No mincing words; year one was a complete and utter disaster for Manny Diaz at the University of Miami—on every level. It’s impossible to sugarcoat anything about a losing season; especially the fashion and manner in which the Hurricanes reinvented ways to the shit the bed.
Thrice losing as a two-touchdown favorite; the first time this embarrassing feat had been accomplished in a season in almost four decades—as well as the who, why and how regarding a three-game skid to end the season; Miami shown-up by a cross-town commuter college, a basketball school and the third-best football team in the Bayou State.
It was a worst-case scenario that quickly became a reality—on the heels of the Canes seemingly turning the corner with a late comeback at Pittsburgh, a convincing win in Tallahassee and a Senior Day rout of Louisville.
Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”—and unfortunately for Diaz, he’d been spittin’ chiclets since his catching that 0-2 uppercut that launched his inaugural season. The result; rock bottom. Deja vu all over again, yet different as this program has been punch-drunk for way too long.
None of this what anyone prepared for year one after last year’s Transfer Portal heist, an Alabama assistant taking over an anemic offense, Diaz’s swag-a-licious social media game—as well as that whole yacht-to-a-booster-event thing—but let’s be honest; that’s on the buyer’s naivete, not the salesman’s pitch.
WHO’S THE FOOL WHEN FOOLISHLY BUYING FOOL’S GOLD?
Anyone delusional enough to call for 12-0 last fall—as well as expecting to roll Florida in the opener, while begging for a crack at Clemson and treating the Coastal like it was a gimme—those rubes deserve everything they got last fall, and then some.
Diaz was Miami’s fifth hire in 14 seasons; taking over a program 16 years into it’s move to the ACC, with nothing more than one lowly divisional title, after being poached from the Big East to bring more football cred to the basketball conference.
Those stuck in yesteryear can bitch-moan-and-complain about the expectation level; it doesn’t change the fact these Hurricanes are 97-71 dating back to that Peach Bowl ass-kicking—40-3—courtesy of LSU back in 2005, and a 35-3 massacre in the 2018 Pinstripe Bowl. It was a Brooklyn-beatdown so bad, veteran head coach Mark Richt called it a career within 24 hours of Wisconsin owning Miami a second post-season in a row.
Richt survived a decade in the SEC, dealing with pent-up Georgia fans itching for their first championship since 1980; yet not one title game appearance—yet three seasons in that Coral Gables meat-grinder; an instantaneous decision that retirement sounded more optimum than a fourth go-around at rebuilding The U.
ALL THESE RECENT MOVES, NOWHERE TO GO BUT UP
One year in Diaz just might’ve gotten the worst out of the way—courtesy of the type of humiliating debut that forces fast change. Even the most-stubborn leader couldn’t double-down on what he just witnessed out the gate; his hand immediately forced.
When one can officially get past the Florida International, Duke and Louisiana Tech debacles—it’s easier to fall into that blessing-in-disguise place, as the past six weeks Diaz has been aces with literally every move he’s made; all made possible by the horrific nature in how year one played out.
Going back to the final week of last December, the following has occurred for Miami, just after that post-season shutout in Shreveport was in the books:
Offensive coordinator Dan Enos was “relieved of his duties”; the news leaking before the the bowl game even kicked off. 9-4 and winning out arguably would’ve staved off that execution, but it’d have been a ruse of a season, as Enos was off-brand and not wired for the Miami job from the get-go. This had to be done and it was; the former Alabama assistant not even lasting a full calendar year at UM.
A byproduct of this move also sent offensive line coach Butch Barry packing, as well—Barry with ties to Enos from their Central Michigan days, and equally as useless, as the only thing worse than Miami’s quarterbacks room in 2019 was anything having to do with an offensive line looked as terrible in December as it did late August.
Any preconceived notions about what Diaz thought Miami’s offense could and should look like; shattered by Enos’ incompetence—to the point where the spread offense was finally welcomed at UM and a guy with a strong acumen for running it was hired in SMU’s Rhett Lashlee.
Losing seasons don’t often produce great hires, but Diaz appears to have landed a good one in Lashlee; whose stock went up even more the moment his presence helped Miami reel in Houston quarterback D’Eriq King as a one-year transfer—far and away the top Portal quarterback option this cycle.
In an off-season where it was reported the Hurricanes’ three gunslingers got lost in a THC-induced fog—the entire dynamic was flipped on its ear when UM landed King; to the point last year’s starter Jarren Williams bolted for the Portal, while N’Kosi Perry and Tate Martell quietly became afterthoughts; No. 5 most-likely the back-up, while No. 18 will probably move to wide receiver for good.
While the mere mention of Martell will prompt chatter about Diaz’s off-season efforts in 2019 not yielding the intended efforts—if one is deluded to the point they see the move as nothing more than just “bringing on another quarterback”—opposed to the difference between an inexperienced kid with potential, versus a bonafide Heisman candidate; again, there’s no fixing stupid.
Hardly a stretch if one were to say Miami literally lost three games last season by way of the kicking game—Florida, North Carolina and Georgia Tech fast come to mind—leaving the name Bubba Baxa painfully carved into UM folklore; payback for all those years of trashing FSU kickers.
In a welcomed twist of fate, the same Jose Borregales who played a part in FIU upsetting Miami—he’s now a Hurricane and an immediate upgrade to one of UM’s most-troubled positions.Toss in the addition of Temple defensive end Quincy Roche as an immediate starter, as well as last year’s west coast transfers—Jaelan Phillips and Bubba Bolden—this Canes’ defense is primed to be a feisty bunch come fall.
Lots of early-year chatter about Alonzo Highsmith returning to his alma mater; a name that sounded ideal out the gate, but less feasible when picturing a 54-year old with eight years of NFL experience, working towards a GM-type role—taking a step back into an assistant athletic director-type position which has become en vogue in college football, as the head coaching position has become a bigger beast.
The knee-jerk go-to—present company included; a dig that neither Diaz or Miami’s admin wanted an alpha-type dog in the position. The notion was quickly dispelled when former safety Ed Reed was brought home in a Chief of Staff role.
The most-jaded were quick to call the Reed hire a PR move; funny, as this same contingent roasts UM for “not caring about football”. If the latter is true, why bother with making moves to appease the fan base—and when has Miami’s athletic department ever proven PR-savvy?
Fact remains, Reed is as much an alpha as Highsmith—and the the Hall of Fame safety wouldn’t have returned to his alma mater for a fluff role.
Yes, the 41-year old will answer to Diaz, per the org chart, but Reed already has a finger on the pulse—much like Highsmith did when discussing UM—especially in regards to the ongoing theme of a broken culture.
“It’s not a complicated thing,” Reed shared soon after his hiring. “These kids just have to humble themselves … The problem is the people they are surrounding themselves with are the people who are giving them the glory when they haven’t done anything … It’s about being with your teammates and having that accountability. I am not telling you not have fun, because we did have a lot if fun—but we did it together.”
Regarding the job itself, Reed will serve in an advisory role to Diaz—involved in strategic planning, quality control, operations, player evaluations and their development—as well as team building, student-athlete mentorship and recruiting, “as permissible under NCAA rules”.
It will take a few years to truly measure the effects of the Reed hire and the overall impact it has on the program, but in an era where lots of college football programs are adding a position like this—it’s hard to have anything negative to say about the return of an all-time Hurricanes great, as well as the de facto head coach of the 2001 national champs.
Wide receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield was poached by Penn State weeks back, which no one seemed to care about, as Miami’s wide receiving corps was a mixed bag in 2019 under the first-year position coach.The departure proved to be addition by subtraction for the Hurricanes when Diaz replaced him with veteran Rob Likens; last seen as Arizona State’s offensive coordinator—but with a strong resume across the board.
Likens pent seven years under Sonny Dykes; a proponent of the Air Raid offense, which fits the mold regarding the staff Diaz wanted to hire with this move to the spread.
Last, but hardly least—a National Signing Day surprise with the last-minute addition of 4-Star safety Avantae Williams to the 2020 class. Williams was a former Canes verbal commit a ways back and appeared to be a full-blown Gators lock, before a change of heart and arguably one of the biggest surprises that first Wednesday of February.
Williams was ultimately the highest-ranked player of the class; the top safety in the nation, according to some—and the move itself vaulted Miami from the 18th-ranked class, to 13th—as well as second-best in the ACC, only behind Clemson.The Canes also benefitted from a coaching change at Washington State, nabbing wide receiver Keyshawn Smith late in the process, after Mike Leach left the Cougars for Mississippi State—as well as picking up cornerback Isaiah Dunson days before NSD.
Combined with the addition of the top running backs in Dade and Broward County—Don Chaney Jr. and Jaylan Knighton, respectively—as well as Tyler Van Dyke at quarterback, Jalen Rivers on the offensive line and a defensive line trio including Chantz Williams, Quentin Williams and Elijah Roberts—it was a hell of a haul, considering 6-7 and the way Miami faded down the stretch.
SIX WEEKS OF CHANGE; THE REMEDY?
When taking full stock in the past month and a half, it’s impossible to not praise the efforts of Diaz and the moves that have been made. Things felt beyond dismal as 2019 came to a close—to the point where most already had an understandable stick-a-fork-in-2020 approach to year two and were counting the minutes until the newbie head coach would be fired.
Instead, a handful of moves that not only can breathe life into this stagnant program—but can serve as a true jumpstart that turns things around rather quickly.
The work still has to be done—and yes, there were some off-season moves made this time last year that didn’t translate to wins in fall—but again, even on-paper, the upgrades were nowhere near as impressive as this latest haul.
Also in Diaz’s and Miami’s favor; the softest schedule the Hurricanes have seen in a good while—unlike 2021, where the Hurricanes open the season against Alabama. This coming season, the opposite as Miami starts off against Temple, Wagner and University of Alabama-Birmingham—all at home.
WEAK 2020 SCHEDULE COMES AT IDEAL TIME
The first road trip takes place late September when Miami heads to East Lansing to take on a Michigan State program that’s been in a downward spiral for years—and just experienced head coaching change, which should play to the Hurricanes’ favor.
Pittsburgh at home, at Wake Forest a few days later and then North Carolina in Miami—a much easier out than facing the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. The Canes head to Virginia on Halloween; Charlottesville always a tough spot—but without Bryce Perkins under center, the Cavaliers are also in rebuild-mode on some level.
Florida State treks south early November, Miami heads to Virginia Tech the following week and close the regular season with a road trip to Georgia Tech, before taking on Duke in the home finale.
Hardly a Murder’s Row schedule for the Hurricanes—and one that affords some early breathing room for King, Lashlee, Justice and a revamped offensive line to get their footing—opposed to opening with a Florida (2019) or LSU (2018), getting tagged in the nose and struggling to regain composure.
September is a lifetime away and the next measuring stick for the Hurricanes will be spring football, where the goal is for Greentree to continue morphing back into that place that breeds competition and brings out the best in Miami kids.
From there, summertime—when coaches are hands-off, but players must take on a leadership role and guys need to self-motivate out of nothing more than a desire to be the best—which is what championship programs do.
FIND IDENTITY; EMULATE OTHERS WHO GET IT DONE
A prime example; Clemson players adopted an in-season, team-wide social media hiatus years back—and it remains in place as the Tigers continue chasing titles. Meanwhile, Miami has literally had to discipline players for social media conduct and has to many me-first guys posting individual moments of glory to the platforms from games the Hurricanes lost as a team.
Clemson is now 101-12 since adopting this player-driven social media policy—”We don’t have time to be on social media, to be honest—so it’s no big deal,” senior defensive end Austin Bryant shared a week prior to the 2018 season, where the Tigers went 15-0 and won the national title—so safe to say, it has merit.
Champions don’t become champions overnight, nor are high-caliber coaches all winners out the gate; Dabo Swinney having his struggles early on in Clemson, before finding his footing, creating his team’s identity and becoming the top-tier guy today.
The road to success is always paved with failures; but it’s those setback moments where growth occurs. Diaz and his Canes certainly stumbled out the gate—but many of those potholes got smoothed over this off-season, giving reason for optimism in 2020 and a logical, legitimate step forward year two for Miami’s homegrown head coach.
Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello earns a living helping icon Bill Murray build a lifestyle apparel brand. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.
The only connection Heisman-winning quarterback Joe Burrow has to the Miami Hurricanes is a pedestrian, 140-yard, zero-touchdown outing in the 2018 season-opener—the then-junior’s first outing with the Tigers—where the newbie game-managed his way through the outing and did enough for LSU to take down UM in convincing fashion, 33-17.
Just over two-dozen games later, Burrow took home the most-coveted individual trophy in college sports and has his undefeated Tigers atop the College Football Playoff rankings—one game from leading LSU to their first national championship season since 2007, on the heels of a record-setting, eight-touchdown performance in a rout of No. 4 Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl, 63-28.
Whether the Tigers win it all this year, or not, The Burrow Effect and a 24-3 run behind the former Ohio State transfer proved undeniable. LSU won an SEC Championship, removed the Alabama monkey off its back and dominated Georgia in the conference title game—none of which would’ve been possible without the level of stability, maturity and leadership provided by a next-level quarterback.
In what now feels like a lifetime ago, Miami earned the moniker Quarterback U—as a handful of gunslingers helped lead the Hurricanes to five national championships, while a couple picked up their own Heisman Trophies along the way.
FROM ‘QUARTERBACK U’ TO ‘QUARTERBACK WHO?’
Incredibly, a position that was once a strength for The U, has since become arguably the weakest link—as Miami hasn’t fielded a next-level quarterback, since Heisman contender Ken Dorsey was hauled down in the backfield on 4th-and-Goal in double overtime and Ohio State stole a national championship 17 long seasons ago.
Brock Berlin was serviceable over the next two seasons, but since then an undistinguished list of never-was guys who didn’t live up to the hype.
Kyle Wright rolled in a next-big-thing 5-Star from California, only to land at Miami while the program was circling down the drain. Four offensive coordinators later, the Wright era didn’t live up to the hype. From there, things didn’t get much better—and at times, proved even worse.
Kirby Freeman, Robert Marve, Jacory Harris, Stephen Morris, Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier—all in part responsible for that 97-71 run the Hurricanes endured from the 2005 Peach Bowl through the 2018 Pinstripe last December. Miami has won the lowly Coastal Division once in 16 tries and to date is still yet to win an ACC Championship, despite being brought in to give the prestigious basketball conference a little bit more football street-cred.
Manny Diaz replaced Mark Richt this time last year, but the result wasn’t much difference—Diaz stumbling to 6-7 his inaugural season, on the heels of Richt going 7-6 before an abrupt retirement, days after Wisconsin laid a 35-3 beatdown on the offense-less Canes at Yankees Stadium. Whatever magic Richt tapped into after that 10-0 start in 2017; it quickly faded as the long-time Georgia head coach finished his short stint at Miami 7-9 from that point on.
Much like Richt, Diaz was also answer-less at quarterback—giving r-freshman Jarren Williams the nod in fall, only to wind up in a game of musical quarterback much like Richt had with Rosier and N’Kosi Perry in 2018. Perry again came off the benched and had a few bright moments, but ultimately backslid and regressed—opposed to taking firm hold of a wide-open opportunity—while Williams looked as lost down the stretch against Florida International and Duke, as he did earlier in the year against the likes of Florida and Virginia Tech.
Tate Martell rolled south from Columbus with his fair share of hype; an undefeated-in-high-school, Las Vegas-bred, phenom-type who played a back-up role at Ohio State, before transferring to Miami early this year.
Where many were drawn to Martell’s inherent *swag* when he showed up on campus in spring—fact remains, he couldn’t beat out the likes of Williams or Perry, slipped to third on the depth chart, had a failed position switch attempt (to wide receiver), before returning to quarterback and taking two personal leaves from the team over the final month of the season—for what appeared to be relationship-related drama with an insta-famous model girlfriend playing a part in driving a wedge between Martell and his family.
Despite all those off-the-field woes for Martell, the third-stringer was desperately tossed in for an seven-play series during Miami’s lackluster showing in the Independence Bowl against Louisiana Tech—where the Hurricanes were blanked, 14-0 and yet again embarrassed on a national stage—dropping it’s final three games of the season to vastly inferior competition.
Any who beat the Martell drum, citing his high school resume or limited garbage-time highlights from his Ohio State season—saw nothing more than an undersized mobile quarterback, running for his life—with almost no attempt to look downfield or to move the ball through the air.
Martell’s lone completion—a seven-yarder on third-and-short—looked about as crisp if he’d have thrown it with his left hand. On the ensuing 3rd-and-13, Martell was sacked—in what could most-likely be his only-ever appearance under center for the Hurricanes.
Williams was a useless 9-of-20 on the day, throwing for 94 yards and an interception—while Perry, inserted later than he should’ve been, based on Williams’ lack of production, was 5-of-13 for 52 yards and a pick.
Meanwhile 250 miles southeast of Shreveport, Burrow remains the king of Baton Rouge—a kid who single-handedly changed LSU’s narrative under journeyman head coach Ed Orgeron, through his drive, belief and next-level maturity that Miami’s three quarterbacks combined, can’t hold a candle to.
NEXT-LEVEL QUARTERBACKS TRANSFORMED LSU & WSU
For those who haven’t watched Burrow’s seven-minute speech at the Downtown Athletic Club, it’s worth investing a couple of minues—especially for Miami fans who have been duped over the years into thinking the Hurricanes have found their next great quarterback.
Aside from Burrow proving to be a quality, level-headed kid and a textbook picture of redemption—his success and Heisman-worthy season serve as a harsh reminder how far off track Miami will remain, until it finds a true leader under center.
Burrow showed up in Columbus in summer of 2015, a 3-Star prospect out of Athens, Ohio—wearing Mickey Mouse t-shirts, SpongeBob pajama pants and usually had a green tongue, due to a penchant for caramel apple lollipops.
Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer rode Burrow, telling him he belonged in Division III football—while teammates took to calling him “John”, as quarterback J.T. Barrett cornered the market on the name “Joe”. Godforbid Burrow mustered up the courage to speak up in a team meeting, quarterback Cardale Jones was always quick to cut him off:
“Hey John, shut the f**k up.”
What looked like an overnight sensation type story, in reality was a “four- or five-year process”, according to Burrow—three years of working his ass off at Ohio State, while never taking a meaningful snap—but eventually earning the respect of the coaches and staff for standing in the pocket, taking hits in practice, continuing to develop and never changing his overall demeanor.
“Adversity is a key component in building the component in building the kind of players to success the next level,” Burrow shared earlier this season. “I’m forever grateful I went through that adversity.”
Compare that to short-lived news out of Coral Gables this time last year that Williams was planning to transfer from Miami over a lack of playing time as a true freshman, while Perry found himself in hot water twice months earlier in regards to social media stupidity and distractions. These issues, as well as Martell’s rocky journey these past few weeks—and it’s no wonder why Miami’s quarterback woes have had a ripple effect through the entire offense.
Where an unfavorable quarterback situation can make a bad situation worse—the right guy at the right time can literally change everything. Look no further to the 2018 season and how things played out in Pullman, Washington when Mike Leach hijacked the plans of Gardner Minshew; the East Carolina transfer seemingly headed to Alabama in a back-up role, hoping to glean some knowledge under the tutelage of Nick Saban before entering the world of coaching with his playing days in the rearview.
Instead, Minshew dove head first into learning the Air-Raid offense—studying with Hal Mumme; one of the architects of Leach’s preferred scheme—arriving in Pullman over the summer and earning the starting job in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, after the graduation of long-time starter Luke Falk, as well as the unexpected suicide of Tyler Hilinski weeks after the Cougars closed out the 2017 with a 9-4 record.
After starting his career as a walk-on, spending the following year at a junior college and briefly losing his starting job at ECU—Minshew received an offer that ultimately shaped his path.
“Do you want to be a back-up at Alabama, or lead the nation in passing,” Leach asked in that now-famed phone call. “We’re going to lead the nation in passing one way, or another.”
The Minshew Effect took over Pullman last fall; from the fake mustaches worn by fans during that magical season, to teammates elevating their overall level of play, as their one-year quarterback option was a tour de force.
“He had a tremendous impact on our team. He’s a tremendously competitive player,” Leach told The Seattle Times after the Cougars fell to rival Washington in a snow-plagued Apple Cup. “He’s had a bigger impact on our team than any other player has had on their team. And he did it in a short period of time, which was even more impressive.”
Lest any think Leach was exaggerating with his praise of Minshew, look no further than this year’s version of Washington State—a 6-7 thud of a season, with Anthony Gordon under center, while Minshew miraculously played his way into a starting role with the Jacksonville Jaguars, having been taken in the sixth round of this year’s NFL Draft.
After losing a 67-63 shootout to UCLA earlier in the year, followed by a 38-13 beating at Utah a week later—Leach unloaded on his Minshew-less squad in his post-game presser after the Cougs were boat-raced by the Utes.
“We’re a very soft team,” Leach shared. “We get a lot of good press. We like to read it a lot. We like to pat ourselves on the back and if we get any resistance, we fold.” The Cougs’ seventh-year head coach also called his players, “fat, dumb, happy and entitled” in the same rant.
Like Minshew a year before him, Burrow will take his talents to the NFL come spring—expected to be an early first-round pick—and while the Tigers won’t soon slip to sub-.500 like the Cougars in 2019, LSU will most-definitely feel the after effects of losing a player and leader of Burrow’s caliber.
Where one great player at a key position can elevate and entire team, program and fan base—the lack of that type of game-changer can breed a a deadly culture cocktail of entitlement, immaturity and self-absorption; as the individual paths remain more important than team goals.
THE U: STILL IRRELEVANT AND IT’S OWN WORST ENEMY
Miami’s lack of maturity and broken-culture problems run deep, though some frustrated with losing ways try to pawn off all culture-related chatter as a Diaz excuse—ignoring the validity of the sentiment and long-running nature of this cancer.
Aside from the lack of a stable, mature, team-leading quarterback—the Hurricanes continue taking hits in regards to not-ready-for-prime-time players leaving early for the NFL, instead of heeding sound advice putting in one more year at UM to up their stock.
The latest to bail early are troubled wide receiver Jeff Thomas and defensive end Jon Garvin—both of which had average seasons, at best—leaving Diaz to play the role of coach, mentor and advisor, which apparently fell on deaf ears.
“We are not convincing them to stay,” Diaz said. “We have all the date, so we let the data talk. We show them all the slots of money that is guaranteed. When does the guaranteed money start to really dip? It is between rounds two and three and certainly after the first 100 picks—it really plateaus. You show them what it all amounts to.”
Thomas returned to Miami this off-season, after a late-season suspension in 2018—not seeing eye-to-eye with Richt and staff—and appearing to be headed for Illinois, before Diaz and the talented junior-to-be hashed things out and the speedster returned for what ultimately was a disappointing second chance.
Thomas had 31 receptions for 379 yards in 2019, with three touchdowns—and again found himself suspended a second consecutive season, missing games against Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh. Over that span he also saw his special teams role going to Buffalo transfer K.J. Osborn, who out-worked Thomas since arriving on campus earlier this year.
Garvin expected to have a breakout season with Gerald Willis and Joe Jackson departing at the end of last year, but wound up taking a step backwards—37 total tackles in 2019, compared to 60 in 2018—yet still felt that forgoing his senior year was in his best interest.
Even worse, the fact that so many of these current Hurricanes aren’t learning from recent mistakes made by former teammates.
Two years back, RJ McIntosh and Kendrick Norton were two players that would’ve benefitted from a return in 2018—yet both bailed out, even after sitting down with coaches and experts who gave them a realistic outlook on where the would both go in the upcoming draft. The day both announced, Richt had a “good feeling” both heard his message and expected the two defenders to return.
“That was the goal of the meeting, to give them the most information possible and the most NFL information as possible and talk about how the Draft works and how second contracts work. Talk about what it is like to leave with a degree and to be a leader on the team,” Richt shared on the Joe Rose Show, days after losing to Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl.
Richt also hoped that Miami’s 10-3 season, a modicum of next-level success and the Hurricanes almost reaching the College Football Playoffs would have an impact on both.
“I think we smelled the Playoffs and didn’t get there, but I think that is something every young man would like to experience in college.”
Instead, both took to social media with an air of over-confidence and entitlement—ignoring the advice of coaches and Draft experts, stating that both felt ready for the next level, despite evidence to the contrary.
“I think it’s the best decision for me,” wrote McIntosh in his post. “I love being a Hurricane, but I feel I’m ready for the next step.” Norton echoed the same sentiment hours later with his declaration. “I love being a Hurricane, but I feel I’m ready for the next step in realizing my dreams of being an NFL football player.”
Despite what both “felt”, McIntosh was ultimately taken in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, while Norton slipped all the way to the seventh round. A year, Jackson also left prematurely and was a fifth round pick—which is where some experts expect Garvin to go.
DIAZ MUST (RE)BUILD CULTURE WHERE PLAYERS STAY
Players leaving college early to chase NFL dreams is hardly an epidemic proprietary to Miami—but one would be hard-pressed to find a program besides the Hurricanes that has dealt with as many cautionary tales as of late; guys told to their faces they’d be day-three picks, at best—each to man with an, “I hear what you’re saying, but still think I’m ready” approach, underscoring these culture- and entitlement-related issues.
Entering 2001, Miami saw then-head coach Butch Davis push safety Ed Reed and left tackle Bryant McKinnie to return for their senior seasons—knowing the Hurricanes were knocking on the door of a national championship. Despite both being sure-fire, first round talent—Reed and McKinnie retuned, helped UM earn that fifth ring and both were first rounders in spring of 2002.
Clemson saw something similar in 2018 when defensive linemen Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant returned for their senior seasons—a bitter taste in their mouths after getting knocked out of the 2017 Playoffs as a one-seed, but getting revenge against Alabama upon their return, rolling the Crimson Tide, 44-16, capping off a 15-0 season.
Miami could’ve retuned every would-be senior the past couple of years and it wouldn’t have made much of a difference in the grand scheme of things—as all aforementioned examples were well-oiled machines, much like LSU this season—with next-level quarterback play like Burrow has on display; Ken Dorsey the guy for the Hurricanes in 2001, while Trevor Lawrence burst onto the scene last fall and became the first true freshman quarterback to win a national championship since 1985.
Still, next-level talent aside—part of the culture change that needs to take place in Coral Gables remains directly tied to players showing more maturity and unity, with less entitlement and self-absorption running rampantly through the program.
Guys like a Burrow, Dorsey or Lawrence don’t grow on trees—but success breeds success and winners want to be around winners. Somewhere along the way, the Miami Hurricanes lost their way and started confusing faux swag with deep-rooted passion and desire.
For those caught in that negative loop, bringing The U down one loss at a time—may the path, drive, humility and appreciation if this newest Heisman Trophy winner inspire the next wave of potential Miami greats, who want to be the foundation of a rebuild and will die trying to get this Hurricanes’ program back on the map.
Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello earns a living helping icon Bill Murray build a lifestyle apparel brand. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.
If the Hurricanes played the Blue Devils in late November, getting outscored 14-0 in the fourth quarter and falling 27-17—and no one was there to see it—did it even really happen? (Unfortunately, yes—it did.)
For any willing to waste their time seeking out the *why* or *how* of that disastrous outing—just re-read anything written about Miami’s disturbing loss to Florida International the week prior, as it’s all the same nonsense. The Canes again showed up flat, played down to the level of competition and fell to an inferior opponent that it should’ve run out of the stadium—followed by some coach speak about how this type of sub-par football needs correcting.
Rinse, wash, repeat—as the misery continues.
All of this failure obviously falls on first-year, first-time head coach Manny Diaz—who went through the ringer this fall, by way of an up and down season that couldn’t have ended with a bigger, uglier thud than what was on display these final two weeks—getting embarrassed by a commuter college and basketball school, no less.
Diaz seems to have somewhat diagnosed the Hurricanes’ problems—breaking down and identifying things in his sadder-by-the-week post-game pressers—but has made zero headway in correcting any of these glaring issues. Miami managed to show up flat in all three post-bye week games this fall, as well as Duke—despite Diaz inexplicably praising his team’s “effort” in shell-shocked fashion in the bowels of Wallace Wade Stadium last Saturday evening; after stating post-FIU that the Hurricanes were fortunate to have the game against the Blue Devils to right the ship.
Miami has also fallen thrice this season as double-digit favorites; something that hasn’t happened in college football in over four decades; UM’s 15-year decent into irrelevance reaching yet another low. Nice work, fellas.
INABILITY TO RESPOND TO ADVERSITY REACHES NEW LOW
This program felt like it was at least starting to turn a corner with earlier wins at Pittsburgh and Florida State—as well as that rout of Louisville and solid offensive performance in the home regular-season finale. The Hurricanes handled three average opponents, with a chance to close strong by way of a five-game win streak—something that could’ve at least taken a little bit of the sting off of early-season losses to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.
Instead, by Diaz’s own admission, his players viewed that three-game win-streak as some back-on-track accomplishment—allowing the Canes to drop their guard and mailing it in for their two final showings.
Call it what it is; Miami thought a lackadaisical effort was more than enough against a Florida International squad it felt it could out-talent—and even in the wake of that loss, still didn’t roll into Duke pissed off; bringing that same low energy against a team ripe for a knockout blow, riding a five-game losing streak into their home finale.
“That effort was about pride,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said post game. “I watched our defensive front literally twist, scratch, claw, anything they could to rush that quarterback. I watched our offense never say die.”
The Blue Devils hadn’t won a football game since October 12th (when they beat lowly Georgia Tech by 18 points) yet were still able to muster up the balls and heart to close strong against the Hurricanes—even with a post-season berth off the table as a 5-7 team.
Meanwhile, the bad taste from FIU and what Diaz called one of the darkest night’s in UM’s history—on the hallowed grounds where the Orange Bowl once stood, no less—still wasn’t enough for Miami to show the college football world it could bounce back from sheer embarrassment.
If that ain’t a culture and entitlement problem, then what the hell is?
Unfortunately, Miami’s issues run deeper than most care to admit; a perception problem that should force Diaz, his staff and his players to take a long and hard look in the mirror this off-season—as should many in this fan base who refuse to admit the degree to which the college football landscape has changed; inexplicably feeling the Hurricanes should remain the consistently dominant force it was decades back, yet nothing tangible or logical to back that sentiment up.
QUIT COMPARING PRESENT TO PAST CANES’ GLORY
Weeks back, I deep-dove the $200M investment the University of Georgia made into it’s football program—the majority of it coming from alumni donations, that will never be a reality at a small, private school like the University of Miami—with a fan base made up of mostly non-alum that don’t write checks—but will donate towards flying angst-fueled banners or putting up disgruntled billboards, treating UM more like a pro sports franchise than one’s beloved alma mater.
Fact remains, the Canes gamed the system decades back—bringing a level of speed and athleticism to the sport, before others had caught up or college football became the big time, big money machine it is today; one where UM is still looking for consistency and a way to compete, built on some unique traits and those few benefits that come from it’s storied history and premium location.
Another ingredient that always made the University of Miami special during its Decade Of Dominance era was that combination of authenticity and full accountability—guys who took pride in building the foundation, up through those who would do everything in their power to maintain that level of excellence; not wanting to be the class that let streaks die, or ones who let down the legends who played before them.
The iconic Alonzo Highsmith—an integral part of the Hurricanes becoming a national power in the first place, and one of the first local greats to stay home to play for Miami—defined swagger back in spring as the following:
“Swag is watching Michael Irvin running routes, wearing a 30-pound weight vest after practice, in like 100-percent humidity. Swag is running hills at Tropical Park are you’ve done all your work with the strength coaches. It’s the whole team showing up tor un in combat boots on the beach. That’s swag. It’s never missing a practice. It’s practicing like every day is your last day. You don’t get swag because of a haircut—or because you pound your chest because someone said you were a 5-Star. Swag is something that is earned. You don’t just give it to somebody.”
Diaz, a student of Hurricanes football—45 years old, growing up in The U‘s heyday and seeing this all the dominance and authentic swag first-hand—knows the difference between a facsimile and the real thing; and there’s little genuine about this present-day Miami program.
While there are a handful of players talking the talk and backing it up, there are still too many pretenders; guys more concerned with sharing personal highlight moments on social media, in games where the Hurricanes were flat-out embarrassed—the same type of guys dancing on the sidelines, like the attention whores they are, instead of doubling down their efforts and being disgusted with this level of mediocrity.
Practicing like every day like is your last day? How many reports were there this fall about bad sessions or guys being checked out after some early losses? Swag earned—when guys are rocking sideline hardware and posing for cameras, while their counterparts are going three-and-out, or letting an opposing offense answer with a score?
While UM was a truly dominant force for a full decade all those years ago—that condensed period between 1986 and 1992 saw this program go an unprecedented 78-6—winning three national championships (1987, 1989, 1991), leaving two on the field (1986, 1992) and having another opportunity stolen (1988). Even that rare two-loss season (1990)—no one doubted that the Canes were the nation’s best by year’s end; simply pissing away a title shot with a season-opening road loss—before rolling into bowl season ranked No. 4, demolishing the third-ranked team in the nation and racking up over 200+ yards in celebration penalties, putting their own personal “F**k you” stamp on what was considered a “disappointing” season.
TODAY’S CANES LACKING ESSENCE OF PAST GREATS
Anytime the Hurricanes did stumble back in that era; the response was to always bounce back in dominant fashion—the setback used as fuel, as the old adage held strong; the last team anyone in the country wanted to play was a pissed off Miami squad, on the heels of a loss.
Contrast that to what the Hurricanes have become over the past decade-plus; a mid-tier ACC program that was 97-71 from the embarrassing 2005 Peach Bowl loss, through that 35-3 curb-stomping Wisconsin dropped in the 2018 Pinstripe. Even that lucky-bounce 10-0 start in 2017 was followed by a 7-9 before Diaz was handed the keys after Mark Richt prematurely retired; Richt guilty of two four-game losing streaks over his three seasons in Coral Gables.
In a few bright moments in 2019, Miami showed it could bounce back; responding to the Virginia Tech loss with a takedown of Virginia (fueled as much by the Cavaliers’ red zone incompetence as the Canes’ improved defense)—as well as a hang-tough, grind-it-out win at Pittsburgh days after falling at home to a one-win Georgia Tech squad (the Panthers also with their own red zone woes, though the Canes’ defense certainly proved resilient.)
Still, the bad outweighed the good and any progress went to hell in a handbag when getting out-worked at Duke in pride-less fashion, days after being throughly embarrassed by FIU—both of which immediately put Diaz back at square one and reeling, while waiting to hear what third-tier bowl game Miami will have to try and muster up some excitement for. [Editors Note: As of Sunday afternoon, the Hurricanes are officially headed to the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, LA to take on Louisiana Tech on December 26th.]
The only “positive” about 6-6 and heading to a garbage bowl; it leaves Diaz nowhere to hide going into 2020—something already being expressed an unnamed, longtime Board of Trustees member and another “high ranking executive involved in UM’s administration”—as reported by the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson days back.
While no one is forcing Diaz out the door after 6-6, a line in the dirt was drawn regarding where things go from here—expected as UM remains desperate to stop the bleeding in regards to this long-running era of irrelevance.
“Manny better straighten out this mess,” shared the trustee. “He better figure it out, but they’re not getting rid of him after one year”—which in reality, is fair considering how long-running this UM football backslide has been.
DIAZ: ROCK BOTTOM WITH TWO-GAME LOSING STREAK
Had the Canes closed out with a very-doable, five-game win-streak—it would’ve allowed the first-year leader to shape a positive narrative and to sweep some glaring weaknesses under the rug; taking up an 8-4 finish after a 3-4 start, and some proverbial corner turned—one that could’ve led to an Orange Bowl berth.
Instead, those “everything is under review” or “under investigation” comments Diaz made in reference to his team getting embarrassed by FIU—he has no choice by to turn that same scrutiny toward himself and every decision he made since taking over 11 months back.
It’s impossible for Diaz to speak of a “culture problem” or “brokenness” within his program, without admitting what he’s personally done to feed into the underserved cockiness—based on what this program was decades back, or what he hopes it can someday be again—while conveniently ignoring 15 years of mediocrity and pushing an incomplete narrative that things can turn quickly; which seems to be a go-to motivator.
Diaz admits his team has an “inherent arrogance” around it—again, based on this program’s past success, as well a bar that’s been set as a result of the glory years—but quickly followed up with examples of other program’s bottom-out moments and their ascension back to the top, with no tangible explanation of the work, growth or execution that happened in-between to make the rise possible.
Back in spring, it was the example of Miami beating Notre Dame soundly in 2017—derailing their entire season—only to watch the Irish reach the College Football Playoffs the following fall, where they fell to eventual-defending champs, Clemson and finished their season 12-1.
Post-FIU, again, in the wake of an unthinkable loss by Miami standards—Diaz chose this moment to draw a comparison to a front-runner capable of winning it all this season.
“Two years ago, Troy went to Baton Rouge and beat LSU, who right now is the number one team in the country. Things can change, but it needs to change. It has to start with myself and the coaching. We have to do a lot better job of coaching our guys.”
The mere mention of these Hurricanes in the same breath as 2019 LSU or 2018 Notre Dame is completely irresponsible and as amateurish as any early-season talk about a then four-loss Miami team being “a handful of plays away from being undefeated”—as some way to soften the blow of a brutal start to the Diaz era.
As the old saying goes, Manolo—if my aunt had balls, she’d be my uncle. Enough with the could’ve, would’ve, should’ve rhetoric.
For a head coach so caught up in the analytics, statistics and metrics of this sport—there seems to be a huge disconnect when it comes to language and understanding the important science and psychology of words. Concepts like “if” or “should” can be dangerous when used to justify or explain how close one was to achieving the ultimate goal—only to fall short—yet Diaz leaned on both months back, with a half-assed explanation of what should’ve been expected out of his Hurricanes this fall.
“If we get our team competing to the standard the Miami Hurricanes set, we should be in the mix to go to Charlotte [home of the ACC Championship] every year, starting this year,” Diaz shared at the ACC Kickoff media event back in July.
That statement is as empty and pointless as saying that if Miami scored more points than everyone on their schedule this fall, the should win the national championship.
CANES A CONSTANT DISAPPOINTMENT SINCE JOINING ACC
As Miami’s fifth head coach over the past 14 seasons—not to mention, a Canes history buff well aware that UM has never won an ACC Championship and only has one Coastal Division title in 16 tries—Diaz should be painfully aware that this program hasn’t been “competing to the standard the Miami Hurricanes set” since the team Butch Davis left behind in the early 2000’s faded away under Larry Coker.
Sure, based on where things were 16 years ago, Miami theoretically should’ve been in the mix to go to Charlotte every year since the championship game was introduced in 2005—hence why the Hurricanes were invited into the ACC to begin with; to help bring more football prestige to a basketball conference—yet over a decade-and-a-half on board, that hasn’t happened.
Diaz called out his team’s “arrogance” after falling to FIU, explaining that, “Our blind spot is where there is an expectation to win.” The shell-shocked coach continued, putting his foot in his mouth, before quickly working to clarifying his official point regarding a standard:
“When things get good around here—and a three-game winning streak shouldn’t be ‘good’—but even that, when the sun does come out here, I think our team picks up on the natural arrogance that we have.”
Outside of it being Diaz’s job to counter that arrogant attitude and to have his team ready for “lesser” competition—he should be working daily and situationally to squash out this undeserved, unwarranted entitlement too many in this program possess.
Instead, the Miami-bred leader fuels it with his own actions—yet can’t understand why there’s a deep-rooted problem with his players. Hindsight is always 20/20, but after stumbling to 6-6 and losing so many games this fall in epic fail fashion—Diaz must now own every move up to this point and learn from them as they get dissected.
It’s easy to be brash when undefeated in spring; a fan base again rallying behind the hope a new coach brings—quickly over Richt after three short years, as the former Georgia head coach ran out of gas quickly after taking over his alma mater—fielding one of the blandest offenses in the history of Hurricanes football.
Diaz was brash out the gate and quintessential Miami; rolling into a booster event on an 88-foot yacht, while delivering a witty Twitter game. There was even that WWE-style, lights and smoke-filled practice event where the new coach was out there with his players, tackling dummies that had “7-6” scrawled across the front—some seemingly cathartic exorcizing of demons and shedding skin, while going into a new era—all of which now ring extremely hollow as the product on the field didn’t deliver and things looked as off as the did a year ago.
DIAZ’S OWN ARROGANCE FUELING UM’S BROKEN CULTURE
Diaz also set and a culture that feeds into players’ arrogance when, for lack of a better term, he allowed the inmates to run the asylum. Troubled wide receiver Jeff Thomas was given a second chance this year, after a late season suspension in 2018, followed by him ultimately leaving the program for Illinois—only to return after Diaz replaced Richt.
Had Thomas thrived upon his return, the move wouldn’t have been questions—the same way Diaz’s pre-season antics would’ve been seen as fresh and inspiring, had the Hurricanes put together a 10-2 type of season and won the Coastal.
Instead, Thomas underachieved, underperformed and found himself suspended for multiple games a second consecutive season—as well as reportedly getting called out in a heated team meeting months back, for being selfish, lazy and ultimately being a detriment to his team—relying on his natural talent and being good, instead of working his ass off to be great.
Transfer quarterback Tate Martell is another personnel-related position that is feeding into this soft-ass culture, where Diaz needs to be taking a harder stance against accountability. Aside from not finding a way to inject the talented prospected into a sluggish offense—there have been two, separate leaves-of-absence over the span of a month for the former Ohio State quarterback the Hurricanes pulled from the Transfer Portal.
While one must be delicate in regards to the realities and hardships of mental health these days, it’s impossible to ignore the narrative social media is painting—one showing Martell as a young guy who might’ve out-kicked his coverage a bit in the dating world, by way of an attention-starved Instagram model (one with 875K followers) and a fun-fueled South Beach-type existence—to a point where football appears secondary and the relationship has caused strife with his own family; by way of a mother taking to Twitter to trash the girlfriend in a public forum.
There are always three sides to every story—yours, mine and the truth—but it’s hard not to feel Diaz sold a little bit of his soul this fall in regards to preferential treatment given to both Thomas and Martell; hoping the receiver and special teams speedster could be a difference-maker, while seemingly hanging in there with the fan-favorite quarterback, as the premise of him transferring out and doing well elsewhere would never get lived down.
Instead, a worst-case scenario as Diaz missed a legitimate opportunity to put his foot down, taking steps towards breaking this culture of entitlement—again, identifying a problem, but unable to fix it—while neither Thomas or Martell had positive impact on a Hurricanes’ team that could’ve easily stumbled to 6-6 without either of them.
While Miami was getting its teeth kicked in by Florida International and Duke, Martell wasn’t with the team—which didn’t sit well with a few vocal UM greats and past national champions—Brett Romberg and Joaquin Gonzalez—who had a little social media back-and-forth on the subject.
“How many ‘mental days’ do you remember anyone getting? Then appearing in photos smiling and enjoying Thanksgiving holidays with your girlfriend and buddies while you’re teammates are getting throttled on TV for the second week in a row,” Romberg shared with Gonzalez—which prompted the following response from his fellow big-ugly:
“6-6, que mierda—and we are still accommodating people like Tate Martell.’When he is ready, we will be here’ [a reaction to Diaz explanation of the situation]—you kidding me? That s**t would not have gone down back in the day, you are either here or you are not!!”
Even the phrase, The New Miami—which was obviously meant as a long-term goal for what Diaz wants this program to grow into; it was poorly explained and executed—while Diaz played up #TNM on social media with recruits.
Meanwhile, fans chose to ignore 15 years of deep-rooted issues at Miami; coaching turnover, average performances on the field and no tangible steps taken over that span to get UM back on a better trajectory—running with the newly-coined marketing term as some insta-fix; immediately expecting a new attitude and energy on display this fall—some going as far as to call for a 12-0 run, a season-opening victory over Florida, another Coastal Division title and belief (by the truly overzealous) that Miami would be ready for a crack at Clemson.
Cocaine is a hell of a drug, y’all.
Yes, the hope is to get Miami to a place where it’s a consistent divisional favorite—but some tough-guy expectation and talk of some forever-ago standard that hasn’t been upheld since the turn of the century? Especially when this fourth new head coach since 2007 was taking over a program 7-9 since that miracle 10-0 start in 2017, en route to that lone Coastal Division title, before getting rolled by Clemson in the ACC Championship?
CHANGES MUST BE MADE IN 2020; INNOVATE OR DIE
The Current Miami doesn’t need to be reminded of what it’s capable of when it plays at its highest level; it needs to be constantly brought back down to earth regarding how far removed this program has been from that type of success—housebroken like an unruly dog, with it’s nose rubbed in shit until it gets the message.
Each new generation of Hurricanes must create their own legacy and can’t ride the coattails of what other greats have done in years passed—creating said legacy getting harder each passing year Miami doesn’t find its footing and stays irrelevant.
To Diaz’s credit, he and his staff have spent this past week pounding the recruiting trail and looking to lock down the next great generation of Hurricanes—each next class providing hope that they will eventually be the group who started the turnaround.
The early signing period is days out, with National Signing Day under two months away—and while nothing matters until the ink is dry—the getting has been good and UM has picked up some solid commitments from kids who look like future ballers, even the wake of this late-season stumble.
With a new wave Hurricanes set to get on board in 2020, no better time for Diaz to do a hard reset—rethinking the rookie mistakes he made in 2019—while also revisiting his 2017 brainchild, which obviously needs tweaking.
Where the Turnover Chain was a game-changer for Miami—and college football as a whole, two seasons ago—it’s become a distraction as the Hurricanes have stumbled to a troubling 13-15 record since that fast 2017 start.
The beloved Cuban link was a motivational tool it’s inaugural season—the Canes jumping from 67th nationally in turnovers forced in 2016, to 13th in the nation in 2017—but it’s literally become a participation trophy in 2019; players rushing to the sideline to don the hardware and mug for cameras, while an inconsistent offense retakes in the field in a game Miami is en route to losing.
Per the aforementioned Herald piece by Jackson, the jewelry isn’t sitting well with the way it is currently on display.
“The other thing they’re not happy with is the bling shit,” the executive shared, regarding UM’s Board of Trustees members. “The Turnover Chain, the rings, the dancing on the sidelines—you look like an idiot when doing that with a 6-6 team.”
Where the Miami of yesteryear could tell the BoT to shove their sentiments up their ass—as the product on the field backed everything up—the complete opposite is true now; as there’s simply no talking when playing .500 football. Just shut up and get back to work.
Shelving the jewelry long-term would be a bit aggressive; as the jewelry is vintage Magic City—but only when Miami is taking care of business. The fact it’s not; Diaz must take ownership and responsibility for this thing he created—rewriting the rules and fully realizing that fine line between ultimate motivation and a lethal cocktail of self-absorption and self-promotion.
These kids completely missed the point regarding the hardware these past two seasons—while Diaz couldn’t have whiffed more by introducing Touchdown Rings as a reward for 2019, on the heels of last season’s setback and with too many questions regarding how this offense was going to execute and perform.
Lastly, there also needs to be a long, hard look at this current staff when Diaz works towards an off-season epiphany and ways to right the ship. 7-6 wasn’t good enough to carry anyone over from Richt’s offense staff last year—and with that record Miami’s best-case scenario for this season, barring it actually shows up for a meaningless bowl game, how does Diaz deal with his one-year old staff are this disaster of a campaign?
Dan Enos was poached from Alabama as some “quarterback whisperer”—one Miami paid a reported and unprecedented $1.2M for, no less. A dozen games in, no Hurricane quarterbacks look vastly improved—while the offense has regressed. Enos constantly trying to out-clever the competition, while sticking with a quarterback under center and long-developing run-pass-option plays that don’t get the ball out of guys’ hands quick enough—behind a garbage offensive line.
Similar cases can be made for offensive line coach Butch Barry—whose unit has struggled all fall, while getting knocked technique-wise by former UM lineman—as well as defensive coordinator Blake Baker; so green he needed Diaz’s help midseason when the Hurricanes whiffed on 29 tackles in that overtime loss to a one-win Georgia Tech team.
When stumbling to 6-6 in the fashion Miami did; it’s cause for some serious alarm—and cranks up the heat on a first-year head coach much more than it would’ve had the Canes eked out 8-4 with wins over the Golden Panthers and Blue Devils. While one might struggle to call those two final losses “blessings in disguise”—failure at that level truly leaves Diaz exposed; forced to make some tough decisions this off-season, or to gamble by staying put—which could put him one step closer to pissing away this dream job opportunity.
Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello earns a living helping icon Bill Murray build a lifestyle apparel brand. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.
If there was any belief the Miami Hurricanes had begun to turn a corner after a recent three-game win streak—it immediately went out the window after an unthinkable “road” loss to Florida International on Saturday night at Marlins Park.
After falling behind 16-0 by the third quarter and 23-3 in the fourth, the Hurricanes rallied for three late touchdowns against the Panthers, but ran out of time in a 30-24 loss as crushing for Manny Diaz as it was redeeming for Butch Davis, the one-time UM leader working to shake the “little brother” stigma for his FIU Panthers—which he did for the night, at least.
Despite all the talk of protecting the Canes’ old turf and UM’s over-the-top marketing efforts to play up a return to the hallowed ground where the beloved Orange Bowl once stood—the message and importance of this game was still somehow lost on Diaz’s squad. Miami dropped to 0-3 in games after a bye week this season, while going down in history as the only team over the past four decades to lose thrice in one season as a double-digit favorite; the Panthers a three-touchdown underdog in a game they controlled from the get-go. Congratulations, fellas.
A few miles west, Davis spent the week-of making it painfully important to his team the magnitude of this game—not just to FIU as a program, but to all of these players individually. He played the underdog card carefully—as few if any of these kids were recruited by any major programs—while giving his squad the belief that an upset was within reach.
Ballsy, considering the Golden Panthers had never knocked off a Power 5 school in their limited history—yet executed perfect for a litany of reasons.
Convincing his kids that Miami was beatable; not a tremendous feat when looking at the erratic nature of Diaz’s inconsistent Hurricanes in season one. Aside from the obvious post-bye week struggles, UM showed its hand thrice now regarding playing down to the level of competition—barely eking out a 17-12 win against Central Michigan in late September, rolling in flat weeks later against a one-win Georgia Tech team; lethargically whiffing on 29 tackles in an overtime loss—and now this latest debacle against a third-rate program Miami simply never should’ve lost to.
The Hurricanes bounced back in recent weeks with a come-from-behind win at Pittsburgh and convincing take downs of both Florida State and Louisville—though the latter two were a direct result of better offensive line play that left first-year quarterback Jarren Williams looking like a completely different player, with extra time to go through his reads.
Still, when pressured, Williams has a tendency to revert back to that rattled, inexperienced, redshirt freshman, first-year starter he is—which beyond having his team emotionally ready to go, was Davis’ second leg-up moment of the evening. Miami offensive coordinator Dan Enos didn’t get his quarterback comfortable until too little, too late—yet another Hurricanes’ blind spot in 2019.
Down 17-3 in a flash at North Carolina, or in a 28-0 hole to Virginia Tech, aided by three Williams’ interceptions—slow starts have crippled these Hurricanes too often in Diaz’s rookie season, and in both cases, late furious rallies fell short.
Again, one would be remised to think that Davis didn’t also work this UM weakness into his overall game plan—hammering his team to bust out the gates with a quick start, pouncing early and keeping Miami stunned for as long as possible. The Tar Heels and Hokies did it unintentionally, while laying out an unintentional blueprint even more-destined to work for Davis—knowing how lightly the Hurricanes would inevitably take the Golden Panthers.
CULTURAL ISSUES AT MIAMI NOT ONLY REAL, BUT ONGOING
Diaz often brings up a culture issue that long-time, frustrate fans love to scoff at—but it doesn’t make the assessment any less true. Especially when seeing so many of the same problems persisting today that have plagued this program going back a decade-and-a-half, for all four previous head coaches post-Davis.
Pre-game logo stomps at Louisville in 2006, en route to a 31-7 drubbing, a faux-swag brawl against this same FIU program that was a PR disaster for UM and 7-6 season that ended the Larry Coker era—to snowball fights on the sideline at the 2010 Sun Bowl while Notre Dame was kicking Miami’s teeth in 30-3 in the third quarter, barely a month after the four-year Randy Shannon era came to an end—Hurricanes teams have been grossly missing the mark for years now.
New head coach Al Golden watched in late 2010 from a suite in El Paso, unsure of what he was about to take over—something outgoing senior Ryan Hill was quick to sum up in an interview days later.
“The first thing he [Golden] probably has to do is weed out the guys he doesn’t feel will be beneficial to the program,” the departing cornerback shared with the Palm Beach Post. “We’ve got a lot of guys that have to do a lot of maturing in this program. We have a lot of guys that act like little boys, just not doing what they’re supposed to do”—which referred to players openly mocking Shannon, while blatantly ignoring his rules.
Lest not forget this was also the same class duped and caught in the crosshairs of the Nevin Shapiro scandal; guys who ignored Shannon’s warning to stay away from the eventually-shamed Ponzi schemer, with Golden inheriting many of those players while dealing with the fallout of a scandal that didn’t happen on his watch.
Mark Richt might’ve commanded a bit more respect as a long-time SEC head coach taking over the Hurricanes in 2016, but a laid back demeanor and unflappable approach certainly hindered Miami from having a team full of alphas and dogs who played with the kind of balls or bark Davis’ FIU squad brought on Saturday night.
“We wasn’t even calling them ‘University of Miami’ during the week,” linebacker Sage Lewis boasted post-game. “We were calling them ‘University of Coral Gables. We’re the true Miami school.”
It’s one thing to openly mock the five-time national champs privately in practice—but when that attitude becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that one can boast about after delivering the goods and putting “big brother” in check; well that right there is the textbook definition of swag and a page out of vintage-era Miami’s playbook.
If it wasn’t the Hurricanes on the wrong end of this upset, every UM supporter would offer up a resounding, “Now that’s the shit I’m talking about, right there. Those kids looked like vintage Miami.”
Even harder to swallow, the fact that Diaz didn’t see Davis coming—the architect of UM’s last rebuild, who orchestrated a monumental upset on those same Orange Bowl grounds 21 years ago next month, which Diaz the super-fan was more than familiar with as a 24-year old fan playing the role of grad assistant at Florida State, weeks before the Seminoles began preparations for a national championship game they’d lose to Tennessee.
DAVIS PROVED UPSET-CAPABLE 21 YEARS AGO; DIAZ STILL UNPREPARED
While few on Miami’s current roster were even around in 1998, safe to assume all have watched The U Part 2 and it’s ten-minute segment on the Hurricanes’ upset of No. 2 UCLA, one week after getting throttled 66-13 by Syracuse in a Big East Championship game. This was year four of the Davis era and just over one year after the laughable-three-years-later “From Chumps To Champs—Thanks Butch!” banner that sailed over the Orange Bowl in a would-be 5-6 season when probation sent the program to rock bottom.
Per a post-game Sports Illustrated article recapping Miami’s improbable 49-45 upset of the Bruins, Davis broke down the week in-between complete disaster and utter redemption—as well as something he saw that gave him a belief that an upset was more than doable.
“This is not just going to be a game of stats,” he told his Canes days after losing to the Orangemen, and prior to taking down the Bruins and their potent offense. “We’re not going to shut down UCLA, they’re too good for that. But we can limit them by staying on the field and wearing them down. You don’t have to get beat just because of their big stats.”
Davis identified a flaw in his opponent; one that reminded him of some legendary NFC showdowns between the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers when he was on staff under former UM head coach Jimmy Johnson for a few Super Bowl runs. Davis studied the Bruins offense and saw “a carbon copy of the 49ers that I coached against when I was with the Cowboys”.
“The Niners were a machine against us, ran up all kinds of offensive yardage, punted once the entire game—but we hung in there and beat them,” Davis told Sports Illustrated in the December 14th issue.
Much like FIU did to Miami this past weekend, Davis’ bounce-back Hurricanes tagged the Bruins in the mouth early—eventually taking an unexpected 21-17 halftime lead over a UCLA team that underestimated a battered-and-bruised Miami—much like Diaz’s squad didn’t expect little ol’ FIU to bring the fight it did.
The Canes would fall behind 38-21 late in the third quarter, as the Bruins’ offense was explosive as advertised—but as Davis mentioned, Miami did stay on the field and eventually wore down the west coast visitors on a balmy South Florida afternoon. The Canes went on to outscore the Bruins 21-7 over the final fifteen minutes—while forcing two turnovers that got UM’s offense back on the field against an overmatched defense and by day’s end, the upset was in the books.
That same skills-set that allowed a two-decades younger Davis to identify how to hang in there to take down an unstoppable UCLA squad—those same traits, the on-point scheming and a salesman’s ability to convince a lesser team a monumental undertaking was doable; all on display Saturday night under the same Orange Bowl sky where that other unthinkable upset took place all those years ago.
While celebrating—or even merely tolerating—a loss to Florida International is a monster ask; fact remains this upset is in the books and it can’t be ignored—nor should it be dwelled on, either. Fact remains, Miami got tagged in the mouth and the only answer now is to find a lesson in this while working to move on and grow from it.
CAN’T ERASE OR IGNORE WHAT TOOK PLACE; MUST GROW FROM SETBACK
In reality, once the Hurricanes didn’t roll in with any passion or purpose, nor hellbent on smacking down a lippy cross-town rival—last Saturday night was already “lost”, in a sense. Even eking out a late win in the same sluggish fashion Miami displayed when hanging-on against Central Michigan months back; nothing was obviously learned as these Canes continued dancing with the devil on too many occasions since.
When dealing with yet another first-year head coach and fourth season under a new leader over the past 13 years—sometimes those tough lessons and moments in the valley are what spark growth and change. In this case, it’s up to Diaz to use this as fuel—opposed to his first step towards ultimate failure.
While Miami’s season finale at Duke is meaningless in the division race—just as 7-5 or 6-6 doesn’t make a shit-of-difference regarding bowl game quality—it presents a teachable moment for coaches and players, alike. This staff has all the ammo necessary for a we-told-you-so type moment in regards to preparation and this ongoing cancer of taking opponents lightly, after any modicum of success is achieved.
All that to say, this is more of a learning opportunity moving forward as the 2019 draws to a close and a 2020 campaign is put together—which is where Diaz will take the steps that either seal his fate, or he begins taking steps towards getting this thing turned around.
Lest not forget in the wake of this FIU train-wreck that Davis has a 24-year start on Diaz in the head coaching universe—one where fans wanted to run him off up through the middle of his sixth year, when he made up for a stumble at Washington with his first-ever take down of Florida State. Prior to that, the criticism was deafening and few believed Davis would ever get UM back towards contender status, let alone assembling a champion and the most-talented team in college football history.
They’re called “rookie mistakes” for a reason and one would be hard-pressed to find a quality head coach who didn’t have his early-career stumbles—but it’s how one rebounds from those that separates the contenders from the pretenders.
OFF-SEASON DECISIONS WILL ULTIMATELY SHAPE DIAZ ERA
Diaz showed some huevos when sacking Richt’s entire offensive staff upon taking over in the waning moments of 2018—as 7-6 and the lack of production on that side of the ball wasn’t cutting it. The newly-hired head coach stated last January that he wanted an “offense that creates situations the make defensive players uncomfortable”—yet the only thing uncomfortable this season has been watching Enos operate as if he’s the smartest guy on the field—trying to out-clever the competition, instead of taking what’s right under his nose.
Miami ponied up a reported $1.2M for Enos’ services—unprecedented for a Hurricanes’ offensive coordinator and step in the right direction by the admin—under the guise that Alabama’s “quarterback whisperer” could bring some of his magic south from Tuscaloosa to Coral Gables.
To some, 11 games might not be an optimum sample size—but to others, they feel they’ve seen enough to contend that Enos doesn’t seem to be a solid fit—which is hard to debate as a disappointing 2019 season draw to a close.
I mentioned the concept of thin-slicing weeks back in regards to Enos; a term used in psychology to describe an ability to find patterns in events based on only “thin slices” or narrow windows of experience—allowing an observer to make quick inferences about something, someone or a situation with minimal amounts of information. Strange as it may seem, thin-slicing has proven to be as accurate, if not more, than judgments based on more information (hence terms like “gut feelings” versus “information overload”.)
With five losses already racked up before Thanksgiving—including this disastrous setback to FIU, after a three-game win-streak felt like a step in the right direction—the Miami-bred Diaz knows good-and-hell-well that the heat is on. That, coupled with the general frustration that comes with a 15-year rut for a once-proud program—there is little time for UM’s 25th head coach to dick around.
In other words, Diaz better thin-slice his way to some hard decisions with his current staff, because he can ill-afford to let guys hopefully grow into their positions—as a slowed-down time table will ultimately cost him his dream job.
Aside from what he must do staff-wise, it’s time for a hard look in the mirror regarding the brash talk on social media, properly defining with The New Miami really means, as well as celebratory hardware that started off as college football’s greatest motivational tool in 2017, yet has not only lost all meaning two years later—but might actually be having an averse effect on this broken culture he’s trying to fix.
DIAZ’S BRASH TALK & SHINY HARDWARE NEED TWEAKING FOR CULTURE-SAKE
Like many of us, Diaz is a parent—so he’s more-than-familiar with the concept of tough love when it comes to child-rearing. A lot of times parents are faced with doing things that hurt us more than our kids—knowing that act itself is part of an evolution and will promote much-needed growth.
What do many parents do when their kids are either taking advantage of something, or not appreciative of a gift or privilege? They take it away in a point-proving moment, use their words to explain why and then offer up the opportunity to earn it back through hard work and proof of a lesson learned—the entire process often proving a growth experience for a guardian, as well.
Miami is now 37 games into the creation that is the Turnover Chain and 11 into this season’s seemingly-forced Touchdown Rings—which even the biggest supporter of swag and the third-generation Cuban link-holding pendant—felt was a big egregious. When the chain was first introduced in 2017, Miami jumped out to a 10-0 start—and was the story of college football that fall under Richt and Diaz’s blinged-out creation; one that had an immediate-impact on his defense.
The Hurricanes were 67th nationally in turnovers-forced in 2016, but made the leap to 13th in the nation after 2017 was in the books. The positive impact was undeniable then—but the current impact seems to be having averse effect, or at minimum is nothing more than a soulless prop that has become somewhat embarrassing to trot out when the Miami is creating turnovers in losing efforts; now an dismal 13-14 since that exciting start in two years back.
This current era has too many Miami players taking to social media and posting successful, individual moments from losing efforts—armed with some faux motivational quote or lyric about being humble, hungry or starting with nothing, but now getting “here”—as if just suiting up for the Hurricanes and playing sub-par football was ever a destination for anyone whose played for this program.
None of this is to say that Diaz even needs to permanently shelve the hardware, but at minimum—rewrite the rulebook he created and make the Miamiesque bling even more situational; creating a culture where a guy is prone to deny the chain and sacrifice an individual moment of mugging for crowd and sideline cameras—instead rallying his offense to go out there and turn a bonus possession into points.
Honestly, the only thing that would’ve been more embarrassing than actually losing to FIU would’ve been a defensive player posing with that chain after a late turnover when down 23-3, after Williams had already coughed it up three times—even having already seen Miami players dancing on the sideline like In Living Color fly-girls when down 16-0 early third quarter, after a three-and-out and on the heels of the Canes’ third interception.
Just like the art of comedy and being funny—timing is everything, and Miami’s lightheartedness in the face of adversity couldn’t have been more out of place. Aside from revamping the hardware rules, a message needs to be sent in regards to all and any look-at-me guys clowning on the sideline in losing efforts—hoping to trend on social media—while their teammates are getting their teeth kicked in by a commuter school with a roster full of kids UM didn’t even bother recruiting.
TRUE GROWTH COMES OUT OF FAILURE, NOT INITIAL SUCCESS
Saturday’s setback against Florida International was ugly any way it’s sliced or diced, but anyone who’s followed this Miami program diligently over the years is aware that sometimes out of the shit is where the flowers grow.
Davis’ late nineties rebuild; his players’ “enough if enough” moment came in Tallahassee on the wrong end of a 47-0 beating. The Canes survived a double overtime thriller at Boston College the next time the took the field and starting to find themselves from there—upsetting UCLA a short 14 months later.
Johnson stumbled to 8-5 his first season in such fashion that had social media and a 24/7 sports news cycle existed then—he might not have seen year two.
The now-legendary JJ blew a 31-0 halftime lead to Maryland, only to fall to Boston College on “Hail Flutie” in Miami’s next game. Toss in a bowl loss to UCLA in Tempe and an earlier season 38-3 waxing via Florida State at home—St. Jimmy had painted himself into a nasty little corner with the defending national champions; fueling disgruntled fans’ fire, as many wanted defensive coordinator Tom Oliviadottito get the gig over the middle-of-the-road Oklahoma State guy who never beat Nebraska or Oklahoma.
The future-Hall-Of-Famer also dropped the 1985 season-opener to Florida—Miami’s last home loss until falling to Washington in 1994—but finally got his first career win in Norman five weeks later when the unranked Hurricanes knocked off the third-ranked Sooners, 27-14 and ended the regular season with a 58-7 pasting of Notre Dame, before getting brought back down to earth with a 35-7 Sugar Bowl loss to Tennessee.
Undefeated the next regular season, before a fatigue-driven misstep at the Fiesta Bowl and choke against Penn State—Johnson’s Canes adopted an “Unfinished Business” approach for the 1987 season, which led to a year-four championship, against an absolutely brutal schedule—another huge step in Miami solidifying itself at the team of the decade.
While it’s impossible to undo what’s already been done—this setback is most-definitely a teachable moment for these players, while also a case-building opportunity for Diaz to part ways with any on this staff who aren’t aligned with his personal championship-related goals.
The only thing that would make a loss to Florida International worse—not finding a way to use it in a motivational sense, or a building block in Diaz’s attempt to resurrect this Miami program from decade-plus long coma.
The Miami Hurricanes knocked off the Florida State Seminoles at Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday afternoon on a national ABC broadcast; a one-sided beatdown that could’ve been worse as the Canes struck early and the Noles never found their footing.
Pro tip; marinate on that statement for a little bit and find a way to enjoy the moment, as it hasn’t been the norm. Not this season and not in recent history. Aside from Miami already racking up four losses this fall, Florida State has dominated this rivalry over the past decade—blowing out the Canes on occasion, while stealing some close ones when they were the better team, or things were evenly matched.
For those saying, put this game in the rearview—on-to-Louisville; let the team take that approach. Fans should bask in the glow of beating a rival. Made this point last fall with the on-to-Virginia crowd, only to see Miami drop four in a row after the comeback against the Seminoles; which made savoring that home win against Florida State—the first since 2004—all the more important.
Miami has now taken three-in-a-row in the series; winning in Tallahassee in 2017 behind a gritty Malik Rosier—ending a seven-game losing streak to the Seminoles with a last-second touchdown—as well as overcoming the rivalry’s biggest deficit in 2018 when N’Kosi Perry helped the Canes overcome a 27-7 hole, en route to a 28-27 comeback win.
This time around, it was a confident Jarren Williams—another first-year starter in the series—throwing for 313 yards, two touchdowns and protecting the football in the 27-10 rout. Yanked weeks back after a three-interception first quarter against Virginia Tech, Williams yielded to Perry before entering late in the fourth quarter at Pittsburgh last weekend, where he delivered the game-winning strike to K.J. Osborn.
Williams’ performance against Florida State wasn’t perfect, but there was a lot to like as No. 15 finally connected on two big deep balls for touchdowns—an early 39-yard strike to Jeff Thomas that kicked off the scoring, followed by a 56-yard dagger to Dee Wiggins that pushed Miami’s lead back to 14 points early in the fourth quarter.
There was also an effective 34-yard strike to Mike Harley on a 3rd-and-4 late in the second quarter, setting up a six-yard DeeJay Dallas touchdown run, extending the lead to 14-3 at the half—Dallas deservedly cashing in after a huge block that afforded Williams the time to find Harley.
Better pocket awareness, coupled with an improved offensive line and better blocking schemes—Miami, to its credit, is showing signs of improvement going into the final third of the season, while Florida State is in full-blown disaster-mode.
While both teams have seen their share of offensive line struggles, the Hurricanes have finally reached a respectable level of play—unlike the Seminoles, whose line was reminiscent of Miami’s in the season-opener against Florida. The Gators smacked Williams around all night back in August, tallying up 10 sacks—while here in early November, the Noles let the Canes’ front seven in their backfield—where Miami notched a season-best nine sacks; four of which were credited to freshman defensive end Greg Rousseau, who was become virtually unstoppable.
Miami tossed quarterback Alex Hornibrook around like a rag doll all evening; a welcomed sight to see the Seminoles’ starting quarterback harassed from start to finish—but a bonus as the Wisconsin transfer played the game of his career against the Hurricanes in the 2017 Orange Bowl, where he earned MVP honors. This time around, sent home battered and bruised—and deservedly so.
As much as Miami rolled in with a stellar effort and solid overall game plan, the complete opposite can be said of Willie Taggart—who dropped to 9-12 overall since taking over Florida State last fall. Having seen what inexperienced mobile quarterbacks have done to the Hurricanes’ defense this fall—even a newbie like Virginia Tech’s Hendon Hooker—Taggart still opted for the immobile, average-armed Hornibrook, over the erratic-yet-athletic James Blackman.
Similar knocks apply to offensive coordinator Kendal Briles; a name that had some Miami fans overly-concerned as a threat when hired by Taggart in the off-season. Briles spent the first half forcing Hornibrook to throw too often, with Miami’s safeties dropped deep—instead of trying to establish something on first down with the electric Cam Akers—only to put it all on Akers’ shoulders early in the second half; overly-reliant upon their WildCam direct-snap package, too little too late.
Admittedly, not much offensive good was going to come behind Florida State’s porous offensive line play—especially with Miami’s all-out aggression on defense—but both Taggart and Briles deserve criticism for going with Hornibrook and not finding more creative ways to involved Akers.
In the midst of writing this piece, news broke that Taggart has been relieved of his duties; the Florida State brass having seen enough after a 9-12 run since last fall—to the point where they’ll eat his remaining $17M contract and hope to reel in a better fit next time around.
Tallahassee burning and another Seminoles restart aside, the Hurricanes have now won three of their last four overall; games circled on the pre-season schedule and considered the most-defining of the year—Virginia, at Pitt and at Florida State. Losses to lesser squads like Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech definitely took some shine off of this mid-season run—but in looking at how things have played out, it appears both of those games served as cautionary tales and motivational tools that ultimately seems to be helping these Hurricanes turn a corner.
Having given up 42 points to the Hokies; a sloppy five-turnover, 11-penalty outing—head coach Manny Diaz reinserted himself into the defense’s preparation and days later Miami clamped down hard on Virginia— stuffing the Cavaliers in the red zone and holding them to nine points. After a lethargic outing against Georgia Tech the following week, where the Hurricanes whiffed on 29 tackles and DJ Ivey fell asleep on two plays—costing the Canes 14 points—Ivey hauled in two interceptions at Pittsburgh, while the defense allowed another field goals-only performance, in a 16-12 victory.
A road victory against the Panthers is also where an unintended quarterback quandary ultimately played itself out, sans any controversy—Perry seemingly hitting his ceiling over the course a few starts, with Williams saving the day with a game-winning drive that obviously played into his getting the nod for Florida State week.
Diaz’s choice of Williams as QB1 was confirmed in the rolling of the Noles, as there were enough flashes of what coaches felt this Miami team was capable of months back with No. 15 at the helm. Improved offensive line play (finally), receivers growing up, a secondary coming together and a kicking game that isn’t a full-blown liability—the Canes have somewhat dispelled the myth that a team is what their record says it is; looking and feeling better than the 5-4 staring them back in the face.
Of course all that’s left to do now it continue winning and building off of what’s taken place over the past four weeks; the mostly-good (Virginia, Pittsburgh and Florida State) as well as the bad (Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech), that led to some hard resets and ultimately helped right the ship.
One big knock on Miami in 2019 has been a lack of an identity; who are the Hurricanes and how do they react and respond? Over the first half of the season, it was a question impossible to answer—but over the past few weeks, things are coming into clearer focus.
Defense is again proving to be the calling card as the line has found an ace in Rousseau and others like Nesta Silvera and Trevon Hill are finding their groove and playing with a nasty streak. At linebacker, Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney quietly continue taking care of business and making plays—while a secondary that was tentative early, has seen player like Ivey, Gurvan Hall, Al Blades Jr. and Bubba Bolden finding their identity, which has helped a veteran like Trajan Bandy fall back into the type of player he was as a freshman in 2017 while playing along side guys like Sheldrick Redwine, Jaquan Johnson and Michael Jackson.
Offensively, the Canes were completely identity-less the past few years; right up through 2018 where Miami ranked 104th in total offense. As this year took off, a shoddy offensive line didn’t much help any inexperience at quarterback with Williams—which lent itself to Perry getting a few mid-season starts, as his mobility helped mask line deficiencies. As things have started to level out a bit there, Williams is looking more like the guy coaches expected when giving him the nod back in August—especially with the deep ball now added to his arsenal.
Days after the win, Hurricane Sports rolled out their post-game social media content—where a pre-game quip from Diaz set the tone for the highlights that would soon unfold.
“I don’t know if you can feel it, but there’s something different, man. I have not see this type of focused-aggression, to be honest, since Notre Dame . Guys, today is the day it all comes together. Offense goes down the field. Defense get the stop. Kicking game makes the game-winning play. All three phases start clicking today in Tallahassee,” Diaz shared, before his Canes aggressively took the field.
The win seemed to mark the first time this season the pre-game chatter matched the product on the field—coaches’ expectations and desires meshing with the belief of the players, as well as their overall effort and execution. The fact it happened at Florida State, sending the Seminoles to their version of rock-bottom; a third head coaching change since a three-game win streak for the Canes got underway—priceless.
With three-quarters of the season in the books, Miami has three remaining—Louisville at home for Senior Day and one final bye week to rest up, before a quick crosstown jaunt the Orange Bowl’s old, hallowed grounds to take on Florida International at Marlins Park—before a regular season-ending road trip to Duke. Mathematically, the Canes are still technically in the running for the Coastal Division—but it’s hardly worth touching on as a dozen things would have to fall into place; starting with winning out.
As Diaz continues building The New Miami—again, a long-term attitude and culture adjustment; not a quick-fix—a huge step forward is taken every time the Hurricanes can show up ready to play, coming off a win or a loss. Miami has struggled in times of prosperity, as well as despair—ill-prepared the week after a big win, as well as multiple-game losing streaks—unable to pump the failure breaks.
Winning at Florida State in that environment at Tallahassee was big for this Miami squad; equally as big, hitting the ground running against an upset-minded Louisville squad. The Cardinals are 5-3 on the season; losses against Notre Dame, Clemson … and at Florida State, while wins have come against Eastern Kentucky, Western Kentucky, Boston College, Wake forest and most-recently, Virginia.
Much like Florida State going between Hornibrook and Blackman, Louisville has played musical quarterbacks with Evan Conley and Micale Cunningham since starter Juwon Pass had season-ending surgery back in September. Conley mostly led the charge in a shootout win against the Demon Deacons, while both were used (rather ineffectively) when the Tigers routed the Cardinals. Cunningham got the majority of the snaps in the recent win over the Cavaliers; throwing an early touchdown to Tutu Atwell to tie the game in the first quarter and running for another in the fourth to take the lead for good.
Cunningham is precisely the type of shifty, athletic, mobile quarterback that has given the Hurricanes fits all season—moving the chains on third down, while doing enough with his feet to buy receivers time to get open—while Atwell is another of many Miami natives (Northwestern) over the years, who will return and look to break big playing in front of the hometown crowd this weekend. The Cardinals’ roster has roughly a dozen kids from what would be considered the State of Miami; all with a chip on their shoulders.
Louisville are hardly world-beaters, but lesser teams have given the Hurricanes fits a week after a gritty win or a shitty loss. Saturday represents another step-up moment where Miami has been prone to step-down. Take care of business against the Cardinals and handle the Panthers, which would put these Canes at 7-4 entering a finale at Duke, with a chance to accomplish a hell of 2019 rebound; especially based on how things looked at 3-4 a few weeks back.
The Canes’ offense held the Panthers to four field goals and the Cavaliers to three, while scoring 16 and 17 points respectively—clamping down defensively in the red zone, while managing to eke out enough scoring to outlast the competition.
The biggest difference between these two victories over the Coastal Division’s best competition; the State of Miami … quarterbacks. N’Kosi Perry held it down against Virginia—leading an early drive and punching in another late, though stagnant-as-hell in-between.
Against Pitt, another early score—but Miami only had 10 points on the board at halftime, despite the defense forcing three turnovers. The Canes’ lone touchdown came with 12:00 remaining in the second quarter when Cam Harris punched it in from a yard out, capping a four-play, 17-yard scoring drive courtesy of a second DJ Ivey interception.
Perry also had a short field on 30-yard drive that ended with a Camden Price 22-yard field goal; unable to get anything going—which had Manny Diaz and Dan Enos going back to Jarren Williams for a mid-fourth quarter spark.
After a quick three-and-out, Miami’s defense immediately got the ball back and Willams took over at the Canes’ 38-yard line, driving 62 yards—including a quarterback run on 3rd-and-2 to keep the drive alive. The play was reminiscent of a fourth down scramble Perry had against Virginia; a play that fit the narrative that he deserved to start over the less mobile Williams.
A first down pass to tight end Brevin Jordan fell incomplete, but on 2nd-and-10 from the Pitt 32-yard line, Williams found KJ Osborn through a tight window; the receiver bouncing off of two Panthers’ defenders as he scampered for a 32-yard game-winning score; Pitt unable to get anything going in the final minute, especially after a few dropped passes—a Miami opponent finally un-clutch with the game on the line.
THE U : BETTER RESPONSE TO ADVERSITY THAN PROSPERITY
The win upped the mood a bit, though only slightly as 4-4 is nothing to celebrate and too many remain caught up in the ones that got away. Understandable, but in all reality—the early Florida and North Carolina losses aside—it’s hard to not picture the same record for the Canes after the last month of football.
Had Miami come back against Virginia Tech, hard not to believe there’d have been less intensity against Virginia—opposed to the next-level defensive focus in practice that led to a more spirited effort. Same to be said for last weekend. Missed tackles against Georgia Tech and an overall lackadaisical effort—cemented by Ivey taking two plays off that resulted in touchdowns—had the Hurricanes dialed in tackling-wise, while Ivey hauled in two interceptions.
Translation; it took Miami getting burned to wake up and react accordingly. These Hurricanes needed to learn the hard way this fall, for whatever reason—but the fact they’ve responded to the adversity is a big step forward for a program that’s been stepping-down for years when backs were to the wall.
Of course all this begs the question—with four games remaining—what happens next?
In the wake of those early two losses and Miami getting back to 2-2, the hope was that the Canes would shake off those stumbles and quickly autocorrect into the best-case scenario type team coaches hoped for in the preseason; quarterback play setting in, a green offensive line playing better, a young secondary tightening up and a kicking game finding its way.
Instead, Williams unraveled against the Hokies and none of those other areas of inexperience rose to the occasion—causing mid-season chaos that continued for a month, but legitimately might’ve subsided with the win at Pitt.
Each week has felt like it’s own one-game season in 2019, halting any turn-a-corner talk as Miami was picking and choosing when it would, or wouldn’t show up. Beat Virginia, mail-it-in against Georgia Tech.
That said, something felt different about Pitt and talk of a lay-it-all-on-the-line team meeting the Thursday prior-to; it explained the feel and energy Miami had at Heinz Field last Saturday—with manifested in a belief the Canes were finally going to get that late fourth quarter, game-winning drive that’s alluded them all season.
CANES’ CLOSED DOOR BREAK-DOWN; OWNERSHIP TAKEN
“Pretty much everybody you think of as a leader on this team said something,” said offensive lineman Jakai Clark, days after Miami returned home victorious. “And it all meant something to everybody, especially me.”
Osborn, who caught the game-winner, was vocal—as was fellow transfer Trevon Hill; another one-year Miami guy, while Shaq Quarterman was the lone four-year starter who also embraced a leadership role and spoke up. Beloved walk-on Jimmy Murphy was also called upon; a favorite of fans and teammates for his passionate play and love for the program—everyones words still resonating with Clark almost a week later.
“Obviously after a meeting like that, first day, everybody is gonna be locked in—trying to do their best,” Clark said. “But seeing it in practice today and seeing it carry over is a great thing. And seeing it in the locker room. After that meeting, guys started talking more. Before that, we talked, but it wasn’t like a family type thing. After that, everybody got their feelings out. I feel like we’re more of a family now.”
Wide receiver Mike Harley admitted he spoke directly to two talented, albeit selfish players and did what he could to try and help set them straight.
“Not calling anybody out, but I pointed out two talented guys on our team that play a major role. I told them you have to step up,” Harley shared. “You have to work harder than what you’re doing because you’re talented and we need you on this team.”
While no names were mentioned, hard not to imagine fellow receiver Jeff Thomas—suspended for Georgia Tech and Pitt, but back for Florida State—wasn’t one of those targets. In hot water last fall—to the point where he parted ways with the Canes, appeared Illinois-bound and retuned after having a sit-down with the recently-hired Diaz—it’s been a disappointing comeback for the junior; starting with a muffed punt against Florida that led to a touchdown, right up through this recent sit-down.
Whether Harley’s words resonated with two self-absorbed teammates, or not—Diaz appreciates that his team is starting to understand what it takes to be successful, but is quick to point out that all problems are far from solved.
“Any one’s individual success is tied to our collective success and if somebody is not pulling their weight, it is hurting their fellow teammates,” Diaz explained. “I think what we know now at least is we know the roadmap—and I think our guys understand what works and what doesn’t work … You’re either being a Cane, or you’re not being a Cane.”
Part of that heavy burden; knowing what Florida State represents and the importance of this game on deck.
UM & FSU; EACH NEED WIN AS BAD AS COUNTERPART
While nothing can erase the four losses already racked up by late October, Miami has the ability to close this season strong—which all starts with a third-consecutive takedown of a Florida State program that had won seven straight before the Canes’ comeback victory in 2017; that streak-ending game completely changing false invincibility narrative that kept Miami from closing late so often in the rivalry over recent years.
Emerge victorious on Saturday and games against Louisville, Florida International and Duke immediately feel conquerable—where a loss to the Seminoles allows doubt to creep back in; as well as the fear of a hangover for the home finale next weekend against the Cardinals.
Records-wise, Miami and Florida State are both sitting un-pretty at .500—but it’s hard not to feel like the Hurricanes are slightly more well-rounded and presently stable program; even with this year one of the Diaz era and a sophomore season for the maligned Willie Taggart up north.
Both programs have weak-sauce offensive lines, though Miami’s feels like it’s made some sight improvement over the past few weeks. Each also has been playing musical quarterbacks; the Canes settling on Williams for this week—riding the momentum from last Saturday’s comeback win.
Alex Hornibrook—the Wisconsin transfer who carved Miami up in the 2017 Orange Bowl—did the heavy-lifting last weekend as Florida State rolled a sub-par Syracuse squad; throwing for 196 yards on 26 attempts, while protecting the football. James Blackman showed up on the final drive—a 35-17 game already in the bag—after a 27-for-43, 280-yard, two-touchdown outing in a road loss at Wake Forest a week prior.
Where Miami welcomes back DeeJay Dallas and has a two-headed monster regarding #13 and his counterpart Cam’Ron Harris, Florida State has seen Cam Akers go next-level the past two weeks; going for 144 yards and four touchdowns against Syracuse and 157 yards with a score in the loss at Wake Forest.
Akers ran for a pedestrian 46 yards and was held in check during last year’s match-up at HardRock, but did put up 121 yards against the Canes in Tallahassee in 2017. The skills are there; it’s simply a matter of Miami keeping the talented back in check—which truly is the name of the game all together.
While Miami incredibly held the Cavaliers and Panthers to a combined seven field goal, while keeping both out of the end zone over eight quarters—it inexplicably surrendered 70 points to the Hokies and Yellow Jackets; turnovers the backbreaker in the former, poor tacking and shit overall defense effort the culprit in the latter.
The Canes dug themselves into a 27-7 hole last fall against the Seminoles, which resulted in an epic comeback for Miami—who hadn’t beaten their arch-rival at home since the 2004 season; four years before abandoning the Orange Bowl and moving north.
As thrilling as comebacks can be, trailing by 20 points early in the third quarter and only having seven points on the board—relying on stout defense, two forced turnovers and a couple of short fields—it isn’t something you can bank on; especially on the road in a rivalry game.
Going punt, punt, touchdown, punt, fumble, punt, turnover on downs, punt and punt—before a forced fumble turned things around; it was one of those games where winning saved everything, but certainly didn’t cure it—and in many ways masked the offensive deficiencies that would’ve been under a microscope without the comeback.
LEAST MISTAKES/BIG MOMENTS; KEYS TO VICTORY
Mid-game offensive lulls or falling into early holes; both have reared their ugly heads this season in all four losses—as well as the last two victories, where stalled drives mid-game were thankfully bailed out by solid red zone defense, as well as clutch scoring late.
The X’s and O’s of this one aren’t hard to figure out. Williams needs to protect the football for Miami, while looking more like the clutch performer he was last weekend in Pittsburgh, opposed to the game-manager he was earlier this year—not getting the Canes in trouble (prior to Virginia Tech), but not driving the offense, either.
Offensive line play needs to stay at the level it’s been, as the Hurricanes absolutely need to establish the running game with Dallas and Harris—something Enos has been quick to bail out on, impatient and relying on a one-dimensional, while completely ignoring the backs he has at his disposal.
All that aside, defense is again the key for Miami. Whereas the Hurricanes used to only go as far as their quarterback would take them, this program in present day is shackled to the success of its defense and the ability for that side of the ball to take over the game.
Turnovers were the difference in the road win against Pittsburgh last weekend, as were red zone stops that thwarted both the Panthers and the Cavaliers, weeks back—including a late third quarter fumble by Virginia on a drive that looked destined to result in points.
The little things; they obviously matter to great teams—but might even be more important for a program trying to rebuild (yeah, the r-word—deal with it) as the margin for error is less, as can be the resolve in moments of adversity. Miami and Florida State—once powerhouses in the truest sense of the word—are in that similar place on-the-mend spot, where both will bring fight Saturday afternoon, where the one who makes that big time play, or avoids that disastrous moment, will most-likely prevail.
On paper—as well as on the national level—it might lack the luster of years passed, but all that critiquing seems to go out the window once the pregame skirmish gets underway and that ball officially gets kicked off, as Canes versus Noles just brings out the dog in both these teams.
For both, a chance to *save* a season that’s had some bumps and bruises—but for Diaz and a Hurricanes’ squad that feels that some air-clearing and recently stepped-up play was a mini-milestone—a chance to prove Miami is closer to the team it thinks it is, than the hit-or-miss squad on display so often this season.
Turn that corner. Beat the Noles.
That’s not a quote from the early 2000s when ‘The U’ in the midst of a 34-game win streak, four consecutive BCS appearances, two championship game berths and a national title. Nor was the statement uttered by some NFL general manager around the same era, when the University of Miami had 19 first round draft picks over a four-year span, taking over and dominating the league.
Nope, these were the ramblings of a random poster on a U-themed fan site on a Tuesday afternoon in early October this year, days after the Hurricanes slipped to 2-3 on the season after a loss to Virginia Tech; the heat getting turned up by a segment of the fan base that expected 15 years sub-par play, corrected five games in by Miami’s fifth head coach in 14 seasons.
The Canes got a home win a few days later over Coastal Division favorite Virginia; but the difference between 2-3 and .500 football isn’t going to quiet the frustrated critics.
The rest of this particular message board thread—40 pages deep, over a four-day span—hammers first-year head coach Manny Diaz for being in over his head, getting out-coached on a weekly basis, calling for assistants to be fired five games in, while fantasizing about a world where the keys were never turned over to the former defensive coordinator late last December when Mark Richtsuddenly called it a career—a wish-list of other big-named, fairy-tale options always rattled off as the disgruntled ones stew.
Logic and reason seemed to have checked out a while ago with these particular “supporters”—zero consideration given to the fact that Miami has been in a 15-year lull entering this season; evidenced by a 35-3 bowl game beat-down in Richt’s final appearance, a 97-70 record dating back to a 40-3 trouncing by LSU in the 2005 Peach Bowl and a 7-9 run since a loss at Pittsburgh in 2017 took all the wind out of a 10-0 start.
Will Diaz succeed or fail as the University of Miami’s 25th head coach? Way too soon to tell. Even the iconic Nick Saban went 7-6 out the gate at Alabama in 2007, with a home loss to Louisiana-Monroe—despite winning a national championship at LSU four years prior. Regardless of opinion, some truth.
Diaz seems as on-brand as anyone that’s ever coached this program—understanding what made Miami great in the past—while hard-wired to try and get to the root of the problem; changing, tweaking and fixing in real time, opposed to letting things play out and reevaluating down the road.
His first move last January; firing the entire offensive staff for underperforming—sparing no one—wanting that side of the ball to be as aggressive and game-dictating as the defense he was the architect of the past three seasons. As for that defense which has dropped off in 2019, while last year’s talent can’t be replaced this fall—now four losses in, Diaz has gotten more hands-on with the defensive coaching as he’s seen enough to know something has gone awry.
“There is a culture that was created here back in 2016 that for some reason we just have not been able to recreate,” Diaz shared the Monday morning after the loss to the Hokies. “It is not a coaching issue. It’s not a scheme issue. This has nothing to do with Blake Baker or anyone on our defensive staff. This is simply just there is a lack of connection between the players on our defensive side of the ball.
“We don’t look like we trust each other. We don’t play with the techniques that were coached during the week, and ultimately they need the utmost accountability. That comes from the head coach, which comes from me. That process began last night. We sat and we watched every snap of the game as an entire defense. We talked through all of our mistakes. We owned all of our mistakes collectively as a group and that will be what continues now going forward. We need to get our defense playing like the Miami Hurricanes again because it didn’t look like that on Saturday.
“I’m jumping right in the middle of it. I’m going to make sure we’re all accountable to just do what we’re supposed to be.”
Halfway through a new season—and regime—Diaz is doing all he can right now, which fans must let play out; saving their evaluation for year’s end—and then another a year from now, looking to see that year-one to year-two improvement and how the Hurricanes look this time next fall.
Instead, a group of “fans” attempted to fly a pregame banner prior-to the Virginia game—a low-rent, pro sports fan-type move, thankfully thwarted due to bad weather—calling for Miami to fire athletic director Blake James and his deputy director Jennifer Strawley, while others continue encourage supporters to stop going to games, in some that’ll-show-em-we-mean-business type of protest, which is the crux of this piece.
The small-mindedness, entitlement and delusion on display; it’s hit a point where a long overdue reality check is needed. This ongoing approach where so many continue sharing their take on what they think this program should look like—taking out 15 years of embarrassment due to irrelevance and a lack of consistency by way of coaching turnover; completely rooted in nostalgia and emotion, with zero attempt at any logic or reason.
A month ago ESPN’s Mark Schlabach penned a piece that should’ve been eye-opening and prompting more discussion amongst those who have the audacity to believe Hurricanes football should be the sport’s “gold standard”; “Inside Georgia’s $200 Million Quest To Take Down Alabama”.
Despite the fact the Bulldogs won 24 games over the past two years, played for two SEC Championships—winning one, gifting away another—as well as a national title game appearance; blowing a lead and falling in overtime, Georgia has taken on a “do more” attitude in regards to arming head coach Kirby Smart with everything he needs to gain a competitive against current king-of-the-hill, Nick Saban and his dominant Crimson Tide.
“As Kirby has mentioned a number of times, the difference in a lot of these games is a matter of inches,” Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity shared with Schlabach. “With his goal of doing more, we’re trying to make up whatever that little difference could be.”
(Cue the anti-James rhetoric and rants that Miami should have an athletic director of McGarity’s caliber—while missing the irony that he has a monster budget, big alumni donations and he too hired a forty-something former defensive coordinator with zero head coaching experience, but that’s neither here nor there.)
That “little difference” McGarity speaks of, has resulted in the following for a Bulldogs program that hasn’t won a national championship over the past 39 seasons—and one that just shit the bed to unranked South Carolina at home last weekend; the annual Smart regular season flop against a double-digit underdog:
— $174,000,000 in facility upgrades over the past three years; including a new 165,000 square-foot facility (Butts-Meher Heritage Hall) that made up $80,000,000 of that spend—resulting in a bigger weight room, locker room offices and an improved sports medicine facility. Another $30,000,000 went towards a new 102,000 square-foot multi-use indoor practice facility.
— $63,000,000 went towards a renovation of Stanford Stadium; a revamped recruiting lounge, an enlarged scoreboard and other bells and whistles to dazzle potential Bulldogs on game-day, as well as recruiting trips to Athens where the Georgia has been stockpiling and poaching South Florida talent since the Richt era.
— On the recruiting front, Georgia now spends a cool $1,500,000 more annually than any other FBS program; over $7,000,000 over the past three years. This number now surpasses Alabama—second with a $5,600,000 annual spend, while Tennessee is third, dropping $5,000,000-per-year, yet little to show for it. (For context, the annual recruiting budget under Richt was just under $600,000; a $2,630,000 increase in 2018 for the Dawgs.)
— As for Smart and his staff; a combined annual salary of $13,000,000.
As astronomical and hard-to-fathom as all those numbers might be, the most-important information and footnote is yet to be mentioned—the fact that Georgia has raised over $121,000,000 in barely four years through The Magill Society, which “Serves as the leadership fundraising entity under The Georgia Bulldog Club. This organization is philanthropic in nature with its members invested in the success of Georgia Athletics.”
This group was formed in 2015 and “recognizes those that make commitments of $25,000 and above” over a five-year period. Over 1,100 new donors have joined this elite club over the past year. A minimum of $25,000 times 1,100 new members in 2018 equals at least $27,500,000 towards Bulldogs “athletics”—the majority of which will obviously be steered towards football, as Athens is the heart of SEC Country.
Meanwhile, Miami fans just used GoFundMe to cover the cost of the aforementioned $495 banner intended to take a pre-game shit on the athletic department, believing that boycotting games in already a barely two-thirds full stadium will somehow “send a message”—while Georgia just signed up over a thousand new members ready and willing to pony up at least $25,000 towards their football program.
Stop the incessant bitching for a moment and let all that sink in—as well as questioning the overall sanity and entitlement of any Hurricanes football supporter believing Miami should be riding-high atop the sport, based on these financial facts.
All those years of getting into debates regarding support and fandom with alum of bigger state schools; “I’ll bet you didn’t even go to Miami, did you?’—this is where those arguments officially come to a head; the dollars and cents issue with the majority of a program’s fan base having not attended said university.
Alumni will break out that checkbook—not just for sports, but for the betterment of their beloved school. The affinity for their alma mater isn’t just relegated to on-the-field success—so when you’re talking about state schools with four- of five-times the undergraduates that Miami has and times that over a decade—it’s a huge numbers game, where UM is at a massive disadvantage.
The majority of Miami’s fans are individuals with nothing more than regional ties to a collegiate sports team who are along for the ride when the getting is good, but can easily pull back or bail out when things go south. Upon a crash and burn, or decade-long football program drought, interests and focus fast shift elsewhere, as a city like Miami—making it easy to check out during championship year droughts.
Take those larger state schools in smaller college towns, versus a private university in a suburb of a large, diverse metropolitan city—one with four professional sports franchises and an overflow of opportunities in regards to how one spends their entertainment dollar—and the the distance becomes even greater.
Athens, Tuscaloosa, Clemson, Baton Rouge, Columbus—full-fledged college sports towns. Miami is an events town; proven by the sparse crowds when mid-level conference teams come to town, opposed to the absolute raucous party environment—both on-campus and at Hard Rock—when No. 3 Notre Dame traveled south two years ago to take on an undefeated, seventh-ranked Hurricanes bunch.
Hell, even when Miami fielded its best team in program’s history in 2001—still at the beloved Orange Bowl—the Hurricanes only drew a reported 31,128 for a match-up against Temple—as a game like that isn’t an “event” and there are better things for non-alum football fans to do with their day.
The state school versus private university difference—as well as alumni versus location-based fans—is hardly new news. Nor is the fact that football factories and SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 powerhouses will throw hundreds of millions of dollars worth of support at the cause, in effort to try and build a champion—all of which should serve as a reminder just how incredible and improbably Miami’s success has been.
$200,000,000+ raised in Athens, yet the Hurricanes have won five national titles (and left a few on the field) since the Bulldogs last championship in back in 1980. How? By Miami again creating it’s own special sauce; somehow finding an advantage and figuring out how to do more with less.
It worked in the past and it’s the only answer moving forward—staying on-brand and playing to unique strengths—as the University of Miami will never have a big enough checkbook to play at the high-stakes table—especially without a strong alumni base that speaks with their wallet, not into the ether on message boards, or social media.
This is literally textbook definition of money talking and bullshit walking.
The head coaching position—same as the athletic director gig at the University of Miami—are niche gigs and not for everyone. These are college football and university-related positions, for people who want the small college town experience, of which Miami couldn’t be any further from.
The big city energy and a region full of transplants. A quaint school with an off-campus stadium, playing second-fiddle to pro sports franchises, eccentric nightlife, beach culture and other spirited events that make up South Florida living—as well as the lack of that large, supportive alumni base—these are all turnoffs to coaches and administrators who have chosen university-driven careers.
Decades back, yes, Miami football was able to reload at the head coaching position after Howard Schnellenberger built a winner, left for the USFL and Jimmy Johnson was able to carry the torch and bring home another championship; the original “NFL U” a moniker for coaches as Johnson wound up in Dallas, Dennis Erickson parlayed his success into the Seattle job and Butch Davis, though title-less, was the architect of the rebuild and was tabbed to do something similar in Cleveland.
Had Schnellenberger, Johnson or Davis planted their flag in Coral Gables and dug in for the long haul, Miami could’ve become a full-blown dynasty, in the traditional sense of the word—especially after Davis’ six-year rebuild and the state of college football at the turn of the century.
Of course none did, because long-term hasn’t ever been the logical plan at a program with UM’s set-up and resources. All used UM as a stepping-stone to bigger paydays and higher profile jobs—while all to a man have said that their time at the University of Miami was the most-special era of their respective careers and all each had their regrets about leaving; the point where they’d have loved a do-over.
Also a stepping-stone opportunity at Miami; the athletic director position—as proven twice over the past decade when Kirby Hocutt parlayed his four years into a better opportunity at Texas Tech and Shawn Eichorst used his even shorter stint to land the Nebraska gig. Neither was a “Miami guy” or on-brand, but both had the up-and-comer designation—which is also the reason UM was merely a pit-stop and both wound up at state schools with bigger budgets and alumni bases.
Prior to Hocutt and Eichorst, the Hurricanes’ longest-tenured athletic director was the late Paul Dee, who spent 13 years in a job he fell into by way of circumstance. Originally hired as Vice President and general counsel back in 1981—Dee was thrust into the AD role when Dave Maggard left the position after two years, finding a golden parachute in a Managing Director of Sports opportunity for the 1996 Summer Olympics, opposed to hanging around to see how a pending Pell Grant scandal was set to play out in Coral Gables.
It was a role Dee held until 2008, preceding Hocutt—making almost three decades since the Hurricanes had a gun-slinging type athletic director in Sam Jankovich—which was a completely different time and brand of college football. In the modern era, all Miami knows is that the past two guys bailed for greener pastures, while James retuned to Coral Gables after seven years at the University of Maine—six as Director of Athletics.
James started his career at Miami in ticket sales and has an affinity for South Florida, hence his return in 2010 and staying put ever since—which for better or worse is an important criteria for the Miami job, as again, it lacks the college town experience which many who work in collegiate athletics look for—limiting the field of candidates.
James was instrumental in bringing Richt back to his alma mater in 2015. Whatever one thinks of the hire in hindsight—Richt proving too tired for the rebuilding task after three years—it was a pivotal move for Miami; the first time UM went after an established head coach, opposed to an up-and-comer type.
UM broke out the checkbook and agreed to a reported $4M annual salary—the most it’d ever forked out for a head coach’s salary—only months after Donna Shalala stepped down; the former president the biggest roadblock to Hurricanes athletics since probation in the nineties.
The Richt era saw an increase in salaries for assistants, as well—which opened the door to bring on Diaz as defensive coordinator, after Dave Aranda chose LSU over Miami—while the respect for Richt and his 15 years running a top-notch SEC program helped get UM’s long-discussed indoor practice facility project over the hump; a $1M personal donation from Richt a huge perk that made up for limited alumni support.
In the wake of Richt’s abrupt retirement last December, James—and the Board of Trustees—made the move to bring Diaz back from ah 18-day stint as Temple’s head coach—which like the actual hire of the first-time head coach itself, is way too to judge as a win or a loss.
What the disgruntled are quick to call a “lazy” hire, was at worst a low-risk move—with huge consequences—based on some logical variables that too many either ignore or dismiss.
Sure, Miami could’ve conducted a full-blown search—starting January 6th, 2019—as Richt’s post-Christmas, pre-New Years bow-out came in the deadest week of the year. Four weeks prior to National Signing Day, the University of Miami would’ve been seeking for its 25th head coach—which would’ve decimated an already depleted 18-man class, setting the program even further back. With Diaz, there was continuity—as well as an ability to assemble his staff well before UM would’ve hired a new head coach.
Diaz’s hiring also guaranteed the return of would-be outgoing seniors like Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckey and Zach McCloud—which would’ve gutted a defense that already lost Jaquan Johnson, Sheldrick Redwine, Michael Jackson, Gerald Willis and Joe Jackson. As bad as things are right now defensively—they’d have been infinitely worse.
Miami’s off-season robbing of the Transfer Portal also wouldn’t have been as effective; Diaz reeling in Tate Martell, KJ Osborn, Bubba Bolden, Trevon Hill and Jaelan Phillips—as well as bringing Jeff Thomas back when he was all but gone to Illinois.
However it plays out with Diaz—as there are no guarantees with just about any head coaching hire—the logic and reason both made sense. Diaz hit the ground running as Miami’s defensive coordinator in 2016, quickly revamping an utter mess left by Al Golden and Mark D’Onofrio; immediately changing the broken scheme and getting guys to buy in day one.
Miami’s D took a huge step forward and by year two, went next-level—much of the success fueled by the on-brand, transcending Turnover Chain—that not only captivated all of college football, but give the Canes an old school, disruptive, aggressive vibe it had lacked since the heyday of the early 2000’s.
An anemic offense held both the 2017 and 2018 squads back—leaving James and the BoT with an understandable belief that half the the program was where it needed to be, so retaining the guy who built that out and trusting that he could find a counterpart to have a similar effect on the offense—was hardly far-fetched.
A reported $1.2M was allocated for Diaz to lure Dan Enos away from Alabama. How that hire ultimately plays out, time will tell—but for the Hurricanes, it was still a get—and the increased salary for assistants was again a good football move showing that Miami’s administration does care about football in this post-Shalala era.
In the end, the University of Miami is fighting this battle with one hand tied behind its back—but isn’t giving up. The way it was able to win and dominate in the past; those avenues are closed—so it’s time to take some less conventional detours in finding news ways to succeed.
Miami won’t soon become a state school with 40K undergrads, producing hundreds of thousands of new alum every decades—so it’s doing the next-best thing; trying to maintain and build off its brand—James with ties to UM’s last rebuild under Davis and Diaz having grown up in South Florida during the Decade of Dominance, with a true understanding of what the Hurricanes tick back-in-the-day.
Seeing what a Georgia is doing in regards to their investment into athletics; demeaning—but equally as liberating, as it frees Miami from feeling like it has to play the game in an orthodox manner in which it will never compete.
Just as it did four decades ago when Schnelly started an against-all-0dds dynasty in 1979, Miami is going to have to stay clever and unconventional in its process—praying for the stars to somehow align, while the football gods shine a little love—as college football is always a better place when the Hurricanes are relevant; playing in disruptive and polarizing fashion.