GEORGIA BULLDOGS’ $200M INVESTMENT; A NEW REALITY ‘THE U’ CAN’T IGNORE


“The Miami Hurricanes should be the gold standard of college football, not anyone else.”

That’s not a quote from the early 2000s when ‘The U’ in the midst of a 34-game win streak, four consecutive BCS appearances, two championship game berths and a national title. Nor was the statement uttered by some NFL general manager around the same era, when the University of Miami had 19 first round draft picks over a four-year span, taking over and dominating the league.

Nope, these were the ramblings of a random poster on a U-themed fan site on a Tuesday afternoon in early October this year, days after the Hurricanes slipped to 2-3 on the season after a loss to Virginia Tech; the heat getting turned up by a segment of the fan base that expected 15 years sub-par play, corrected five games in by Miami’s fifth head coach in 14 seasons.

The Canes got a home win a few days later over Coastal Division favorite Virginia; but the difference between 2-3 and .500 football isn’t going to quiet the frustrated critics.

The rest of this particular message board thread—40 pages deep, over a four-day span—hammers first-year head coach Manny Diaz for being in over his head, getting out-coached on a weekly basis, calling for assistants to be fired five games in, while fantasizing about a world where the keys were never turned over to the former defensive coordinator late last December when Mark Richtsuddenly called it a career—a wish-list of other big-named, fairy-tale options always rattled off as the disgruntled ones stew.

Logic and reason seemed to have checked out a while ago with these particular “supporters”—zero consideration given to the fact that Miami has been in a 15-year lull entering this season; evidenced by a 35-3 bowl game beat-down in Richt’s final appearance, a 97-70 record dating back to a 40-3 trouncing by LSU in the 2005 Peach Bowl and a 7-9 run since a loss at Pittsburgh in 2017 took all the wind out of a 10-0 start.

Will Diaz succeed or fail as the University of Miami’s 25th head coach? Way too soon to tell. Even the iconic Nick Saban went 7-6 out the gate at Alabama in 2007, with a home loss to Louisiana-Monroe—despite winning a national championship at LSU four years prior. Regardless of opinion, some truth.

Diaz seems as on-brand as anyone that’s ever coached this program—understanding what made Miami great in the past—while hard-wired to try and get to the root of the problem; changing, tweaking and fixing in real time, opposed to letting things play out and reevaluating down the road.

His first move last January; firing the entire offensive staff for underperforming—sparing no one—wanting that side of the ball to be as aggressive and game-dictating as the defense he was the architect of the past three seasons. As for that defense which has dropped off in 2019, while last year’s talent can’t be replaced this fall—now four losses in, Diaz has gotten more hands-on with the defensive coaching as he’s seen enough to know something has gone awry.

“There is a culture that was created here back in 2016 that for some reason we just have not been able to recreate,” Diaz shared the Monday morning after the loss to the Hokies. “It is not a coaching issue. It’s not a scheme issue. This has nothing to do with Blake Baker or anyone on our defensive staff. This is simply just there is a lack of connection between the players on our defensive side of the ball.

“We don’t look like we trust each other. We don’t play with the techniques that were coached during the week, and ultimately they need the utmost accountability. That comes from the head coach, which comes from me. That process began last night. We sat and we watched every snap of the game as an entire defense. We talked through all of our mistakes. We owned all of our mistakes collectively as a group and that will be what continues now going forward. We need to get our defense playing like the Miami Hurricanes again because it didn’t look like that on Saturday.

“I’m jumping right in the middle of it. I’m going to make sure we’re all accountable to just do what we’re supposed to be.”

Halfway through a new season—and regime—Diaz is doing all he can right now, which fans must let play out; saving their evaluation for year’s end—and then another a year from now, looking to see that year-one to year-two improvement and how the Hurricanes look this time next fall.

Instead, a group of “fans” attempted to fly a pregame banner prior-to the Virginia game—a low-rent, pro sports fan-type move, thankfully thwarted due to bad weather—calling for Miami to fire athletic director Blake James and his deputy director Jennifer Strawley, while others continue encourage supporters to stop going to games, in some that’ll-show-em-we-mean-business type of protest, which is the crux of this piece.

The small-mindedness, entitlement and delusion on display; it’s hit a point where a long overdue reality check is needed. This ongoing approach where so many continue sharing their take on what they think this program should look like—taking out 15 years of embarrassment due to  irrelevance and a lack of consistency by way of coaching turnover; completely rooted in nostalgia and emotion, with zero attempt at any logic or reason.

A month ago ESPN’s Mark Schlabach penned a piece that should’ve been eye-opening and prompting more discussion amongst those who have the audacity to believe Hurricanes football should be the sport’s “gold standard”; “Inside Georgia’s $200 Million Quest To Take Down Alabama”.

Despite the fact the Bulldogs won 24 games over the past two years, played for two SEC Championships—winning one, gifting away another—as well as a national title game appearance; blowing a lead and falling in overtime, Georgia has taken on a “do more” attitude in regards to arming head coach Kirby Smart with everything he needs to gain a competitive against current king-of-the-hill, Nick Saban and his dominant Crimson Tide.

“As Kirby has mentioned a number of times, the difference in a lot of these games is a matter of inches,” Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity shared with Schlabach. “With his goal of doing more, we’re trying to make up whatever that little difference could be.”

(Cue the anti-James rhetoric and rants that Miami should have an athletic director of McGarity’s caliber—while missing the irony that he has a monster budget, big alumni donations and he too hired a forty-something former defensive coordinator with zero head coaching experience, but that’s neither here nor there.)

That “little difference” McGarity speaks of, has resulted in the following for a Bulldogs program that hasn’t won a national championship over the past 39 seasons—and one that just shit the bed to unranked South Carolina at home last weekend; the annual Smart regular season flop against a double-digit underdog:

— $174,000,000 in facility upgrades over the past three years; including a new 165,000 square-foot facility (Butts-Meher Heritage Hall) that made up $80,000,000 of that spend—resulting in a bigger weight room, locker room offices and an improved sports medicine facility. Another $30,000,000 went towards a new 102,000 square-foot multi-use indoor practice facility.

— $63,000,000 went towards a renovation of Stanford Stadium; a revamped recruiting lounge, an enlarged scoreboard and other bells and whistles to dazzle potential Bulldogs on game-day, as well as recruiting trips to Athens where the Georgia has been stockpiling and poaching South Florida talent since the Richt era.

— On the recruiting front, Georgia now spends a cool $1,500,000 more annually than any other FBS program; over $7,000,000 over the past three years. This number now surpasses Alabama—second with a $5,600,000 annual spend, while Tennessee is third, dropping $5,000,000-per-year, yet little to show for it. (For context, the annual recruiting budget under Richt was just under $600,000; a $2,630,000 increase in 2018 for the Dawgs.)

— As for Smart and his staff; a combined annual salary of $13,000,000.

As astronomical and hard-to-fathom as all those numbers might be, the most-important information and footnote is yet to be mentioned—the fact that Georgia has raised over $121,000,000 in barely four years through The Magill Society, which “Serves as the leadership fundraising entity under The Georgia Bulldog Club. This organization is philanthropic in nature with its members invested in the success of Georgia Athletics.”

This group was formed in 2015 and “recognizes those that make commitments of $25,000 and above” over a five-year period. Over 1,100 new donors have joined this elite club over the past year. A minimum of $25,000 times 1,100 new members in 2018 equals at least $27,500,000 towards Bulldogs “athletics”—the majority of which will obviously be steered towards football, as Athens is the heart of SEC Country.

“That’s allowed us to basically pay for these facilities through our donations,” McGarity said of of the Magill Society. “We haven’t had to take on any long-term debt. Fortunately, we haven’t had to raise ticket prices or donation [requirements to buy tickets] to pay for these facilities. Right now the model we have is allowing us to keep ticket prices as low as we can. That’s been a key thing for these projects to move as quickly as they can. The donors have responded overwhelmingly to support what Kirby wants to do.”

Meanwhile, Miami fans just used GoFundMe to cover the cost of the aforementioned $495 banner intended to take a pre-game shit on the athletic department, believing that boycotting games in already a barely two-thirds full stadium will somehow “send a message”—while Georgia just signed up over a thousand new members ready and willing to pony up at least $25,000 towards their football program.

Stop the incessant bitching for a moment and let all that sink in—as well as questioning the overall sanity and entitlement of any Hurricanes football supporter believing Miami should be riding-high atop the sport, based on these financial facts.

All those years of getting into debates regarding support and fandom with alum of bigger state schools; “I’ll bet you didn’t even go to Miami, did you?’—this is where those arguments officially come to a head; the dollars and cents issue with the majority of a program’s fan base having not attended said university.

Alumni will break out that checkbook—not just for sports, but for the betterment of their beloved school. The affinity for their alma mater isn’t just relegated to on-the-field success—so when you’re talking about state schools with four- of five-times the undergraduates that Miami has and times that over a decade—it’s a huge numbers game, where UM is at a massive disadvantage.

The majority of Miami’s fans are individuals with nothing more than regional ties to a collegiate sports team who are along for the ride when the getting is good, but can easily pull back or bail out when things go south. Upon a crash and burn, or decade-long football program drought, interests and focus fast shift elsewhere, as a city like Miami—making it easy to check out during championship year droughts.

Take those larger state schools in smaller college towns, versus a private university in a suburb of a large, diverse metropolitan city—one with four professional sports franchises and an overflow of opportunities in regards to how one spends their entertainment dollar—and the the distance becomes even greater.

Athens, Tuscaloosa, Clemson, Baton Rouge, Columbus—full-fledged college sports towns. Miami is an events town; proven by the sparse crowds when mid-level conference teams come to town, opposed to the absolute raucous party environment—both on-campus and at Hard Rock—when No. 3 Notre Dame traveled south two years ago to take on an undefeated, seventh-ranked Hurricanes bunch.

Hell, even when Miami fielded its best team in program’s history in 2001—still at the beloved Orange Bowl—the Hurricanes only drew a reported 31,128 for a match-up against Temple—as a game like that isn’t an “event” and there are better things for non-alum football fans to do with their day.

The state school versus private university difference—as well as alumni versus location-based fans—is hardly new news. Nor is the fact that football factories and SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 powerhouses will throw hundreds of millions of dollars worth of support at the cause, in effort to try and build a champion—all of which should serve as a reminder just how incredible and improbably Miami’s success has been.

$200,000,000+ raised in Athens, yet the Hurricanes have won five national titles (and left a few on the field) since the Bulldogs last championship in back in 1980. How? By Miami again creating it’s own special sauce; somehow finding an advantage and figuring out how to do more with less.

It worked in the past and it’s the only answer moving forward—staying on-brand and playing to unique strengths—as the University of Miami will never have a big enough checkbook to play at the high-stakes table—especially without a strong alumni base that speaks with their wallet, not into the ether on message boards, or social media.

This is literally textbook definition of money talking and bullshit walking.

The head coaching position—same as the athletic director gig at the University of Miami—are niche gigs and not for everyone. These are college football and university-related positions, for people who want the small college town experience, of which Miami couldn’t be any further from.

The big city energy and a region full of transplants. A  quaint school with an off-campus stadium, playing second-fiddle to pro sports franchises, eccentric nightlife, beach culture and other spirited events that make up South Florida living—as well as the lack of that large, supportive alumni base—these are all turnoffs to coaches and administrators who have chosen university-driven careers.

Canes fans turn out for the big games and good times, but when losses pile up—a mostly non-alum fan base checks out.

Decades back, yes, Miami football was able to reload at the head coaching position after Howard Schnellenberger built a winner, left for the USFL and Jimmy Johnson was able to carry the torch and bring home another championship; the original “NFL U” a moniker for coaches as Johnson wound up in Dallas, Dennis Erickson parlayed his success into the Seattle job and Butch Davis, though title-less, was the architect of the rebuild and was tabbed to do something similar in Cleveland.

Had Schnellenberger, Johnson or Davis planted their flag in Coral Gables and dug in for the long haul, Miami could’ve become a full-blown dynasty, in the traditional sense of the word—especially after Davis’ six-year rebuild and the state of college football at the turn of the century.

Of course none did, because long-term hasn’t ever been the logical plan at a program with UM’s set-up and resources. All used UM as a stepping-stone to bigger paydays and higher profile jobs—while all to a man have said that their time at the University of Miami was the most-special era of their respective careers and all each had their regrets about leaving; the point where they’d have loved a do-over.

Also a stepping-stone opportunity at Miami; the athletic director position—as proven twice over the past decade when Kirby Hocutt parlayed his four years into a better opportunity at Texas Tech and Shawn Eichorst used his even shorter stint to land the Nebraska gig. Neither was a “Miami guy” or on-brand, but both had the up-and-comer designation—which is also the reason UM was merely a pit-stop and both wound up at state schools with bigger budgets and alumni bases.

Prior to Hocutt and Eichorst, the Hurricanes’ longest-tenured athletic director was the late Paul Dee, who spent 13 years in a job he fell into by way of circumstance. Originally hired as Vice President and general counsel back in 1981—Dee was thrust into the AD role when Dave Maggard left the position after two years, finding a golden parachute in a Managing Director of Sports opportunity for the 1996 Summer Olympics, opposed to hanging around to see how a pending Pell Grant scandal was set to play out in Coral Gables.

It was a role Dee held until 2008, preceding Hocutt—making almost three decades since the Hurricanes had a gun-slinging type athletic director in Sam Jankovich—which was a completely different time and brand of college football. In the modern era, all Miami knows is that the past two guys bailed for greener pastures, while James retuned to Coral Gables after seven years at the University of Maine—six as Director of Athletics.

James started his career at Miami in ticket sales and has an affinity for South Florida, hence his return in 2010 and staying put ever since—which for better or worse is an important criteria for the Miami job, as again, it lacks the college town experience which many who work in collegiate athletics look for—limiting the field of candidates.

James was instrumental in bringing Richt back to his alma mater in 2015. Whatever one thinks of the hire in hindsight—Richt proving too tired for the rebuilding task after three years—it was a pivotal move for Miami; the first time UM went after an established head coach, opposed to an up-and-comer type.

UM broke out the checkbook and agreed to a reported $4M annual salary—the most it’d ever forked out for a head coach’s salary—only months after Donna Shalala stepped down; the former president the biggest roadblock to Hurricanes athletics since probation in the nineties.

The Richt era saw an increase in salaries for assistants, as well—which opened the door to bring on Diaz as defensive coordinator, after Dave Aranda chose LSU over Miami—while the respect for Richt and his 15 years running a top-notch SEC program helped get UM’s long-discussed indoor practice facility project over the hump; a $1M personal donation from Richt a huge perk that made up for limited alumni support.

In the wake of Richt’s abrupt retirement last December, James—and the Board of Trustees—made the move to bring Diaz back from ah 18-day stint as Temple’s head coach—which like the actual hire of the first-time head coach itself, is way too to judge as a win or a loss.

What the disgruntled are quick to call a “lazy” hire, was at worst a low-risk move—with huge consequences—based on some logical variables that too many either ignore or dismiss.

Sure, Miami could’ve conducted a full-blown search—starting January 6th, 2019—as Richt’s post-Christmas, pre-New Years bow-out came in the deadest week of the year. Four weeks prior to National Signing Day, the University of Miami would’ve been seeking for its 25th head coach—which would’ve decimated an already depleted 18-man class, setting the program even further back. With Diaz, there was continuity—as well as an ability to assemble his staff well before UM would’ve hired a new head coach.

Diaz’s hiring also guaranteed the return of would-be outgoing seniors like Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckey and Zach McCloud—which would’ve gutted a defense that already lost Jaquan Johnson, Sheldrick Redwine, Michael Jackson, Gerald Willis and Joe Jackson. As bad as things are right now defensively—they’d have been infinitely worse.

Miami’s off-season robbing of the Transfer Portal also wouldn’t have been as effective; Diaz reeling in Tate Martell, KJ Osborn, Bubba Bolden, Trevon Hill and Jaelan Phillips—as well as bringing Jeff Thomas back when he was all but gone to Illinois.

However it plays out with Diaz—as there are no guarantees with just about any head coaching hire—the logic and reason both made sense. Diaz hit the ground running as Miami’s defensive coordinator in 2016, quickly revamping an utter mess left by Al Golden and Mark D’Onofrio; immediately changing the broken scheme and getting guys to buy in day one.

Miami’s D took a huge step forward and by year two, went next-level—much of the success fueled by the on-brand, transcending Turnover Chain—that not only captivated all of college football, but give the Canes an old school, disruptive, aggressive vibe it had lacked since the heyday of the early 2000’s.

An anemic offense held both the 2017 and 2018 squads back—leaving James and the BoT with an understandable belief that half the the program was where it needed to be, so retaining the guy who built that out and trusting that he could find a counterpart to have a similar effect on the offense—was hardly far-fetched.

A reported $1.2M was allocated for Diaz to lure Dan Enos away from Alabama. How that hire ultimately plays out, time will tell—but for the Hurricanes, it was still a get—and the increased salary for assistants was again a good football move showing that Miami’s administration does care about football in this post-Shalala era.

In the end, the University of Miami is fighting this battle with one hand tied behind its back—but isn’t giving up. The way it was able to win and dominate in the past; those avenues are closed—so it’s time to take some less conventional detours in finding news ways to succeed.

Miami won’t soon become a state school with 40K undergrads, producing hundreds of thousands of new alum every decades—so it’s doing the next-best thing; trying to maintain and build off its brand—James with ties to UM’s last rebuild under Davis and Diaz having grown up in South Florida during the Decade of Dominance, with a true understanding of what the Hurricanes tick back-in-the-day.

Seeing what a Georgia is doing in regards to their investment into athletics; demeaning—but equally as liberating, as it frees Miami from feeling like it has to play the game in an orthodox manner in which it will never compete.

Just as it did four decades ago when Schnelly started an against-all-0dds dynasty in 1979, Miami is going to have to stay clever and unconventional in its process—praying for the stars to somehow align, while the football gods shine a little love—as college football is always a better place when the Hurricanes are relevant; playing in disruptive and polarizing fashion.

Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello earns a living helping icon Bill Murray build a lifestyle apparel brand. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.

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