BURROW’S PATH TO THE TOP; AN EXAMPLE MIAMI MUST LEARN FROM


The only connection Heisman-winning quarterback Joe Burrow has to the Miami Hurricanes is a pedestrian, 140-yard, zero-touchdown outing in the 2018 season-opener—the then-junior’s first outing with the Tigers—where the newbie game-managed his way through the outing and did enough for LSU to take down UM in convincing fashion, 33-17.

Just over two-dozen games later, Burrow took home the most-coveted individual trophy in college sports and has his undefeated Tigers atop the College Football Playoff rankings—one game from leading LSU to their first national championship season since 2007, on the heels of a record-setting, eight-touchdown performance in a rout of No. 4 Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl, 63-28.

Whether the Tigers win it all this year, or not, The Burrow Effect and a 24-3 run behind the former Ohio State transfer proved undeniable. LSU won an SEC Championship, removed the Alabama monkey off its back and dominated Georgia in the conference title game—none of which would’ve been possible without the level of stability, maturity and leadership provided by a next-level quarterback.

In what now feels like a lifetime ago, Miami earned the moniker Quarterback U—as a handful of gunslingers helped lead the Hurricanes to five national championships, while a couple picked up their own Heisman Trophies along the way.

FROM ‘QUARTERBACK U’ TO ‘QUARTERBACK WHO?’

Incredibly, a position that was once a strength for The U, has since become arguably the weakest link—as Miami hasn’t fielded a next-level quarterback, since Heisman contender Ken Dorsey was hauled down in the backfield on 4th-and-Goal in double overtime and Ohio State stole a national championship 17 long seasons ago.

Brock Berlin was serviceable over the next two seasons, but since then an undistinguished list of never-was guys who didn’t live up to the hype.

Kyle Wright rolled in a next-big-thing 5-Star from California, only to land at Miami while the program was circling down the drain. Four offensive coordinators later, the Wright era didn’t live up to the hype. From there, things didn’t get much better—and at times, proved even worse.

Kyle Wright arrived at Miami a 5-Star, sure-fire prospect. Four offensive coordinators later, his UM career was a bust.

Kirby Freeman, Robert Marve, Jacory Harris, Stephen Morris, Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier—all in part responsible for that 97-71 run the Hurricanes endured from the 2005 Peach Bowl through the 2018 Pinstripe last December. Miami has won the lowly Coastal Division once in 16 tries and to date is still yet to win an ACC Championship, despite being brought in to give the prestigious basketball conference a little bit more football street-cred.

Manny Diaz replaced Mark Richt this time last year, but the result wasn’t much difference—Diaz stumbling to 6-7 his inaugural season, on the heels of Richt going 7-6 before an abrupt retirement, days after Wisconsin laid a 35-3 beatdown on the offense-less Canes at Yankees Stadium. Whatever magic Richt tapped into after that 10-0 start in 2017; it quickly faded as the long-time Georgia head coach finished his short stint at Miami 7-9 from that point on.

Much like Richt, Diaz was also answer-less at quarterback—giving r-freshman Jarren Williams the nod in fall, only to wind up in a game of musical quarterback much like Richt had with Rosier and N’Kosi Perry in 2018. Perry again came off the benched and had a few bright moments, but ultimately backslid and regressed—opposed to taking firm hold of a wide-open opportunity—while Williams looked as lost down the stretch against Florida International and Duke, as he did earlier in the year against the likes of Florida and Virginia Tech.

Tate Martell rolled south from Columbus with his fair share of hype; an undefeated-in-high-school, Las Vegas-bred, phenom-type who played a back-up role at Ohio State, before transferring to Miami early this year.

Where many were drawn to Martell’s inherent *swag* when he showed up on campus in spring—fact remains, he couldn’t beat out the likes of Williams or Perry, slipped to third on the depth chart, had a failed position switch attempt (to wide receiver), before returning to quarterback and taking two personal leaves from the team over the final month of the season—for what appeared to be relationship-related drama with an insta-famous model girlfriend playing a part in driving a wedge between Martell and his family.

Despite all those off-the-field woes for Martell, the third-stringer was desperately tossed in for an seven-play series during Miami’s lackluster showing in the Independence Bowl against Louisiana Tech—where the Hurricanes were blanked, 14-0 and yet again embarrassed on a national stage—dropping it’s final three games of the season to vastly inferior competition.

Any who beat the Martell drum, citing his high school resume or limited garbage-time highlights from his Ohio State season—saw nothing more than an undersized mobile quarterback, running for his life—with almost no attempt to look downfield or to move the ball through the air.

Martell’s lone completion—a seven-yarder on third-and-short—looked about as crisp if he’d have thrown it with his left hand. On the ensuing 3rd-and-13, Martell was sacked—in what could most-likely be his only-ever appearance under center for the Hurricanes.

Williams was a useless 9-of-20 on the day, throwing for 94 yards and an interception—while Perry, inserted later than he should’ve been, based on Williams’ lack of production, was 5-of-13 for 52 yards and a pick.

Meanwhile 250 miles southeast of Shreveport, Burrow remains the king of Baton Rouge—a kid who single-handedly changed LSU’s narrative under journeyman head coach Ed Orgeron, through his drive, belief and next-level maturity that Miami’s three quarterbacks combined, can’t hold a candle to.

NEXT-LEVEL QUARTERBACKS TRANSFORMED LSU & WSU

For those who haven’t watched Burrow’s seven-minute speech at the Downtown Athletic Club, it’s worth investing a couple of minues—especially for Miami fans who have been duped over the years into thinking the Hurricanes have found their next great quarterback.

Aside from Burrow proving to be a quality, level-headed kid and a textbook picture of redemption—his success and Heisman-worthy season serve as a harsh reminder how far off track Miami will remain, until it finds a true leader under center.

Burrow showed up in Columbus in summer of 2015, a 3-Star prospect out of Athens, Ohio—wearing Mickey Mouse t-shirts, SpongeBob pajama pants and usually had a green tongue, due to a penchant for caramel apple lollipops.

Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer rode Burrow, telling him he belonged in Division III football—while teammates took to calling him “John”, as quarterback J.T. Barrett cornered the market on the name “Joe”. Godforbid Burrow mustered up the courage to speak up in a team meeting, quarterback Cardale Jones was always quick to cut him off:

“Hey John, shut the f**k up.” 

What looked like an overnight sensation type story, in reality was a “four- or five-year process”, according to Burrow—three years of working his ass off at Ohio State, while never taking a meaningful snap—but eventually earning the respect of the coaches and staff for standing in the pocket, taking hits in practice, continuing to develop and never changing his overall demeanor.

“Adversity is a key component in building the component in building the kind of players to success the next level,” Burrow shared earlier this season. “I’m forever grateful I went through that adversity.”

Compare that to short-lived news out of Coral Gables this time last year that Williams was planning to transfer from Miami over a lack of playing time as a true freshman, while Perry found himself in hot water twice months earlier in regards to social media stupidity and distractions. These issues, as well as Martell’s rocky journey these past few weeks—and it’s no wonder why Miami’s quarterback woes have had a ripple effect through the entire offense.

Where an unfavorable quarterback situation can make a bad situation worse—the right guy at the right time can literally change everything. Look no further to the 2018 season and how things played out in Pullman, Washington when Mike Leach hijacked the plans of Gardner Minshew; the East Carolina transfer seemingly headed to Alabama in a back-up role, hoping to glean some knowledge under the tutelage of Nick Saban before entering the world of coaching with his playing days in the rearview.

Instead, Minshew dove head first into learning the Air-Raid offense—studying with Hal Mumme; one of the architects of Leach’s preferred scheme—arriving in Pullman over the summer and earning the starting job in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, after the graduation of long-time starter Luke Falk, as well as the unexpected suicide of Tyler Hilinski weeks after the Cougars closed out the 2017 with a 9-4 record.

Gardner Minshew had an instant-impact for the Cougars, leading WSU to a program-best 11-2 season in 2018.

After starting his career as a walk-on, spending the following year at a junior college and briefly losing his starting job at ECU—Minshew received an offer that ultimately shaped his path.

“Do you want to be a back-up at Alabama, or lead the nation in passing,” Leach asked in that now-famed phone call. “We’re going to lead the nation in passing one way, or another.”

The Minshew Effect took over Pullman last fall; from the fake mustaches worn by fans during that magical season, to teammates elevating their overall level of play, as their one-year quarterback option was a tour de force.

“He had a tremendous impact on our team. He’s a tremendously competitive player,” Leach told The Seattle Times after the Cougars fell to rival Washington in a snow-plagued Apple Cup. “He’s had a bigger impact on our team than any other player has had on their team. And he did it in a short period of time, which was even more impressive.”

Lest any think Leach was exaggerating with his praise of Minshew, look no further than this year’s version of Washington State—a 6-7 thud of a season, with Anthony Gordon under center, while Minshew miraculously played his way into a starting role with the Jacksonville Jaguars, having been taken in the sixth round of this year’s NFL Draft.

After losing a 67-63 shootout to UCLA earlier in the year, followed by a 38-13 beating at Utah a week later—Leach unloaded on his Minshew-less squad in his post-game presser after the Cougs were boat-raced by the Utes.

“We’re a very soft team,” Leach shared. “We get a lot of good press. We like to read it a lot. We like to pat ourselves on the back and if we get any resistance, we fold.” The Cougs’ seventh-year head coach also called his players, “fat, dumb, happy and entitled” in the same rant.

Like Minshew a year before him, Burrow will take his talents to the NFL come spring—expected to be an early first-round pick—and while the Tigers won’t soon slip to sub-.500 like the Cougars in 2019, LSU will most-definitely feel the after effects of losing a player and leader of Burrow’s caliber.

Where one great player at a key position can elevate and entire team, program and fan base—the lack of that type of game-changer can breed a a deadly culture cocktail of entitlement, immaturity and self-absorption; as the individual paths remain more important than team goals.

THE U: STILL IRRELEVANT AND IT’S OWN WORST ENEMY

Miami’s lack of maturity and broken-culture problems run deep, though some frustrated with losing ways try to pawn off all culture-related chatter as a Diaz excuse—ignoring the validity of the sentiment and long-running nature of this cancer.

Aside from the lack of a stable, mature, team-leading quarterback—the Hurricanes continue taking hits in regards to not-ready-for-prime-time players leaving early for the NFL, instead of heeding sound advice putting in one more year at UM to up their stock.

The latest to bail early are troubled wide receiver Jeff Thomas and defensive end Jon Garvin—both of which had average seasons, at best—leaving Diaz to play the role of coach, mentor and advisor, which apparently fell on deaf ears.

“We are not convincing them to stay,” Diaz said. “We have all the date, so we let the data talk. We show them all the slots of money that is guaranteed. When does the guaranteed money start to really dip? It is between rounds two and three and certainly after the first 100 picks—it really plateaus. You show them what it all amounts to.”

Thomas returned to Miami this off-season, after a late-season suspension in 2018—not seeing eye-to-eye with Richt and staff—and appearing to be headed for Illinois, before Diaz and the talented junior-to-be hashed things out and the speedster returned for what ultimately was a disappointing second chance.

Jeff Thomas muffed a punt and dropped a third-down pass in the end zone in Miami’s season-opening loss to Florida, 24-20.

Thomas had 31 receptions for 379 yards in 2019, with three touchdowns—and again found himself suspended a second consecutive season, missing games against Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh. Over that span he also saw his special teams role going to Buffalo transfer K.J. Osborn, who out-worked Thomas since arriving on campus earlier this year.

Garvin expected to have a breakout season with Gerald Willis and Joe Jackson departing at the end of last year, but wound up taking a step backwards—37 total tackles in 2019, compared to 60 in 2018—yet still felt that forgoing his senior year was in his best interest.

Even worse, the fact that so many of these current Hurricanes aren’t learning from recent mistakes made by former teammates.

Two years back, RJ McIntosh and Kendrick Norton were two players that would’ve benefitted from a return in 2018—yet both bailed out, even after sitting down with coaches and experts who gave them a realistic outlook on where the would both go in the upcoming draft. The day both announced, Richt had a “good feeling” both heard his message and expected the two defenders to return.

“That was the goal of the meeting, to give them the most information possible and the most NFL information as possible and talk about how the Draft works and how second contracts work. Talk about what it is like to leave with a degree and to be a leader on the team,” Richt shared on the Joe Rose Show, days after losing to Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl.

Richt also hoped that Miami’s 10-3 season, a modicum of next-level success and the Hurricanes almost reaching the College Football Playoffs would have an impact on both.

“I think we smelled the Playoffs and didn’t get there, but I think that is something every young man would like to experience in college.”

Instead, both took to social media with an air of over-confidence and entitlement—ignoring the advice of coaches and Draft experts, stating that both felt ready for the next level, despite evidence to the contrary.

“I think it’s the best decision for me,” wrote McIntosh in his post. “I love being a Hurricane, but I feel I’m ready for the next step.” Norton echoed the same sentiment hours later with his declaration. “I love being a Hurricane, but I feel I’m ready for the next step in realizing my dreams of being an NFL football player.”

Despite what both “felt”, McIntosh was ultimately taken in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, while Norton slipped all the way to the seventh round. A year, Jackson also left prematurely and was a fifth round pick—which is where some experts expect Garvin to go.

DIAZ MUST (RE)BUILD CULTURE WHERE PLAYERS STAY

Players leaving college early to chase NFL dreams is hardly an epidemic proprietary to Miami—but one would be hard-pressed to find a program besides the Hurricanes that has dealt with as many cautionary tales as of late; guys told to their faces they’d be day-three picks, at best—each to man with an, “I hear what you’re saying, but still think I’m ready” approach, underscoring these culture- and entitlement-related issues.

Entering 2001, Miami saw then-head coach Butch Davis push safety Ed Reed and left tackle Bryant McKinnie to return for their senior seasons—knowing the Hurricanes were knocking on the door of a national championship. Despite both being sure-fire, first round talent—Reed and McKinnie retuned, helped UM earn that fifth ring and both were first rounders in spring of 2002.

Clemson saw something similar in 2018 when defensive linemen Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant returned for their senior seasons—a bitter taste in their mouths after getting knocked out of the 2017 Playoffs as a one-seed, but getting revenge against Alabama upon their return, rolling the Crimson Tide, 44-16, capping off a 15-0 season.

Miami could’ve retuned every would-be senior the past couple of years and it wouldn’t have made much of a difference in the grand scheme of things—as all aforementioned examples were well-oiled machines, much like LSU this season—with next-level quarterback play like Burrow has on display; Ken Dorsey the guy for the Hurricanes in 2001, while Trevor Lawrence burst onto the scene last fall and became the first true freshman quarterback to win a national championship since 1985.

Still, next-level talent aside—part of the culture change that needs to take place in Coral Gables remains directly tied to players showing more maturity and unity, with less entitlement and self-absorption running rampantly through the program.

Guys like a Burrow, Dorsey or Lawrence don’t grow on trees—but success breeds success and winners want to be around winners. Somewhere along the way, the Miami Hurricanes lost their way and started confusing faux swag with deep-rooted passion and desire.

For those caught in that negative loop, bringing The U down one loss at a time—may the path, drive, humility and appreciation if this newest Heisman Trophy winner inspire the next wave of potential Miami greats, who want to be the foundation of a rebuild and will die trying to get this Hurricanes’ program back on the map.

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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