September 26, 2021

KING INJURY DIAZ’S BEST SHOT AT SAVING HURRICANES’ SEASON

The Miami Hurricanes laid waste to a glorified high school on Saturday afternoon at Hard Rock Stadium, expectedly dismantling the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils, 69-0.

Still, the day’s biggest beatdown was “The U” getting pummeled on ESPN’s College GameDay when Kirk Herbstreit laid waste to an athletic department that’s been under fire since this year’s embarrassing 1-2 start—the veteran commentator with guns blazing about years of incompetence in Coral Gables—echoed by Desmond Howard, who hammered player development issues at Miami, as well as Florida State.

“If you look at the powerhouse programs—Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State—the president, AD and head coach are all aligned in their vision for what needs to happen,” Herbstreit said on the panel broadcast. “Recruiting, budget, stuff, whatever that means. That’s what it takes.

“Miami does not have that. So I don’t think it matters who the head coach is. Until you get a president, AD and coach together on the same page, I guess football doesn’t matter … It matters to the alums, the brotherhood of ‘The U’, but I don’t know if it matters to the people making decisions at Miami. If they don’t change that, it doesn’t matter who the coach is.”

So with that, thank you for coming to Kirk’s TED Talk, everyone.

Nothing Herbstreit shared was new—the type of noise fans have made on message boards and comments sections of social media pages for the past decade-plus—but it was refreshing to see UM’s top brass lambasted on national television, again, by talking head who carries some weight.

Herbstreit had a previous spirited attack as the 2006 season came to a close and Larry Coker was wrapping his final home game in a win over Boston College; the commentator pointing out that 6-5 Miami was falling from elite status and it’s prehistoric facilities had the program well behind the times and that something had to give.

UM soon made some aesthetic upgrades then—but what can be done all these years later to make football somewhat of a priority—at a time when needed most?

This nationally televised take-down was on display for all the world to see, but did it rattle the cages of Miami’s board of trustees—their big egos, stubborn ways and ongoing failed processes—enough that an epic fail in 2021 will spark change next year?

MIAMI ADMIN FELL FORWARD IN PAST

Truth be told, even when Miami was winning big, the program fell forward—not because its athletic department was hell-bent on building a winner—but due to the securing of next-level local talent and getting lucky on some up-and-comer coaches that proved to be the right guys at the right time.

Howard Schnellenberger landed in Coral Gables in 1979—the long-time Dolphins assistant given the task of building up a Hurricanes program that was almost shut-down for good a few years prior. The fact a national championship was delivered within five years—as promised—the only thing less expected than that type of success was Schnellenberger bolting for the soon-defunct USFL weeks after winning it all.

Then-athletic director Sam Jankovich turned to Jimmy Johnson—Oklahoma State’s head coach, who’d amassed a 29-25-3 recored over five seasons. Johnson would win big at Miami, despite never doing so in Stillwater; a punching bag for the likes of Big 8 powers Oklahoma and Nebraska and a relative unknown.

Dennis Erickson would step-in next; Miami attempting reload with head coaches just as the did football talent and thankfully guessing right. Jankovich turned to his old friend from their Montana State days—fresh off a 12-10-1 two-year stint at Washington State, but a national champion by year’s end.

An offensive coordinator at the likes of Idaho, Fresno State and San Jose State, before his first head coaching stint at Idaho, which led to the pre-Canes gig with the Cougars.

Erickson’s success at Miami was as much about leaving Johnson’s defense as-was—keeping Sonny Lubick on staff and empowering him to run it when Dave Wannstedt followed Johnson to Dallas—as much as the Canes benefited on the field from their new head coach’s innovative one-back offense.

Sometimes the stroke of genius is found in simply not screwing up something that works, opposed to trying to reinvent it.

Tad Foote—UM’s president at the time—arrived in 1981 and was focused on cleaning up his university’s Sun Tan U image. A larger focus would be put on academics, but unlike Miami with Donna Shalala, or even Dr. Julio Frenk “in charge”—a loosely-used term—the Hurricanes were winning big during the Foote era, leaving him to lost most battled he picked with Johnson or Erickson.

Even after Miami was hit with probation in 1994—third-choice, first-time head coach Butch Davis turned out to be the perfect architect for a rebuild. Had UM’s then-athletic director Paul Dee gotten his way—the university’s general counsel since 1981, who literally just fell into an AD role for 15 years—the Canes would’ve seen either Lubick or Wannstedt in the role Davis thrived in.

Right to chase a defensive-minded Johnson assistant—but neither proving to have Davis’ recruiting prowess, which was everything as talent was the key to the Hurricanes’ late nineties comeback.

Looking back over that decade of dominance—luck and fate played a hand in Miami’s football success as much as any elite players who took care of business on the field. There is zero reason a private university in South Florida—ready to close the program’s doors in the mid-1970’s—should’ve reached this level of achievement; especially knowing that university presidents and athletic directors weren’t actively attempting to build a powerhouse program.

Schnelly gamed the system by convincing the best local talent to stay home, while chasing down elite in-state players and cherry-picking the nation’s best. The Canes had a competitive advantage other’s lacked—while a new brand of football and standard was set.

The problem with being an innovator; the rest of the world eventually catches up and that thing which once made you special, or a standout—everybody is now doing it.

The good fortune and lucky breaks of yesteryear are no longer enough to make the Hurricanes a winner. To thrive in this modern era of college football, one must adapt, or die—for Miami that means having a football-minded president who empowers a football-driven athletic director who will secure funds to hire a quality head coach—all proving that a successful football program is an important piece to the university’s overall mission to dominate on the field, not just the classroom.

Anything less is simply theatre and a waste of everyone’s time and energy—off-season after off-season spent complaining about a sub par product, as Miami has been a revolving door of wrong hires; five different head coaches over a 14-year span between 2006 and 2019.

If Miami doesn’t have the heart to build a winner, suck it up and have the stones to admit everything Herbstreit and others called out is true—allowing fans to adjust expectations; accepting the Hurricanes will never be an elite program again.

DIAZ ERA: YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR

Manny Diaz is just the latest of many low-rent, lazy, cheap hires the University of Miami has made in the wake of Davis’ 2001 departure and the only way change will be made during, or after the 2021 season—a complete and utter collapse in year three.

Truth be told, a wheels-off year could absolutely be in the cards after what’s been witnessed four games into the season—with ACC play just getting underway this Thursday.

Lopsided losses to Alabama and Michigan State—while relying on a freshman kicker’s clutch leg to survive Appalachian State—Diaz was exposed early-on, but might’ve found a stay of execution depending what he chooses to do with the youth movement that was underway against Central Connecticut State.

Sixth-year quarterback
D’Eriq King has the heart of a lion and is gutsy a player the Canes have seen in a while—but there’s no denying that last year’s ACL injury and the beating taken early this season have him a hobbled and missing the first step that made him a gamer last fall.

Tyler Van Dyke and Jake Garcia got the nod by default—both giving a glimpse of Miami’s future holds at quarterback. Again, the stats came against a glorified high school and players that wouldn’t even make the Canes’ scout team, but both looked capable—combining for 417 yards and five touchdowns in roughly three quarters of action—spreading the ball out to some equally-as-exciting young, talented receivers. 

Smacking around the Blue Devils on Saturday afternoon has zero currency for Diaz if Miami doesn’t build on it this short week with Virginia heading south for a Thursday night showdown.

Much like Diaz didn’t have to make the tough call firing Blake Baker this off-season—LSU hiring UM’s maligned defensive coordinator to coach-up Tigers’ linebackers—Miami’s third-year head coach has an easy out keeping a banged-up King on the bench and sticking with his Van Dyke / Garcia two-headed monster.

Diaz was already playing the “whatever gives us the best chance to win” card in Saturday’s post-game presser—stating he’d reevaluate King’s health after Monday practice—which is hopefully coach-speak leading to another go-around with the back-ups.

The five-day turnaround  is the most controversy-free way to test these murky quarterback waters once more before the bye week and nine-day layoff—Miami needed to settle on a quarterback before road game at North Carolina on October 9th.

Whoever is under center, Diaz also has a decision to make regarding an overall youth movement that must take place—after seeing what guys like Romello Brinson, Brashard Smith and Xavier Restrepo were doing to inject some life into the offense, while Thad Franklin and Cody Brown look to solidify the number two spot behind Cam Harris, with Don Chaney Jr. out for the year and Jaylen Knighton suspended for one more game.

On defense, James Williams reeled in his first interception and Leonard Taylor was commanding some extra attention from the Blue Devils’ offensive line.

Basic and non X’s and O’s as it sounds, there was simply more energy on the field and the Hurricanes looked like a more passionate bunch with younger talent in the game. Whether this lights a fire under veterans, or pushes freshman to scrap harder in practice to officially take over—something has to give—and Diaz would be wise to realize this.

Weeks back Mel Tucker and Michigan State took it to Miami in gritty fashion; the Big Ten team from East Lansing the ones who wore the Hurricanes down in the fourth quarter, putting the game away. A big reason for the Spartans success year two under Tucker—reeling in 20 new faces via the Transfer Portal this off-season and opening up every position in may-the-best-man-win fashion.

Sparty is experiencing a rebirth as a result and the Hurricanes could be in store for something similar if Diaz has the guts to coach with some feel, opposed to playing it safe and following the tired “seniority” blueprint.

DEFINING DECISIONS ON HORIZON

A crossroad moment for a fanbase tired of losing, as on a macro-level it could serve Miami better in the long run should Diaz experience a complete collapse this season; very doable with Virginia, North Carolina and Clemson-killers North Carolina State on deck.

The Canes could easily be 3-4 by late October, if not 2-5 with the wheels completely off and sticking to the current script. Conversely, should Diaz shake some things up—realizing what is at stake for both he and this program—Miami might just turn a corner and eke their way to 4-3, which is nothing to celebrate, but based on the remaining schedule would make 8-4, or even 9-3 a reality.

Without making some next-level coaching decisions over the coming days and weeks, a 7-5 or 6-6 feels in store—which is most-likely what it would take for the University of Miami to pull the plug on Diaz after year three; as the noise gets more deafening each season the Canes underachieve their way to what has pretty much become .500 football for this program the past decade-and-a-half.

That said, even if Miami did pull the plug on Diaz—what’s next? Where would UM’s top brass turn for its next head coach—a hands-off president, a lame duck athletic director and an incompetent, dated, egotistical board of trustees crying poor while constantly getting in their own way?

Diaz learning on the job and pulling himself out of this early 2021 mess is scarily Miami’s best option—unless a collapse made enough noise and woke up enough folks internally that it’s now or never to chase down Mario Cristobal—the Canes’ window to rejoin the elite, closing a little more each season.

Even if Miami is able to get past a struggling Virgina squad, the piss-poor play against every team not named Central Connecticut State still gives reason to question this team’s ability to win at North Carolina—where the Canes are 3-5 since joining the ACC—or to go toe-to-toe with a North Carolina State program on the rise, after outplaying Clemson.

Pittsburgh appears sub par, but will play Miami gritty in their house. Florida State is down, but will always find another gear against the Canes in Tallahassee. Virginia Tech is rarely an easy out home or away—and Duke is quirky in Durham for a finale.

There are legitimately no gimmes left on this schedule and every setback has the ability to completely derail Diaz-led teams that have struggled with both success and failure.

Bigger than the battles on the field, Diaz is set to battle with his own ego a belief that he has everything under control—starting with what to do with King, who went all-in on Miami last year, while committing to a bonus-year return—even before a bowl game knee injury.

Knowing what is personally on the line for Diaz—that a disastrous three-year campaign could cost him his dream job—will he keep a hobbled, experienced starter on the bench, for one of two green guys who would have learn on the job; potentially providing a spark and at least setting up 2022 optimism?

For better, worse—the sport has changed and it’s now an era where entitled optimistic freshman can soon turn disgruntled—quick to bolt for the Portal over playing time. Not only does Diaz have a budding quarterback conundrum on his hands—but the combination of losing big in 2021 and keeping young kids on the bench; it could be a death blow going into another potential rebuild.

Pacifying underclassmen and choosing potential over security—young talent, versus elder statesman—another sub-plot that will dictate the course of this season, and beyond. Decisions need to be made and articulated correctly; that the best combinations of players will see the field and the door wide open for the hungriest, most-productive Canes to shine.

Should Diaz take the lazy way out, handing the job back to King out of loyalty or obligation, while continuing to field upperclassmen due to their experience-level—the wheels will fast fall off—whereas going down swinging with fiery younger players at least sets a building-for-the-future narrative that gives a modicum of hope and buys him more time.

Miami did what it was supposed to do to Central Connecticut State on Saturday. Will Diaz do what he needs to do the rest of this season. Virginia has oft given the Hurricanes fits over the years—especially on the road—but a COVID-related bonus as UM will play host for a third consecutive year as last year’s Charlottesville game moved south due to the ACC’s scheduling.

A short-week win sets up extra practice and recovery time before the road trip to Chapel Hill—arguably the most-defining game of Diaz’s tenure, now 0-2 against former mentor Mack Brown—but it’s all moot if easy-route decisions are made this week and the Canes can’t overcome a beatable Cavaliers team.

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

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 […]

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

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 […]

September 8, 2021

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


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.

 


The release came across the wire this morning—BioSteel Sports Nutrition Inc. (“BioSteel”) announced the signing of Division I quarterback D’Eriq King, making him the brand’s first collegiate name, image and likeness (NIL) deal and first college football ambassador.

A couple of quotes followed; King talking up why this product is imperative to his training—smart about what goes into his body and what not—while co-founder and co-CEO John Celenza praise the Miami Hurricanes’ quarterback as being an ideal brand fit, wishing him well on the season.

BioSteel also lists Patrick Mahomes, Luka Dončić, Ezekiel Elliott, DeAndre Hopkins and Jalen Ramsey as brand ambassadors—as well as some “smaller sport” athletes and the USA Hockey Team—but King is the first college athlete the hydration specialists have signed.

As of July 1st, King already landed sponsorship deals with College Hunks Moving Company, The Wharf (event venue in Miami), Murphy Auto Group and Dreamfield—as well as creating his own logo—a graffiti-like “D-King”, with an orange “1” representing the “i’ in his name; the mark itself emulating a king’s crown.

Six weeks later, King signed on with the Florida Panthers—where he’ll appear at some games, engage with fans on social media and produce digital content for the local NHL franchise.

Safe to say the whole NIL—name, image and likeness—NCAA ruling has played well in King’s favor; as did his decision to sit out his final season at Houston in 2019 (he played in the first four games, before sitting). The decision paved the way to his one-year transfer to Miami—a bonus season granted in 2021, by way of COVID and last fall’s quirky, quarantine-defined, socially distanced season—where the almost 24-year old King decided to return for a sixth season as a college quarterback.

NIL RULING; BLESSING, CURSE, BOTH, OR NEITHER?

There’s a deeper dive to be done on all things NIL—a long-overdue ruling in the eyes of many, though one that still has its detractors.

Terence Moore, a sports journalist and contributor at Forbes admits the NCAA had no choice to comply—but was quick to follow up with the claim it will damage both football and basketball on the collegiate level.

Moore states that the Transfer Portal “is about to go nuts”—the NCAA announcing that players can now transfer once before graduating, without having to sit out a year.

By mid-May a record 1,500+ basketball players declared for the NCAA’s version of free agency—with football expected to see their own version of a mass exodus; playing time no longer the only key query—where can players go to maximize their financial portfolio, which school, city and fan base will result in more followers than another.

On the surface, it all sounds harmless, but Moore believes the modern athlete with the individual mindset is about to go next-level, with winning becoming secondary.

Moore also pointed out the fine print with some schools, versus others—the University of Georgia now allowing their athletes to use the school’s iconic “Power G” logo for endorsements deals—while the University of Tennessee has zero problem with their players displaying the Volunteers’ logo, or brand. Rocky Top for the win with this advantage-giving decision.

The rest of the argument falls rather flimsy—Moore’s mention that athletes will struggle to figure out how to pay taxes (while stating that universities don’t have the bandwidth to help players figure it out), as well as perceived dissension between teammates—that haves, versus the have-nots who aren’t earning, potentially causing locker room drama.

As for that sea of players transferring—he never explains how this is necessarily an issue—just that it’s happening in larger numbers than before.

What Moore completely ignores, outside of the small competitive advantage Tennessee might’ve given itself over Georgia—or other schools overly-protective of their mark—the different sales pitch universities can give based on their strengths against other’s weaknesses.

KING UNLOCKED CHEAT CODE WHEN CHOOSING MIAMI

As mentioned earlier, King’s transfer from Houston to Miami in spring 2020 is the ultimate reason the quarterback is seeing the type of attention he’s garnering from brands who want to align with him. If he were suiting up for his final season in the AAC with the Cougars, instead of the ACC with the Canes—he’d be prepping for Texas Tech this weekend, instead of a highly-touted showdown against the Alabama Crimson Tide in Atlanta.

The Cougars will also face Rice, Grambling, Navy, Tulsa, Tulane, Temple and a handful of other scrubs—outside of Memphis and South Florida in September.

Post-Alabama, Miami hosts the Big Ten’s Michigan State mid-September and a standard conference schedule—including what should be a prime-time showdown against a Top 10 North Carolina squad, the in-state annual battle against Florida State and other quality match-ups against Virginia, North Carolina State, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Duke—all pumped out via ESPN, ABC and the ACC Network.

Conference and opponents aside, what about the city of Miami versus Houston—or the likes of Tuscaloosa, Clemson, Columbus, Gainesville, Tallahassee or Baton Rouge, for that matter?

The University of Miami has long been at a disadvantage for decades as a private university in large, diverse metropolitan city.

THE MAGIC CITY; REBIRTH DUE TO NIL SHIFT

Where the typical college town revolves around a successful football program, Miami remains an events-driven environment—as there is tremendous competition for the entertainment dollar and a slew of ways to spend one’s time, other than a stadium on a Saturday afternoon watching a non-championship caliber football team.

Miami’s ascension to the top of the college football world in the early 1980’s was the result of being a cutting-edge, outlier program who tapped into the nation’s best hotbed of athletic talent well before anyone else. Howard Schnellenberger kept local legends home—Melvin Bratton, Alonzo Highsmith and others who changed the game—and the Hurricanes were living proof that speed killed; defenses that smashed the wishbone and option, while Miami’s offense left slow and pasty Big Ten defenders choking on their dust.

Over time, other programs made their in-roads to South Florida’s treasure trove of talent—while these public universities who built football factories tapped into big alumni dollars to fuel their rise to glory—something the Hurricanes couldn’t use to their advantage, as the majority of UM supporters are local non-alum who pull for the program as they would the Dolphins, Heat, Marlins or Panthers.

All this to say, the pendulum could swing back in the Hurricanes’ favor as this NIL shift in thinking helps level the playing field. What Miami can’t offer in college town undying support, packed stadiums and big-fish-in-a-little pond adoration—it’s a legitimate paradise with sand, beaches, beautiful people, diverse culture, celebrity and entertainment. Miami Hurricanes players and coaches live in a place other folks pay to experience for a few days on vacation.

There’s a reason celebrities have flocked to the area for years—multi-million dollar homes on Fisher or Star Island, Coconut Grove or Key Biscayne. There’s a reason so many free agent athletes find their way to Miami at some point in their career—knowing it will create a season in life like no other.

Here I am in the place where I come let go—Miami the bass and the sun set low. Everyday like a mardi gras, everybody party all day. No work all play, okay. So we sip a little something, lay to rest the spill. Me an Charlie at the bar runnin’ up a high bill—nothin’ less than ill, when we dress to kill. Every time the ladies pass, they be like “Hi, Will”.

Can y’all feel me, all ages and races, real sweet faces. Every different nation—Spanish, Hatian, Indian, Jamaican, Black, White, Cuban, and Asian. I only came for two days of playing—but every time I come I always wind up stayin’—this the type of town I could spend a few days in. Miami the city that keeps the roof blazin’.

Party in the city where the heat is on. All night, on the beach till the break of dawn. Welcome to Miami…

The old whack-track by Will Smith is a bit dated decades later, but the lyrics and sentiments still hit hard. There isn’t any place in this country like Miami—especially for high-profile athletes looking to live the good life.

THE U: TRANSFER PORTAL DREAM DESTINATION

There’s a reason “The U” has become the hottest transfer destination for college football’s best over the past few seasons. Before King.

Tate Martell didn’t ultimately pan out, but the former Ohio State quarterback and start of Netflix’s QB1 series was considered a crown jewel-type grab in January  2019—and Martell’s decision sparked the transfer of former high school teammate and 5-Start USC safety Bubba Bolden to UM.

Prior to that duo, Miami also reeled in former 5-Star defensive end Jaelan Phillips from UCLA—the oft-injured, underdeveloped talent ultimately playing his way into a first round NFL Draft pick this spring; reeled in by the Dolphins and thrilled to remain in his adopted city.

Wide receiver K.J. Osborn found his way to UM in this cycle, as well—followed by Miami nabbing defensive end Quincy Roche, kicker Jose Borregales—as well as two key offensive line pick-ups in Issiah Walker Jr. and Jarrid Williams.

In this most-recent off-season, the bounty continued with defensive end Deandre Johnson—a Southridge product who opted for Tennessee out of high school—returning to the hometown program to run it back, as well as offensive lineman Justice Oluwaseun of UNLV. The Canes also nabbed veteran Oklahoma wide receivers Charleston Rambo, who is expected to start against the Crimson Tide this weekend—as well former Georgia cornerback and Southridge grad, cornerback Tyrique Stevenson.

All the aforementioned players took their talents to Coral Gables to play for Miami—simply for the football and the city and prior-to the NIL rule was put into place.

If this was the type of damage third-year head coach Manny Diaz and staff could do on the portal recruiting trail—just imagine the sales pitch when the city of Miami is now also part of the package as a money-making playground for college football players who moonlight as influencers?

The King Effect showed on the field last year, as Miami worked its way to 8-3 in the shortened season—as well as the locker room, where the transfer quarterback’s charisma, winning attitude and leadership skills helped cut through a long-time toxic culture at “The U”.

Next up, for the Texas native—laying and providing a blueprint for current and future teammates to follow in regards to image creation. pitching product, social media strategizing and laying the first building block in a personal-brand empire—with Miami the perfect backdrop for the journey.

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 2, 2021

MIAMI’S D’ERIQ KING—CROWN JEWEL OF NIL & NEWEST FACE OF BIOSTEEL

I started a North Carolina recap weeks back and scrapped it, quickly realizing how pointless an effort it would be. A week later, a similar approach when it came to an Oklahoma State bowl game preview.

Why bother regurgitating the same post-game assessments or pre-game keys to victory when nothing has changed regarding Hurricanes football over the past 15 seasons?

When I covered Miami athletics to earn a living years back, the job was literally writing all those standard pieces. These days, after an overdue career change—sportswriting downgraded to a hobby—it all seems like such a waste. After a quarter century covering the Canes, I’ve learned to pick and choose my battles.

If Miami was still playing championship-caliber football, yes, this would be a different animal. Same to be said if I honestly felt the Canes were legitimately close to competing again.

Writing about this program win the late nineties, where tangible progress was made as Butch Davis guided the Canes through probation, back to the pinnacle of college football—a golden era for up-and-coming writers and message board early adopters.

Miami fans could feel change in the air, while ESPN pundits kept throwing dirt on UM’s casket—so using words and a deep knowledge of this program, to prove those clowns wrong—I felt like Canestradamus. It was exhilarating.

By 2000 Miami was officially back and for those along for the ride, it was four consecutive BCS games, two title game berths, a championship, a 34-game win-streak and a 46-4 run we all assumed would be the new-new—until it wasn’t.

Within a few years, the Hurricanes entered this Groundhog Day-negative time loop that like the Bill Murray weatherman character in the 1993 fantasy-comedy—and for several reasons, Miami hasn’t been able to shake it.

Murray’s character Phil Connors finally gets back to normal, after realizing the err in his ways and correcting the flawed behavior. It’s said he dwelled in that self-imposed purgatory for somewhere between 10 and 10,000 years—which is pretty much what Miami’s state of irrelevance feels like to anyone who bleeds for this program.

Like Connors, the University of Miami continues making the same mistakes over and over—while expecting different results. It’s Einstein’s definition of insanity—played out year after year in Coral Gables, with no end in sight as the powers that be simply aren’t football-driven at the level modern day powerhouses have adapted and accepted.

DAWGS’ ALUM-DRIVEN DOLLARS—A GAME-CHANGER

Last fall, I deep-dove the University of Georgia’s expensive revamping of their athletics department.

ESPN’s Mark Schlabach had recently written a piece which discussed the finances of the Bulldogs “do more” pledge—intended to help head coach Kirby Smart get closer to what Nick Saban has built in Tuscaloosa.

“As Kirby has mentioned a number of times, the difference in a lot of these games is a matter of inches,” Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said. “With his goal of doing more, we’re trying to make up whatever that little difference could be.”

That “little” difference; a $200M+ investment into Georgia’s football program.

The article went on to talk about Georgia’s alumni-fueled Magill Society and the $121M raised through donations—full of members that have pledged a minimum of $25,000 over a five-year period. McGarity mentioned over 1,000 donors had been added between 2018 and 2019.

Outside of facilities upgrades, these donations allowed Georgia to spend more money on recruiting than any other FBS program—$7M+ over three years; topping Alabama’s $6M+ and Tennessee’s $5M. It also allowed Smart to pay his assistant coaches more than $13M per season.

Each time I re-read Schlabach’s article, all I could envision was a half-empty HardRock stadium—sparsely packed full of Miami fans yet to upgrade from Nike to adidas gear—while a handful paid to fly a banner at high noon, voicing their displeasure regarding the current state of affairs.

In the big money world of college sports, it appears Georgia is playing chess—while Miami has an old Chutes & Ladders board game, chewed up by the dog and missing half its pieces.

It’s a top-down problem at Miami, it’s been this way for decades and whatever the process—it isn’t working.

Donna Shalala was too hands-on as a president—solely focused on the medical department of her university, but wanting to keep football—a necessary evil—on a short leash. Low-rent head coaches, guaranteed ACC money, Nike dollars and 8-4 seasons were more than fine, barring the Hurricanes stayed out of trouble.

Dr. Julio Frenk is the opposite; a hands-off president who puts all his trust into what his board of trustees suggests athletic director-wise—and Miami’s board seems content with Blake James as a fundraiser, despite Hurricanes football, basketball and baseball all underachieving as of late.

James’ hire of Mark Richt in 2016 was seen as a good grab, even though it proved to be the right guy at the wrong time—the long-time Bulldogs’ head coach ready to call it a career before his alma mater called. All that to say, the lack of a proper search for a head coach at the beginning of 2019 when Richt stepped down—unforgivable.

Even if Diaz turns out to be “the guy” for the Hurricanes, both James and the board failed in the process.

In one way or another, Miami struck out on every head coaching hire since Davis. For Manny Diaz to have UM over a barrel—after he’d just accepted the Temple opportunity—one would be a fool to believe he wouldn’t have come running to his dream job weeks later, if Miami landed back on him after interviewing others.

The rushed process was amateur hour—and indicative of Miami’s flawed hiring technique over the past decade-plus.

In stark contrast to Miami’s approach to building a powerhouse, UGA president Jere Morehead realizes the importance of football, empowers McGarity to run athletics—McGarity bringing on Smart and giving him the resources to build a powerhouse.

Toss in a football-focused board of trustees and a massive alumni base willing to write checks to fund a winner—Georgia has the infrastructure in place to be a national power. Whether they get there or not; it’ll be up to Smart, his staff and the football gods—but it couldn’t be more teed up for them.

To date, the Bulldogs are four decades removed from their last national championship (1980) but it’s not for lack of a proper foundation—so expect the poaching of top-quality recruits from Miami’s backyard to keep taking their talents to Athens, and other big money SEC powers.

SMOKE & MIRRORS SEASON EXPOSED

Miami fans have voiced their frustration with Diaz—the 6-7 run last year and some poorly managed games, as well as the way the Hurricanes stumbled to 8-3 this season—dropping their final two in ugly fashion for yet another late-season collapse, which has been the norm for way too long.

The loss to North Carolina was abysmal—Miami falling 62-26 at home on senior day, while surrendering a program-worst 778 yards, and an NCAA record 554 rushing yards to a pair of running back teammates.

For the sake of laying everything on the table, it should be noted what the Hurricanes were dealing with personnel-wise as this season wound down.

The college football world saw Miami put its season on hold days after a November 14th comeback at Virginia Tech—riding a four-game win-streak after getting dismantled at Clemson a month prior. The Canes were 7-1 at the time, but wouldn’t see the field again until a December 5th makeshift showdown at Duke—due to a massive COVID outbreak within UM’s walls, as well as issues at Wake Forest which had the Blue Devils replacing the Demon Deacons.

While it was known that the program was in a tailspin, it didn’t come out until days after the the Tar Heels showdown just what was happening with the defensive coaching staff.

Utah State-bound safeties coach Ephraim Banda and recently “reassigned” defensive line coach Todd Stroud were both knocked down hard by the virus this season; to the point where neither were in the building for the home finale.

Maligned defensive coordinator Blake Baker was also said to be out for two weeks with COVID. In fact the only defensive coaches to not fall in this season were strikers coach Jonathan Patke and recently-departed cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph.

For those interested in more, CaneSport did a deeper dive on how the Hurricanes were rocked by this disease late 2020.

Does all that internal strife forgive a 36-point loss with an Orange Bowl berth on the line—as well as some career-worst, record-setting defensive failures? On some level, sure—but it doesn’t account for almost two decades of mistakes and a broken process that must be addressed if Miami will ever become a championship-caliber program again.

COVID ISSUES ASIDE; UNC BUILT TOUGHER THAN UM

Even at full steam, it’s hard to argue that Miami would’ve played at the same physical level North Carolina rolls under second-year coach Mack Brown.

The Tar Heels seemed to out-tough, out-work and out-play the Canes much in the same manner Clemson did earlier in the year. There remains a lacking backbone regarding Diaz-lead teams—starting last fall before COVID had made its way onto the scene.

Based on the chaos of this pandemic-defined season, a lot of coaches and programs will get a mulligan—but that doesn’t mean bad traits, characteristics or repetitive flawed behavior can go ignored.

If the third-year head coach is going to find success at Miami—which feels less likely after the way this season ended—Diaz is going to have to take that long, hard look in the mirror and start addressing what-is, versus the filtered, coach speak-fueled version he’s been delivering since taking over in the wake of Mark Richt.

Certain stigmas have defined Diaz’s program after two seasons.

There is the much-discussed inability for teams to get up after bye weeks—a trend that started last season against North Carolina (bye week after Florida loss), continued against Virginia Tech (bye after Central Michigan scare) and popped up when Miami was embarrassed by Florida International two weeks after routing Louisville at home.

Diaz called the FIU loss “one of the lowest points ever in this proud program’s history” that November—stating that he took “full ownership and responsibility” for the loss, challenging his guys to respond—only to see Miami stumble at Duke the following week.

This season wasn’t much better. Miami rolled Florida State, but got crushed two weeks later at Clemson—and for the second year in a row under Diaz, the Canes weren’t bowl ready—falling into a 21-0 hole against Oklahoma State, before waking up in the second quarter.

COACH-SPEAK BIG PART OF BROKEN CULTURE

Equally as scary, the message sent to the team when backs are up against the wall.

In the bowels of the old Orange Bowl after a commuter school delivered one of the most-embarrassing upsets in Miami football history, Diaz’s words spoke of desperation, fluff and delusion.

“What I did tell the guys in there, is two years ago, Troy went to Baton Rouge and beat LSU, who right now is the number one team in the country. Things can change, but it needs to change. It has to start with myself and the coaching. We have to do a better job of coaching our guys.”

Comparing LSU’s loss to Troy with Miami’s to FIU is meaningless—as it failed to point out all the work the Tigers’ program put into growing back into a championship caliber program it became two years later.

A week after being upset by Troy, LSU bounced back to beat No. 21 Florida in Gainesville. The following week, they took out No. 10 Auburn in Baton Rouge. The week after Miami was embarrassed by Florida International, it lost by double digits at Duke. The following game it was shutout by Louisiana Tech in a bowl game.

Diaz stated after that FIU debacle, that his player got big-headed after convincing wins over Florida State and Louisville that had them ill-prepared mentally and emotionally for the energy and passion the Davis-led Golden Panthers would bring in that program-defining match-up.

A program that struggles to handle prosperity and the up and down nature that comes with wins and losses—you’re going to fill these kids’ heads to what a loaded program like LSU was accomplishing—with an eventual Heisman-winning quarterback under center, future national champion and first pick of the NFL Draft?

Putting Diaz’s words through today’s entitled, teenage student athlete’s filter—who wouldn’t be hard-pressed to hear, “LSU got upset by a scrub team and two years later they were in the driver’s seat for a title!”—as if the transformation was that nonchalant.

Fans of the long-running animated comedy South Park might recall the vintage “Underwear Gnomes” episode—where the gnomes’ three phase business model was to collect underpants in phase one and to turn a profit in phase three—while their flow chart showed a giant question mark in phase two.

That second phase is obviously the actual doing and the only step of the business plan that means everything—and Diaz’s example is no different. Lose to FIU in phase one, but be championship caliber by phrase three—while phase two and the actual process of ascending to greatness has no defined plan.

For Diaz, the clock is ticking a little harder and faster than it might for other coaches or programs. Miami’s fall from grace the past 15 years gets harder to swallow as the years roll on—championship-caliber football feeling eons away.

Diaz now the Canes’ fifth head coach since the 2006 season. UM is now also 111-80 since the 2005 Peach Bowl blowout at the hands of LSU—numbers no one ever expected to see when Miami was such a dominant force at the turn of the century.

REVAMP DEFENSE; ADAPT OR DIE

One of the key’s to the Hurricanes success over the year has been a stalwart defense, which hasn’t been the case since Diaz appointed Baker in 2019. Diaz’s defense made national headlines under Richt in 2017; a season the Turnover Chain was more than a prop—Miami playing well above its 2016 level.

Back to the earlier point regarding Diaz accepting what-is, opposed to his filtered version of reality—an honest look at UM’s current defense and what it will take to have that side of the ball look like it did in the era he grew up watching.

One sign of being a true leader; knowing how to let go of control in favor of being in charge. Diaz used to be in control of the Miami defense, while Richt was in charge of the program—Manny proving to be a successful manager of that one aspect of Hurricanes football.

Two years into this head coaching role, Diaz appears to have a hard time letting go of his defensive responsibilities—empowering a way-over-his-skis coordinator like Baker, who remains reliant upon Diaz to both help him game plan and to carry the slack.

When the Canes found themselves sitting at 2-3 in mid-October a year ago—fresh off a 42-35 loss to Virginia Tech—Diaz reinserted himself in coaching-up the defense as Baker was reeling. The short-term result was positive, as Miami clamped down in the red zone the following week in a dogfight with Virginia—but the writing was on the wall that the Hurricanes had a problem.

Fast forward a year and the Canes’ defense gave up 516 yards and 34 week two at Louisville—a game Miami most-certainly would’ve lost without transfer D’Eriq King under center, as well as the Cardinals’ defensive woes of their own.

Winning shootouts was never a staple of great Hurricanes teams—yet that’s precisely what needed to be done on a few occasions this year with Baker’s soft, poor-tackling, out-of-position and lost-way-too-often squad.

King’s heroic performance at North Carolina State saved Miami in a 44-41 high-scoring affair; the Canes racking up 620 yards—but on an afternoon where the offense sputtered against North Carolina, it was the Tar Heels who put up video game numbers against Baker’s bunch.

Much was made of the relationship with Brown and Diaz during the loss to the Heels; the teacher firing the student back in 2013 when Texas’ defense was rolled by BYU on Diaz’s watch.

The Longhorns gave up 679 total yards—550 on the ground—including 259 rushing yards to Taysom Hill, who also threw for three touchdowns on the 40-21 blowout; numbers that seem pedestrian compared to what Baker allowed on senior day.

Yes, it was a COVID-driven year and Miami’s defensive personnel was a hot mess—but will Diaz sell that in effort to buy his coordinator more time, or will be look at the larger body of work and realize that two years of Baker’s defense is enough of a litmus test to prove a change is in order?

DIAZ MUST TAKE A PAGE FROM DAVIS’ BOOK

Year four was the one that brought change during the Davis era—as a two-year sampling wasn’t enough during the probation-marred mid-nineties. Those first couple seasons were a throwaway as Miami’s roster was gutted and wasn’t fielding enough bodies to compete.

By 1998, the tide was starting to turn—Miami losing a close one in overtime to Virginia Tech, while narrowing the gap against Florida State; a 26-14 loss light years more competitive than 47-0 the previous season.

7-2 going into the unofficial Big East championship game—an Orange Bowl berth against Florida on the line as conference champs—and the Hurricanes are demolished at Syracuse, 66-13.

A week later, a rescheduled game against the second-ranked Bruins—where the Canes held on for the 49-45 comeback win. Miami’s defense surrendered 670 yards, but survived—amassing 689 yards on the afternoon.

North Carolina State dinged Miami for 498 yards, but the Canes rolled up 594 in a 46-23 victory and Davis had seen enough. Fourth-year coordinator Bill Miller was relieved of his duties—as a three-game stretch where 134 points and 1,566 yards were given up, was not going to make Miami contender again.

Davis tapped a then-relatively unknown defensive mind in Greg Schiano, whose mantra was, “attack, attack, attack”—bringing a more aggressive scheme, with tighter pass coverage and linemen whose mission it was to penetrate.

Schiano’s opening challenge; slowing the ninth-ranked Buckeyes in the Kickoff Classic—which Miami did, in a 23-12 upset.

Interviewed weeks before the 1999 season opener, Schiano shared the following.

“Kids have to believe what they’re doing is the right thing,” he said. “You can have a one-man rush, and if they believe it’s the right thing, they’ll do it well.

“They need to see how you can help them get better. It’s more prevalent in the NFL, but if a guy sees you as someone who can help them get better, they’ll listen to every word you say. If they see you as someone who’s full of it, they’re not going to listen to you and they’re not going to respect you.”

Prophetic words all those years ago which are still applicable today—players not respecting coaches who are full of it.

While an 8-3 run was nice enough on the heels of 6-7—Diaz is at that Davis-like crossroad when he must made the hard decisions to turn this program from pretender to contender.

Chest-thumping over eked-out wins against sub-par ACC talent and relying on grad transfer quarterbacks to mask defensive inefficiencies is not a long-term solution for Miami.

Winds of change must blow for Diaz this off-season—both in a defensive revamp, as well as his own personal approach to running this program. Two years being the liked and accepted guy—it’s not going to cut it.

There were understandable question marks in early 2019, when Diaz cruised into a booster event on an 88-foot yacht.

A few months earlier, the new head coach’s first team meeting not only featured a WWE-like spectacle—but tackling dummies featured “7-6” on their chests as some sort of motivation regarding how “The New Miami” would respond the following fall. (Spoiler alert; the Canes managed to backslide to 6-7—while the ridiculed TNM moniker disappeared for year two.)

Amongst the fracas, a then 44-year old Diaz mixing it up with his players and getting in on the body-slamming action in a sea of college student athletes.

Davis was a seasoned 42 years old when taking over the University of Miami’s football program in 1995—some hard miles on the odometer.

Davis did five years under Jimmy Johnson coaching-up the defensive line for the Canes in their heyday (1984-1988) before following the legend to Dallas for a seven-year stint as defensive line coach and defensive coordinator–picking up a national champion and two Super Bowls along the way.

The healthy dose of fear and respect the players of that era had for Davis—which was still on display all those years later when FIU looked more like “The U” than Miami in the upset of 2019—such a stark contrast to the the liked and accepted approach Diaz has taken his first two years as a head coach.

While the past can’t be rewritten, the future remains wide open—and after epic fails to end back-to-back season, the clock is ticking for Diaz.

Time to make some tough short-term decisions this off-season, that can result in long-term success—or accept the fact it’s the beginning of the end; a ceiling reached and a dream job over before it ever really got underway.

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 earns a living helping icon Bill Murray build a lifestyle apparel brand. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.

January 5, 2021

‘THE U’ DEEP-DIVE; WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE MIAMI HURRICANES IN 2021?


If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that perspective really is everything.

In the face of a global pandemic and forced quarantine—does one have the ability to find some positives, where others will only focus on the negative?

The inconveniences are obvious—social lives limited, masking-up whenever venturing out into public—but what about the bonus time with family that wouldn’t have existed under normal circumstances; this forced-slow down giving us all the ability to reevaluate and to plan for a new-new when the time comes.

Relating that to football—and the Miami Hurricanes, specifically—some are overly critical of the way in which this squad is underperforming, while others are simply appreciating the wins that keep racking up. Truth be told, the answer probably lies somewhere in between the two polar opposites.

Miami survived at Virginia Tech this past weekend—eight days after eking out a come-from-behind win at North Carolina State. Four combined points were the difference in these eight quarters of football and both games saw the Hurricanes rallying late on offense, while getting necessary stops on defense, in order to get out alive.

Even more impressive, Miami did it with one quarantined arm behind its back—13 players out for COVID-related matters. The Hurricanes were without a handful of starters, a well as some key reserves. At one point, the game itself was almost called off—but Miami pushed to play, showed up, hung tough and prevailed—which is a real footnote to this season and testament to how the Hurricanes have handled a very odd 2020 campaign.

Virginia Tech jumped out to a 14-3 lead on Saturday afternoon, as a sparse Lane Stadium. Miami moved the ball early, but missed a scoring opportunity by way of an oddly-timed and strangely-execute fake field goal on a 4th-and-3 from the Hokies’ 30-yard line. In what would’ve been a makable 47-yard attempt by Jose Borregales, Miami instead had holder Lou Hedley flip the ball to the immobile 205-pound kicker, who was stuffed after scrambling for a year.

It was one of those plays that had it worked, no one would’ve batted an eye—but regardless of it’s success, there’s no debating that the Hurricanes would’ve been better suited keeping the ball in the hands of the immovable D’Eriq King, or one of three bruising running backs, a both Cam’Ron Harris and Jaylan Knighton took a few handoffs on the previous eight plays of the drive.

The early aggressiveness on the opening drive wasn’t even the game’s biggest head-scratching moment. Save that for an ill-timed and poorly-executed two-point conversion attempt late third quarter, which could’ve cost Miami the win, had Hendon Hooker and Virginia Tech’s offense not self-imploded on their final few possessions.

MIAMI OFFENSE COMES ALIVE LATE; DEFENSE CLOSES STRONG

Trailing 24-13 halfway through the third quarter, the Canes offense finally came to life on a 13-play, 75 yard drive—Harris punching in the six-yard run on a possession where Miami executed on 4th-and-1 and 3rd-and-3 to stay alive—the fourth down conversion coming on the heels of 2nd-and-17 after King was sacked on first down.

With a chance to pull within four, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee chose overthinking over common sense, calling for a throwback to left tackle Zion Nelson, which was doomed from the start—ending with Nelson not just getting stuffed, but the Canes penalized for an ineligible receiver on the boneheaded call, as well.

Had Miami logically kicked the point after, it’s a 24-20 ball game, and the ensuing 10-play, 82-yard drive—stamped by a 36-yard strike to Mark Pope, where King avoided the blitz and signaled to Pope to be ready—would’ve seen the Hurricanes take a 27-24 lead with just under six minutes reaming, barring Borregales made his kick.

Instead, another failed two-point attempt—a better call, but poor execution as Don Chaney Jr. wasn’t able to haul the pass in—and a 25-24 lead that was not only too close for comfort, but one that would’ve left Diaz and staff lambasted had Virginia Tech been able to kick a game-winning field goal late, opposed to one that would’ve tied the game and sent things to overtime.

Thankfully the Hurricanes defense stepped up while Hooker and the Hokies stalled out.

On the first play from scrimmage after Miami took the lead, Hooker air mailed a deep ball in the diving arms of Te’Cory Couch—the first time the Hurricanes picked off the Hokies since the final minute of a 38-14 route in Blacksburg in 2018.

Miami took possession with 5:48 remaining, only to go three-and-out—punting the ball back to Virginia Tech in just over a 90 seconds, as another sack of King left the Hurricanes in an undesirable 3rd-and-15.

The Hokies rattled off 19 yards in back-to-back plays—getting out of the danger zone after Hedley bombed a 52-yard punt downed at the nine-yard line, but a timely sack by Jaelan Phillips retuned the favor, leaving Virginia Tech to try and fight out of a late and-long situation. An incompletion by Hooker was made worse when the quarterback lost his footing on 3rd-and-15, his knee hitting the ground for a nine-yard loss.

Miami again took possession with an opportunity to close—Gurvan Hall with the fair catch at the UM 43-yard line—only to see Lashlee predictably and conservatively running back-to-back with Harris and Chaney Jr., before King was run down on a 3rd-and-5 attempt that lost three yards. The Hurricanes forced the Hokies to burn all three timeouts on the possession, but only took 13 seconds off the clock—Virginia Tech with the ball back and 1:45 on the clock with a chance to kick a game-winning field goal.

A first down would’ve put Miami in kneel-out mode—while an incomplete pass would’ve saved the Hokies a timeout—so running the ball wasn’t the crime; it was the vanilla manner in which Lashlee went with back-t0-back handoffs into the teeth of a front seven most of the afternoon.

By the time a designed run was called for King on third down, Virginia Tech knew with 100-percent certainty was was on deck and snuffed it out immediately—Lashlee whiffing on an opportunity to call a safe pass to a running back, or calling a designed run for King earlier, when the expectation was to pound the rock with Chaney Jr. or Harris.

Hedley’s leg again saved Miami, as his punt was downed at the four-yard line—the Hokies taking over with 1:37 remaining and zero timeouts.

Hooker found Tre Turner for a 19-yard pick-up, getting out from the shadow of his goalpost—using both his arm and legs in an attempt to pull off the comeback. The Hokies picked up three first downs over the next minute-plus, stopping the clock momentarily—though time was still the enemy.

Facing a 4th-and-10 from the VT 43-yard line with :05 remaining—the Hokies chose miracle mode, over a Hail Mary—dumping it off to Tayvion Robinson, who played hot potato with three others on offense before being dumped for a six-yard loss that ended the game.

BACK-TO-BACK COMEBACKS DEFINE LATTER HALF OF SEASON

The rally against the Hokies—where the Canes didn’t see their first lead until the 5:59 mark in the fourth quarter—was the opposite of what took place at North Carolina State the Friday night prior, outside of trailing by double digits and rallying to victory.

A bonafide shoot out, the Canes and Wolfpack traded blows all evening—North Carolina State striking first, Miami responding and eventually taking a 21-14 lead before UM’s offense cooled and the home team went on a 10-0 run to close out the first half, 24-21.

The Hurricanes tied things up early third quarter with a field goal—only to allow the Wolfpack to drive 75 yards on the ensuing drive; Bailey Hockman hooking up with Emeka Emezie for a 34-yard haul-in on 3rd-and-4, followed by a big 14-yard tear-off by Hockman, setting up Zonovan Knight on back-to-back runs and a one-yard score.

Miami responded with an 85-yard drive of their own; back-to-back plays to Pope for 39 yards and a game-tying 17-yard score to knot things up, 31-31 late in the third quarter. Momentum immediately went out the window one play later, as Knight returned the kickoff 100 yards for the score. The Canes next possession stalled out; Miami settling for a 38-yard field goal from Borregales—the deficit cut to seven.

The Hurricanes defense flexed-up and forced a much-needed three-and-out—the offense back in action and looking to tie things back up–which looked to be the case when Harris punched it in on 4th-and-Goal from the one-yard line, though the play was blown dead as replay took a second look on a third down run by King that came up a half-yard short. Harris go the call again on fourth down, again scampered in but Miami was hit with a false start and moved back to the five-yard line.

Much to the chagrin of some, Diaz and Lashlee correctly took the three points—trotting out the automatic Borregales for a 22-yard put-through that made it a 41-37 ball game; putting the onus on the defense to get a stop. Tying the game up was obviously the preference, but Miami could ill afford to not score on that possession, with just over six minutes remaining.

It would take two scores to win—the safe choice on this drive simply meaning the Canes would need a game-winning touchdown, opposed to a field goal on their next possession—whereas getting stuffed on fourth down would’ve put Miami in position where a touchdown would at-best tie the game and force overtime.

The defense bowed up—Couch with a monster sack on 3rd-and-9—giving Miami the ball back and their own eight-yard line with 3:50 remaining and 92 yards between a comeback victory, or an agonizing defeat. King found Mike Harley for a 35-yard pick-up on 2nd-and-8, getting the Canes near midfield and after a 3-yard run by Harris and incompletion to Dee Wiggins—went back to the well and caught a streaking Harley for a 54-yard touchdown.

For a receiving corps that slept-walked for a few weeks, starting in Clemson—Harley, Pope and Wiggins began coming alive and haven’t let up—starting with Harley’s 170-yard outing against Virginia and rolling into a 153-yard outing in Raleigh—all of which obviously make King’s job easier; the transfer quarterback finally finding the deep ball again at North Carolina State.

LATE RALLY IN RALIEGH; SHOT IN THE ARM CANES NEEDED

Hockman and the Wolfpack took possession from their own 25-yard line with 2:43 remaining—where much like Hooker with his late first-down gaffe—Hockman put too much heat on the ball, which was deflected into the arms of DJ Ivey for a game-sealing win. King’s wheels got Miami 12 yards on a 3rd-and-6, putting the Canes in victory formation with 1:40 remaining.

The late turnover marked the second straight game where Miami forced a late turnover to close out—Virginia down 19-14 with the ball: 23 on the clock and no timeouts, relying on some end-of-game trickery, resulting in a fumble that Quincy Roche recovered. The Canes escaped, after giving up a 32-yard run by Brennan Armstrong, followed by 35-yard touchdown strike to Ra’Shaun Henry on the next play—cutting Miami’s lead to 19-14 with 5:27 remaining.

Much like this weekend’s win over Virginia Tech, Miami was in position to close out against Virginia with a couple of first downs—but looked to have stalled out on 3rd-and-8, before Wiggins drew a pass interference call at the 2:56 mark. With new life, the Canes and Lashlee ran a series similar to the 13-second possession in Blacksburg; fourth-string back Robert Burns up the middle for one, Knighton up the middle no gain and a King run on third down the lost a yard.

With the Cavaliers already out of time outs, the Canes shaved over two minute off the clock—setting up the need for a miracle finish if Virginia was to drive 80 yards in :23—securing a victory that ultimately staved off any critique, which winning often does.

Nitpicking after a win is always better than the same effort after a loss. Taking shots at fake field goals, poorly-timed two-point conversion attempts and conservative late play-calling; the type that allows team to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory—it’s done with the desire to see the mistakes corrected moving forward, opposed to with the understandable venom that would’ve come had these decisions led to losses.

WINNING CLOSE BATTLES; FIRST STEP IN CONTENDING AGAIN

Much like the 2017 season, these Hurricanes are winning the type of close games that they blew in 2018 and 2019—which in this season of transition, ultimately was the biggest goal. Prior to the COVID-fueled reshuffle, Miami was gunning to with the Coastal Division, en route to a ACC Championship game berth.

Instead, teams like Temple, Wagner and Michigan State were dumped from the schedule—with Clemson, Louisville and North Carolina State all added. The Canes also saw Duke removed, when those three Atlantic foes were added. Notre Dame was also welcomed into the ACC temporarily this fall and with the top two conference foes facing off in December—opposed to the best from the Coastal and Atlantic—Miami will most-likely be on the outside looking in, even if it takes out Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and North Carolina to close out the regular season.

Getting to Charlotte this December; Miami wanted to see how it matched up with Clemson in the Trevor Lawrence era—as these two different division foes weren’t set to meet in the regular season again until 2022, when the heralded quarterback will be long gone.

The Canes got that crack at the Tigers during the regular season, weren’t ready for primetime and we’re outplayed, 42-17—all questions answered—and in a rematch with Clemson one win away from reaching the College Football Playoffs for the sixth consecutive season, does anyone really believe this overachieving Miami team is going to lay down a roadblock?

With Notre Dame beating a Lawrence-less Clemson in double overtime weeks back, Miami’s hope of a rematch took a massive hit—as the Irish seem on pace—as both teams seem destined to win out; Clemson facing Florida State, Pitt and Virginia Tech, while Notre Dame closes with North Carolina, Syracuse and Wake Forest.

Even if one of the two stumble, no doubt that these are are the most-balanced and deep team in conference this year. If Miami fans are rooting for anything, it should be the combination of winning out—with Clemson falling to either Pitt or Virginia Tech—which would set up a showdown with Notre Dame for a conference title.

All that to say, Plan B isn’t too shabby, either. Should Miami, Notre Dame and Clemson all win out—with the Tigers topping the Irish in Charlotte—both will most-likely reach the Playoffs, leaving Miami to represent the ACC in the Orange Bowl, most-likely against hated rival, Florida.

Of course all of this is moot, should the Canes shit the bed against Georgia Tech, Wake Forest or North Carolina—just the type of games Miami seems to drop down the stretch in the ACC, when looking ahead and trying to do conference title game math.

LATE SEASON ACC STRUGGLES HAVE PLAGUED UM FOR YEARS

Back in 2005, an eight-game win-streak after dropping the opener at Florida State—Miami was hyper-focused on winning out and getting another crack at the Noles. Then two weeks after upsetting No. 3 Virginia Tech in Blackburg, the Canes lost at home to a three-loss Georgia Tech team, 14-10—sending the Hokies to Jacksonville, instead of two-loss Miami. It was the season that proved to be the beginning of the end for Larry Coker, whose Canes got wrecked 40-3 in the Peach Bowl and stumbled to 7-6 the following fall, resulting in his termination.

Come 2009—the third year of the Randy Shannon era— Miami started strong with conference wins over Florida State and Georgia Tech—and an out-of-conference upset of Oklahoma—before falling at Virginia Tech. A month later, an overtime loss at home against Clemson served as the knockout punch—as the Yellow Jackets won the rest of their ACC games and topped Clemson in the conference title game, before losing to Iowa in the Orange Bowl.

Year three under Al Golden, the 2013 Hurricanes jumped out to 7-0 and No. 7 in the nation, before getting wrecked at No. 3 Florida State—and then sleepwalking through losses against Virginia Tech and at Duke. The road loss in Durham proved the deciding factor for the Coastal that fall, as the Blue Devils survived road games at Wake Forest and North Carolina down the stretch, hanging on with two ACC losses to Miami’s three.

Mark Richt and crew blew it in 2016, as well—4-0 out the gate, before a missed point-after kept Miami from upsetting No. 10 Florida State, 20-19. The hangover continued with a lifeless 20-13 home loss to North Carolina the following week. Virginia Tech routed the Canes, 37-16 a week later—only to see Miami choke away a comeback at Notre Dame, 30-27, capping off a four-game losing streak.

Those back-to-back-to-back conference losses against the Noles, Tar Heels and Hokies were the difference-maker as a Virginia Tech earned a trip to Orlando with only two conference losses, where Clemson held on for the win.

Water is wet, fire is hot, grass is green—and anytime the Hurricanes are looking too far down the road, or doing funky math when dreaming big about the ACC title game—you can bet the house that getting-ahead-of-itself Miami will choke.

While a win isn’t always a win—as the way, the why and the how that victory was secured are always worth analyzing—in this 2020 season, prevailing in any way, shape or form is truly the ultimate goal.

ON PAR TO EXCEED ORIGINAL 2020 GOALS

Miami was never set to be true contender this year; not national and not even in conference. Winning the Coastal—for the second time in 17 seasons—and getting a measuring-stick match-up with Clemson; that was the ceiling for year two under Diaz. Doing that meant Miami would have to win the close games it gave away last year, to the likes of Florida, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Florida International and Duke.

The wins haven’t been pretty this fall, since losing at Clemson. A shootout at Louisville and rout of Florida State gave reasons for optimism early, but that loss to the Tigers was definitely the type of moment that can take the wind out of a team’s sails.

In years passed, Miami would’ve arguably gotten tripped up by a defensive team like Pitt the ensuing week—showing up flat and not ready to deal with the adversity. Instead, the Hurricanes’ defense clamped down in the red zone—which proved to be the difference-maker in a 31-19 victory.

Miami jumped all over Virginia a week later, by way of a two-play, :28 scoring drive—only to manufacture 12 points the rest of the evening. It what turned out to be a gritty, low-scoring affair—the Canes with only two field goals, until Chaney punched in a touchdown early fourth quarter—the home team took the Cavaliers’ best punch and hung on for the win.

Folding on a Friday night in Raleigh after a bye week; not far-fetched for modern-day Miami. Two years ago, the Canes did just that at Boston College—shut out in the second half and falling 27-14, still smarting from a 16-13 loss in Charlottesville two weeks prior. This time around, Miami outscored North Carolina State 23-17 in the second half and closed strong with a 13-3 fourth quarter run.

Riding high off that comeback against the Wolfpack, a danger game on-paper at Virginia Tech loomed. The Hokies were reeling from Liberty upsetting them at home a week prior—a game Virginia Tech looked to have in the bag, after returning a blocked field goal for what looked like the game winner.

Instead, the Flames got a do-over by way of an icing-the-kicker time out going wrong—and after an eight-yard pick-up on 4th-and-6, drilled a 51-yard game-winner as time expired.

Virginia Tech showed up looking to prove a point on Saturday—but so did Miami, who even after a slow start, never mailed it in—which is ultimately the biggest growth opportunity for this 2020 season. Before the Canes can start winning the big games again, it must take care of business week-in and week-out against average conference foes.

That mid-September win at No. 18 Louisville? Miami’s first victory on the road against a ranked team since a the eight-lateral, last second comeback at Duke in 2015. This most-recent win against the Hokies? The Canes’ first road victory as a Top 10 team since hanging on at North Carolina in October 2017.

Is this 7-1 bunch a truly legit Top 10 team? The pollsters don’t seem to think so—the Canes dropping from No. 9 to No. 12 in the latest AP poll (though the Coaches Poll kept Miami at No. 9.) despite hanging on to win. That said, do the polls even really matter at this point? Not really. Winning football games matter—and if the last three showdown were decided by a combined nine points, or nine touchdowns—fact remains the Canes are 4-0 since stumbling at Clemson.

Baby steps. It’s not what a frustrated fan base necessarily wants to hear—but one’s desire to be a contender again doesn’t change the timeline it will take to get back on top. Not after a 13-16 run from the end of 2017 to the beginning of this season, not when this program has looked like a mid-tier ACC team for a decade and a half and not when losing the types of close games it’s re-learned how to win this fall.

Another shot at revenge against Georgia Tech next weekend, followed by what look to be two shootouts against the likes of Wake Forest and North Carolina—who combined for 112 this weekend, with the Tar Heels hanging on for the 59-52 victory.

Should King and these Canes hang on for an 10-1 regular season, it will be Miami’s best since 2017. Prior to that, one has to go all the way back to 2002 to match the output.

Stay the course, appreciate what’s taking place and know that closing strong is the perfect remedy to success both on the recruiting trail and the Transfer Portal—both of which are the Canes’ key to again becoming a true contender, in due time.

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 earns a living helping icon Bill Murray build a lifestyle apparel brand. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.

November 15, 2020

FIND-A-WAY MIAMI HURRICANES DELIVER IN RALEIGH & BLACKSBURG

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