Going ‘next level’ with The U’s brand

The University of Miami is in talks with ESPN U regarding a “Hard Knocks”-style, in-depth look at the football program.

What a difference a coaching change and a few months can make.

Often knocked for his inability to embrace the media, social networking, former players and the art of glad-handing, former head coach Randy Shannon put his Canes in a hole that new leader Al Golden is quickly looking to dig his proud program out of, even if that means letting in the camera while shaking every hand and kissing every baby in Coral Gables.

Golden began driving this point home during his early-December press conference, where he all but begged former players to return to the program. Day one, the new Miami leader was ratting off names of yesteryear’s Canes, while talking about how strong the UM brand and legacy remains, even after a few down seasons.

Allowing cameras onto Miami’s campus is refreshing for Hurricane faithful as UM’s athletic department has been knocked (in the past) for not being proactive or willing to embrace all those idiosyncratic things which made this football program reach never before seen heights.

UM had a chance to get on board with UM alum Billy Corben and his Rakontur team for 2009’s ESPN 30 For 30 documentary, “The U” but were unwilling to embrace – or even acknowledge – the ‘bad boy’ behavior that accompanied five national championships over a nine-year span.

Corben’s documentary proved to be the most-watched and talked about 30 For 30 documentary and one would think that in hindsight UM sees a missed opportunity and is looking to right that ship moving forward – especially with a savvy, up and coming, media-friendly head coach who carries himself like a politician and leader of a program.

“None of this is feasible without Al Golden offering the transparency necessary to provide fans the chance to get a unique perspective on the football program,” said associate athletic director for communications Chris Freet. “It’s a full-access look at what goes into preparing for a college football season. There’s a story to tell.”

Freet is right, there is a story to tell and it’s one that needs to pick up where Corben’s dropped off. The ending of “The U” played out like the fall of Rome – the only thing missing, an Ibis playing a fiddle Nero-style while scenes of the Orange Bowl crumbling flashed on screen.

Those who watched saw the documentary’s final act with Butch Davis taking over, followed by highlights of his first-game loss at UCLA, while Luther Campbell spewed nonsense about the Davis hiring being comparable to making way-too-stiff former president Tad Foote the head man in charge.

Uncle Luke blamed Davis for turning Miami into “national chumps” after being once-proud “national champs” but never gave credit for the turnaround, where Davis’ Canes should’ve played for the 2000 title (going 11-1 and whipping Florida in the Sugar Bowl) and beginning what was eventually a 34-game win streak, a title, back-to-back championship game appearances and four straight BCS games.

The timeline of the closing moments of “The U” were even further off the mark with a shot of Sports Illustrated’s 1995 article suggesting UM drops football, while images of fans filing out of the Orange Bowl and its 2007 demolition played on.

While Corben’s documentary perfectly captured the ‘Decade of Dominance’, it completely left out the resurgence and the way Davis rebuilt this thing proper and based on where the Canes were in 2009, the piece played like 1997 simply bled into 2007, with no success or dominance in between.

By agreeing to a Hard Knocks-style piece, Miami will not only enhance its brand – but it will get a chance to document the rebuilding project, showing what Golden is all about and letting the nation know that the Canes are en route to becoming the real deal again. Recruits nationwide will get a chance to see Golden’s personality, tenacity and vision – all beautifully on display with UM’s picturesque Coral Gables campus providing the perfect backdrop.

Also on display this weekend; upwards of 300+ former Canes rolling into town for the Spring Game. The old schoolers heard Coach Golden’s plea and are turning out in droves to support their beloved program – proving they were obviously backed up by the proverbial stiff-arm given to them by this former staff and its leader.

It’s been mentioned time and time again in this blog, because it’s the truth; it’s going to take being crafty and cutting-edge for Miami to compete with the big boys of college football. It was that way in the late 1970s when Howard Schnellenberger took over and it’s the case today, albeit for different reasons – in this case, mostly monetary.

Hurricanes football will always ride shotgun to the hometown Miami Dolphins, even though “The U” provided five championships over two decades (and playing for ten), while the Fish haven’t won anything meaningful in almost four decades. UM athletics now also has to compete with the HEAT’s Big Three. To stand out in a city where South Beach is a much hotter spot than Sun Life Stadium, for lack of a better term, the folks at Hecth must continue thinking outside the box.

Some fans remain bitter about former athletic director Kirby Hocutt choosing West Texas over South Florida, but the fact remains that Hocutt began this change in culture we see today. Aside from bringing on Freet – who has taken on both the social media world and Web by storm – he also hired Golden, who is just the type of head coach who can get this team camera-ready and ready for prime time.

The stage is set for Miami to go on another run of sorts and thankfully this time around it appears cameras will be on hand to witness the greatness.



One thought on “Going ‘next level’ with The U’s brand

  1. While I agree that the previous regime was not good with the media, and many other aspects of his job, I disagree with your notion that the University should have participated in the making of The U.

    Miami would have had not editorial control had they participated. Would you be ok with putting your face to something without knowing what it will look like?

    I have no issues with the U leaving those camo days in the past. You can win and have student athletes (look at Stanford). Smart move by the University to not particpate.

    Signing up to help out with The U, vs. at least being approachable to the media, fans, staff, Board of Trustees are completely different issues.

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