Alabama made mincemeat of Miami in Atlanta over the weekend—hardly a shock for a powerhouse program that is now 80-6 the past six seasons—versus the one in perennial rebuild-mode; 48-28 over the same span.
The Crimson Tide with three national titles during that run, while the Canes have boasted three different head coaches—rather telling as this display of the haves versus the have-nots unfolded in front of a nationally televised audience last Saturday.
Anyone with a modicum of common sense knew Miami’s odds of winning this game were slim to none. Outside of Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide being an NFL farm team and college football factory juggernaut—the Hurricanes have struggled against ranked teams over this past decade-plus; let alone the lopsided outcomes when facing the best-of-the-best.
One measly Coastal Division title since joining the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004—a 10-0 start in 2017, followed up with a regular season-ending loss to a four-win Pittsburgh team, a conference title game blowout at the hands of N0. 1 Clemson (38-3) and an Orange Bowl faceplant against No. 6 Wisconsin (34-24)—a program that used to clamor for college football’s brightest spotlight has spent the better part of this millennium wilting under it when on the main stage.
This callout really has little to do with Alabama and everything to do with Miami’s unrealistic perception of itself, as well as an honest assessment regarding where these Hurricanes are as a contender year after year.
The blessing and curse of this historic program—the unprecedented success Miami experienced with its meteoric rise to modern day power; a little nothing private school in South Florida who began keeping local talent home and knocking off traditional power, not just en masse—but with style points. Where that’s a setback; an inability to divorce what was, from what has been and currently is.
Alabama’s six national titles in 14 years under Saban since 2007; college football has become accustomed to that level of dominance—but outside of Miami’s run in the 80’s and early 90’s, that consistent level of success hadn’t been seen since the leather helmet era of the game, where powerhouses were “claiming” championships, before there was a proper system in place.
The fact the Hurricanes racked up those first four rings with three different coaches—leaving a few titles on the field, as well—it made the feat even that much more impressive, creating the kind of folklore that resulted in two different 30 For 30 documentaries and some unique storytelling.
LIVING IN PAST; ‘THE U’ = YESTERDAY’S NEWS
While all of the attention has helped created the brand that is “The U”—perception is no longer reality in this case. Miami’s bark has long been louder than its bite and these standard big game, night-before rallies and events—where former players in their forties and fifties woof about “swagger”, wanting it more than the guy across from you, going out there and taking what’s yours in another primetime showdown.
It’s a message eaten up by a fan base who grew up watching these old schoolers practice what they now preach—but it falls on deaf ears without the championship-caliber coach, roster and current players more concerned with their personal brands, of influencer lifestyles.
Even worse, Canes football’s own Instagram account gives off the same big-talk, empty calorie vibes. 24 hours before the game, a “Big time players, make big time plays…. yeah, you know the deal”—a callout to a Santana Moss, post-FSU sentiment in 2000, borrowed from a Rohan Marley sideline statement ESPN picked up in 1994 against the Seminoles, after a Carlos Jones pick-six.
Great phrase when big time players are making those old school big time plays. Sort of foolish when—yeah, you know the deal…
The following day, a pre-game hype video—accompanied with the following sentiment; “We’ve put in the work. We’ve made the preparations. Why not us?”
Maybe cause Alabama has also put in even more work and made more preparations every day over the past 14 years, under their all-everything head coach—the type of guy whose team is always running high-octane, business-like and and would never think of celebrating a turnover with a gaudy chain when getting their teeth kicked in 27-0 in the second quarter.
The understatement of this piece and biggest master-of-the-obvious sentence in this article—that UM head coach Manny Diaz is no Saban—goes without saying, but emphasized here to make a bigger point.
Diaz is year three isn’t supposed to hold a candle to the seven-time national champion, chasing his eight ring in year 27 of his head coaching journey. All that to say, year three is undoubtedly Diaz’s make-or-break season—the season his program takes a step forward, his coaching style and approach are solidified and enough is proven that the next batch of 5-Star talents ready to sign over the next three years of their lives to play for the Canes.
Getting smoked by Alabama doesn’t define Diaz; how Miami responds in the coming weeks to Appalachian State and Michigan State—both in front of home crowds—does. Pressing second-year offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee to explain just what his offensive strategy was against the Crimson Tide, as the Hurricanes offense showed no signs of life early-on and didn’t even cross midfield until in a 27-point hole.
If looking for some silver lining, Miami showed fight and didn’t quit—which has been an issue in recent years when defeated, down and distraught. A late third quarter hook-up between quarterback D’Eriq King and Xavier Restrepo for a superb 29-yard touchdown grab by the freshman—a step in the right direction considering how atrocious Hurricanes’ receivers were last season with something as simple as catching a football.
Still, the moment itself was tainted by a sequence four minutes prior where a 14-play, 74-yard drive came up short on a hurry-up 4th-and-Goal—as if a Diaz-led team had any advantage over a sound Saban-fueled defense.
Donald Chaney Jr. came close to punching it in from the six-yard line on 3rd-and-Goal, but was stopped—setting up a quick snap to King; where the quarterback went low, instead of launching the ball and a hand across the goal line.
Bama took over on their one-yard line, rushed for five yards on first down—and with a smidge of breathing room, saw true freshman quarterback Bryce Young launching a rocket that Jameson Williams hauled-in for the 94-yard touchdown; Miami safety Gurvan Hall choosing wrong in a split second, taking himself out of position to offer support.
What should’ve been 27-10 was instead a back-breaking 34-3—and no, even down 17 with 9:29 remaining in the third quarter, Alabama was arguably going to ride roughshod over Miami. Still, the non-blowout, “respectable loss” that the Canes could’ve built off of—yes, there is such a thing when playing unflappable Saban and invincible Bama— all hope was gone with how that 14-point swing played out.
STILL PAYING FOR FOOL’S GOLD IN 2017
This once-proud Miami program really hasn’t had much to celebrate for the better part of the past two decades—outside of one aberration of a day in early November 2017, when ESPN’s College GameDay showed up on campus and a perfect evening unfolded en route to a 41-8 throttling No. 3 Notre Dame.
A week later, Miami was back to familiar 2017 territory of slow starts and needing to rally—a 14-0 and 28-14 holes, before peeling off 30 unanswered second half points against a Virginia team that was 6-5 by their evening flight back to Charlottesville.
Within weeks, that Cardiac Comeback Canes 10-0 start was an embarrassing 10-3, setting up a 7-6 run by Mark Richt in 2018, an unexpected retirement and the hiring of Diaz—who slapped “7-6” signs on tackling dummies in a WWE-like motivational moment, where the then 44-year old former defensive coordinator got in on the action like an insecure freshman trying to impress his senior teammates.
Fast-forward just under a year and Diaz was on the wrong end of a 6-7 campaign at Miami—with arguably the program’s most-embarrassing loss on his resume; upended by a former head coach and current commuter school on the hallowed grounds where the Canes once won 58 home games in a row a lifetime ago.
From there, a second straight loss to Duke and bowl game shutout against Louisiana Tech followed—leading to the firing of a wrong-fit, first-year offensive coordinator.
Baby steps when Diaz cxut bait with Dan Enos after one season of running his four-play Tecmo Bowl offense, followed by the removal of Blake Baker when the 2020 defense proved flawed—Diaz taking on even more pressure but assuming his former role, instead of reeling in a veteran defensive-minded bigger fish while he continued his role as CEO.
Outside of watching for a different, more-aggressive, attacking defense this fall—paying attention to Diaz’s overall demeanor, energy and approach to his overall head coaching role is also another massive 2021 subplot. The third-year head coach played it close to the vest in his post-Bama presser, which in reality doesn’t mean any more or less than if it’d been an onslaught of coach-speak and riddles to sum up the lopsided loss.
“College football is famous for its overreactions after Week 1,” Diaz shared. “We don’t get our story written one game into the season.”
Fair sentiment, and again, bouncing back at home against Appalachian State and Michigan State—as well as hitting the ground running at home against Virginia, before a mid-October road trip to North Carolina, with massive divisional implications—these are the moments that will define both Diaz’s future with this program, as well as tangible year-three measuring sticks.
Diaz is still fresh off of what can be described as an amateur hour run his first two years at Miami—though it should be noted he took over a program 7-9 since the Canes’ late 2017 upset of the third-ranked Irish. The cupboard wasn’t bare, but it also wasn’t full, either—and culturally Miami has been lost for the better part of the past 16 years.
Still, the tackling dummies moment, followed by the 6-7 run—sloppy in the opening loss to Florida, blowing a comeback at North Carolina after giving up a 4th-and-17 conversion, falling into a 28-0 hole in a loss to Virginia Tech, getting upset by a one-win Georgia Tech team, as well as the three game skid and the FIU stumble—not good looks for the rookie head coach.
The following season, Diaz reeled in Lashlee and King to help address Miami’s offensive problems—though a handful of amateur hour moments defined the Hurricanes’ 2020 season—even more than some on-the-field steps forward.
AMATEUR HOUR ERA MUST END NOW
Any win over Florida State deserves recognition and celebration—but victory cigars for a 52-10 beatdown of arguably the worst Seminoles team in recent memory—a bit egregious the opposite of any, “act like you’ve been there before” moment. Same to be said for playing slip-n-slide in the rain with players, after surviving Virginia and getting outscored 14-12 after going up a touchdown two plays into the game.
Eking out victories over below average conference foes, or rolling up a rival that went 14-20 the past three seasons—that’s not where progress is measured at Miami. It’s getting outworked, outclassed and out-talented at Memorial Stadium, 42-17 against No. 1 Clemson last October and then writhing around in the rain two weeks later after the five-point home win against the Cavaliers.
It’s falling in a 27-0 hole against No. 1 Alabama this past weekend and not having protocol in place for assistant recruiting director Edwin Pata to keep a celebratory chain under wraps—while building a culture of players too sick to be down almost four touchdowns that they don’t even want it around the neck to mug for cameras and fans.
It’s not letting a team get so big-headed after wins over Pittsburgh, Florida State and Louisville year one, that players felt invincible enough to no-show against a local little brother school that prepared all week for the biggest game in their program’s history—college football’s late season punchline after losing to a three-touchdown underdog.
Nitpicky as it might come across, facts and details matter—and everything these players say, do, show up for and react to—a direct reflection on the head coach calling the shots. Diaz was praised for his strong, swaggy social media game in early 2019 after he assumed head coaching duties—rolling into booster events on 88-foot yachts, as well as cryptic, clever messaging during recruiting season and what not.
This being the case, is any shocked that Miami players’ Instagram accounts are littered with Getty Images of self-absorbed, one-off moment in a game where they got their teeth kicked in by 41 points?
Is anyone shocked that Tate Martell—star of a Netflix series (“QB 1: Beyond The Lights”), who left Ohio State for Miami in early 2019, became his own one-person PR team and hype man—unable to beat out to sub-par quarterbacks for a staring job, while spending any waking moment on South Beach with an Instagram model girlfriend—causing a family fallout and New York Post story about his “mysterious absence”, only to go big-fish-in-a-little-pond, transferring back home to UNLV without so much making a football dent at UM?
SOCIAL MEDIA FAILS…
Clemson had some internal player drama surrounding their program in 2012 and as a result, players implemented their own in-season social media ban—something they voted on years back, while voting to lift in 2020—feeling it was a no longer a distraction, while also using their platforms for “March For Change” and “We Are United” campaigns last fall during a pandemic, when players voiced a message that they wanted to play football.
Over eight years team after team eliminated the in-season distraction, the Tigers have reached the College Football Playoffs all six years it’s been in existence, winning two championships, earning two title game berths and going a whopping 101-12 over that run.
Does Miami need to implement a social media ban? That ship has sailed with this new NIL ruling handed down from the NCAA; college athletes’ social media platforms are their biggest brand voice and money-earner. Still, there seems to be a direct correlation between athletes who take their business seriously, versus those who took a page from page from Martell’s book—documenting the “hustle” or “grind” of a third-stringer the past few years.
As King enters his sixth season of college football, the Houston transfer and second-year Miami quarterback has lined up his fair share of sponsorship deals—which appears to be the only reason he’s posting five times since mid-July; each social media shout-out in regards to brands he’s working with.
No imagery from the Alabama loss with any faux motivational chatter about hustle, heart or needing to dig deeper—just quietly got back to work. Same for senior Mike Harley, who has stepped into a leadership role since an off-season revamping after some on-field setbacks last fall. The senior receiver has a half dozen posts dating back to last year—as well as an email address in regards to NIL-related inquires.
Alabama’s first-year freshman quarterback put on a clinic and first-game record with344 yards and four touchdowns against Miami’s defense; Young with four total Instagram posts and nothing since June 11th, since a little gallery of shots from Saturday’s win, as well as contact information for business-related correspondence.
As for Saban, the biggest name in college coaching doesn’t have an official Instagram handle—while the Tide has their community manager storytelling throughout the season, it’s a very clean and simplistic account—simple in verbiage, while letting on-field success drive the content.
After the Tide rolled the Canes, a simple, “It’s All About The Double U”—winning big, not big talk. Leading up to the game—a shot of Young with the “QB1” caption, or a sideline image of Henry Ruggs, Jaylen Waddle, Raekwon Davis and DeVonta Smith—who called a 30-point Bama win—with the simple-yet-effective caption, “NFL U”.
It was a moniker Miami once boasted, but with Alabama onslaught of top-ranked classes and 10 players going in last spring’s Draft—seems more applicable than the Canes using it to talk about yesteryear’s superstars—which is sort of the long tail of this entire rant.
… AND THE ROAD AHEAD
Losing to the Crimson Tide wasn’t the Canes’ crime; it’s the constant false bravado inside or around this program—used as modern-day currency as to why Miami is supposedly back each and every new season—as well as a failed track record the past 15-plus years in regards to building a true contender.
Diaz stated it himself Saturday evening at the presser; Miami doesn’t get it’s season written one game into the season—the same way a 14-10 run over the past two years doesn’t tell the full story, either. The end-of-year-three body of work will ultimately determine if Diaz is, or isn’t the guy to ever get the Canes over the hump.
A road trip to Chapel Hill looked like Miami’s most-daunting task after Week 1—but after watching Virginia Tech smack around North Carolina this weekend, while Florida State took Notre Dame to the wire and Michigan State upended Northwestern—the Canes must remain on high-alert each and every week; there are no gimmes.
As for Diaz, a safe bet the 47-year old Miami native knows what’s at stake; a child born and raised during the Decade Of Dominance—less than a month younger than the writer of this rant. Those of us who lived through an era of Hurricanes football—where four national championships were won between what would’ve been fourth grade and senior year for us two Est. 1974 native sons—the standard set back then was unprecedented and any coach assuming the position knows the type of hell The Magic City will reign down if failing to meet expectations.
Conversely, if producing a winner–one is forever revered. The late Howard Schnellenberger, the great Jimmy Johnson, the two-time title-winning Dennis Erickson, or the architect of the greatest team in UM’s history, Butch Davis—all hold their place in Hurricanes’ history.
Diaz has the same aspirations and goals; though the ability, skills-set and execution remain in question after getting taking another beating, slipping to 14-11 career-wise and not exuding any championship-caliber energy. Diaz’s energy screams, “liked and accepted” while most of his predecessors took the “feared and respected” rout.
11 games remain and by Thanksgiving weekend, the Canes will either have captured their second Coastal Division title since joining the ACC—or The Diaz Era will officially be on life support; another beginning-of-the-end tragic tale in Miami’s recent failed head coaching history.
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 is a storyteller for some exciting brands and individuals—as well as a guitarist and songwriter for his band Company Jones, who just released their debut album “The Glow”. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.