The Canes left for the west coast this morning and Miami takes on Cal come Saturday. The final stop on the this year’s up and down journey. 7-6 or 8-5 will be the result. Improvement from last year, but still not where this program aspires to be. The disappointment of a three-game losing streak or a win and cause for optimism entering 2009.
For a ‘meaningless’ bowl game, much will be taken from the Emerald and anything else the Canes do this off-season. After two years on the job and hovering around the .500 mark record-wise, Randy Shannon has reached a crossroad.
Anyone paying attention can tell you that the next few moves will make or break this first timer’s coaching career. No pressure, though. Just your legacy on the the line, Coach.
First and foremost, dealing with an offensive coordinator called out for questionable playcalling and lack of identity on offense – and not just by the fans. This go around it’s Jimmy Johnson and Gino Torretta being critical. Randy’s mentor and a Heisman-winning former QB both have been openly critical of Nix.
In the midst of this, Robert Marve earns his second suspension of the season. Another off-the-field distraction for a kid who should’ve solidified the starting job after twelve games, yet hasn’t. Transfer talk became the hot topic after said quarterback’s father requested a meeting with Shannon to discuss junior’s future and the State of Miami.
It’s easy to observe and judge from the outside looking in. I’m sure many fans would love five minutes with Randy to ‘impart wisdom’, but as the one actually making those hard decisions, there’s a big difference between theory and reality.
That said, sometimes it takes a casual observer to see what’s so obvious. The main party involved doesn’t always see the forest for the trees.
With the holiday season approaching, I’m in a festive mood. For Coach Shannon, I offer up a holiday season to-do list. From my vantage point – on the couch with a laptop, breaking down this season’s games on the plasma – I see that forest for the trees and I believe with some fine tuning, Randy can turn this thing around.
To do so, some tough choices need to be made and some hills need to be climbed. Let’s discuss:
Worse than falling out of contention in the ACC, the fact Miami looked flat. Ill prepared for Georgia Tech’s rare triple option is bad, but letting NC State’s true freshman quarterback own you in a ‘bounce back’ game is unacceptable. What happened to playing for pride?
An out of position, poor-tackling defense that got run all over in back-to-back games doesn’t bode well with Cal’s Jahvid Best waiting in the wings. Four suspensions and the distraction of a bench-riding, possibly-transferring quarterback aren’t helping either.
Shannon is most likely in recruiting mode right now, tempted to focus on bettering tomorrow instead of winning today. A loss against Cal will hurt on the campaign trail. Harder to sell ‘moving in the right direction’ after three straight beatings.
As defeatist as this sounds, I can live with a loss. Just not another performance similar to the last two losses and 619 rushing yards surrendered the against the Jackets and Wolfpack.
Will Randy have Miami ready to play come Saturday? It’s the million dollar question. If the Canes pull another no-show, that’s a big blow against Shannon. Miami didn’t make a bowl last season and this game is considered a blessing after staying home last year or visiting Boise two years back. These kids better play like this game means something, win or lose.
Deal with the Nix situation – Business is business and right now, five or seven-loss seasons aren’t cutting it at the annual review. Shannon is at a crossroads with his quarterback situation, possibly losing a big piece of this rebuilding puzzle in Marve.
Nix is the lynchpin and removing him will have a domino effect on this program. It doesn’t take an Xs and Os guru to see that quarterbacks aren’t being nurtured, the offense isn’t growing and that these Canes lack identity. If fans, former players, bloggers and message board know-it-alls recognize this, so do potential recruits and their parents.
If Shannon is truly listening to the advice of mentors like JJ and Bill Parcells, how can Nix return in 2009? Who could possibly be in Randy’s ear, telling him to put his collective fate on the playcalling of his current OC?
This situation is as bad as Tim Walton’s baptism by fire in 2007. Nix had less to work with, so he earned an extra season, got two new quarterbacks and more overall talent year two. Sadly the result was still Walton-esque.
Randy pulled the plug on his first-year defensive coordinator and brought in a proven entity in Bill Young. Young lacked the talent and depth to fully implement his system year one, but more is expected next season.
If Nix sticks around one more season and falters, how far could that set things back? Twenty-four games into this regime, how much more needs to be seen regarding an offense that isn’t producing?
Last year Walton was canned mid-December, but there was no bowl game. If Nix is gone, expect it sometime after the Emerald and before New Years. Somebody would also have to be waiting in the wings. Shannon can’t settle for a fifth choice again. The ball already has to be in motion if a change is on its way.
After Nix, handle the Marve dilemma – Another year like the last two will run Marve out of town and hurt Miami’s stable of quarterbacks. Whether you prefer he or Jacory Harris, we can all agree that the Canes are better with a Harris-Marve duo, as opposed to Harris-Cook or Harris-Smith.
Let’s hope the recent meeting with the Marves was less about Robert transferring and instead focused on a new agenda for 2009. Let’s hope that Marve’s talkative high school coach calling his former pupil “frusrated” has more to do with his current all around situation and isn’t a hint that #9 is really weighing his options.
If Nix goes and a good coordinator is brought on board, Marve has less reason to go. Many think Marve is Nix’s guy an vice versa, but I don’t buy it. Marve hardly thrived in Nix’s offense and Harris excelled because of his ability to improvise and self-manage.
Harris appears more polished, able to figure it out as he goes along. Marve seems Favre-like, less of a student of the game and more a playground wunderkind that simply makes things happen.
Marve’s game stands a better chance with a better supporting cast and a defense that creates turnovers, giving the offense a short field. A rocket arm, good mobility and a gamer, Marve will succeed somewhere. Just not as a freshman on this team and not if Shannon doesn’t make some changes.
Recruit, recruit, recruit and then close strong – Until the talent and depth return, Miami won’t be “Miami” again. I’ve beat this point into the dirt, but if you’ve followed this program for the past few decades, you know it’s right. Coaching is a huge piece of the puzzle, but the right players are the even bigger piece.
Signing Day is a month and a half away. The Canes need offensive lineman, playmakers in the secondary and big time, bruiser running backs. All of the above are on the radar and another top five class is necessary, as are some early enrollees. The formula worked a year ago and Miami looked much more talented (albeit, inexperienced) this year than last.
In summary, the tasks at hand aren’t easy, but Shannon knew what he was up against when signing up for this job that nobody else wanted. He’s not a coordinator or #2 guy anymore. He’s the top dog and the boss-man has to make tough decisions.
Head coaches have to suspend players and cut bait regarding troublemakers or guys from the old regime who don’t fit the bill. He has to fire coordinators (and friends) who aren’t pulling their weight, while having the wherewithal to replace them with better talent sold on helping rebuild The U. Shannon has proven he’s a masterful recruiter and proved he could rid last year’s team of some dead-weight players and coaches that didn’t fit the bill.
A year later, he has to do it all over again if he plans on resurrecting this once proud program.