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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HIGHSMITH HISTORY: 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CANES ALWAYS WENT AGAINST GRAIN; EMBRACED UNIQUENESS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOW TO WIN BIG WITHOUT BIG TIME PLAYERS?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PLAY YOUR BEST, NOT YOUR FAVORITES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BURN IT ALL DOWN & TRULY BUILD BACK BETTER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

SPIN CITY: SHAPING THE DIAZ NARRATIVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth noting, no?

FAIRY-TALE STORYTELLING; NIGHTMARE ENDING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MORALE FADES WITH EACH CRUSHING BLOW

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

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

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

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

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

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

BROKEN & FLAWED FROM THE GET-GO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A KING-SIZED SAVE FOR DIAZ IN 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DIAZ-LED DEFENSE; COMPLETELY LOST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HEAD COACH & MOONLIGHTING AS COORDINATOR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DIAZ NEEDED GROWTH MOMENT AWAY FROM UM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOSE THE JEWELS & GET IT TOGETHER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dead Manny Walking.

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

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

© VirginiaSports.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DARK CLOUD HOVERING OVER DIAZ’S CANES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NATIONAL WRITERS TURN GUNS ON UM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PLAYING STATS & ODDS; FOR LOSERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HERO TO ZERO: LOSE THE JEWELRY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GAMES LOST FIRST 59:57—NOT FINAL :03

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MIAMI ADMIN FELL FORWARD IN PAST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DIAZ ERA: YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DEFINING DECISIONS ON HORIZON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE MANNY DIAZ ERA; ANOTHER COLOSSAL FAILURE FOR MIAMI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CANES FOOTBALL: SPIRALING FOR YEARS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MORE ‘SLIDING DOOR’ MOMENTS FOR UM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LAZY HIRES & WRONG-FIT LEADERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DIAZ PLAYING GAME AS IF POLITICIAN’S SON

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

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

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

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

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

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

AN UNFUNNY COMEDY OF ERRORS AGAINST SPARTY

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

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

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

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

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

ACC PLAY WILL SEPARATE MEN FROM THE BOYS, SADLY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WRONG FROM DAY ONE; TIME TO MOVE ON

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

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

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

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

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

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