Mario Cristobal is the new head coach of the University of Miami football program.
The feeling of typing and reading back those words remains incomprehensible in this whirlwind of a 2021 season—not to mention 15 years of incompetence and some degree of acceptance that “The U” would never again compete as a big time college football contender.
Equally as welcoming, the news that Manny Diaz is out—his Hurricanes entering the preseason with a glimmer of hope, a No. 15 ranking and expected to take a step forward in a make-or-break third year for the now former head coach.
Instead, the type of free-fall that ended an era and ushered in a new one—humbled by Alabama in the opener and a late kick needed to survive Appalachian State the following week, only to see Miami then outworked and out-hustled by a Michigan State squad with a second-year coach looking much further ahead than UM’s third-year guy.
The Spartans were the ones who were supposed to wilt in that sweltering South Florida heat and humidity—not the homegrown kids, who held up those fourth quarter “four fingers” before getting outscored 21-3 over the final 15 minutes.
The ugly 1-2 start prompted ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit—the Hurricanes’ unofficial 2021 MVP after all that’s unfolded—to undress UM’s top brass in front of the nation, hours before Miami beat up on a glorified high school out of Connecticut and mugged for cameras with chain and rings like they were en route to 4-0.
No sooner were all eyes a fledgling Miami program, Diaz went 0-2 in conference play in a Coastal-or-Bust season—the Canes now 2-4 as defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory against Virginia and North Carolina, who both finished the year with matching 6-6 records.
A freshman quarterback played some rookie-of-the-year level football—literally—which did nothing but postpone the inevitable, as an MVP offensive performance only masked the fact that Diaz retaking over the defensive coordinator role was a disaster; Miami the worst-tackling unit in the nation for most of this season, when defense has always been UM’s calling card.
The comeback narrative exploded in tragic, yet necessary fashion—a disastrous loss against a Florida State squad that had won six total games over a two-year span.
All of Diaz’s warts were on display in this rivalry showdown; from an opening quarter where Miami had eight penalties—false starts, late hits and mental mistakes—to a comeback blown after failing to convert on a late third down and surrendering a 4th-and-14 dagger, which capped an 11-0 run for the Seminoles in the game’s final minutes.
DIAZ: TOOK LUCKY BREAK, BROKE IT IN TWO
The tank-job in Tallahassee saw any comeback narrative fast crashing and burning, rendering lackluster wins over Virginia Tech and Duke completely meaningless, outside of bowl eligibility and a ticket punched for El Paso to take on Washington State month’s end.
On his way out the door, Diaz lobbied like the son-of-a-politician; working to spin negatives into positives—focused on kids not quitting, despite facing “significant injuries and adversity”, as well as “unique challenges” to which his players “repeatedly responded”.
Zero talk about a 2-4 start, or the fact a 3-1 run in November was against bottom-dwelling teams that finished the season with a 17-31 combined record—in the worst collective year the ACC has seen in forever; No. 17 Pittsburgh and No. 18 Wake Forest facing off in a lackluster championship game—Diaz whiffing when the Coastal was wide open and a basketball school took the Atlantic.
When the smoke finally cleared, Diaz was 21-15 after three years—on par with the type of dead-end runs predecessors like Randy Shannon and Al Golden put together before soon fired—as well as 0-2 in the postseason, zero division titles and a slew of signature losses, with no landmark victories.
Many clamored for Diaz’s exit as far back as 2019, when the first-year coach was upended by former Miami dynasty architect Butch Davis and Florida International—Canes players rolling in flat and dancing on the sidelines while down 23-3 in the fourth quarter against a commuter college, before waking up and seeing comeback fall short.
The Golden Panthers have won one measly football game since that colossal upset over Miami two years ago.
A week later, the still-punch drunk Canes were embarrassed at Duke and then shutout by Louisiana Tech in a meaningless bowl—6-7 in a season that started with Diaz mixing it up with players and tacking dummies with “7-6” on their chests, in the same building Cristobal would hold an introductory presser less than three years later.
Diaz was part of an ongoing rinse-wash-repeat process; knee-jerk hires, low-rent up-and-coming coaches and rebuild-after-rebuild do-over moments—and without a recent influx of money and a handful of big-money boosters taking things into their own hands—history shows that there would’ve been a year four, if not more for Diaz.
Cristobal’s has come up for years—half of a crowded board of trustees room lobbying for him in 2019 when Diaz was hired, but the rest of the room too shaken by Oregon’s buy-out to entertain the notion as a reality. As Diaz stumbled to a losing inaugural season, Cristobal went 12-2, winning the Pac-12, a Rose Bowl and conference coach of the year honors.
The refrain with Diaz was the same as with a Golden or a Shannon; Miami could ill afford to send their current coach packing, couldn’t afford a wish-list coach’s buyout and certainly couldn’t take on a bloated top-flight head coach’s salary—let alone his demands for the next-level staff it’d take for him to even entertain the move.
In the matter of weeks, months or even years—the embarrassing hat-in-hand, frugal mindset went up in smoke.
MONEY FINALLY TALKED; BULLSH*T SENT PACKING
Jaded and stuck-in-their-ways, millionaire board of trustees members who once yielded all the power—pushed aside when big-dick-energy, nine-zero-having billionaires took the reigns; Canes loyalists like John Ruiz and Jorge Mas and their respective families very vocal in their desire to see Diaz’s #TheNewMiami looking more like old, ass-kicking, take-no-prisoners Miami and that decade of dominance era that once defined this proud program.
There was also the COVID-inspired turnaround of Miami’s own U-Health department; in the red for years, but now in the black to the tune of almost a billion dollars the past two years—yet there currently so much donor money at play, the Canes haven’t even had to tap into medical school profits.
Should athletics need any of those funds, president Dr. Julio Frenk has seen the light—thanks to guys like Rudy Fernandez—abandoning the old eat-what-you-kill attitude former president Donna Shalala had towards athletics; hence Miami leaving Nike for more adidas money, or abandoning the Big East for the ACC and the TV revenue that came by way of a more-prestigious conference.
The University of Miami literally went from digging in couch cushions for money, to doing Scrooge McDuck dives in a swimming pool full of greenbacks—again, unfathomable after years of crying poor.
This return to the University of Miami was always Cristobal’s dream job—even if he wisely and professionally chose to avoid putting his homecoming through any nostalgic filter during Tuesday’s welcoming press conference. The passionate, calculated and driven head coach is showing a degree of gratitude regarding the pinch-me opportunity—while staying on-brand with his time-is-wasting, let’s-get-to-work attitude and energy.
This quickly and wisely shuts down the emotion-related queries that reporters in Eugene and Coral Gables are chasing, in effort make sense of and to humanize the moment—but for reeling Ducks fans making sense of the departure, as well as Canes fans clamoring for soundbites signaling a return to glory; Cristobal also staying on point with the now and future at “The U”, without getting distracted by the type of nostalgia the media loves peddling fans.
Without all this found money and new power moves, Cristobal would still be in Oregon today—a fool to abandon what he was building with the Ducks. Resources galore in a Pac-12 conference ripe for the taking for years—where he could take the blueprint he helped implement under Nick Saban at Alabama in four years as an assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and head of recruiting, learning from the best in the business.
Cristobal was so respected in his four-year run in Tuscaloosa, many had him on a short list to replace Saban when the iconic head coach steps down in the coming years—a logical landing place after chasing Pac-12 titles and Playoff berths in Eugene, which was in the cards soon enough, proven by a 35-13 stint heading back to an interim bowl game loss in 2017.
Tossing out last year’s COVID-defined season—more brutal for the Pac-12 than others, as suspect leadership resulted in a shortened season and later start than most—Cristobal went 22-5 in 2019 and 2021 combined; winning the division twice, a conference championship and a spirited Rose Bowl.
Flaws? Sure, there was an annual loss-of-focus moment where Oregon pissed away championship dreams—tripped up by an average Pac-12 opponent it should’ve rolled—not to mention the buzzsaw Cristobal ran into against Utah this season, dropping two of his final three games with the Ducks in ugly fashion; his offense looking nothing like the squad that dropped 550 yards and 35 points on third-ranked Ohio State in Columbus months back.
All that to say, the good greatly outweighs any bad—and outside of Saban, every coach in the sport seems to have moments and games like these. The goal is to keep working for season-long focus, which comes in due time with veteran leadership, the right players and those special seasons where championships are within reach—the team feeling it and getting into an unflinchable zone.
CANES IN THICK OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL CHESS MOVES
A week before Miami landed Cristobal, USC fired a shot and pulled Lincoln Riley from Norman to Los Angeles, hours after Oklahoma choked away a Big 12 title game berth and crack at the Playoffs, falling to rival Oklahoma State in the regular season finale, along with an earlier loss against Baylor which came back to haunt.
Last year, early-season losses to unranked Kansas State and Iowa State had Riley and OU in a fast 1-2 hole, before bouncing back and winning the Big 12—but the damage was done and Playoffs dreams ended in September. The year prior, the Sooners were in last in the final four and crushed by top-seeded LSU—but still had no answer for an inexcusable loss to a Kansas State squad that finished 8-5 and fell to Navy in the Liberty Bowl.
No sooner was Riley a Trojan, Brian Kelly bailed South Bend for Baton Rouge and a monster payday from LSU—abandoning the one-loss Irish after a dozen years at the helm. A regular season home loss to Cincinnati kept Notre Dame out of this year’s Playoffs; one of many head-scratching losses in Kelly’s career—though less egregious than the postseason beatings he’s taken over the years.
Last year the Irish were dismantled by Clemson, in a COVID year ACC title game appearance, then smacked around by Alabama in the semifinals, outscored 65-24 over eight quarters of big time football—proof that Kelly had his his ceiling in South Bend. His best there wasn’t going to cut it—Kelly needed a bigger time program if he wanted to win a national championship, hence the fake Southern accent and beeline towards the Bayou state.
The disgruntled folks in Oregon can fight and deny it, but Cristobal’s decision proves that Miami is the better program when the Hurricanes are hitting on all cylinders—which hasn’t been the case for two decades, until this week.
The way UM refused to invest in football over the years, zero argument that UO ran smoother—with their top-notch facilities and Phil Knight shoe money pumping—swinging for the fences and more upside as a result.
Not with the abundant talent in South Florida and not with the return of a hometown hero, with two decades of deep recruiting ties and newfound support from UM to seriously get after it.
Still, for all the financial talk and boasting about Oregon’s deep pockets, it was Miami who came in hot with the $8 million-per-year, 10-year offer—trumping the annual $7 million the Ducks were willing to pay—and its the Canes who are allocating an $8 million annually for assistants, which now tops the number Clemson allows Dabo Swinney for his guys.
Cristobal’s coaching prowess, his new financial resources, UM’s aggressive new attitude—as well as the talent pool in the Canes’ backyard—it all adds up to Miami having another gear Oregon wasn’t expecting.
A paradigm shift has taken place and “The U” is officially back—because these long-awaited changes are set to deliver conference championships, Playoffs appearances and the big-time football the Canes would never see again if competing on a budget and hoping stars would align someway, somehow.
The new-look Miami and these type of deep-pocket resources; Cristobal is being set up for success—just like powerhouses in Alabama and Georgia—both of which spend more money on recruiting than any other NCAA programs, in effort to lock down the talent in UM’s backyard.
The result; the best of Dade, Broward and Palm Beach county have been leaving the state en masse for Tuscaloosa and Athens—chasing conference titles and national championships.
CANES DAYS OF LOSING TOP-FLIGHT TALENT ENDS NOW
The recruiting pipeline out of what Howard Schnellenberger dubbed “The State Of Miami”—it’s been broken since Larry Coker attempted to keep alive what Butch Davis worked so hard to rebuild decades ago.
Forget what Alabama stealing an Amari Cooper out of Northwestern or Georgia going into American Heritage and poaching a lifelong UM fan like Sony Michel—what about losing Central’s Devonta Freeman and Dalvin Cook to Florida State at a time when both the Noles and Canes were average and on a level playing field?
Even lowly Louisville built it’s entire program on having it’s way with top Miami prospects when Charlie Strong ran the show and pulled recently-fired Canes defensive line coach Clint Hurtt north when the Shannon era came to a close.
The Cardinals’ 2011 roster featured 25 players from Schnellenberg’s fenced-off region—including a dozen from Dade County; eight of which hailed from Northwestern—including quarterback and receiver duo, Teddy Bridgewater and Eli Rogers.
Screw an article, one could write a book regarding almost two decade’s worth of local prospects bailing on the Hurricanes, coaching turnover and low-rent rebuilds. Forget what Alabama, Georgia, Florida State or Louisville was peddling—it came down to what Miami couldn’t offer.
So many kids and their parents who grew up on “The U”—looking for any way to justify their kids playing at home, but in the end forced to accept that the hometown program lost its way and their kids would be better off taking their talents elsewhere.
All of this explains why Hurricanes fans are jumping out of their skin over an a head coach who just got his teeth kicked in by Utah two times in the past three weeks. Oregon in whatever shape or form they were in under Cristobal this fall; pales in comparison to what he can bring to UM, with a new-school attitude, budget an big-Cane energy—set to produce two vastly different results.
Cristobal is the first sitting Power Five head coach Miami has hired since Dennis Erickson left Washington State for South Florida in 1989—eventually replaced by Davis, who cut his teeth under Jimmy Johnson as a defensive assistant at Miami and went next level with the Dallas Cowboys; winning championships at both stops.
Davis’ recruiting efforts could never receive enough praise; the 2001 roster he assembled—and even the “how”—hamstrung with lost scholarships in the late nineties due to years on probation, yet still cherry-picking talent and the right-fit guys to rebuild this program.
PATH TO MARIO (UN)OFFICIALLY UNDERWAY FOR YEARS
Cristobal’s recruiting success has been on display for years. Nationally recognized for his road wins at Alabama, there’s also a Davis 2.0 aspect to what he brings in this return home; as it’s not just about talent—it’s about identifying Miami guys and seeking the kind of player that will be an ideal fit for this unique program.
The beauty of a five-year run as a player between 1988 and 1992—when the program went 55-5, won two national titles (1989, 1991), lost a championship game (1992) and was arguably the best team in the nation the two years it didn’t play for it all (1988, 1990)—the high-level players Cristobal was around daily. The attitudes, the work ethic, the way championship players carry themselves.
Cristobal also saw it as a grad assistant between as Miami was turning a post-probation corner; part of that 1998 team that went from a 66-13 drubbing at Syracuse to a thrilling 49-45 upset of second-ranked UCLA days later.
There for that statement win in the Meadowlands against No. 9 Ohio State in the 1999 opener, the near-takedown of No. 2 Penn State at the Orange Bowl weeks later and match-ups at No. 1 Florida State or No. 2 Virginia Tech—teams that owned probation-era Miami, but a feeling the was turning as players were growing into future superstars overnight.
When Miami broke five-game losing streaks to the defending national champ Seminoles and title-game runner-up Hokies in 2000, the Canes were back—and snubbed of a title shot, took their frustration out on No. 7 Florida in the Sugar Bowl—off the field in a notorious Bourbon Street brawl, as well as the Superdome via a 38-20 smackdown.
The muscle memory of Miami’s 26th head coach as both a player and an assistant—as well as where his coaching trajectory took him over the past 15 years the Hurricanes were bleeding out—it all led back to this moment.
“What better place than here—what better time than now?,” as Rage Against The Machine so passionately shouted it two decades back, as the Canes turned their 1999 comeback corner.
Further proof this is a game-changer for Miami; the reaction from the outside—proving the “us against the world” mentality is back in full-force—as the college football universe gets chippy whenever the Hurricanes seem to be on to something.
The critics, rivals and haters prefer “The U” stands on the precipice of greatness; living for those early-season runs where outsiders—not insiders—start with all the premature, “Is ‘The U’ back?” chatter, knowing it’s not and getting ready to pop the bubbly when the Canes ultimately fall.
UM football is polarizing and when talking about a small, private school nestled in Coral Gables—where most fans aren’t alumni—there is going to be more hate surrounding this program than love.
The heads on College GameDay often quick to say the sport is better when Miami is a contender; they know the Hurricanes are good for ratings. Many of ESPN’s top-ranked games have UM on the marquee; most of the nation tuning in praying “The U” gets wrecked—which has been often as Miami sports a 118-85 record dating back to a 2005 Peach Bowl beating courtesy of LSU, 40-3.
THE ERA OF DOUBLE STANDARDS RETURN
Look at all the outside chatter this week and the hypocrisy surrounding Miami’s efforts to land Cristobal, opposed to what USC and LSU did to nab their big fish.
Zero focus on how Riley abandoned Oklahoma hours after losing at Bedlam and sending rival Oklahoma State to the Big 12 title game and pissing away a shot at the Playoffs—or fact that conversations with the Trojans obviously took place for weeks, based on how quickly a deal came together.
The same for Kelly’s coarse goodbye to his players, the morning after they learned via the wire that he was bailing out—not to mention viral video of his faux Cajun accent in his first public outing as the Tigers’ new head coach—both non-news stories that were buried within a day.
Riley to USC and Kelly to LSU are feel-good stories—no one in the media harping on how Oklahoma or LSU were left high and dry—or chastising the process.
After years of penny-pinching and media rants about how a college football is better when Miami is contender—moves are made to precisely shift that narrative—the Canes writing checks to compete and bringing home their native son in epic fashion; the media wants to make it all about the “how”.
Cristobal—known as one of the good guys and one of the sport’s brightest coaching stars—landing his dream job; nitpicking articles immediately pointing out that UM didn’t show “common courtesy” in reaching out to Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens for permission to speak to the Ducks then-head coach—while hammering Miami for how it handled Diaz over a 48-hour period; Cristobal chatter starting up hours after Friday night’s Pac-12 game, deals worked on over the weekend, Diaz fired Monday morning and Cristobal-to-The-U official by Tuesday.
Coaching at this level is a cut-throat game and all seems to be fair in love and war, until it happens at Miami; the forced outrage and case-building to constantly make UM the villain—yet lost in how Miami supposedly mistreated Diaz, the fact three years prior the recently-fired Canes leader was the one doing the screwing.
Hired by Temple mid-December 2019, Diaz strangely stuck around the Miami program for a last hurrah at defensive coordinator—a meaningless third-tier bowl game after a 7-5 season—when he should’ve been in Philadelphia building a staff, on on the road closing recruits, much like Cristobal has since arriving in Coral Gables late Monday night.
Wisconsin went on to smoke Miami in Pinstripe Bowl, 35-3 on Thursday December 28th—third-year head coach Mark Richt calling it a career the morning of Sunday December 30th. Diaz—back to South Florida from New York, dealing with loose ends before heading back north—openly lobbied for Richt’s job, had his agent pressuring UM to get a deal done immediately and 16 days after agreeing to terms with Temple, he was named Miami’s 25th head coach; the same evening his boss stepped down.
THEY HATE US ‘CAUSE THEY AIN’T US…
The logic-driven college football fan would quickly formulate a thought that Diaz arguably got what he had coming in some karmic fashion—doing Temple dirty, finding payback in how Miami let him squirm for a few days—and that’d be the end of it.
Instead, outsiders and national writers have turned into social justice warriors overnight—feigning outrage over how Diaz was treated, when in all reality the displaced frustration is solely rooted in Miami landing a top-flight coach ready to lead them back to the promised land.
ESPN’s Andrea Adelson—a Miami native, University of Florida graduate and former columnist of the Independent Florida Alligator—went attack-mode in her latest piece; that Gators DNA pumping as she talked up the Cristobal hire, as well as reports that Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich is also UM-bound.
“Simply throwing money at the problem, and making two good hires on paper, is not going to cure a rotten culture that has surrounded the program, seeped into its very foundation, spread its tentacles and suffocated those who have tried to change it.
That rotten culture left Miami officials—desperate to land Cristobal—to abandon decency and class and leave another native son, former coach Manny Diaz, dangling in the wind for nearly two weeks while it cajoled someone else to take his job”, Adelson wrote in sanctimonious fashion.
The long-time columnist even let emotions get in the way of facts when describing Richt’s exit in late 2018.
“That rotten culture places outsized, unrealistic expectations on everyone who walks in the door, and as soon as the struggles begin, lights fires only to watch them burn. Nobody is given time to get anything done. Look at celebrated coach Mark Richt. It was only five years ago his hire was celebrated and former athletic director Blake James was praised for doing what nobody thought possible. But when things went bad in Year 3, the pitchforks came out and Richt resigned.”
Not one word in her piece about the offensive-minded Richt fielding one of the most-prehistoric offenses Miami has seen in decades—in line with former defensive coordinator Diaz taking back defensive reigns this season, while that side of the ball backslid and was the worst-tackling, underperforming units in the nation.
Same for letting emotion replace fact, resulting in selective memory as there were “pitchforks” out for Richt; just an ask that the veteran coach bring in a quality play caller and sticking to a CEO role, instead of the nepotism that kept his son Jon Richt coaching quarterbacks and involved in the offensive game-planning.
Worn down from 15 years in the SEC—leaning towards retirement before his alma mater called—Richt tapped out as the rebuild seemed too daunting. There was also a recent diagnoses of early onset Parkinson’s Disease—which he wasn’t ready to share with the world—which Adelson left out of her carefully-worded piece, working in the phrase “rotten culture” in three consecutive sentences.
Adelson is hardly alone in her shaming of Miami’s handling of its break-up with Diaz and it’s courting of Cristobal—but a noteworthy example as her tone shift over a 19-day span is telling.
Weeks back Adelson went all-in on a glowing piece regarding the 20-year anniversary of the 2001 national champion Miami Hurricanes—quick to lean on “South Florida” street-cred—growing up 250 miles north of Miami, in Orlando—and landing a gig with the Orlando Sentinel upon a return from Gainesville.
“I had a front-row seat as the Miami beat writer for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, that season. I grew up in South Florida, and watched the previous four Miami national champions closely. I went to the University of Florida, where as a freshman in 1995, the Nebraska Cornhuskers staked their claim to the greatest-of-all-time throne after dismantling the Gators in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl. I still have visions of Tommie Frazier leaving Gator defenders in his wake,” Adelson wrote.
The piece went on to nostalgically praise the 2001 talent-heavy Hurricanes—how hard they hit, how hard they worked, how they dominated the opposition—as well as the unparalleled leadership and how accessible, mature and professional the faces of the program were.
“That openness allowed us to truly get to know the players and coaches, and develop a rapport with them, so we could tell their stories in a deeper way — and share a fair narrative as the season unfolded. Nobody was too “big time” for anything. We could see with our own eyes what made that team go.”
Praising Miami’s past greatness so easy, even a Gator could do it—Adelson reaffirming these Hurricanes of 20 years ago were undoubtedly college football’s GOAT’s. Giving UM it’s due as the program officially rises from the ashes—an immediate narrative shift—rivalry DNA arguably kicking in and partially fueled by savior Dan Mullen flopping, while feigning excitement for the Billy Napier era, as Miami jumps out of its collective skin landing a whale like Cristobal.
Or maybe it’s simply good business, as Miami is a polarizing program and an ESPN writer is going to gain more traction riling up rival fans and outsiders about the Hurricanes making moves than they would speaking from the place of someone with true insight to “The U”—fully aware what an unprecedented, out-of-nowhere move this was for the long-time, cry-poor university.
Supporters of UM, alumni or even beat writers and long-time op-ed columnists—well aware Miami is back on track when forced again to embrace the hate—rivals and opposition in a fit of rage, arguing points with emotion instead of logic and harping on the way something was done, opposed to what was accomplished—which was the way stories about Riley to USC or Kelly to LSU were reported, or digested.
Miami won’t be “back” overnight—but there’s no denying the seismic shift that just took place in college football, as the Hurricanes followed up big moves by Southern Cal and LSU with resounding checkmate. “The U” is technically *back* when that sixth national championship is claimed, but safe to say Miami is a legit contender again and won’t be backing in ACC title games, or trying to win division titles on a wing and a prayer.
Cristobal isn’t perfect, but he checks off every box that matters most—and he’ll not only be embraced by his hometown and alma mater with open arms—he’ll do with with a level of financial and administrative support never seen before at the University of Miami.
Combine that with the lockdown about to be put on Schnellenberger’s “State Of Miami” as well as the ability to send one of the game’s best recruiters into the homes of top talent nationwide…you already know.
Heed the warning, college football pundits—December 6th, 2021 is the day the game completely changed…one mo’ ‘gen. The college football universe has been puton notice; building a champion has become top priority for the University of Miami—and with the right coach, the infrastructure, the blank checks and proximity to the nation’s best talent—you have every right to be mad, sad, scared and despaired.
Been a minute since this phrase held any meaning, but it’s a Canes thing—y’all wouldn’t understand.
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.
It’s been days since the Miami Hurricanes ended their 2021 regular season and all remains quiet in Coral Gables—sans a slew of boisterous fans with “sources” attempting to predict the future, while others remain in sky-is-falling mode—trusting that UM will stay true to its flawed ways, never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Understandable concern considering 15 years of football incompetence and an administration that has gotten it wrong more often than right. Lame duck coaching hire after lame duck coaching hire, Miami is now 118-85 since LSU smacked the Canes around in the 2005 Peach Bowl—which was the official car crash ending of UM’s previous dynasty.
The most recent low-rent hire—Manny Diaz—now a disappointing 21-15 as year three draws to a close.
In what was supposed to be a step-forward season for this Diaz-led squad, Miami limp-dicked it’s way to 7-5, in arguably the worst collective season the ACC has seen in years; No. 17 Pittsburgh set to face No. 18 Wake Forest in Charlotte for all the conference marbles this weekend.
The Canes went 3-1 in November—including an unforgivable loss at Florida State—against foes that were a combined 17-31 on the year. Prior to that loss, a three-game win-streak that was nothing more than lipstick on a pig after a brutal 2-4 start.
Miami finished on a two-game win-streak after the disaster in Tallahassee, rolling Duke, 47-10 last weekend—which should’ve been the case, considering the Blue Devils finished 3-9, went winless in the ACC, and ride and eight-game losing streak into 2022–with a new head coach as David Cutcliffe was let go days back.
Louisville hung 62 points on Duke, while the ACC’s “best”—Pittsburgh and Wake Forest—dropped 54 and 45 points, respectively.
The Blue Devils were doomed from the start; losing to Conference USA bottom-dweller Charlotte in their season-opener. Miami should’ve beaten the brakes off these guys by even more, after dropping two of the previous three to a basketball school.
A CHANGE IS GONNA COME
A changing of the guard at Duke doesn’t even scratch the surface regarding the coaching carousel that’s taken place in college football over the past few days; massive shots fired in Los Angeles and Baton Rouge, where Southern Cal and LSU both let it be known they’re on missions to build champions—price tags be damned.
Lincoln Riley walked away from Oklahoma on the heels of a 10-2 season—hours after losing to rival Oklahoma State—becoming the next head coach of the Trojans. A day later, Brian Kelly bailed on a one-loss Notre Dame squad knocking on the door of the College Football Playoffs—taking his talents down to the bayou, in effort to chase championships with top-flight Tigers talent that he never pulled in South Bend.
Calling these seismic shifts for the sport is a gross understatement; big time coaches leaving big time programs for bigger time destinations and championship-caliber programs that are ready to chase titles.
Conference shuffles are also underway, as the SEC builds a Marvel-like super-power—welcoming Oklahoma and Texas next year—while the Big 12 attempts to reload by adding Cincinnati, Central Florida, BYU and Houston to its roster.
Throw in rumblings about the playoffs expanding to eight teams—if not more—and it’s become crystal clear that the entire sport is exploding in a manner set to further separate the haves from the have-nots.
Translation; if the University of Miami doesn’t get its collective shit together, break the bank and embrace a football-centric attitude and approach—it will be nothing but nostalgia for the Hurricanes from this moment forward. Lower the casket, start shoveling the dirt and remember the good times via a pair of 30 For 30 documentaries, as ‘The U’ will be deader than a doornail without some massive moves being made immediately.
All this to say, it appears said moves are being made—albeit not on the timeline an impatient fan base wants—but none of that matters as long as Miami gets its guys in the coming days; both a football-driven athletic director and new head coach capable of building a winner.
Fragile egos and public callouts make for strange bedfellows, but the two overlapped late September of this year when ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit used his College GameDay platform to tell the sports world that the University of Miami didn’t give a shit about football anymore.
Feathers were ruffled and four dozen egotistical board of trustees members were probably quick to puff up, but it didn’t make the statement any less true—an embarrassing track record of bad hires, coaching turnover, average seasons and one division title since joining the ACC in 2004; proof how far the mighty had fallen—which Herby was all over.
“Until you get a president and an AD and a coach together on the same page, I guess football doesn’t matter. It matters to the alums, to the brotherhood of ‘The U’—but I don’t know if it matters to the people making the decisions at Miami and if they don’t change that, it doesn’t matter who’s the head coach,” Herbstreit shared in his mic-drop moment.
Miami players went out and routed Central Connecticut State that afternoon, but it was a hollow victory for any with deep loyalty to this program—the Hurricanes sitting at 2-2 and about to find themselves 2-4 weeks later after stumbling out the gate in conference play.
UM president Dr. Julio Frenk penned an awkward letter days later in effort to calm a frazzled fan base, explaining that the university could “either be disrupted” or could “play a role in strategically shaping the course of disruption”.
There was also what sounded like fluff when signing off’; calling the Canes “one of the preeminent programs in college athletics” and reminding readers that “excellence in academics and excellence in athletics are not mutually exclusive”, despite no recent behavior to back that up.
CAN’T PUT BAND-AID ON CANCER; IT’S OVER
Over the coming weeks, Diaz was bailed out by an all-world, MVP-like quarterback performance from Tyler Van Dyke—who went on to deservedly win ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year honors; his efforts under center masking an abysmal defensive effort from Diaz’s side of the ball—causing short-sighted fans to bask in empty calorie victories that could’ve potentially earned an in-over-his-head coach an underserved fourth season.
A three-game win-streak was halted in Tallahassee—as was any notion Miami was turning a corner. Diaz put on a masterclass in how not to manage a football game in the waning moments; giving up 11 points in the game’s final two defensive drives—while surrendering a 4th-and-14, as well as not being able to convert a game-ending third down.
Brutal to digest in the moment, falling to a dismal Florida State team that had won a whopping six games in two-and-a-half seasons—all the goodwill surrounding recent wins was out the window. On Monday morning, maligned athletic director Blake James was finally out of a job and the first domino had fallen regarding sweeping change.
Articles began to surface, as did interviews from those with ties to the program. Information that monies were actually available—and that the old Donna Shalala way of sports programs only eating what they killed would be no more under the new president.
Miami’s U-Health department was back in the black, profiting upwards of $800M over two years; $20-30M of that found money set to annually go into football’s new budget—and information shared that Frenk’s eyes were initially opened as far back as 2017, when College GameDay took over campus hours before Miami went on to smoke third-ranked Notre Dame on national television.
UM finally appeared to have a president that understood how a successful football program is the ultimate marketing tool for the university and it’s overall brand—and now there was actually money to pour back into the sport.
The lightbulb finally went on—holy shit—a eureka moment after 15 years of heads being planted in the sand. Will wonders never cease.
While this was all welcomed news to a disgruntled fan base, these leaks were also smoke signals being sent from Coral Gables to Eugene, Oregon—as former Canes offensive lineman, two-time national champion and current Ducks head coach Mario Cristobal is far and away UM’s top target to replace Diaz—as he should be.
Same to be said for the direction the university wants to go with its athletic director; carefully crafted language about this being a football-centric hire and names of former greats like Gino Torretta and Alonzo Highsmith being tossed around; Diaz reportedly instrumental in blocking Highsmith from getting on board in a GM role two years back, instead opting for Ed Reed in a powerless Chief of Staff role to “appease” the fan base.
Miami’s recent revelations directly countered the correct-at-the-time notions Herbstreit shared—and the sent shockwaves through the college football stratosphere, much to the chagrin of those that had left the Canes for dead years ago.
Where Miami’s realistic coaching options looked dismal in late 2006, 2010 and even 2015, before Mark Richt threw his tired hat in the ring—the Canes have some realistic option they haven’t had in the past.
Outside of Cristobal remaining mum on the matter—doing nothing to take his name out of the running, or pledge his allegiance to Oregon—many in the Lane Kiffin camp leaked that the Ole Miss coach would crawl on broken glass from Oxford to Coral Gables for the Miami job; a far cry from the likes of Randy Edsall, Marc Trestman or others who were mentioned for the UM head coaching gig over the past decade.
Kiffin would be a massive upgrade from Diaz, as would countless other ready-to-jump coaches in the sport—but Cristobal is the most-logical option and is thankfully UM’s top choice, even if their “Columbus mafia” strong-arming and crowded board of trustees efforts are flawed.
UM FOREVER IN OWN WAY, CAN STILL GET IT RIGHT
A broken process can still deliver the correct result, which will be the case if Cristobal is named Miami’s 26th head coach soon after he’s coached Oregon in Friday night’s Pac-12 championship game—which appears to be unfolding based on what’s not being said or done.
Whatever the Diaz camp has pulled off by leaking stories or shifting the narrative, the University of Miami has done nothing to back the movement. Articles that Diaz “could” return in 2022; zero reason to not confirm that days after the regular season finale was in the books and Miami coaches are out attempting to recruit.
Arizona State faithful are frustrated with Herm Edwards—now 25-17 four years into his tenure in Tempe. Many were clamoring for his firing after an 8-4 run; few even fazed by the Sun Devils’ rout of rival Arizona last weekend and more focused on the future.
No sooner was the Territorial Cup victory in the books—defensive back Chase Lucas and athletic director Ray Anderson both stated in post-game pressers that Edwards would return. Edwards even did the same in the Pac-12 Network pre-game show, stating, “I’m the coach here. I’m coming back. I’m not going anywhere. I’m a Sun Devil.”
Outside of what Miami is not saying, Cristobal isn’t saying anything either—leaving some Oregon fans to question his future, while others downplay his ties to his alma mater and hometown; a belief he’d never leave where he’s at for where he’s from.
A public commitment to staying in Oregon would also calm any locker room chaos as his team prepares for a conference title game against a Utah team that spanked them, 35-7 weeks back in Salt Lake City—but there’s been nothing, outside what one would assume is standard coach-speak around ignoring outside noise and rumors and focusing on the task at hand.
Even if Cristobal were to talk down the Miami opportunity, those words would mean nothing in this high stakes poker game head coaches are now forced to play. Moments after Oklahoma fell to Oklahoma State at Bedlam—conference title game dreams dashed—Riley was asked about his future.
“I’m not going to be the next head coach at LSU,” was his answer. The following morning, news breaking that Riley was headed to Los Angeles and would be the next coach at USC; a move that certainly made him a prick in Norman, but not a liar, by way of omission.
The following evening, news breaking out of Baton Rouge that Kelly was walking away from a one-loss Notre Dame program on the brink of a Playoffs berth—the world finding out hours before he was scheduled to meet with his team to share the departure in person.
“IT’S A CANES THING…”—A LIFESTYLE, NOT A SLOGAN
On paper, it would make sense of Cristobal chose to stay at Oregon over Miami—perception becoming reality, as the Ducks have recently won their conference, won a few Rose Bowls and even lost a national title game in the past dozen years, while the Hurricanes have been in a tailspin over that same timeline.
All that to say, life isn’t played out on paper—it’s in 3-D and living color, fueled by emotional decisions and heartfelt moments. These forks in the road are big ones—timing always a factor, as are personal dreams, goals and the legacies we want to leave behind.
What the folks in Eugene are missing; that brotherhood of ‘The U’ on display in those aforementioned 30 For 30 docs. The University of Miami cannot compete with the pageantry seen in smaller college towns, where athletics are the big fish in a little pond—packed stadiums week in and week out; football the lifeblood for most of these cities.
Highsmith touched on this on a recent podcast; Miami guys are a different breed. They sign up to play for UM knowing that stadium will only be filled when they’re playing at a high level, winning big and Hurricanes games become the event in town that day or night.
They know the facilities are good enough, but not over the top—and they develop a chip on their shoulder as a result. They carry it over to battles on Greentree or off-season workouts.
ESPN recently ran a piece about the 20-year anniversary of the 2001 Hurricanes—arguably the greatest collection in history—and it opened with a story about players choosing to workout at 1:00 p.m. in the sweltering South Florida heat and humidity.
Nobody really wanted to do this, but they knew they had to—as to not squander a chance to bring home the program’s first championship in a decade.
“They were the hardest workouts we ever did,” cornerback Mike Rumph said. “But it was crucial to never show how much pain we were in. We used to say that was the easiest workout and we would suck our fingers, like that was pie. It started as a joke first, but it just went to like, no matter what you put us through, we can’t be hurt. We’re tougher than you think.”
Cristobal played for Miami from 1989 through 1992, meaning he was part of the program’s third national championship as a true freshman, watched the Canes squander a shot at another the following year (but getting to wreck No. 3 Texas as a Cotton Bowl consolation prize, 46-3) and then going undefeated for a second national title in 1991, but failing again at another bid for back-to-back rings in the Sugar Bowl the following year.
Two national championships, two left on the field and a 44-4 record playing for his hometown program in its heyday—it will take someone with Cristobal’s muscle memory to want to get Miami back on track for all the right reasons.
UM tried this with Randy Shannon, but the former linebacker wasn’t head coaching material—as proven by his career trajectory since he was let go after the 2010 season; a position coach for years, before eventually working his way back up to defensive coordinator.
Richt also fit the former-player-who-gets-the-brand mold, but rolled in on fumes after 15 years of the SEC kicking his ass. On the brink of returning when parting ways with Georgia, the one-time Canes quarterback only took the call because it was his alma mater—and hung it up after three years, as the rebuild was something for a younger buck with more fire.
Diaz wasn’t a former player, but he was a forty-something Miami native who grew up in the Decade of Dominance era—and up-and-comer who seemed to understand the brand; drawing rave reviews for his Turnover Chain prop in 2017—a it was quintessential ‘305’ and a throwback to swaggier days for the Canes—until it wasn’t.
A motivational tool for that 10-0 start four years ago, Miami is 28-24 since—the one-time fun prop turning into a laughing stock when rolled out down 27-0 in the season opener to Alabama, as were Touchdown Rings when finally finding the end zone in the fourth quarter, cutting the deficit to 41-10.
LIKE NEO, MARIO IS “THE ONE”
Cristobal doesn’t need props or gimmicks to pad his stats. Teeth cut as a grad assistant under Butch Davis early in his coaching career, he followed then-Canes defensive coordinator Greg Schiano to Rutgers for a three-year run coaching tight ends and the offensive, before returning to UM for a three-year stint doing the same.
Florida International came calling with a head coaching opportunity that lasted six years, before the plug was pulled prematurely. Set to come back to Miami for another run, Nick Saban swooped in at the final hour and lured Cristobal to Tuscaloosa for a four-year run that saw him coaching the offensive line and assuming the role of recruiting coordinator and assistant head coach.
Willie Taggart added Cristobal to his Oregon staff in 2017 and soon as Taggart bailed for Florida State, the Ducks had seen enough to turn Cristobal from interim head coach to a full-time guy—where he went 12-2 his second season, won the conference and a Rose Bowl—before a COVID-related stumble in 2020, as the Pac-12 stumbled in how it handled the pandemic athletically with a late and shortened season.
The Ducks enter this year’s Pac-12 title game 10-2, having upset Ohio State in Columbus, before stumbling at Stanford and getting routed by Utah in the regular season. The Utes are slightly favored in the rematch, while all of Hurricanes nation silently roots for Oregon to lose a close one—expediting what feels like an undeniable and fateful next step; Cristobal’s third official stint as his alma mater.
One would assume the athletic director position will be filled prior-to the hiring of a new head coach—but when dealing with Miami’s top brass and unorthodox ways—hardly a gimme.
UM appears to have pushed back from interest show by former Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich—who has some late-career scandal after a legendary run with the Cardinals—while University of New Mexico AD and Miami native Eddie Nuñez was reportedly in the running, before that conversation hit a wall.
Latest reports out of Coral Gables have the internal chaos on full blast, which couldn’t be more Miami—the program that never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity—every board of trustees member attempting to yield their power, with too many folks not on the same page.
Even with that, hard to see the stars not finally aligning this go around—an amateur hour athletic director long gone, while the bank account is stocked.
Feelings for ‘The U’ aside, Cristobal wouldn’t leave what he’s building for anything less than a blueprint for a rebuild, the right pieces in place and the necessary budget to compete. Those pieces appear to have finally fallen into place and that helps make an emotional decision a logical one, as well.
Furthermore, at 51 years old this truly feels like a tipping point moment for Cristobal, as well as a Miami program talking the talk and walking the walk regarding becoming a football power again. If it’s not Cristobal, have to believe that the Hurricanes aren’t going to chase down another type of home run hire—lessening the odds that UM’s and Cristobal’s paths would re-align as they are right now timing-wise.
(This sentiment is further confirmed by breaking news that Miami is on the brink of hiring Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich to replace James—Radakovich earning his M.B.A. from the University of Miami, as well.)
Both the head coach and his alma mater are both at a crossroads, each ready to sink their teeth into a moment and opportunity. The next ten years of Cristobal’s career, as well as Miami’s football trajectory appear ready to go next level—regardless of whether they do it together, or independently of each other.
In the coming days, Cristobal will either go all-in with Oregon, sign an extension and double-down on his commitment to the program that hired him full time three years ago—or he will take a leap of faith, come home to his life-long dream job and get to work rebuilding the Hurricanes in way five predecessors were unable to.
How it all unfolds and plays out in the coming days—still an unknown—but stars have been aligning since a September 25th callout, a doinked field goal kick five days later, a tipped pass two weeks after that, a November 13th face-plant at Tallahassee and taking out the trash 48 hours later, in the form of a lame duck athletic director who overstayed his welcome.
Along the way, Miami found its quarterback, backed into bowl season and fumbled just enough to warrant change—as well as achieving enough success to pique the interest of a new, capable leader.
All the questions will soon be answered and when the smoke clears, have to believe a few old school members of Miami’s football brotherhood are again tethered to this program, ready to right this ship after 15 years of wrongs and to get back that special something that was lost along the way.
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 Miami Hurricanes pissed away a must-win game in Tallahassee on Saturday—falling to arguably the worst Florida State squad in recent memory.
The 31-28 loss ended a four-game win-streak against the Seminoles and should immediately end the tenure of lame duck, third-year head coach Manny Diaz—his team slipping to 5-5 on the season, while his overall record dropped to 19-15.
If there’s any solace in this abortion of a performance—it’s the fact the Diaz era has now passed a point of no return. Any manufactured goodwill built up over the past three weeks—win-starved fans clinging to eked out victories over North Carolina State, Pittsburgh or Georgia Tech—long gone.
The frustration is back to where things were at when Miami was 2-4, if not worse—as there is no excuse for falling to an abysmal Florida State team that had only won six of it’s past 20 games, dating back to mid-November 2019.
Players and coaches alike come to Miami to beat Florida State, and vice versa. Even in the most down of a year, the winner of this game can find a silver lining that helps with both recruiting, as well as overall morale; just ask anyone in Tallahassee since Saturday evening’s late rally.
This same Seminoles squad that went 0-4 out the gate—losing six of their past seven dating back to last October, including a home upset at the hands of Jacksonville State months back—managed a 31-point, 434-yard performance against the Hurricanes’ shoddy defense, while holding Miami’s ground attack to a measly 43 yards.
Some quick context on the rivalry and state of the two programs; the Canes outscored the Noles, 79-20 the past two years combined—yet now this.
Florida State is a bad, disjointed football program—yet it still bounced back from blowing a 17-0 lead and early fourth quarter eight-point deficit, rattling off 11 points in the final five minutes—while Diaz fumbled away another big moment that his all-everything quarterback couldn’t bail him out of.
This latest pathetic loss of 2021 is the epitome of why so many were rooting for an epic collapse after a 2-4 start—refusing to feast on any empty-calorie victories against the Wolfpack, Panthers and Yellow Jackets—as all only got in the way of a bigger movement; Diaz gone by all means necessary.
2021 SEASON—OVER BEFORE IT BEGAN
Those who took any solace in that three-game win-streak—does it still feel good at 5-5, in the wake of this awful loss to the Seminoles—another sour Monday morning and learning that Diaz is still employed by UM?
This 2021 season was kicked in the teeth week one and officially dead in the water two games later, when Michigan State wrapped their 21-3 fourth quarter trouncing of Miami—wearing down the Canes in that hometown heat and humidity that was supposed to work in UM’s favor.
Then again, what kind of grit did anyone really expect out of a team previously seen celebrating meaningless moments against Alabama—mugging for cameras when forcing a turnover (that was fast overturned) down 27-0 to the Crimson Tide—or busting out silly little rings when finally finding the end zone in the fourth quarter of a then 41-10 football game?
Furthermore, what can anyone really expect out of a group of players coached up by a program leader who celebrates mediocrity and overhypes conference wins over mediocre foes? Hardly a shock today’s Miami players find joyous moments in games they’re getting smacked around, or falling apart in big-time moments.
Even with five losses on the season, still no worse a look than Miami sitting at 1-2 and over celebrating touchdown after touchdown in a 69-0 rout of lowly Central Connecticut State—choreographed sideline photo shoots with bling, rings and other shiny things—zero concern for sharpening up their game with conference play around the corner and a losing record by late September.
Diaz and his Canes weren’t paying attention, but the talking heads as ESPN sure were—Kirk Herbstreit and others using their College GameDay platform to eviscerate all in charge of athletics at the University of Miami.
“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.”
Stubborn as the University of Miami has proven over the years, those in charge of this program might be dumb, but they sure aren’t deaf.
These words have echoed through the Hecht Athletic Center for the past eight weeks and there’s nowhere to hide after this level of exposure. UM was called out in front of the college football world and Miami became must-see TV—not with any expectation the Canes would turn a corner, but for outsiders to witness the demise, the disfunction and to feast on the carnage.
At 2-4 with North Carolina State and Pittsburgh looming, Diaz was on a collision course for a Halloween firing—2-6 looking inevitable—before a freshman quarterback’s play slapped a Band-Aid on the cancer that is this 2021 season.
FEASTING ON ‘EMPTY-CALORIE’ WINS; RECIPE FOR DISASTER
Tyler Van Dyke has undoubtedly been a bright spot for a program that has been searching for the next great Miami quarterback for over 15 years—but in vintage right guy at the wrong time fashion that plagues these Hurricanes—his efforts over the past three weeks have shifted the focus off of glaring defensive issues that broke Miami’s back in the waning moments at Florida State.
There was no worse recipe for the middle of this season than for a bad football team to knock down a few paper champion, conference teams in underwhelming fashion. North Carolina State and Pittsburgh were propped up to be bigger than they really were—one loss teams, at the time—in a brutally bad year for ACC football; currently tracking for a lackluster Wake Forest and Pittsburgh title game.
Dropped balls and a quirky overturned fumble were the difference in a one-point win over the Wolfpack, while two bad decisions out of a usually-sound quarterback helped the Hurricanes survive the Panthers.
Kenny Pickett had one interception on the season for Pitt, but managed two against the Canes—not seeing a wide open receiver streaking towards the end zone and forcing a pass into double coverage early, as well as a late-game overthrow of another open wideout, sailing his pass into the arms of a roving safety.
38-34 became the only number that mattered to some Miami faithful, completely ignoring that Pickett carved up Miami for 519 yards and three scores—which would’ve been just shy of 600 and five touchdowns, had he not made two uncharacteristic mistakes.
Fans starved for wins were also quick to dismiss a brutal defensive effort by the Canes in these two games—allowing emotion to best logic and getting wrapped up in sports cliches like the kids “showing up”, “having heart” and “not quitting”—which only fit the narrative when victories are snatched from the jaws of defeat.
This mental-midget, “a win is a win” mentality worked for quality, undefeated teams that are able to rally and find a way—but the sentiment loses all luster when simmering in a sad, 5-5 stew.
Miami’s three-game win-streak took the focus off the program’s macro-level issues, in favor of short-term job and celebrating a couple meaningless moments that ultimately did more harm than good. Three wins by a total of eight points are the reason Diaz is 5-5 and still employed—opposed to 2-8 and out on his ass.
Van Dyke’s 1,240 yards, 10 touchdowns and one interception over that three-game span—unfortunately enough to counter the 1,337 yards and 94 points Miami’s defense gave up to North Carolina State, Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech, combined.
SAME GAME AGAINST GT & FSU—WIN CLOUDED JUDGMENT
Miami’s outing against Georgia Tech eerily foreshadowed what would shake out against another 3-6 football team in Tallahassee a week later—but few wanted to dissect the brutal performance, as the Canes “found a way”, “showed heart” and because “a win is a win”.
A fast 14-0 against the Yellow Jackets, versus a 17-0 hole against the Seminoles—a vast difference—but three first quarter turnovers were the culprit against both; Miami trailing Georgia Tech, 21-17 at the half, while down 17-7 to Florida State.
Up 33-30 late—instead of 35-28, when a two-point conversion was intercepted and returned.
Facing a chance to put the game away with a first down—much like they’d also deal with against the Noles—the Canes were forced to punt and on the first play from scrimmage, looked to be in big trouble as Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims dropped a 31-yard pass into the arms of a streaking, wide open Adonicas Sanders.
The Canes were granted a reprieve as Sims’ knee touched the ground when handling a bad snap—the play called back and the Yellow Jackets now staring down a 2nd-and-16 scenario—opposed to first down mid-field and just outside overtime-forcing field goal range.
Facing 4th-and-4 with a shot at putting the game on ice, Miami’s defense gave up an 18-yard reception—called back by a hold that had nothing to do with the completion.
Tech’s final attempt fell incomplete and the Canes escaped victorious—which again took the spotlight off of open receivers on final drive, against an inferior football team—with a quarterback who couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn all day.
“Showed heart.” “Stepped up.” “Found a way.” “Never quit.” “On to FSU!”
Fast-forward to early evening in Tallahassee this past weekend, failing to convert on 3rd-and-4 when Will Mallory caught the ball short of the sticks.
The play similar to Jaylan Knighton running up the middle on 3rd-and-1 late against Georgia Tech and stuffed—Miami again punting after unable to convert a third down that would’ve resulted in a victory formation and another comeback win.
Georgia Tech couldn’t turn Miami’s and Diaz’s incompetence into fuel for an upset—but Florida State proved up for the challenge—made easier after a late special teams flub by the Canes.
Lou Hedley dropped a well-timed, clutch punt—that managed to roll through a half dozen Miami players, into the end zone for a 20-yard swing and some much-needed breathing room for quarterback Jordan Travis.
One play later—just like Sims-to-Sanders a week prior—a Miami opponent with a back-breaking type of play; Travis finding a wide open Ja’Khi Douglas for a 59-yard gain, the Noles in business at UM’s 21-yard line.
A false start on third down looked like a well-timed setback—setting up a 4th-and-14 after an incomplete pass to Douglas—yet Diaz and the Canes blew it again; reminiscent to a 4th-and-17 unraveling at Chapel Hill in 2019.
Diaz chose to rush three—instead of bringing the house at Travis, forcing a pressured throw. The result, a 24-yard connection with the wide open Andrew Parchment—made even worse for Miami when the receiver was down at the one-yard line with :58 remaining.
Inexplicably, Diaz flinched and waited :12 to call his second timeout of the half—Florida State with a first down from the six-inch line, :46 on the clock and Miami down to it’s final timeout—which it burned after Travis was stuffed on first down.
Two plays later, Travis was in and after a successful two-point conversion—timeout-less Miami and Van Dyke had :26 for a miracle that wasn’t pulled off.
In the spirit of second-guessing, Diaz theoretically could’ve—and should’ve—allowed Florida State to score after the first time out, as it was foolish to believe this shoddy defense was going to win that battle of wills; the Noles needing six inches with four tries.
Doing so would’ve given Van Dyke and Miami the ball with :46 and one timeout—simply needing field goal range to force overtime—opposed to trying to accomplish this with almost half that time and no timeouts.
However it played out, another game where Miami not showing up early is a bigger story than how things wrapped in the fourth.
Three first quarter turnovers and eight penalties—five on the opening drive; UM jumping offsides while getting hit with two personal fouls that cost them 30 yards—resulted in a fast 14-0 hole that took most of the afternoon to dig out of.
Regarding the *why*, some interesting post-game comments and reasoning depending if listening to the head coach, or a freshman defender.
When pressed on the brutal start, Diaz chalked it up to players being too “amped up” and “hyped up”—blaming the “emotional setting” and stating his guys lacked discipline—where linebacker Corey Flagg Jr. ultimately said the quiet part outloud.
“We were very undisciplined. That’s on us. We knew … it’s a habit that happens in practice. Coach Diaz gets on us about it all the time. Brought up in the game, it’s not a shocker that it happened. Again, that’s on us.”
DOUBLE DOSE OF BLAME FOR DUAL-DUTY DIAZ
Diaz spent 13 seasons as a defensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee, Mississippi State, Texas, back to Starkville for a second run, as well as Miami—before assuming head coaching duties in Coral Gables in 2019, while keeping his hand in running this defense.
All that to say, how in the hell are the Hurricanes ten games into Diaz’s third season running this program—six years at the helm for the Canes’ defense—yet he’s unable to keep players from jumping offsides, both in practice and on game day?
Fundamentally, Miami has been ripped all season for being one of the worst-tackling teams in all of college football—now it’s coming out that the Canes have an ongoing problem regarding jumping offsides, which hasn’t been corrected during the week.
News flash, Diaz—it ain’t the big moment in Tallahassee if your guys are doing the same thing at Greentree day in and day out. This incompetence from a Miami head coach and long time defensive coordinator has reached new levels of indefensible.
Gaffes aside, as far as the simple nature of tackling, defending and making plays—this Diaz-led defense is surrendering an average of 35 points-per-game and 45 yards-per-game against the eight Power 5 teams faced in 2021. Abysmal.
There is a culture problem under Diaz that has been discussed ad nauseam for almost three years and it deserves to come up again, as this season’s free fall continues and Miami’s 25th head coach is now sporting an indefensible 19-15 overall record.
It’s been amateur hour at the University of Miami since well before Diaz was handed the keys; a series of low-rent, poorly-executed, knee-jerk hires—UM hoping a gamble on an up and comer would yield the type of results usually only seen when investing big dollars in a quality candidate.
Diaz worked for Miami, on paper—a mindset that he was head coach-ready, simply because Temple was ready to hand him the same job—as well as the lazy approach of keeping things status quo with promoting a coordinator to replace a vacating head coach, in effort to avoid the standard down cycle that oft comes with a rebuild.
Diaz’s resume was at best Temple-ready, but nothing about his career trajectory or persona was Miami head coaching-caliber.
Floating into booster events on yachts, an edgy social media persona, tackling dummies and a WWE-like spectacle when the new indoor practice facility launched, victory cigars after beating a bad FSU team or slip-and-slide in the rain after surviving Virginia last year—all acceptable if winning big football games, but immediately cringe-worthy when losing 15 times over the course of three seasons.
Same to be said for being ill-prepared after bye weeks, not taking Florida International seriously, losing to Duke, getting shutout by Louisiana Tech in a garbage bowl game, struggles against Central Michigan and Appalachian State—and now face-planting against arguably the most-beatable Florida State team in recent memory; one year removed from trouncing the Noles, 52-10 at home.
WHEN APATHY REPLACES ANGER; UM IN HUGE CONUNDRUM
This Miami football program has been stalled-out at the same crossroads for a decade and a half—and the natives are no longer restless; apathy has officially kicked in and the Canes are left with a numb, lifeless fan base that is reaching new levels of not-giving-a-shit anymore—supporters getting to the place no longer caring much worse for this program than the frustration and bitterness that used to define this era.
Read the nearest message board, social media commentary or comments section in any UM-related article—the tide has turning to a point where many have abandoned all hope that this will ever turn around—leaving them to check out and invest their money and energies elsewhere.
Many folks now brazen with comments about no longer donating to the program, going to games—or even watching from home; finding new ways to spend Saturday as UM has crushed their spirit and they feel like fools for blinding supporting an university that as Herbstreit pointed out weeks back, “doesn’t care about football”.
I don’t often write in first-person in these op-eds, but the conversations I’ve had with friends, family and long-time supporters of this program this dismal season—it bears a quick rant from this frustrated place.
Hurricanes football was once all-encompassing; growing up in a family that owned allCanes (formerly All Sports) for over four decades—”The U” was more than just Saturdays at the Orange Bowl—it was our livelihood. We lived and died with this program, literally—a double-win when championships were captured, while financially steamrolled when the losses piled up and fans didn’t need the newest shirt or ball cap.
When Miami lost a game, everyone in our little universe knew to give our family a wide berth and a few days to recover—crushing blows, falling out of the national championship race or leaving titles on the floor—it was painful, it stayed with you and in many ways left some scars.
Walking out of my first in person game at Orange Bowl in 1984—after the unthinkable second half collapse against Maryland—followed by a Thanksgiving memory weeks later when my dad and uncle were too rattled by Hail Flutie to sit down to dinner; pacing around the pool like mental patients and trying to make sense of what just happened.
Same for morgue-like environments after choking against Penn State in the desert for a second national title in the wee early hours of 1987—or bids for back-to-back titles falling short against Alabama in 1992, or stolen by Ohio State a decade later.
I still have an out-of-whack knuckle on my right hand from punching a file cabinet in the office when Kevin Thompson dropped a perfect pass into the hands of Chafie Fields for that 80-yard bomb—an upset bid against the second-ranked Nittany Lions falling short in 1999—as well as vividly recalling that sinking feeling when walking out of Doak Campbell Stadium after 47-0 two years prior, forced to ponder if Miami would ever field a competitive team again.
Thankfully the Hurricanes were back by the turn of the century—but as mentioned, the dominant ride was short-lived and brutal days were again just around the corner; Miami’s downward spiral bottoming out in late 2005 when blowing a shot at an ACC title—the third-ranked Canes stumbling 14-10 to a very average Georgia Tech squad.
When the Canes we’re sunk in 2006—a four-game losing streak mid-season, as well as an on-field brawl with FIU and the murder of a beloved player weeks later, en route to a 7-6 finish after winning a blue turf bowl game in Boise—full acceptance that Miami had slipped back into that probation-era level of trash football.
By the time Virginia crushed Miami, 48-0 in the Orange Bowl finale in 2007—the event was nothing more than a tragic comedy, as orange and green confetti sprayed all over the venue and celebratory music cranked through the PA—the university’s top brass never playing out any post-game scenario where a scrub Cavaliers team pounded the Canes like Miami would a Bethune-Cookman.
Still, “The U” had rebuilt before, leading most of us to believe it could do so again—so trust the process for a few years and Miami would soon be “back”, right?
Over a decade later, still waiting—riding this sick cycle carousel in three- to five-year increments; mustering up hope for a new hire, teased in to believing things will turn a corner, hitting that moment you know it’s not going to happen—and then waiting on UM to reach the same realization in the coming years; fire, rehire, start the process again.
Since Miami got smacked around 40-3 in the 2005 Peach Bowl by LSU, this program has amassed a 116-84 record and is on it fifth different head coach over that span—an average of 7.73 wins and 5.6 losses-per-season, over a 15 years.
The Canes have won the ACC’s lowly Coastal Division once—blown out 38-3 in their lone championship game appearance; 2017 their only double digit-win season since 2003, as well.
Dominant for decades, mediocre every season since—University of Miami football is at a turning point like never before.
The writing on the wall regarding low-budget, work-in-progress head coaching hires not being the answer—as well as needing to solve the athletic director-related conundrum—either stuck with a lackey like Blake James, or watching the likes of an opportunist Kirby Hocutt or Shawn Eichorst using the program like the rest stop and stepping stone it is to most in the profession.
For the first time in four-plus decades of this program pumping through my DNA, 2021 proved to be the first year I actually rooted against present day Miami—welcoming losses this season, in the name of change and a better tomorrow.
I saw zero value in beating a North Carolina State or Pittsburgh once the Canes had fallen to 2-4 and Diaz showed he’s not the guy to resurrect this program. Once that determination was made, 2021 be damned—it’s all about 2022 and leaning on UM to get their collective shit together next hire around.
Wins fell into place against the Wolfpack, Panthers and Yellow Jackets—and par for the course, I saw too many back to drinking the Kool-Aid; wrapped up in the temporary endorphin rush of a pointless win and no longer beating their drum about change.
A temporary moratorium this weekend as it was Florida State on the other sideline—the hatred for the rival running too deep—leaving me, like so many other disgruntled fans, clamoring for a win.
Instead, just the type of sobering, gut-wrenching loss needed to remind everyone what a train wreck this current staff is.
Diaz didn’t just lose this game in the end—his team pissed it away early, fought to get it back and then let an inferior squad just snatch it right back from them—bad decisions, poor execution and breakdowns resulting in a few daggers by a Florida State squad that had won six measly football games dating back to mid-November 2019.
Virginia Tech and Duke remain for this up and down .500 squad, followed by a third-tier bowl game if Miami at least beats one of the two—begging the question, who is all right with this pathetic brand of football at this once-great university?
Whoever is in charge, may you pay attention to this painfully bad product on the field, as well as the growing indifference shown by a disgruntled, over-it fan base. Miami has again reached a tipping point and anything short of sweeping change for the better—the Canes are no longer on the brink of irrelevance, but extinction all together. Lose the losers—Diaz and James—and go all-in on quality replacements; proving that football actually is a priority at the University of Miami.
Anything less, and even the most diehard of fans will continues this mass exodus and fast-tracked detachment from this once-great, currently-toxic program.
[Editor’s note. Within an hour of this article’s posting, the University of Miami relieved athletic director Blake James of his duties—the first domino officially falling.]
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 Miami Hurricanes are back to .500 football after eking out unexpected wins against North Carolina State and Pittsburgh in back-to-back weeks.
Left for dead after heartbreaking losses to Virginia and North Carolina weeks prior, Manny Diaz and his squad appeared headed for 2-6—games against the ranked Wolfpack and Panthers looking like even bigger uphill battles than “lesser” opponents in the Cavaliers and Tar Heels.
The football gods tooketh away earlier in the season—a kick hitting a goal post, or tipped and intercepted ball—but they gaveth back since; opponents dropping balls, a reversed turnover or a veteran quarterback making two rookie mistakes.
Conversely, quarterback play has absolutely saved Miami in back-to-back weeks—freshman Tyler Van Dyke slapping together two Heisman-worthy performances—throwing for 751 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception in season-altering victories.
To some, Miami has gone from left-for-dead—back to winning-out and favored to beat everyone left on their schedule—Georgia Tech heading south this weekend, a road trip to Tallahassee next up, Virginia Tech down south for Senior Day and a regular season finale at Duke.
On paper, the Canes should extend the win-streak to six—but Miami also should’ve beaten Virginia and North Carolina, while potentially stumbling against North Carolina State and Pittsburgh—so plotting out and making predictions means absolutely zero regarding this consistently-inconsistent program.
The sadly-familiar, annual we’re-still-in-this-thing Coastal Division refrain is again pumping full-force—if A beats B and C can get upset by D—strangely more plausible than in years passed, as the underwhelming ACC is that wide open this season.
Inconceivable as it’d be in a more competitive year—a once 2-4 Miami can actually roll to 9-4 with its first conference win, setting up and Orange Bowl berth as ACC champs.
Even if Miami somehow rattled off seven wins since the tip heard ’round Chapel Hill—there are still deep-rooted issues surrounding this broken program and a wrong-fit head coach; all of which seemed closer to being addressed before Van Dyke’s yeoman’s effort saved Diaz from a year three in-season firing.
Without this rejuvenated offense, Miami would be sitting at 2-6—and 2-8 dating back to what would’ve been the Canes last Power Five victory (a 48-0 rout of Duke last December)—a four-game losing streak and 0-4 conference start arguably enough to see the joker Diaz out on Halloween morning.
Instead, the MVP-like performance from Van Dyke propelled the Canes to back-to-back wins—by a combined five points—short-term memories going full-throttle, working overtime to forget how disastrous and embarrassing the first half of this season played out.
DISASTROUS DEFENSE DESERVES HEADLINES
31-30 and 38-34 are the only numbers some want to focus on—instead of 587; the amount of yards Pittsburgh dropped on Miami’s struggling defense. Senior quarterback Kenny Pickett carved up the Canes secondary for 519 yards through the air—done-in by two uncharacteristically bad decisions that ultimately cost the Panthers the game.
Had the veteran Pickett seen Jordan Addison midfield and streaking past the Miami secondary—he’d have dropped an easy 45-yard game-tying touchdown in the sophomore receiver’s mitts. Instead, Pickett didn’t identify the gimme, looked left and forced his pass into double coverage—Tyrique Stevenson jumping the rout and taking the pass 18 yards the other way.
Four plays later, Miami was in the end zone and up 31-17—a defensive breakdown and sure score fast-swept under the rug when Pickett whiffed and Stevenson capitalized on the mistake.
Late fourth quarter, trailing 38-34 and looking for the game-winner—Pickett was again moving the Panthers at-will against a backpedaling Canes defense—Addison again wide open for a would-be 31-yard touchdown, but his all-everything quarterback overthrew a pass landing in the arms of roving safety James Williams.
Van Dyke cooly responded and got Miami out of a jam with a clutch 18-yard, timed sideline hook-up to Charleston Rambo—the Canes facing a 3rd-and-11 from the one-yard line without the completion. Instead, a first down, some space, an opportunity to run Jaylan Knighton for a huge seven-yard gain—the Panthers blowing timeouts on back-to-back plays—before Van Dyke found tight end Will Mallory for six-yard dagger on 3rd-and-4, resulting in victory formation and the ballgame.
Still, lost in the elation of the victory, the fact that Pickett—who had one interception on the season—gifted two to the Miami secondary. The gaffes cost his team 14 points, the ballgame and a personal stat line that should’ve read 41-of-55, 595 yards and five touchdowns—further proving the Canes’ defense couldn’t stop him; Pickett stopped himself.
Two plays were the difference between 38-34 and 48-27—the loss hurting Pitt’s chase of a Coastal title, while allowing Miami to ignore glaring defensive issues, now overshadowed by the false glow of back-to-back wins.
None of that takes away the credit these Hurricanes deserve for not packing it in when backs were to the wall after the program’s worst start since the 1997 season. A youth movement is finally underway in Coral Gables—Diaz’s hand mostly forced due to injuries—but Miami’s underclassmen have some bounce in their step, are showing heart and have played balls out the past two weeks, amidst some mistakes.
Still, to see so many going from the low of lows after two conference losses weeks back—to fully on board after eking out two wins—it’s borderline insanity. A Heisman-caliber performance from a freshman quarterback over an eight-day span cannot negate the fact that Diaz is fielding a train-wreck defense; a unit he put himself in charge of last off-season, which has regressed since.
Van Dyke showed tremendous moxie in the wake of his game-sealing interception against North Carolina—calling his shot against North Carolina State and then delivering a 325-yard, four-touchdown performance—as the Wolfpack wound up as snakebitten as the Canes had been weeks prior.
Case in point, an early third quarter muffed punt by Jacolby George looked like another here-we-go-again moment for Miami. Danny Blakeman recovered the ball on the five-yard line and the Wolfpack looked to be in business—until a review on the play saw a helmet-less Anthony Smith in the scrum, resulting in an unsportsmanlike call, offsetting a Canes’ holding penalty and forcing a re-kick.
North Carolina State forced a three and out, but lost the field position battle—settling for a field goal on the ensuing possession—the quirky, overturned turnover resulting in a four-point swing in an eventual one-point game.
CLOSE WINS; SHORT-TERM ENDORPHINS RUSH
Before any retort or rant about how this is football and games are made up of small moments like this every week—no shit and well aware. Teams can play good football and lose, bad football and win, good football and win or bad football and lose.
The point being made; that recent wins are seemingly clouding judgment and perspective regarding Miami fielding a good enough football team—one that can back into wins, while continuing to suffer head-scratching losses, en route to 8-4 type seasons—versus the type of fall that would’ve sent Diaz packing; capitalizing on negative national media calling out the university’s commitment towards rebuilding a champion.
An early-season, sympathy-driven narrative was spun by maligned athletic director Blake James and local bleeding heart media—an implication that the Canes were victims of bad luck in last-second losses to Virginia and North Carolina—when in realty, Miami played some really piss-poor football against both; slow starts, dropped passes, untimely penalties, mental errors and trash fundamentals when it came to angles taken or lazy tackling.
Conversely, an offensive resurgence and Van Dyke slapping an “S” on his chest, playing Superman—the only difference-maker in Miami stealing two victories which their defensive did everything to blow. The final score remains the only headline, while desperate fans feast on empty-calorie, meaningless-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things wins—the type of sad victories that give a lazy University of Miami athletic department enough fuel to roll an “improved” Diaz out for another go-around.
Lost in this two-game win-streak and 2-2 stretch—the fact this Diaz-led Hurricanes’ defense surrendered 1,839 yards and 139 points over that span—forcing two turnovers in three games, before Pickett’s unraveling and two gift-wrapped interceptions; his second and third of the season.
Miami’s defense has played poorly enough for 4-4 to easily be 2-6 going into this final stretch—but the Hurricanes’ offense outperformed expectations, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat—which begs the question, how much longer can this current ecosystem of next-level offense and abysmal defense survive?
The Canes are currently running a one-dimensional passing offense, with zero power running game—Miami limited with both Don Chaney Jr. and Cam Harris lost for the season, while working to break in newbie Thad Franklin; the thunder to Knighton’s lightning.
Impressive as Van Dyke was throwing for 325 yards against North Carolina State and 426 at Pittsburgh—the Canes only amassed 95 yards on the ground against the Wolfpack, and 64 yards against the Panthers, 40 of which came on a touchdown run by Knighton.
Despite the fact this final month of football is anything but a Murder’s Row schedule for Miami—doesn’t take a world class defensive coordinator to see the chinks in the Hurricanes’ offensive armor and to believe Van Dyke will start to feel more pressure, while offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee will have to dial up some form of a ground attack to survive.
The Canes’ offensive game plan over the next four games needs to consist of more than Van Dyke airing it out—playing mistake-free football and averaging 4o0 yards and three or four touchdowns-per game. Miami’s defense better figure things out—and fast.
WINS DON’T CHANGE OVERALL DIAZ NARRATIVE
The pressure to solve these defensive setbacks sits squarely on Diaz’s shoulders—noise levels needing to rise within this rowdy fanbase, as too many have gotten fat and happy—forgiving bad defense due to success on offense.
The lead story and headlines have been built around a baller freshman quarterback, a youth-led movement and the show-their-heart Canes “finding a way”—while the defense bleeds out weekly on Manny’s watch.
Weeks back, social media was flooded with memes, imagery and comparisons to the plight of former Canes head coaches Al Golden or Randy Shannon in year three of their runs run at Miami—versus where Diaz stands as many games in—Golden at 19-11, Shannon at 17-13 and Diaz at 16-14 after falling in at North Carolina.
Two weeks later, a complete narrative shift for those blinded by two wins—some going as far as to lob Dabo Swinney comparisons (seriously)—who was 23-12 eight games into year three, not counting going 4-3 in an interim role at Clemson in 2008.
Weeks ago this fan base was afraid of Miami potentially losing out—yet is now daydreaming about taking the ACC and pulling off a big bowl victory, en route to the same 10-4 record Swinney posted in 2011; the Tigers’ head coach also winning the conference in his third year.
Left out of that clunky, stretch of a comparison—the fact West Virginia rolled Clemson’s shoddy defense in the Orange Bowl, 70-33—a massacre that saw Kevin Steele and Charlie Harbison removed from their co-defensive coordinator posts, before Swinney chased down one of the baddest defensive minds in the game and landed the coveted Brent Venables, now in his tenth season with the Tigers.
While Clemson reeled in the biggest defensive fish they could hook after Swinney’s third full season—the missing piece to chasing championships—Diaz used his year-three off season to promote and demote himself. The current head coach decided he was Miami’s best defensive option—splitting time in a role held by Blake Baker the past two seasons; who Diaz protected, helped coach-up and was saved from having to fire after LSU bailed him out and brought Baker to Baton Rouge to coach linebackers.
Not that Venables-caliber coordinators grow on trees—but Diaz could’ve turned the keys over to quality, veteran alpha that would put a foot up the ass of kids on that side of the ball—while he focused on his learn-on-the-job new CEO gig.
Diaz rolled into this new season on shaky ground—14-10 overall, and two games removed from a 62-24 beating former boss Mack Brown laid on him in last year’s season finale—yet his immediate answer was to play part-time defensive coordinator, while making sure fifth version of the Turnover Chain and third incarnation of Touchdown Rings were bling-tastic and camera-ready.
Teeth kicked in by Alabama. Nail-biter against Appalachian State. Outlasted and steamrolled in the fourth quarter by a tougher Michigan State team. Over-celebrating and looking like buffoons while smacking around Central Connecticut State. Back-to-back, slow-start losses to go 0-2 out the gate in conference play.
Miami was in complete crash-and-burn mode—a megalomaniac head coach in over his head, about to have the leg swept—before two pedestrian wins arguably saved his season. This short-term buzz some are feeling; in realty a huge step backwards for the movement, if the goal was to ultimately punt daze in favor of a better-fit head coach for 2022.
BEWARE AS EVERY GAME NOW “WINNABLE”
The good news for these Hurricanes is that the meat of the schedule is in the rearview and they’ll be favored in all four remaining games. The bad? The fact that Miami is prone for late-season shitting of the bed since joining the ACC; pissing away countless winnable games, despite everything—or nothing—being on the line.
From that still-painful late-year stumble against Georgia Tech in 2005 as the No. 3 team in the country—blowing a shot at an Orange Bowl match-up with Penn State as ACC champs, or runner-up Gator Bowl showdown versus Louisville—the Hurricanes drop the ball, literally and metaphorically.
Miami and Virginia Tech both joined the ACC in 2004; the Hokies taking the title outright year one, beating the Canes in a winner-take-all season finale. UM’s former Big East rival has won the conference four times and taken the division seven—while Miami’s lone Coastal Division championship (2017) resulted in a 38-3 bloodbath at the hands of Clemson.
Diaz’s Canes also admittedly have an issue handling success.
In the wake of arguably the program’s most-embarrassing loss—upset by commuter college Florida International in 2019—Diaz stated that his team was believing their own hype, reading the headlines and rolled in big-headed after a three-game win-streak over Pitt, Florida State and Louisville.
The Canes fell into a 23-3 fourth quarter hole against the Golden Panthers, before waking up and falling short—only to get upset by a basketball school the following week in Durham, North Carolina and then no-showing a fourth-tier bowl game; shutout by Louisiana Tech, ending 2019 with a massive thud.
Georgia Tech stumbles in with a 3-5 record—which has Miami faithful like those odds, until recalling the Yellow Jackets were 1-5 the last time these two met in 2019; weeks removed from a loss to The Citadel, before outlasting the Canes in overtime.
Miami’s had Florida State’s number the past four tries—but anyone who’s followed this rivalry knows the law of averages kicks in and the pendulum swings the other way. The Noles stumbled hard out the gate, but have won three of their past four—upsetting North Carolina by double-digits on the road—while having Clemson dead to right, before stumbling late last week.
Everything goes out the window when the Canes and Noles get after it—and a porous defense isn’t the answer for a road game against a Florida State squad starting to wake up from a multi-year slumber.
Virginia Tech is a hot mess, but like both Georgia Tech and Florida State—the Hokies have some pretty decent muscle memory when it comes to upending the Hurricanes over the years. Miami is 6-3 dating back to 2012—but Virginia Tech had a 7-2 run prior-to and Diaz 0-1 against the Hokies at home after an embarrassing 2019 showing where the Canes fell into a fast 28-0 hole.
Even lowly Duke has gotten in on the action—beating Miami in two of the past three showdowns of this insanely lopsided series the Canes lead 14-4.
IN THE END…
The point in this rant; based on Diaz’s overall track record and the Canes late-year slip-ups—there are no gimmes these next four weeks. Nor should newfound excitement over a young quarterback’s efforts cloud judgment in regards to a painfully bad defense in need of a coaching overhaul.
Some want to waste energies battling over allegiance and alliance; as if rooting for these Canes, or against—in the name of building for a better future—has any bearing on the outcome. The only conversation worth having; those who actively go head-in-the-sand over glaring weaknesses, in favor of short-lived jubilation when close wins are squeezed out against marginal opponents—as long-running problems won’t go away without sweeping change.
Whether Miami finishes 4-8 or a miraculous 10-4—a reckoning must still in the cards. Diaz must be judged as harshly for the hole he’s put Miami in—4-6 since last December, saved by three late-game wins—opposed to being let off the hook or keeping his players engaged and “showing up” these past two weeks.
8-4 is certainly doable as the regular season winds down, though 7-5 seems more realistic—Miami a combined 25-16 this past decade regarding the final four games of each season—the Canes losing focus and ultimately stumbling.
This up and down 2021 rolls on—one-game seasons and fast-changing narratives the name of the game, while the ongoing issues seem to stay the same.
Arguably less appropriate on the heels of back-to-back wins—but refuse to be blinded by fool’s gold and staying the course; Dead Manny Walking.
The past eight quarters haven’t been easy on the the University of Miami’s football program—coaches and players alike—while a fan base is also at a breaking point, as the incompetence and failure reaches a new low.
All that to say, another rock bottom moment for this program—and for Manny Diaz specifically.
Not only back-to-back weeks where Miami started slow, rallied late and painfully came up short—snatching defeat from the jaws of victory—it was a somber post-game moment making the rounds which showed the world how the son of the city’s former mayor responds in adversarial moments.
The blurry snapshot even came with an accompanying Sunday morning write-up from a Canes site whose articles are usually premium account pieces—not that anyone would’ve paid for this propaganda and an attempt to elicit sympathy from supporters instead of understandable frustration.
SPIN CITY: SHAPING THE DIAZ NARRATIVE
Despite falling to North Carolina, 45-42—just over a week after throwing away a 30-28 home game to Virginia on a missed kick, CaneSport ran an op-ed titled, “Now Is Not The Time For Verdict On Diaz”—with a lead image of a sullen Diaz in the corner of the end zone, leaning back, legs crossed with a thousand yard stare at the field where the unthinkable just took place.
For those who thought a game-winning field goal off the goalpost was the most-heartbreaking way to lose a game, a “hold my beer moment” as a last-gasp Miami third down pass was tipped and intercepted with mere second remaining—preventing a redemptive kicking moment that would’ve sent the game to overtime.
While the hurt and pain for all tied to this program are real—so is the fact that the Hurricanes bled out for 59-minutes these past two games, before dying in the final seconds; a missed kick or tipped pass weren’t the culprits.
As a result, the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of Diaz—unmotivated to play early, untimely penalties mental mistakes and shoddy fundamentals; namely forgetting how to tackle. The third-year head coaches always quick to say these issues are “on him” and that he needs to find a way to get things fixed, only to see his teams making the same year three gaffes that were a problem year one.
Everyone processes grief differently—and maybe there was some authenticity in Diaz finding a quiet moment in the corner of an empty stadium—by any cynic would be quick to remember that a politician always knows where to find the camera; which includes the son of a politician.
The article states that “10 minutes turned to 15” as Diaz “stood there thinking”, before being summoned to the bus for the ride to the airport and team flight home.
One could argue Diaz could’ve found a private place to (understandably) sulk—in the bowels of Kenan Memorial, where he did his post-game presser—but no cameras would’ve been there to capture it. Shuffling out to the field, where stadium lights were still cranking—posting-up about about 2 o’clock from the press box, where writers were still banging out recaps; it seems a bit calculated and opportune.
It also appears to have worked, as CaneSport and others bought right in.
This particular piece cherry picks any positive moments and sells optimism based on the effort, not the result. There’s no owning any early failures—it was all about the second half effort; the Canes waking up and out-gaining the Tar Heels in the second half and overall, without ever asking why Miami never hits the ground running under Diaz, always having to play catch-up.
“It’s the magic of sports. There are things that sometimes you just marvel at, don’t try to explain.” the piece read; gobsmacked that Miami could finish with more yards, while still falling short.
A flubbed defensive play here or there was discussed—but not the fact that Diaz chose to call those shots this season, instead of bringing on a veteran coordinator as he focused on a CEO role that is still new to him. Despite being praised for his defensive ways years back, Diaz’s Canes are statistically one of the the worst-tacking groups in the nation this fall.
Worth noting, no?
FAIRY-TALE STORYTELLING; NIGHTMARE ENDING
Breaking down Miami’s “scrappy” comeback in some Remember The Titans fashion—as if this wasn’t another in a long line of forgetting games where the Hurricanes played down to a mid-tier conference opponent, coming up short again.
“It was time to buckle up for the fourth quarter. Four fingers were in the air on the Miami sideline. Diaz jumped up and down like a little kid,” the piece waxed poetically.
CaneSport even made light that maybe Mack Brown was “giving Diaz a gift to makeup for the un-ceremonial firing at Texas when Diaz worked for him as a defensive coordinator”—as if the third-year defensive play caller didn’t deserve to canned two games into the 2013 season, when the Longhorns surrendered 550 rushing yards at BYU.
Diaz was even praised for not playing for the field goal like he did against Virginia—smug on the sideline in the recent Thursday night contest, where Miami faced a first down from the 15-yard line with :97 remaining—before running three plays to set up a game-winning kick, which sailed wide.
Where a field goal would’ve beaten the Cavaliers, one against the Tar Heels would’ve merely forced overtime in front of a raucous night crowd—so of course Diaz and Miami were playing for the win. How is this even a conversation?
“Standing there all alone in the shadows in that corner of the stadium, you can bet Diaz replayed every second of those rapid fire decisions,” as the piece came to a close. “He believes that these sequences will start going his way soon, that his team of figures will become winners before the clock runs out again.”
Those able to cut through the gaslighting are fully aware that the time to win as these past few weeks and that the clock has pretty much run out, for al intents and purposes. Virginia and North Carolina were two of the easier games left on the schedule between now and Virginia Tech and Duke as the closers.
Technically speaking, sure—Miami is two plays away from 4-2, instead of 2-4—but those two plays now have the Hurricanes 0-2 in conference play, instead of atop the Coastal at 2-0. These two setbacks all but kill the annual rallying cry of still being in the hunt for the program’s second divisional title since joining the ACC in 2004.
No sadder words utter by Miami fans every fall than the phrase, “We’re not mathematically eliminated yet!”
MORALE FADES WITH EACH CRUSHING BLOW
Not to be callous, but what will this team play for these next few weeks and where will coaches find motivation for a season’s that’s reached its tipping point? If Miami couldn’t muster up the gusto to get after it for 60 minutes these past two weeks—both on offense and defense—how will that bode for two surging opponents who are on deck?
HardRock will be a morgue next Saturday night when No. 18 North Carolina State heads south—sans the Wolfpack fans eager to make the 10-hour drive to Miami Gardens to watch their 5-1 team attempt to exact some revenge on a Hurricanes squad that stole one late last year in Raleigh.
The following week Miami heads to No. 23 Pittsburgh—another 5-1 team—who incredibly will be led by quarterback Kenny Pickett, the maestro in the Panthers’ upset against the Hurricanes as a true freshman in 2017.
The odds of winning either—outside of a gift from the football gods to make up for the past two weeks—seems slim, to none. This would put the Hurricanes at 2-6; Miami’s worst start since 1975—year one of the two-year Carl Selmer era—Miami finishing 2-8 that dismal season.
As for this current 2-4 run; Miami hasn’t seen days this dark since 1997—the program bottoming out under Butch Davis as probation and lost scholarships took a toll. Those Canes went 5-6 on the year—Miami’s worst run since the same record in 1979—year one of the Howard Schnellenberger era.
Diaz is now 16-14 in his two-plus years at Miami and is realistically looking at 16-16 by month’s end, barring a miracle. That would also put the Hurricanes at 2-8 dating back to the program’s last Power Five win—a 48-0 rout of Duke last December 5th—with the two lone wins coming via a late field goal against Appalachian State and a glorified scrimmage rout of Central Connecticut State.
BROKEN & FLAWED FROM THE GET-GO
Miami is cloaked in failure under Diaz—something that started with his first two games at the helm—right up through these last two. The Hurricanes had a shot at knocking off an overrated No. 8 Florida in the 2019 season opener, but special teams errors, metal errors and poor execution resulted in a 24-20 loss.
The next time Miami took the field, the Gators hangover was real and the Canes were fast down 17-3 to the Tar Heels—before scrapping back late, taking a lead, surrendering a 4th-and-17 conversion that led to a game-winning touchdown—UM’s long, game-tying field goal attempt in the waning moments not having a prayer.
The rest of the 6-7 season was also nightmarish; falling into a 28-0 early hole to a Virginia Tech team wrecked 45-10 at home by Duke a week prior—the Canes knotting things up 35-35 but unable to get one final defensive stop, falling 42-35—a sign of things to come under Diaz.
Weeks later, an under-motivated Miami sleepwalked through an overtime loss against a one-win Georgia Tech team, fresh off a loss to The Citadel and in their first year having abandoned their long-time triple option offense.
Miami rattled off three wins in a row against low-grade competition; winning at Pittsburgh, Florida State and snuffing out Louisville at home—yet inexplicably got big-headed at 6-4 and no-showed against Florida International.
In what was by far the biggest game in the commuter college’s history—on the hallowed grounds where the Orange Bowl once stood.
A former UM head coach running the Golden Panthers, with several former Canes players on his staff—yet Diaz and his cronies were down 23-3 early fourth quarter before they knew what hit them—en route to arguably the most-embarrassing loss in program history, 30-24.
A loss at Duke the next week, followed by a bowl shutout to Louisiana Tech to end 2019 with a thud.
A KING-SIZED SAVE FOR DIAZ IN 2020
To Diaz’s credit, he again robbed the Transfer Portal—a Band-Aid for a Canes program that struggles on National Signing Day, while Miami has become a great one-year destination for guys’ last hurrah.
D’Eriq King was all that and more in 2020, leading the Canes to an 8-3 season—directly having an impact on 3-4 games that would’ve gone south without him—saving Diaz, as a result.
Led by King, Miami eked out wins over Virginia, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech, by a combined total of nine points—down 44-31 late in Raleigh, before pulling out the 44-41 victory and staring up at a 24-13 deficit in Blacksburg, before escaping, 25-24.
King famously tore his ACL in a slow-start, bowl loss to Oklahoma State—Miami down 21-3 before rallying late and falling short, again—and despite the well-intended attempt to run it back in 2021, King’s elusiveness wasn’t the same post-surgery and his body took an early-season beating that now has him out for the year.
Injuries have plagued Diaz’s squad halfway through year three; running backs Don Chaney Jr. knocked out early with a knee injury and Cam Harris lost for the year this weekend at North Carolina. Jake Garcia also had surgery on an ankle, sidelining him for weeks—which ended any quarterback battle for supremacy with Tyler Van Dyke, who as tossed the keys to the offense by default as a result.
Still, none is an excuse for how Miami underperformed against Virginia and North Carolina—two average, beatable football teams.
Even with the injuries and setbacks, as the CaneSport fluff piece pointed out—Miami out-gained North Carolina yardage-wise, 421 to 382 and 341 to 107, after that head-scratching 176 to 12 start and 275 to 80 halftime deficit—which only proves what was there for the taking if Diaz had his team ready to play football.
Georgia Tech rung North Carolina up for 45 points and 394 yards weeks back; the Yellow Jackets’ defense surrendering 369 total yards and only 22 points—while Florida State scored 35 points on 383 yards and limited the Tar Heels to 25 points.
Miami’s defense gave up 45 points to an offense averaging 35.5 points-per-game—one that only laid 38 on a terrible Duke team shutout by Virginia this past weekend, 48-0.
DIAZ-LED DEFENSE; COMPLETELY LOST
Under Diaz, this Hurricanes defense bends, breaks and damn near forgets everything it’s been fundamentally taught since Optimist era football. Over the past eight quarters, almost every time Miami finds the end zone or settles for a field goal—the defense has been unable to make a stand, sending the offense back on the field with a hot hand and some motivation.
Canes pull to within 19-14 against Virginia mid-third quarter—Miami gives up a seven-play, 75-yard drive (and two-point conversion), pushing the Cavaliers’ lead to 27-14. Harris breaks off a beast of a 57-yard run; the defense takes the piss out of it, allowing a field goal that pushed the lead to nine—proving to be the deciding factor in what was a two-point loss.
Same to be said for this loss at North Carolina; the Tar Heels going 150 yards on 13 plays in just over five minutes of football—the saving grace, a Jahfari Harvey pick-six on the first Sam Howell pass from scrimmage—which lost all its luster moments later, when Gurvan Hall got tangled up on a 45-yard pass from Howell to Josh Downs, pushing the lead back to 14-7.
Jaylan Knighton punches in a late second quarter touchdown, cutting the lead to 28-17—Miami gives up two field goal attempts in the final minutes of the half. The first would sail right, but after a second Van Dyke interception, the Heels had new life and drilled a 48-yarder, taking a 31-17 lead into intermission.
Miami’s offense manufactures a solid, 75-yard opening drive, cutting the lead to seven? The Tar Heels are back in the end zone four plays later; the Canes’ defense missing a half dozen tackles as Howell scampered 30 yards to pay dirt.
Knighton rumbles 60 yards on a dump-off from Van Dyke, cutting the lead to four? Howell scores on the next possession after a three-and-out.
As a program, Miami’s modus operandi was always defense-driven—wreaking havoc on offenses, creating turnovers and getting momentum-shifting stops that ultimately altered football games. Should the offense make a mistake, a confident defense always strutted onto the field with a, “Don’t sweat it, we got you” big-baller energy and delivered.
When the Canes’ offense came to play and delivered, the defense took pride in working hard to get the ball back to keep the momentum rolling.
The Hurricanes haven’t played that brand of football since that aberration of a a season in 2017.
An upperclassmen-heavy defense—loaded with Al Golden recruits, shockingly—took a massive step forward and paved the way to that 10-0 start, highlighted by an upset of No. 3 Notre Dame, 41-8.
This was also the year of the iconic-turned-infamous Turnover Chain—a true motivational tool and one of college football’s biggest stories, as Miami seemed to over-perform by way of this good luck charm—until it was lucky no more.
RICHT’S DEPARTURE; UM’S KNEE-JERK MOVES
Miami’s 10-0 start year two under Mark Richt was a 7-9 disaster from that point; 0-3 to close out the 2017 season—including a 38-3 rout via Clemson in the Canes’ first ACC Championship appearance, followed by a double-digit Orange Bowl loss to Wisconsin.
A 5-1 start went to hell in a handbag in 2018—Miami dropping four in a row and left fighting for bowl eligibility with two to play, before beating Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh to get to 7-5—only to crash and burn in the Pinstripe Bowl, where a rematch against the Badgers resulted in a 35-3 bloodbath.
Richt called it a career three days later, which ultimately led to the University of Miami’s “sliding doors” moment—December 30th, 2018—where the program flinched and choked in an unexpected big moment, making a knee-jerk hire that landed the Hurricanes where they are today.
Despite that 7-5 regular season in 2018, Miami’s offense was the culprit—not Diaz’s defense—meaning the third-year coordinator’s name still carried some cachet, tabbing him as an up-and-comer Temple wanted to fill their head coaching vacancy.
Diaz accepted the job mid-December, but strangely found his way back to the Hurricanes’ sideline in the postseason—odd in the sense Miami was a five-loss team in a third tier bowl, playing for absolutely nothing. This wasn’t a coordinator leaving behind a Playoffs-caliber team, in the hunt for a title and playing the “unfinished business” card, chasing a championship.
This was simply a case of not letting go of the past and fully embracing one’s future.
All focus should’ve been on Diaz’s new opportunity in Philadelphia; instead, a sign of things to come regarding an individual quick to take on a new title and role—only to not know how to move on from his former position; delegating those tasks to a new quality hire.
Miami panicked upon Richt’s abrupt departure, immediately reaching out to Diaz—the safe, cheap play—to gauge interest. Diaz, again, the son of a politician and masterful in the art of spin, posturing and self-promotion—manufactured a false timeline with UM; demanding they act fast, or he was all-in with the Owls and no longer an option.
Despite that empty threat, Miami caved and hired Diaz by sundown on the same day that Richt retired—paying Temple a reported $4 million, for the inconvenience caused by poaching their “undefeated” new head coach.
Similar to Diaz double-dipping and coaching the Canes’ 2018 bowl game, while making some initial head coaching moves with the Owls—the third-year head coach managed to promote, demote and empower himself this season when micromanaging and re-assuming his old role as defensive coordinator.
Diaz caught a break when second year, maligned defensive coordinator Blake Baker was poached by LSU and the end of last season—taking over linebackers and helping the Tigers with recruiting—all of which saved Diaz from having to fire his protege days after North Carolina laid a 62-26 beating on Miami; rushing for more yards (554) than BYU did Texas’ defense in the game that ran Diaz out of Austin.
HEAD COACH & MOONLIGHTING AS COORDINATOR
The logical move for a first-time CEO would’ve be to bring on a heavy hitter to take defensive responsibilities off his plate; a salty veteran and alpha like a Jim Leavitt—allowing Diaz to focusing on higher-level initiatives as he rebuilt the Miami program top to bottom.
Instead, the ultimate beta move as he continued to handle his previous duties in effort to stay busy and to avoid letting someone else both calls the shots, or to show him up if the defense actually improved—failing to realize he’d share in the success as the top-dog who hired and empowered a new coordinator.
What Diaz failed to realize; that riding the fence and playing part-time CEO and part-time defensive coordinator was a recipe for disaster—and that if or when Miami tanked this season, he’d take a double dose of grief—as both head coach and defensive shot-caller.
There are no do-overs in life, or sports—bur realistically all parties involved have to questions the moves made in December 2018 which got Miami here.
Deep down, Diaz has to know he wasn’t ready for prime time and to lead his hometown Hurricanes to the promised land. The pragmatic move would’ve been to cut his teeth at temple—where he could’ve learned on the job at a low-expectation program, outside of the national spotlight.
One could counter this suggestion, stating that the Temple job could’ve gone south—as long-time Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey isn’t setting the world on fire with the Owls.
Carey put together a respectable 8-5 run in 2019—Diaz’s would-be first season—before things went sideways in a COVID-shortened 2020; Temple going 1-6. Year three is now 3-3 at the halfway point, with Temple trounced by Rutgers (61-14), Boston College (28-3) and Cincinnati (52-3).
That said, good coaches can fail on paper in dead-end programs—reinventing themselves and returning to top-tier jobs in due time.
DIAZ NEEDED GROWTH MOMENT AWAY FROM UM
Mario Cristobal spent six seasons as head coach at dead-end Florida International—suffering through an 1-11 first year, but getting the Golden Panthers bowl-eligible by year four; 7-6, winning the conference and topping Toledo in a bowl game—the program’s first trip to the post-season. Cristobal went 8-5 the following season, lost a bowl game and followed up with a 3-9 before getting let go year six.
Back to the ranks of assistant, Cristobal took his talents to Alabama and spent four years coaching and recruiting under Nick Saban—much like an early career move brought him to Rutgers for three seasons to work under Greg Schiano. Cristobal joined a Willie Taggart-led Oregon staff in 2017—and when Taggart made the move to follow Jimbo Fisher at Florida State, Cristobal was named head coach of the Ducks.
Where is Diaz’s career trajectory, years spent learning under true mentors, or years spent buckling in for the lesser gig and learning experience that sets the stage for tomorrow? Four years coaching the defense at Middle Tennessee under Rick Stockstill? One year under Dan Mullen at Mississippi State—returning four years later for a second stint, after failing at Texas and one rebuilding year under Skip Holtz at Louisiana Tech?
When dissecting it in retrospect, the University of Miami must own up to the fact that their overreaction to Richt’s swift retirement late 2018 is specifically while things are so dire halfway through the 2021 season; Diaz never had the resume to take over as the Hurricanes’ 25th head coach—and when looking as the deep-rooted cultural issues within the program, he lacks the leadership traits needed to negotiate this rugged, high-level coaching terrain.
It’s been stated here that Diaz comes off as wanting to be liked and accepted more than commanding the necessary amount of fear and respect top-flight college athletes need to be successful.
The odd tackling dummies WWE-style event in spring 2019, where Diaz got in on the action like big brother home from college and playing cool with high schoolers—to his victory cigars, sliding around in the rain after wins, floating into booster events on big yachts, or his once-clever, now-quiet social media game.
All would be forgivable if he was winning—just as everyone eventually came around on the aw-shucks Dabo Swinney act—originally seen as a rube and Tommy Bowden staff holdover for years, until reeling Brent Venables to run the defense and building a juggernaut.
The Tigers have taken step back in 2021, while Swinney’s star has plummeted—a feeling he’s lost his mojo and invincibility.
LOSE THE JEWELS & GET IT TOGETHER
Sadly, losses aside, nothing defines this Diaz era more than how his once-legendary motivational chain experiment has since turned into college football’s saddest joke—which he’s done nothing to curb, counter or reevaluate.
No sooner did Diaz take over in 2019, the first-year head coach rolled out Touchdown Rings to go with the third incarnation of the popular Cuban-link chain—both of which continue showing up in poorly-timed moments that should be better policed by Diaz, his staff and any player on this team with a modicum of leadership pumping through their veins.
The fifth version of the chain showed up as Miami trailed Alabama, 27-0 in the season opener—quickly turning into a laughing stock as soon as the fumble recovery was overturned and the hardware was sadly returned to its case. As if that weren’t humiliating enough, rings were rolled out when the Hurricanes finally found the end zone in the third quarter of what was then 41-10 game, at the time.
The fact there is no internal process to temper in-game celebrations while the Hurricanes are getting their teeth kicked in, or are running up video game numbers against a glorified high school a week after getting dick-punched in the fourth quarter by a Big Ten team that was supposed to wilt in the South Florida heat—beyond problematic.
One week after Michigan State outlasted Miami—a lopsided 21-3 run over final fifteen minutes, putting the game away against the program once known for “four fingers” and fourth quarter dominance—ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit took ‘The U’ to task on College GameDay.
“I don’t think it matters who the head coach is. Until you get a president and an AD and a coach together on the same page, I guess football doesn’t matter,” Herbstreit vented. “It matters to the alums, to the brotherhood of ‘The U’. But I don’t know if it matters to the people making the decisions at Miami.”
The shots fired reverberated throughout the college football world, trickling down to the local South Florida media—who seem a little more empowered when talking about the current State of Miami under Diaz as the losses pile up.
Hours after Herby’s spirited take-down, Miami players were seen mugging for cameras on the sideline while putting a 69-0 beating on Central Connecticut State; photographers quick to assemble players involved in any scoring drive, for calculated and choreographed poses and shots.
Anyone tied to this program should be mortified by the amateur hour approach and laissez faire management style taking place; from the inability of managing celebrations, to a cultural issue where seniority rules and personnel issues are birthed by the best players not seeing the field, in order not to rock the boat with upperclassmen.
All this to say, hard not to feel like the end is near. Back-to-back last-minutes losses are morale-crushers, and teams like North Carolina State and Pittsburgh look ready to bring a different fight and more stable attack than Virginia and North Carolina these past two weeks.
Halfway through, 2-4 is bad—but 2-6 is sound-the-alarm catastrophic—which is a very realistic scenario between now and month’s end.
“There’a a really good team in that locker room,” a struggling-for-words Diaz shared post-game. “We are what our record is, I understand that. But we stay the course, it’ll show.”
Unfortunately, time is running out on the goal being pursued and these 2021 Hurricanes appear to be past the point of no return in saving both this season—as well as Diaz’s dream job.
Dead Manny Walking.
The same foot that saved Manny Diaz weeks back against Appalachian State might be the one that eventually kicks him to the curb—with no one to blame but himself.
Miami lost a must-win showdown against a very average Virginia team on Thursday night—a game the Canes were never in until late—scrapping back, only to send a chip-shot, time-expiring, game-winning field goal attempt off the uprights.
It was a fitting end to an ugly game Miami lost a dozen times before a reeling head coach put the game on the foot of a freshman kicker for the second time in three games—and it could ultimately serve as the tipping point for The Diaz Era.
Andres Borregales will drill many a big kick or the Canes in the coming years. Until then, he’ll remain a footnote for how Miami theoretically lost this one. A kick he could’ve made in is sleep—this one will give him nightmares for the foreseeable future.
Still, The Doink At The Rock wasn’t the story. It was Diaz’s team rolling in ill-prepared for another must-win moment—all the pregame sideline hooting and hollering—only to go three-and-out on the first two possessions and taking a safety on the third, winding up in a 9-0 first quarter hole.
Appalachian State became must-win after Alabama broke Miami’s spirit; the Canes barely got out alive. Michigan State was the next big-time moment—yet it was the Spartans and their second-year head coach with the late-game domination of the program once known for holding up four fingers and taking over; while Miami’s third-year head coach was out there making year-one blunders.
Central Connecticut State was a glorified scrimmage; yet instead of a 1-2 team humbled by an inauspicious start—Miami’s sideline resembled a South Beach photoshoot; rings, chains and flash bulbs galore, while Hurricanes players mugged for the camera and struck poses through the 69-0 rout of a scrub.
Both Miami and Virgina entered Thursday’s contest with matching 2-2 records; both well aware the victor had a new lease on life, while whoever fell to 2-3 was in for a world of hurt. Still, based on pre-season expectations and what Diaz and his Hurricanes were to deliver year three, UM’s free fall was set to be greater if losing at home under the lights.
DARK CLOUD HOVERING OVER DIAZ’S CANES
Diaz now sits 16-13 overall in two-plus years at the helm; his first season a brutal 6-7 run—defined by his inability to get Miami up after bye weeks, or tempering out-of-control egos.
After a late-season three-game win-streak against average competition—Pittsburgh, Florida State and Louisville, on the heels of losing in overtime to a one-win Georgia Tech squad—Diaz expressed that his team was reading headlines and believing their own hype, which caused the embarrassing three-game skid against Florida International, Duke and Louisiana Tech, who shut the Canes out in a third-tier bowl game.
Last year’s COVID-defined season saw Miami getting out to a house-of-cards 8-1 start—the 42-17 one-sided loss at Clemson the true measuring stick regarding how far Diaz’s team was from competing with the big boys.
The 2020 Canes also got the kind of breaks and bounces they didn’t receive last night—comeback wins after slow starts at North Carolina State and Virginia Tech, while barely surviving this same Virginia team—quarterback D’Eriq King literally willing Miami to at least two or three wins as a transfer.
Anyone paying attention knew that 8-1 could’ve just as easily been 5-4 going into the regular season-ending home showdown with North Carolina—who demolished the Canes, 62-26, before Oklahoma State capitalized on another Diaz-inspired slow start in a second-tier bowl game this time around.
Miami’s third-year head coach is now 2-5 in his last seven games—the pressure mounting more each week he can’t find a way out of the mess he’s created.
If the natives were restless when Diaz was a rushed hire in the final days of 2018, they’re out for blood now.
Kirk Herbstreit delivered a vicious blow to the University of Miami’s administration with his takedown of a flawed internal process; one that has resulted in a sub-par on-field product for the past 16 years, as well as five different head coaches between 2006 and 2019.
Neither Herbstreit or his other ESPN cohorts believe that UM cares about fielding a quality football program—and that Diaz is only a symptom of a bigger internal cancer.
“I don’t think it matters who the head coach is,” Herbstreit lamented. “Until you get a president, AD and coach together on the same page, I guess football doesn’t matter.”
UM president Dr. Julio Frenk attempted an academic-inspired, pre-game hail mary—by way of a lengthy release that said a ton, without really saying anything. An excerpt of the doctor’s madness:
“We must pay equally close attention to the drivers of disruption and the ways lines are being blurred between amateur and professional sports by factors including NIL legislation, antitrust rulings, promotion of gambling, conference realignments, and a corrosive discourse that falsely portrays college athletics as a means to exploit talented players, instead of what it really is: an avenue to expand opportunities for young people through access to higher education. We can either be disrupted, or we can play a role in strategically shaping the course of disruption.”
Channeling that big Billy Madison principal energy for Dr. Frenk, “What you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”
NATIONAL WRITERS TURN GUNS ON UM
The national shaming has since a ripple effect—local columnists now green-lit to say what everyone else has been thinking.
The Sun-Sentinel’s Dave Hyde came out guns blazing this morning; stating in his op-ed that the Diaz era “is past the point of no return”—and that was just the headline—before opening with, “Game, set, Manny Diaz Era, 2019-2021”.
Hyde referenced the Herbstreit take-down and Frenk’s desperate we’ll-get-this-fixed rant—while quick to point out that Miami’s evening takeaway was merely coming close to a last-second win over a Virginia team who was coming off of back-to-back beatdowns courtesy of Wake Forest and North Carolina.
“Miami was weirdly off-kilter and lacking energy in the first half,” Hyde explained. “It trailed 9-0 thanks to a safety. Virginia had 28 plays after the first quarter to Miami’s ten. Miami had all of 95 yards on offense at half. That was against a Virginia defense that allow its first two conference opponents an average of 587 yards and 48 points.”
The veteran South Florida columnist continued,”Who’s teaching tacking to these players? And, as for meeting the moment, each time Miami score its first three touchdowns to try to pull back into the game, the defense gave a score right back to Virginia.”
The only thing Hyde could’ve and should’ve also hammered home—the fact that Miami’s defensive regression, the piss-poor tackling, bad angles and garbage technique all fall on Diaz’s shoulders.
The megalomaniac head coach somehow promoted-demoted himself this off-season—re-assuming defensive coordinator duties, instead of bringing in an alpha dog to get that unit back on track; as if playing CEO and rebuilding a flawed program with a broken culture isn’t enough to handle.
Many will argue that Diaz was playing the percentages and that Borregales simply whiffed on a gimme kick—which is technically correct—but as proven, even playing odds isn’t fool-proof and there was something bigger at play for Miami and their desperate head coach.
An offense that struggled the majority of the evening was finally finding its groove late, as was a defense that was getting pushed around early—but was finally getting stops—keeping the Cavaliers out of the end zone the entire second half, sans one freakish, miracle grab for the highlight reels.
The Canes have struggled in the red zone for years, settling for too many field goals which come back to bite Miami—and with high-scoring North Carolina and North Carolina State on deck—UM needs a better offensive game plan that relying on Borregales’ right leg.
Had Miami escaped 31-30 with a last-second kick—a fitting final score only in the fact Howard Schnellenberger was posthumously inducted into UM’s Ring of Honor at halftime—it still would’ve been a missed opportunity for a bigger moment this broken team needed regarding all that lies ahead.
PLAYING STATS & ODDS; FOR LOSERS
Diaz and Miami are well past play-it-safe mode—the pressure is mounting and the season is fast-slipping away. As the losses pile up, the outside noise gets louder—forcing coaches and players to turn inwards towards reach other, embracing a head down, us-against-the-world mentality, which makes the victories that much sweeter, while insulating the unity from the heavy criticism when things go south.
Weeks back the Baltimore Ravens faced a 4th-and-1 at home against the Kansas City Chiefs—midfield and nursing a one-point lead with just over a minute remaining.
Percentages would tell head coach John Harbaugh to punt; pin the timeout-less Chiefs deep with virtually no time left and better his chances for victory. Godforbid the Ravens get stuffed and don’t pick up the yard, Patrick Mahomes is one quick throw away from getting his squad in field goal range for a game-winning kick—the Chiefs in position to win their fourth in a row against Baltimore.
Harbaugh intended to go for it all along—knowing three short feet would put the game away—but saw a potential rallying-cry moment and trust-building opportunity, asking quarterback Lamar Jackson if he wanted to go for it.
Harbaugh empowered his leader in that moment, even though the decision had been made—and proved the level of trust he had in his offense to put the game away. Jackson emphatically said ‘yes’—tucked the ball and ran a yard for the first down—Baltimore able to run out the clock and secure victory.
“Examined together, the final sequence in Baltimore’s win is a brilliant example of analytics, coach, and player acting like one. The team knew they were going for it. The coach knew his players would want to go and then put the decision on them,” wrote Tyler Lauletta of Insider.
Had Jackson gotten stuffed and Kansas City emerged victorious, Harbaugh would’ve been lambasted by every local newspaper and TV talking head—but he’d still have built necessary trust with his star player and sent a message to his team that they ride-or-die with Jackson; crucial after the young quarterback’s Playoffs struggles in Buffalo last year and Tennessee the year prior.
The momentum even carried over in the short-term, Baltimore down 17-16 at Detroit days later—Jackson completing a 4th-and-19 that set up the kick heard all around the league, as Justin Tucker drilled a record-setting, 66-yard game winner to crush the Lions.
Diaz and Miami needed more than to eke out a win Thursday night against one of the easier teams remaining on their 2021 schedule. Analytics, playing the percentages—the Hurricanes are well past that point, as yet another head coaching hire looks like a wrong-fit disaster, with the next rebuild on the horizon.
Borregales drilling the kick would’ve solved the evening’s problems, but there’d have been no teachable, bonding moment for both sides of the ball in need of serious growth. The only thing Diaz proved here is that he trusts his freshman kicker’s right foot more than he does his offense’s ability to find the end zone, or his defense’s skills regarding keeping a timeout-less Virginia from going 75 yards in under a minute.
Miami’s offense needed a touchdown, the defense needed a big stop and this Canes team needed a trusting head coach to put his balls on the line for their greater good—not to save his own ass, or to avoid another downtrodden post-game presser with more tired clichés and rah-rah rhetoric.
“The give games have been disappointing,” the head-slung-low Diaz shared in the bowels of Hard Rock. “There’s no excuse for it. There’s more to this team than that … We were on the verge of doing something really, really special tonight. We’ve got to take that part and build off that.”
Not quite sure how over a half of sub-par football, poor tackling, sub-par offensive execution, letting an opponent answer three scores and hoping to survive against a Virginia squad that other ACC programs have had their way with the past two weeks would’ve been “something really, really special”—but Diaz never met a hyperbolic statement he wasn’t all in on.
Really “special” would’ve been putting full trust and faith in his offense and defense to play football—riding the hot hand and punching in the score, while letting the defense pick up the slack and get a game-ending stop, for some real momentum going into the bye week.
If that somehow failed, Diaz at least had a bulletproof answer as to why—trusting his players on both sides of the ball to deliver in a big moment, setting the stage for some defining games on deck.
Now a conundrum exists for Miami faithful; never wanting to see this team lose—while knowing it will take a complete and utter collapse this season for a Diaz ousting and fresh start in 2022. How does one even attempt to rectify these feelings—actively rooting against the Canes now, with the hopes it sparks much-needed change tomorrow?
The brutal 2-3 start, the way the Hurricanes have lost—wrecked by Alabama and Michigan State, while outpaced by a sluggish Virginia team. There’s also the embarrassing practice of over-celebrating mediocrity with rings, chains and sideline photo shoots when players actually do their job—players mugging for cameras in games they’re losing, while no one in charge is pushing back on the antics, by simply acting like the adult in the room.
Diaz has long come across as the type of coach who wants to be liked and accepted over healthily feared and respected—but the “evolution” of Miami’s sideline hardware is giving off a vibe that the Canes’ head coach is working too hard to be “one of the guys”, instead of “the man”.
HERO TO ZERO: LOSE THE JEWELRY
The once-clever Turnover Chain captivated college football in 2017—and was a legitimate motivational tool that had Miami’s defense out-performing their 2016 efforts, sparking a 10-0 start to the season. From there the Mark Richt-led Canes went 7-9; bottoming-out with the 35-3 bowl loss to Wisconsin that sent Richt to retirement.
Where Diaz could’ve and should’ve rethought of ways to reshape a broken culture—he not only dialed up a third-incarnation of the chain; he doubled down with Touchdown Rings, for offensive players to celebrate doing their job when actually finding the end zone.
The phrase “jump the shark” itself has since jumped the shark, but so has Miami’s gaudy hardware experiment—bottoming out week one; the Canes busting out the hardware after a turnover—down 27-0 to Alabama—only to have to sheepishly return it to it’s case when the call was overturned.
Later in the game, the rings made their lone appearance after a Miami touchdown that pulled the Canes to within 31, down 41-10 at the time. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide was expectedly all business—outside of a post-game, well-earned “IT’S ALL ABOUT THE W” social media dig—while the Canes monkey business ways roll on, despite getting embarrassed every other week.
Like a parent delivering some tough love on their kids, Diaz needs to end this chain and ring experiment for the foreseeable future—until there’s actually something worth celebrating again. What was once trendsetting has since made Miami a laughing stock; which even the most laid-back of commentators is making mention of the absurdity of the Hurricanes celebrating in-game while actually trailing.
Every game of the Diaz era now takes on a must-win, most-important vibe—while the season’s biggest challenge is now on deck at Miami’s most-vulnerable time. Chapel Hill has been a house of horrors for Miami—now 3-5 since joining the ACC in 2004.
Mack Brown schooled his former pupil year one, jumping out to a 17-3 first quarter lead in 2019—the Canes coming off the bye, but still hungover from the late loss to Florida in the opener. Miami would scrap back, taking a short-lived 25-20 lead in the fourth—only to give up an unforgivable 4th-and-17 conversion, where a stop would’ve all but ended the game.
The Tar Heels were in the end zone five plays later, taking a 28-25 lead—the Canes going limp, missing a game-tying 49-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds.
A year later, a regular season-ending massacre in South Florida—North Carolina rushing for 554 yards and gashing Miami for 778 yards total—just steamrolling, out-toughing and smacking around a Hurricanes bunch that rolled in soft and was in no way ready for the fight the Heels were bringing.
North Carolina stumbled out the gate this season, upended in a low-scoring road opener at Virginia Tech—while on-the-rise Georgia Tech smacked the Tar Heels around to the tune of 45-22 last weekend; the home team turning it over three times while the Yellow Jackets protected the ball.
A week prior, UNC trounced the same Virginia team Miami struggled with—laying 699 yards and 59 points on the Cavaliers.
Make no bones about it, the Tar Heels will find another gear with the Canes are in town next week—and all sings points to a raucous environment at Kenan Memorial Stadium, regardless of an afternoon or evening kickoff.
Miami will have to dig deeper than any point before in the Diaz era if they are going to get the better of Brown and North Carolina—avoiding a 2-4 skid with feisty North Carolina State heading to Hard Rock and looking for revenge for the Canes’ late comeback in Raleigh last fall.
The Wolfpack are fresh off an overtime upset of Clemson—where they outplayed the Tigers all night and would’ve won in regulation, had their kicker not pulled a Borregales. (Too soon?) Prior to their South Florida visit, North Carolina State hosts Louisiana Tech and travels to Boston College—all signs pointing to a 5-1 record and a massive game at Miami for their players and fans.
Virginia was Miami’s best chance to turn around a dismal start to their season—as the schedule only tightens up from here. Diaz barely got his team past Appalachian State; the playing-with-fire energy resulting in getting completely burned by Michigan State days later.
The Canes turned those frowns upside down when getting to ham it up while beating up a glorified high school the following week—only to show up flat five days later against Virginia; rallying late, but not getting it done. The result; another moment where Diaz praised the effort in an attempt to mask the end result.
“Our fourth-quarter effort was worthy of victory,” Diaz said. “And ultimately, we came up one play short.”
GAMES LOST FIRST 59:57—NOT FINAL :03
Those that know, know—there is no bigger loser statement than a head coach attempting to pin a defeat on one play. Diaz’s Hurricanes didn’t lose because a freshman kicker clanked one off the upright; Miami lost because of a slew of lazy, poorly-executed football moments the previous 59:57 of the game.
— It was poor offensive line play for about three-and-a-half quarters of football.
— It was Tyler Van Dyke not finding his groove until the second half—as well as players like Will Mallory not holding onto the football—or offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee figuring out how to attack holes in Virginia’s defense until late.
— It was Kamren Kitchens dropping a sure-interception in the end zone—which might’ve gone the other way, a la Maurice Sikes at Florida in 2002—instead leading to Virginia’s first touchdown moments later.
— It was Marcus Clarke letting a takeaway not only slip through his hands—but the fall to the ground creating a circus-act catch as Dontayvion Wicks saw the ball fall into his lap for a third quarter touchdown.
— It was Diaz’s defense unable to get a stop after each of Miami’s first three touchdowns—Virginia going 80 yards after the first, 75 after the next and settling for a quick field goal after the third; 18 of the Cavaliers’ 30 points coming from this three responding drives.
— It was Harris running for no gain twice and Van Dyke falling for a two-yard loss when setting up a middle-of-the-field attempt for Borregales; the Canes not even executing this conservative series correctly. A few inches would’ve been a difference-maker on the missed attempt; let alone a few extra yards.
Van Dyke started slow, but found late footing—dropping some dimes and making some clutch plays—none bigger than his 24-yard mid-fourth quarter touchdown scamper, pulling Miami to within two. The defense came back with a clutch stop; the Canes taking over at their own nine-yard line—trailing by two, with 5:29 to play.
Miami was on the move; Van Dyke to Charleston Rambo for a big conversion on 3rd-and-14 and a big Cam Harris rumble on an ensuing 3rd-and-9—the back going for 22 yards, setting up 1st-and-10 from the Cavs’ 14-yard line; Virginia burning their first timeout.
With :91 remaining, the tipping point moment that fans will bang heads on the morning after—split between playing odds and setting up a true freshman to hit a makable kick, versus empowering the offense to keep the momentum going and trusting the defense to get a game-saving stop.
Miami ran Harris into the teeth of the defensive line on first and second down, but Van Dyke scrambled towards mid-field on third down, trying to give Borregales the best option at success. The rest was history, the snap, the kick, the clank, the let-down and the opposition’s celebration.
“Got to put him in a better situation. Offense has got to score,” said Harris post game—trying to take some heat off his young kicker. “We shouldn’t have put him in that situation.”
Big of Harris to take ownership, but it’s Diaz who must shoulder the blame for putting his entire team in this situation. Miami shouldn’t have been in a dogfight with an average Virginia team that North Carolina and Wake Forest demolished.
Nor should the Canes need to steal wins from Appalachian State, get outworked in the fourth quarter by Michigan State in South Florida’s head, or act like sideline buffoons when running up the score against Central Connecticut State last week.
Same to be said for countless other critical moments over the past year that helped add to this embarrassing 16-13 run that is about get worse.
At no time over the past two seasons has Diaz proven he has a team built to bounce back from a gut-punch like this—especially with a road trip to Chapel Hill on deck, even if the Tar Heels are slumping a bit. Same to be said for handling revenge-minded North Carolina State at home, a gritty Pittsburgh program on the road, or a surging Georgia Tech—who like Michigan State—is also taking a step forward year two under a new coach.
Florida State is arguably the easiest game-on-paper remaining—and even that isn’t a gimme—as rivalry games bring out the best, even when one, or both is down in this rivalry. Duke in Durham? That basketball school has taken two of their past three against the Canes.
Virginia was the must-win moment to stop the bleeding; a hard-reset that theoretically could’ve been built upon—1-0 in conference play, 2-2 in the rear view and the conference race wide open in a wonky year for the ACC.
Instead, the Hurricanes stumbled brutally in a game it they absolutely needed—which feels like a back-breaker for this fragile program in its current state.
A win over the Cavaliers would’ve delivered Diaz a stay of execution and 12-day reprieve.
Instead, it’s Dead Manny Walking and seemingly the beginning of another end.
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.