The Miami Hurricanes have managed to go from bad to worse, recently suffering what can be considered rock-bottom loss—falling 28-21 to an 18-point underdog; a one-win Georgia Tech squad that already lost to The Citadel, as well as a sub-par Temple program the Yellow Jackets’ first-year head coach Geoff Collins knew and coached the past two seasons.
Manny Diaz and Miami are now 3-4 on the season; having lost heartbreakers to Florida and North Carolina, while following up with inexplicable losses to Virginia Tech and now Georgia Tech—both of which make the Canes’ recent take down of division-leader Virginia all the more improbable. The only given right now for Miami; each match-up is proving to be its own one-game season; zero carryover—good, or bad—from the previous week.
Recapping the Georgia Tech debacle is a pointless, painful exercise at this point—so let’s get in and out as quickly as possible, moving on to a macro view of this entire first-year situation.
Miami realistically should’ve led 28-7 at the half, had it merely showed up and seized the opportunities in front of it. Instead, the Hurricanes missed 29 tackles, as well as three chip-shot field goals—rolling through the afternoon in lackluster fashion.
Lack of effort a common theme; though none more egregious than cornerback DJ Ivey flat-out giving-up on two plays that resulted in 14 points—not staying with his man on a fake punt, while half-assing his coverage on a more conventional touchdown pass, believing Miami’s front seven had quarterback James Graham wrapped up. They didn’t and Graham flung it to a wide open Ahmarean Brown, who had Ivey beat by a mile and tied the game in the final minute of the first half.
A scoreless second half; partly due to Miami whiffing on two chip shot field goals—the other directly related to way-too-clever red zone play calling from offensive coordinator Dan Enos that fell flat. The Canes should’ve found the end zone more often—not just last Saturday, throughout this shit season; many of these games never coming down to these soft-ass kickers. As a result the Canes inexplicably wound up in overtime against a garbage 1-5 football team.
Georgia Tech quickly scored on four running plays, while Miami couldn’t convert a 4th-and-4—coming up a yard “short”, according to ACC officials who don’t understand forward progress. Regardless, UM should’ve put the game away ten times over by that point, so to hell with the bad spot.
NITPICKING COACH-SPEAK & TRUE DEFINITON OF A ‘REBUILD’
The aftermath proved even worse as Diaz used the phrase “rebuild” in his post-game presser; something he attempted to walk-back by saying it was in regards to his “players’ confidence”—but still resulting in a full-blown meltdown by detractors who will take any shot to bury the Canes’ fifth coach over the past 14 seasons.
Diaz did initially say in spring that he and his staff didn’t “look at this as a rebuild thing” and that they were “trying to get competitive for championships right away”—though painfully aware he was taking over a program 7-9 dating back to a 2017 road loss to Pittsburgh and wrecked 35-3 the last time it took the field under former head coach Mark Richt.
The 7-6 season brought heat on the third-year leader; who was pushed to make changes to his offensive staff, as a complete revamp was required for a group that ranked 104th overall in the nation for 2018.
The long-time Georgia coach bowed out after year-three at Miami; leaving a reported $20M buyout on the table—a parting gift to his alma mater—as he simply didn’t have the gusto for a “rebuild”. Defensively, the Hurricanes were undoubtedly going to take a step back, as well—having lost the leadership and experience of Jaquan Johnson, Sheldrick Redwine, Gerald Willis, Michael Jackson and Joe Jackson, as modern day Hurricanes are nowhere near reload-mode in this present state.
Losing five key upperclassmen on a recently-stout defense that lacks a contender-level two-deep—as well as starting from scratch on offense—you rebuild; there’s no other applicable word for it.
Like many a rookie before him; Diaz got tangled up in some optimistic coach-speak—which due to the embarrassment and frustration so many feel about this program’s ongoing irrelevance—is being treated as some type of fireable, next-level deceit. In reality, it was simply an attempt invoke a belief in his players, while merely oping to avoid a worst-case scenario, which is what ultimately how things are playing out.
2019 is proving the be the polar opposite of 2017; another squad with an anemic offense and quarterback woes—but one that got out to a 10-0 start when it just as easily could’ve gone 6-4 if not for some fortuitous bounces; the type of breaks these Hurricanes aren’t seeing in 2019.
BROKEN CULTURE HAS BEEN ON DISPLAY FOR YEARS, YET DENIED
Incredibly (not really), many are harping on the use of “rebuild” while completely ignoring the constant use of the word “disease” that Diaz has used to discuss the broken culture he’s working to fix; that disease a huge reason a weak-willed Miami bunch has struggled to overcome adversity for years, pissing away winnable conference games to beatable teams every fall—to the point this program entered this fall with a 97-70 record dating back to the 2005 Peach Bowl against LSU; a 40-3 massacre that officially kicked off this downward spiral.
Even with those hard-to-swallow facts, the currently-disgruntled still expected an insta-fix; calling for a win over the eighth-ranked Gators in the opener, en route to taking the Coastal Division and being seasoned enough to give Clemson a game in December.
Where Diaz coined The New Miami as a long-term mindset, recruiting philosophy and final destination he’s building towards—too many misinterpreted it, turning the phrase into a misguided 2019 rallying cry with hit-the-ground-running expectations.
News flash; first-year head coaches and in-flux programs go through growing pains. Even the legendary Nick Saban stumbled to 7-6 year one in Tuscaloosa; his bottoming-out moment a home loss to Louisiana-Monroe in late 2007—to the point where Crimson Tide fans were ready to run his ass out of town by Thanksgiving; despite a dozen years head coaching experience and a national title four years prior at LSU.
WHERE HAVE THE TRUE LEADERS GONE?
A lack of leadership and accountability is as much a part of this disease as anything. Look back at past great Miami teams; the Hurricanes’ best with the ability to self-police and keep teammates culpable, while coming down hard on guys who weren’t holding up their end of things.
All those greats in the nineties who were part of the last rebuild; to a man would tell you they’d rather be in hot water with coaches, than with teammates who took on leadership roles. Compare that to present day and a lack of old-school upperclassmen that lead by example—having learned from the greats who came before them—seizing defining moments.
To think of those competitive and prideful teams of yesterday in comparison to a group today—one that seems more interested in building their personal brands, while flooding social media with post-game images (personal highlights in losses) and quotes about being humble, hungry or blessed—the whole thing has gone completely off the rails.
Shaq Quarterman returned for his senior season—but where is that next-level, cultural impact from a fourth-year guy on his way out?
Last Saturday, a fourth quarter fumble recovery against Georgia Tech—in the midst of a tied ball game and scoreless second half—#55 sprinted to the sidelines, seeking out his Turnover Chain moment; like so many others, playing to the crowd and swarmed by teammates that wanted in on the celebration.
As Quarterman sat on the bench with his oversized bling, Miami’s offense marched down the field, got to the eight-yard line and missed a field goal that would’ve retaken the lead. On Georgia Tech’s ensuing drive, Quarterman read Graham’s eyes and looked like he had a sure-fire interception—but dropped it after it hit him in he mitts; an 80-yard swing after the Yellow Jackets punted on fourth down.
The chain was a game-changer in 2017 when Quarterman was a sophomore; an on-brand motivation tool that had an immediate impact on Diaz’s second-year defense. Two years and 13 losses later—dating back to a Pitt road trip late November of a lucky-break 2017—the luster and magic has worn off; which Miami’s senior middle linebacker should understand better than any underclassmen getting their first crack at sporting it.
There was zero to celebrate at any point as Miami struggled both offensively and defensively against a shitty Georgia Tech team—as well as a moment where an outgoing senior could’ve helped shape the culture if he had the maturity to think big picture, instead of the now.
What if Quarterman made a statement and waved off the chain after the fumble recovery and instead summoned his offense and said, “Get out there, score and let’s win this mother**king football game.” Send a message to these underclassmen that haven’t proven they know how to win or close—making it clear that individual glory only comes when the team is taking care of business as a whole.
Sacrificing one micro-moment of personal stardom for something that can be built off of long after one is gone; that’s what the greats do. Start a new trend where the hardware-wear becomes situational—as there are times to celebrate, versus moments where you dig in and remind teammates to refocus as there’s something bigger at stake.
This goes for all veteran players, by the way—not just Quarterman. Everyone has their statement-making moment; go make one.
EASY TO GET LOST IN THE FOG WHEN TAKING ON FIRST-TIME CHALLENGES
It’s a tricky balancing act to build team optimism and culture—while also needing to acknowledge the realities of the task at hand; a sub-par 15-year run, constant coaching turnover, zero consistency and years worth of incompetence that left this program hitting ‘reset’ every few years; one step forward, ten steps back.
Fact remains, fans can’t handle the truth—they want to hear best-case-scenario, as that’s precisely how so many personally predict every new season. Honestly, what happens if Diaz jumped off that 88-foot yacht back in April and delivered the following message to 400-plus boosters, tired of writing checks while consistently losing:
“Heads up, y’all—2019 is gonna be a shit-show. Just letting you know. We have to revamp this entire loser offense that’s been a disaster for years; plugging in a brand new staff that might or might not work over in the long run. Also need to find a quarterback ready to put this thing on his back; both talent and leadership at the position a problem for over a decade. Oh yeah, and two-thirds of this offensive line was blocking high school defenders last year—so that should be a treat for whoever we have under center. Also lost all our heart and soul on defense; three in the secondary and the only two on the d-line with a mean streak— while still relying heavily on grad transfers for depth, as our two-deep is nowhere near where it should be. Also, our kicker is still a total head case. Go Canes. It’s all about The U.”
For the record, Diaz isn’t alone in these rookie stumbles. Even some of the greats have been tripped up in their early years, en route to greatness.
September 12th, 1997—a vintage-era, old-school pre-game breakfast on-campus before Saturday’s showdown against Arizona State. Third-year head coach Butch Davis got up in front of all of us in that room and boldly told everyone in attendance that the University of Miami would “compete for a national championship” in 1997; 1-0 at the time, having rolled at Baylor, 45-14 in the season opener.
Instead, Miami dropped four in a row and two weeks into the losing streak, that now-infamous banner flew over the Orange Bowl thanking Davis for turning the Canes from champs-to-chumps. Miami finished 5-6 on the season; the program’s worst run since 1997—while also getting clobbered 47-0 in Tallahassee, as the effects of probation were brutally felt.
Of course this all took place in a pre-social media era, so Davis’ bold prediction wasn’t dug back up a month later and shared by way of message board vitriol, lose-your-mind podcasts, know-it-all blogs, snarky tweets, or lay-up topics for beat writers to use as click-bait—nor was the drought anywhere near as long; Miami winning a national title six years prior and playing for another the following season.
Fans lambasted Davis that season, the next (1998) and the next (1999)—and even early in his sixth and final year (2000) after No. 4 Miami fell on the road at No. 15 Washington, in a year expectations were sky-high; eventually coming around early-October after his Canes broke a five-game losing streak to Florida State and took down the top-ranked defending champs in a thriller.
Prior to that, the anger was just as real—there simply weren’t as many vehicles and avenues to give everyone a real-time voice, nor was the overall concept of patience, logic and reason within our society at an all-time low.
Unfortunately for Diaz, his inaugural season is off the rails. The only save at this point, improbably winning five in a row—including a must-win victory at Florida State—and an 8-4 finish, going into bowl season; which seems as unrealistic as any “12-0!” cries from the delusional back in August.
Second to some miraculous, pipe-dream turnaround—at worst, Miami has to find a way to pull three wins out its ass as this squad needs a month of December practices like few other programs in the nation.
Outside of that, everything else lies on Diaz’s ability to realistically assess what he has staff-wise and determine if he believes this is the crew to ride-or-die with going into year two—as another dismal season spells impending doom and year three might be too late to make changes that will have time to stick.
To his credit, he proved able when firing the entire offensive staff back in January, retaining nobody from that regime—but how will Diaz handle critical assessments of guys he hired one year in?
DIAZ WON’T BE DEFINED BY YEAR-ONE RECORD, BUT BY HANDLING OF STAFF
Famed author Malcolm Gladwell is best-known for his “10,000 hours” concept in his third book Outliers; the amount of time one must invest to become a true master of their craft—but it was his deep dive into”thin-slicing” in his second read, Blink that applies here.
Thin-slicing is the ability to find patterns in events based on narrow windows of experience; taking a quick inference about the state, characteristics or details about an individual or situation—these judgments oft proving as accurate, if not more, than ones based on more information.
A few weeks into the season, Diaz realistically could’ve begun thin-slicing his way into figuring out who on this staff has a shared-mindset and is built for the long-haul, versus who should be replaced for someone to help with the movement.
Make no mistake—this exercise in itself and an ability to cut-bait with assistants who aren’t the right-fit, opposed to giving guys time to “figure it out”; precisely what will make or break Diaz’s time at Miami, even more this rocky first season. A new head coach will get his standard 3-4 years to get his fingerprints on a program, while wrong-fit assistants are immediately expendable as time is of the essence.
OFFENSE NOT IMPROVING, DESPITE “IMPROVED” ASSISTANTS
Based on the reported $1.2M annual payday, no bigger bullseye right now than on the back of offensive coordinator Dan Enos; hired for his short-stint at Alabama and supposed quarterback-whispering ways with Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa in Tuscaloosa last fall.
The bar was set highest for Enos, as he came in fresh of a national championship-caliber season with the Crimson Tide—some of that magic expected to translate on some level year one—yet seven games in, it’s not a stretch to question if he is a fit, due to an inability to do more with what he currently has.
Offensive line is young and struggling? Rethink the play-calling and figure out more ways to get the ball out of quarterbacks’ hands, instead of long-developing, low-percentage plays that have Miami worst in the FBS regarding sacks. Drive down field to get inside the red zone? Find ways to punch the ball in at all costs, instead of putting the offense in the hands of garbage kickers.
Jarren Williams got the nod to start the season; seemingly based on the future and quarterback he could grow into, versus who he was two months back as a redshirt freshman who played a matter of minutes last fall—Enos’ choice, approved by Diaz.
Factor in Miami’s porous offensive line play; something coaches expected to jell at some point—yet hasn’t; Enos continues coaching based on what he wants these Hurricanes to become, instead of finding ways to move the ball better with what he has.
Thin-slicing away as a frustrated observer, it didn’t take long to come to a conclusion that Enos has air about him as if he’s the smartest guy on the field; preferring to out-clever the competition, opposed to accepting that the shortest between two points is a straight line—and simply zigging where they expect you to zag. Some lowlights from the past few weeks:
— Four consecutive passing plays from four-yard line when trailing Virginia Tech, 28-0 late second quarter—despite two quality running backs available. Low-percentage fade routes and running same drag route with covered tight end two plays in a row, while Perry had limited options on fourth down. Similar type of play calling on final red zone possession that could’ve forced overtime against the Hokies.
— Against Virginia, Canes reach seven-yard line—again with the low-percentage fade that rarely works, followed by a tight end sweep with Jordan on third down. Miami settled for three in moment where it needed seven; bailed out only by fact Virginia even more disastrous in red zone—nine points on five attempts.
— Most recently in loss to Georgia Tech, a slow-developing double-reverse on first down from the eight-yard line, losing a yard and back to the fade on third, instead of running to center the ball to bail out Miami’s garbage kicking game; Baxa missing a 26-yarder from the right hash. The Canes would get another crack after the fumble recovery; Enos calling back-to-back run plays from the 11- and 10-yard line (while rarely running when inside the five) a lack-of-feel for what to call, when.
After firing the entire offensive staff last January, Diaz was asked what type of offense he wanted to run at Miami—needing instant improvement for a group that ranked 104th in the nation in 2018.
“The word I want is to be cutting edge,” was the answer. Diaz avoided saying “spread” but did state that he wanted “an offense that creates problems for the defense”.
Unfortunately the only problem thus far—Miami consistently finding the end zone when in the red zone, while pissing away a handful of winnable football games.
Enos is also responsible for offensive line coach Butch Barry, who rolled south from a four-year NFL stint with Tampa Bay, but worked under Enos at Central Michigan prior-to. Like Enos struggling to get the most out of his offense, Barry’s line has been abysmal since week zero and has shown minimal improvement two months in.
Barry is also drawing heavy criticism from former UM greats Bryant McKinnie and Brett Romberg, who took the Canes’ offensive line woes to task in a recent podcast in regards to technique issues, as well as how things are being taught to the entire group—and the immaturity of some current players who weren’t even dialed in to a few former national champions trying to coach them up. McKinnie and Romberg also touched on being treated like spectators by Barry, opposed to valuable, proven football alum with a heart to help the cause—which is obviously a fine line, but worth noting.
Between Enos and Barry, a common thread as both had the most-impressive resumes of Diaz’s offensive staff—and both appear to be underachieving the most; doing little with what they have, while neither of their units is showing much measurable improvement as Miami passed the season’s halfway point last weekend.
Blake Baker hasn’t set the world on fire in his defensive coordinator role, but his willingness to welcome Diaz back into the fold to help on that side of the ball—coupled with Diaz’s successful three-year stint coaching the Hurricanes’ defense—makes change less imperative; especially with all the key losses in the off-season.
Offensively; that’s where Diaz officially has some hard questions to answer.
Gone is the era of coordinators getting year after year to find their footing. Head coaches are afforded the luxury, but with slow start to 2019 and Diaz already feeling the heat—no bigger off-season decision that determining if this current offensive staff will be the one that makes or breaks him.
Clock is ticking. Stakes are raised. Nothing can be done to change the past seven games—but decisions made after the next five are the most-important in Diaz’s football life. Innovate, or die.
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.