while the Tide has their community manager storytelling throughout the season, it’s a very clean and simplistic account—simple in verbiage, while letting on-field success drive the content.

After the Tide rolled the Canes, a simple, “It’s All About The Double U”—winning big, not big talk. Leading up to the game—a shot of Young with the “QB1” caption, or a sideline image of Henry Ruggs, Jaylen Waddle, Raekwon Davis and DeVonta Smith—who called a 30-point Bama win—with the simple-yet-effective caption, “NFL U”.

It was a moniker Miami once boasted, but with Alabama onslaught of top-ranked classes and 10 players going in last spring’s Draft—seems more applicable than the Canes using it to talk about yesteryear’s superstars—which is sort of the long tail of this entire rant.

… AND THE ROAD AHEAD

Losing to the Crimson Tide wasn’t the Canes’ crime; it’s the constant false bravado inside or around this program—used as modern-day currency as to why Miami is supposedly back each and every new season—as well as a failed track record the past 15-plus years in regards to building a true contender.

Diaz stated it himself Saturday evening at the presser; Miami doesn’t get it’s season written one game into the season—the same way a 14-10 run over the past two years doesn’t tell the full story, either. The end-of-year-three body of work will ultimately determine if Diaz is, or isn’t the guy to ever get the Canes over the hump.

A road trip to Chapel Hill looked like Miami’s most-daunting task after Week 1—but after watching Virginia Tech smack around North Carolina this weekend, while Florida State took Notre Dame to the wire and Michigan State upended Northwestern—the Canes must remain on high-alert each and every week; there are no gimmes.

As for Diaz, a safe bet the 47-year old Miami native knows what’s at stake; a child born and raised during the Decade Of Dominance—less than a month younger than the writer of this rant. Those of us who lived through an era of Hurricanes football—where four national championships were won between what would’ve been fourth grade and senior year for us two Est. 1974 native sons—the standard set back then was unprecedented and any coach assuming the position knows the type of hell The Magic City will reign down if failing to meet expectations.

Conversely, if producing a winner–one is forever revered. The late Howard Schnellenberger, the great Jimmy Johnson, the two-time title-winning Dennis Erickson, or the architect of the greatest team in UM’s history, Butch Davis—all hold their place in Hurricanes’ history.

Diaz has the same aspirations and goals; though the ability, skills-set and execution remain in question after getting taking another beating, slipping to 14-11 career-wise and not exuding any championship-caliber energy. Diaz’s energy screams, “liked and accepted” while most of his predecessors took the “feared and respected” rout.

11 games remain and by Thanksgiving weekend, the Canes will either have captured their second Coastal Division title since joining the ACC—or The Diaz Era will officially be on life support; another beginning-of-the-end tragic tale in Miami’s recent failed head coaching history.

Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello is a storyteller for some exciting brands and individuals—as well as a guitarist and songwriter for his band Company Jones, who just released their debut album “The Glow”. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.

 

September 8, 2021

MIAMI HUMBLED BY ALABAMA; QUICK BOUNCE-BACK, LEST NEW SEASON SPIRAL

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