If the Hurricanes played the Blue Devils in late November, getting outscored 14-0 in the fourth quarter and falling 27-17—and no one was there to see it—did it even really happen? (Unfortunately, yes—it did.)
For any willing to waste their time seeking out the *why* or *how* of that disastrous outing—just re-read anything written about Miami’s disturbing loss to Florida International the week prior, as it’s all the same nonsense. The Canes again showed up flat, played down to the level of competition and fell to an inferior opponent that it should’ve run out of the stadium—followed by some coach speak about how this type of sub-par football needs correcting.
Rinse, wash, repeat—as the misery continues.
All of this failure obviously falls on first-year, first-time head coach Manny Diaz—who went through the ringer this fall, by way of an up and down season that couldn’t have ended with a bigger, uglier thud than what was on display these final two weeks—getting embarrassed by a commuter college and basketball school, no less.
Diaz seems to have somewhat diagnosed the Hurricanes’ problems—breaking down and identifying things in his sadder-by-the-week post-game pressers—but has made zero headway in correcting any of these glaring issues. Miami managed to show up flat in all three post-bye week games this fall, as well as Duke—despite Diaz inexplicably praising his team’s “effort” in shell-shocked fashion in the bowels of Wallace Wade Stadium last Saturday evening; after stating post-FIU that the Hurricanes were fortunate to have the game against the Blue Devils to right the ship.
Miami has also fallen thrice this season as double-digit favorites; something that hasn’t happened in college football in over four decades; UM’s 15-year decent into irrelevance reaching yet another low. Nice work, fellas.
INABILITY TO RESPOND TO ADVERSITY REACHES NEW LOW
This program felt like it was at least starting to turn a corner with earlier wins at Pittsburgh and Florida State—as well as that rout of Louisville and solid offensive performance in the home regular-season finale. The Hurricanes handled three average opponents, with a chance to close strong by way of a five-game win streak—something that could’ve at least taken a little bit of the sting off of early-season losses to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.
Instead, by Diaz’s own admission, his players viewed that three-game win-streak as some back-on-track accomplishment—allowing the Canes to drop their guard and mailing it in for their two final showings.
Call it what it is; Miami thought a lackadaisical effort was more than enough against a Florida International squad it felt it could out-talent—and even in the wake of that loss, still didn’t roll into Duke pissed off; bringing that same low energy against a team ripe for a knockout blow, riding a five-game losing streak into their home finale.
“That effort was about pride,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said post game. “I watched our defensive front literally twist, scratch, claw, anything they could to rush that quarterback. I watched our offense never say die.”
The Blue Devils hadn’t won a football game since October 12th (when they beat lowly Georgia Tech by 18 points) yet were still able to muster up the balls and heart to close strong against the Hurricanes—even with a post-season berth off the table as a 5-7 team.
Meanwhile, the bad taste from FIU and what Diaz called one of the darkest night’s in UM’s history—on the hallowed grounds where the Orange Bowl once stood, no less—still wasn’t enough for Miami to show the college football world it could bounce back from sheer embarrassment.
If that ain’t a culture and entitlement problem, then what the hell is?
Unfortunately, Miami’s issues run deeper than most care to admit; a perception problem that should force Diaz, his staff and his players to take a long and hard look in the mirror this off-season—as should many in this fan base who refuse to admit the degree to which the college football landscape has changed; inexplicably feeling the Hurricanes should remain the consistently dominant force it was decades back, yet nothing tangible or logical to back that sentiment up.
QUIT COMPARING PRESENT TO PAST CANES’ GLORY
Weeks back, I deep-dove the $200M investment the University of Georgia made into it’s football program—the majority of it coming from alumni donations, that will never be a reality at a small, private school like the University of Miami—with a fan base made up of mostly non-alum that don’t write checks—but will donate towards flying angst-fueled banners or putting up disgruntled billboards, treating UM more like a pro sports franchise than one’s beloved alma mater.
Fact remains, the Canes gamed the system decades back—bringing a level of speed and athleticism to the sport, before others had caught up or college football became the big time, big money machine it is today; one where UM is still looking for consistency and a way to compete, built on some unique traits and those few benefits that come from it’s storied history and premium location.
Another ingredient that always made the University of Miami special during its Decade Of Dominance era was that combination of authenticity and full accountability—guys who took pride in building the foundation, up through those who would do everything in their power to maintain that level of excellence; not wanting to be the class that let streaks die, or ones who let down the legends who played before them.
The iconic Alonzo Highsmith—an integral part of the Hurricanes becoming a national power in the first place, and one of the first local greats to stay home to play for Miami—defined swagger back in spring as the following:
“Swag is watching Michael Irvin running routes, wearing a 30-pound weight vest after practice, in like 100-percent humidity. Swag is running hills at Tropical Park are you’ve done all your work with the strength coaches. It’s the whole team showing up tor un in combat boots on the beach. That’s swag. It’s never missing a practice. It’s practicing like every day is your last day. You don’t get swag because of a haircut—or because you pound your chest because someone said you were a 5-Star. Swag is something that is earned. You don’t just give it to somebody.”
Diaz, a student of Hurricanes football—45 years old, growing up in The U‘s heyday and seeing this all the dominance and authentic swag first-hand—knows the difference between a facsimile and the real thing; and there’s little genuine about this present-day Miami program.
While there are a handful of players talking the talk and backing it up, there are still too many pretenders; guys more concerned with sharing personal highlight moments on social media, in games where the Hurricanes were flat-out embarrassed—the same type of guys dancing on the sidelines, like the attention whores they are, instead of doubling down their efforts and being disgusted with this level of mediocrity.
Practicing like every day like is your last day? How many reports were there this fall about bad sessions or guys being checked out after some early losses? Swag earned—when guys are rocking sideline hardware and posing for cameras, while their counterparts are going three-and-out, or letting an opposing offense answer with a score?
While UM was a truly dominant force for a full decade all those years ago—that condensed period between 1986 and 1992 saw this program go an unprecedented 78-6—winning three national championships (1987, 1989, 1991), leaving two on the field (1986, 1992) and having another opportunity stolen (1988). Even that rare two-loss season (1990)—no one doubted that the Canes were the nation’s best by year’s end; simply pissing away a title shot with a season-opening road loss—before rolling into bowl season ranked No. 4, demolishing the third-ranked team in the nation and racking up over 200+ yards in celebration penalties, putting their own personal “F**k you” stamp on what was considered a “disappointing” season.
TODAY’S CANES LACKING ESSENCE OF PAST GREATS
Anytime the Hurricanes did stumble back in that era; the response was to always bounce back in dominant fashion—the setback used as fuel, as the old adage held strong; the last team anyone in the country wanted to play was a pissed off Miami squad, on the heels of a loss.
Contrast that to what the Hurricanes have become over the past decade-plus; a mid-tier ACC program that was 97-71 from the embarrassing 2005 Peach Bowl loss, through that 35-3 curb-stomping Wisconsin dropped in the 2018 Pinstripe. Even that lucky-bounce 10-0 start in 2017 was followed by a 7-9 before Diaz was handed the keys after Mark Richt prematurely retired; Richt guilty of two four-game losing streaks over his three seasons in Coral Gables.
In a few bright moments in 2019, Miami showed it could bounce back; responding to the Virginia Tech loss with a takedown of Virginia (fueled as much by the Cavaliers’ red zone incompetence as the Canes’ improved defense)—as well as a hang-tough, grind-it-out win at Pittsburgh days after falling at home to a one-win Georgia Tech squad (the Panthers also with their own red zone woes, though the Canes’ defense certainly proved resilient.)
Still, the bad outweighed the good and any progress went to hell in a handbag when getting out-worked at Duke in pride-less fashion, days after being throughly embarrassed by FIU—both of which immediately put Diaz back at square one and reeling, while waiting to hear what third-tier bowl game Miami will have to try and muster up some excitement for. [Editors Note: As of Sunday afternoon, the Hurricanes are officially headed to the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, LA to take on Louisiana Tech on December 26th.]
The only “positive” about 6-6 and heading to a garbage bowl; it leaves Diaz nowhere to hide going into 2020—something already being expressed an unnamed, longtime Board of Trustees member and another “high ranking executive involved in UM’s administration”—as reported by the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson days back.
While no one is forcing Diaz out the door after 6-6, a line in the dirt was drawn regarding where things go from here—expected as UM remains desperate to stop the bleeding in regards to this long-running era of irrelevance.
“Manny better straighten out this mess,” shared the trustee. “He better figure it out, but they’re not getting rid of him after one year”—which in reality, is fair considering how long-running this UM football backslide has been.
DIAZ: ROCK BOTTOM WITH TWO-GAME LOSING STREAK
Had the Canes closed out with a very-doable, five-game win-streak—it would’ve allowed the first-year leader to shape a positive narrative and to sweep some glaring weaknesses under the rug; taking up an 8-4 finish after a 3-4 start, and some proverbial corner turned—one that could’ve led to an Orange Bowl berth.
Instead, those “everything is under review” or “under investigation” comments Diaz made in reference to his team getting embarrassed by FIU—he has no choice by to turn that same scrutiny toward himself and every decision he made since taking over 11 months back.
It’s impossible for Diaz to speak of a “culture problem” or “brokenness” within his program, without admitting what he’s personally done to feed into the underserved cockiness—based on what this program was decades back, or what he hopes it can someday be again—while conveniently ignoring 15 years of mediocrity and pushing an incomplete narrative that things can turn quickly; which seems to be a go-to motivator.
Diaz admits his team has an “inherent arrogance” around it—again, based on this program’s past success, as well a bar that’s been set as a result of the glory years—but quickly followed up with examples of other program’s bottom-out moments and their ascension back to the top, with no tangible explanation of the work, growth or execution that happened in-between to make the rise possible.
Back in spring, it was the example of Miami beating Notre Dame soundly in 2017—derailing their entire season—only to watch the Irish reach the College Football Playoffs the following fall, where they fell to eventual-defending champs, Clemson and finished their season 12-1.
Post-FIU, again, in the wake of an unthinkable loss by Miami standards—Diaz chose this moment to draw a comparison to a front-runner capable of winning it all this season.
“Two years ago, Troy went to Baton Rouge and beat LSU, who right now is the number one team in the country. Things can change, but it needs to change. It has to start with myself and the coaching. We have to do a lot better job of coaching our guys.”
The mere mention of these Hurricanes in the same breath as 2019 LSU or 2018 Notre Dame is completely irresponsible and as amateurish as any early-season talk about a then four-loss Miami team being “a handful of plays away from being undefeated”—as some way to soften the blow of a brutal start to the Diaz era.
As the old saying goes, Manolo—if my aunt had balls, she’d be my uncle. Enough with the could’ve, would’ve, should’ve rhetoric.
For a head coach so caught up in the analytics, statistics and metrics of this sport—there seems to be a huge disconnect when it comes to language and understanding the important science and psychology of words. Concepts like “if” or “should” can be dangerous when used to justify or explain how close one was to achieving the ultimate goal—only to fall short—yet Diaz leaned on both months back, with a half-assed explanation of what should’ve been expected out of his Hurricanes this fall.
“If we get our team competing to the standard the Miami Hurricanes set, we should be in the mix to go to Charlotte [home of the ACC Championship] every year, starting this year,” Diaz shared at the ACC Kickoff media event back in July.
That statement is as empty and pointless as saying that if Miami scored more points than everyone on their schedule this fall, the should win the national championship.
CANES A CONSTANT DISAPPOINTMENT SINCE JOINING ACC
As Miami’s fifth head coach over the past 14 seasons—not to mention, a Canes history buff well aware that UM has never won an ACC Championship and only has one Coastal Division title in 16 tries—Diaz should be painfully aware that this program hasn’t been “competing to the standard the Miami Hurricanes set” since the team Butch Davis left behind in the early 2000’s faded away under Larry Coker.
Sure, based on where things were 16 years ago, Miami theoretically should’ve been in the mix to go to Charlotte every year since the championship game was introduced in 2005—hence why the Hurricanes were invited into the ACC to begin with; to help bring more football prestige to a basketball conference—yet over a decade-and-a-half on board, that hasn’t happened.
Diaz called out his team’s “arrogance” after falling to FIU, explaining that, “Our blind spot is where there is an expectation to win.” The shell-shocked coach continued, putting his foot in his mouth, before quickly working to clarifying his official point regarding a standard:
“When things get good around here—and a three-game winning streak shouldn’t be ‘good’—but even that, when the sun does come out here, I think our team picks up on the natural arrogance that we have.”
Outside of it being Diaz’s job to counter that arrogant attitude and to have his team ready for “lesser” competition—he should be working daily and situationally to squash out this undeserved, unwarranted entitlement too many in this program possess.
Instead, the Miami-bred leader fuels it with his own actions—yet can’t understand why there’s a deep-rooted problem with his players. Hindsight is always 20/20, but after stumbling to 6-6 and losing so many games this fall in epic fail fashion—Diaz must now own every move up to this point and learn from them as they get dissected.
It’s easy to be brash when undefeated in spring; a fan base again rallying behind the hope a new coach brings—quickly over Richt after three short years, as the former Georgia head coach ran out of gas quickly after taking over his alma mater—fielding one of the blandest offenses in the history of Hurricanes football.
Diaz was brash out the gate and quintessential Miami; rolling into a booster event on an 88-foot yacht, while delivering a witty Twitter game. There was even that WWE-style, lights and smoke-filled practice event where the new coach was out there with his players, tackling dummies that had “7-6” scrawled across the front—some seemingly cathartic exorcizing of demons and shedding skin, while going into a new era—all of which now ring extremely hollow as the product on the field didn’t deliver and things looked as off as the did a year ago.
DIAZ’S OWN ARROGANCE FUELING UM’S BROKEN CULTURE
Diaz also set and a culture that feeds into players’ arrogance when, for lack of a better term, he allowed the inmates to run the asylum. Troubled wide receiver Jeff Thomas was given a second chance this year, after a late season suspension in 2018, followed by him ultimately leaving the program for Illinois—only to return after Diaz replaced Richt.
Had Thomas thrived upon his return, the move wouldn’t have been questions—the same way Diaz’s pre-season antics would’ve been seen as fresh and inspiring, had the Hurricanes put together a 10-2 type of season and won the Coastal.
Instead, Thomas underachieved, underperformed and found himself suspended for multiple games a second consecutive season—as well as reportedly getting called out in a heated team meeting months back, for being selfish, lazy and ultimately being a detriment to his team—relying on his natural talent and being good, instead of working his ass off to be great.
Transfer quarterback Tate Martell is another personnel-related position that is feeding into this soft-ass culture, where Diaz needs to be taking a harder stance against accountability. Aside from not finding a way to inject the talented prospected into a sluggish offense—there have been two, separate leaves-of-absence over the span of a month for the former Ohio State quarterback the Hurricanes pulled from the Transfer Portal.
While one must be delicate in regards to the realities and hardships of mental health these days, it’s impossible to ignore the narrative social media is painting—one showing Martell as a young guy who might’ve out-kicked his coverage a bit in the dating world, by way of an attention-starved Instagram model (one with 875K followers) and a fun-fueled South Beach-type existence—to a point where football appears secondary and the relationship has caused strife with his own family; by way of a mother taking to Twitter to trash the girlfriend in a public forum.
There are always three sides to every story—yours, mine and the truth—but it’s hard not to feel Diaz sold a little bit of his soul this fall in regards to preferential treatment given to both Thomas and Martell; hoping the receiver and special teams speedster could be a difference-maker, while seemingly hanging in there with the fan-favorite quarterback, as the premise of him transferring out and doing well elsewhere would never get lived down.
Instead, a worst-case scenario as Diaz missed a legitimate opportunity to put his foot down, taking steps towards breaking this culture of entitlement—again, identifying a problem, but unable to fix it—while neither Thomas or Martell had positive impact on a Hurricanes’ team that could’ve easily stumbled to 6-6 without either of them.
While Miami was getting its teeth kicked in by Florida International and Duke, Martell wasn’t with the team—which didn’t sit well with a few vocal UM greats and past national champions—Brett Romberg and Joaquin Gonzalez—who had a little social media back-and-forth on the subject.
“How many ‘mental days’ do you remember anyone getting? Then appearing in photos smiling and enjoying Thanksgiving holidays with your girlfriend and buddies while you’re teammates are getting throttled on TV for the second week in a row,” Romberg shared with Gonzalez—which prompted the following response from his fellow big-ugly:
“6-6, que mierda—and we are still accommodating people like Tate Martell.’When he is ready, we will be here’ [a reaction to Diaz explanation of the situation]—you kidding me? That s**t would not have gone down back in the day, you are either here or you are not!!”
Even the phrase, The New Miami—which was obviously meant as a long-term goal for what Diaz wants this program to grow into; it was poorly explained and executed—while Diaz played up #TNM on social media with recruits.
Meanwhile, fans chose to ignore 15 years of deep-rooted issues at Miami; coaching turnover, average performances on the field and no tangible steps taken over that span to get UM back on a better trajectory—running with the newly-coined marketing term as some insta-fix; immediately expecting a new attitude and energy on display this fall—some going as far as to call for a 12-0 run, a season-opening victory over Florida, another Coastal Division title and belief (by the truly overzealous) that Miami would be ready for a crack at Clemson.
Cocaine is a hell of a drug, y’all.
Yes, the hope is to get Miami to a place where it’s a consistent divisional favorite—but some tough-guy expectation and talk of some forever-ago standard that hasn’t been upheld since the turn of the century? Especially when this fourth new head coach since 2007 was taking over a program 7-9 since that miracle 10-0 start in 2017, en route to that lone Coastal Division title, before getting rolled by Clemson in the ACC Championship?
CHANGES MUST BE MADE IN 2020; INNOVATE OR DIE
The Current Miami doesn’t need to be reminded of what it’s capable of when it plays at its highest level; it needs to be constantly brought back down to earth regarding how far removed this program has been from that type of success—housebroken like an unruly dog, with it’s nose rubbed in shit until it gets the message.
Each new generation of Hurricanes must create their own legacy and can’t ride the coattails of what other greats have done in years passed—creating said legacy getting harder each passing year Miami doesn’t find its footing and stays irrelevant.
To Diaz’s credit, he and his staff have spent this past week pounding the recruiting trail and looking to lock down the next great generation of Hurricanes—each next class providing hope that they will eventually be the group who started the turnaround.
The early signing period is days out, with National Signing Day under two months away—and while nothing matters until the ink is dry—the getting has been good and UM has picked up some solid commitments from kids who look like future ballers, even the wake of this late-season stumble.
With a new wave Hurricanes set to get on board in 2020, no better time for Diaz to do a hard reset—rethinking the rookie mistakes he made in 2019—while also revisiting his 2017 brainchild, which obviously needs tweaking.
Where the Turnover Chain was a game-changer for Miami—and college football as a whole, two seasons ago—it’s become a distraction as the Hurricanes have stumbled to a troubling 13-15 record since that fast 2017 start.
The beloved Cuban link was a motivational tool it’s inaugural season—the Canes jumping from 67th nationally in turnovers forced in 2016, to 13th in the nation in 2017—but it’s literally become a participation trophy in 2019; players rushing to the sideline to don the hardware and mug for cameras, while an inconsistent offense retakes in the field in a game Miami is en route to losing.
Per the aforementioned Herald piece by Jackson, the jewelry isn’t sitting well with the way it is currently on display.
“The other thing they’re not happy with is the bling shit,” the executive shared, regarding UM’s Board of Trustees members. “The Turnover Chain, the rings, the dancing on the sidelines—you look like an idiot when doing that with a 6-6 team.”
Where the Miami of yesteryear could tell the BoT to shove their sentiments up their ass—as the product on the field backed everything up—the complete opposite is true now; as there’s simply no talking when playing .500 football. Just shut up and get back to work.
Shelving the jewelry long-term would be a bit aggressive; as the jewelry is vintage Magic City—but only when Miami is taking care of business. The fact it’s not; Diaz must take ownership and responsibility for this thing he created—rewriting the rules and fully realizing that fine line between ultimate motivation and a lethal cocktail of self-absorption and self-promotion.
These kids completely missed the point regarding the hardware these past two seasons—while Diaz couldn’t have whiffed more by introducing Touchdown Rings as a reward for 2019, on the heels of last season’s setback and with too many questions regarding how this offense was going to execute and perform.
Lastly, there also needs to be a long, hard look at this current staff when Diaz works towards an off-season epiphany and ways to right the ship. 7-6 wasn’t good enough to carry anyone over from Richt’s offense staff last year—and with that record Miami’s best-case scenario for this season, barring it actually shows up for a meaningless bowl game, how does Diaz deal with his one-year old staff are this disaster of a campaign?
Dan Enos was poached from Alabama as some “quarterback whisperer”—one Miami paid a reported and unprecedented $1.2M for, no less. A dozen games in, no Hurricane quarterbacks look vastly improved—while the offense has regressed. Enos constantly trying to out-clever the competition, while sticking with a quarterback under center and long-developing run-pass-option plays that don’t get the ball out of guys’ hands quick enough—behind a garbage offensive line.
Similar cases can be made for offensive line coach Butch Barry—whose unit has struggled all fall, while getting knocked technique-wise by former UM lineman—as well as defensive coordinator Blake Baker; so green he needed Diaz’s help midseason when the Hurricanes whiffed on 29 tackles in that overtime loss to a one-win Georgia Tech team.
When stumbling to 6-6 in the fashion Miami did; it’s cause for some serious alarm—and cranks up the heat on a first-year head coach much more than it would’ve had the Canes eked out 8-4 with wins over the Golden Panthers and Blue Devils. While one might struggle to call those two final losses “blessings in disguise”—failure at that level truly leaves Diaz exposed; forced to make some tough decisions this off-season, or to gamble by staying put—which could put him one step closer to pissing away this dream job opportunity.
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.