The same foot that saved Manny Diaz weeks back against Appalachian State might be the one that eventually kicks him to the curb—with no one to blame but himself.
Miami lost a must-win showdown against a very average Virginia team on Thursday night—a game the Canes were never in until late—scrapping back, only to send a chip-shot, time-expiring, game-winning field goal attempt off the uprights.
It was a fitting end to an ugly game Miami lost a dozen times before a reeling head coach put the game on the foot of a freshman kicker for the second time in three games—and it could ultimately serve as the tipping point for The Diaz Era.
Andres Borregales will drill many a big kick or the Canes in the coming years. Until then, he’ll remain a footnote for how Miami theoretically lost this one. A kick he could’ve made in is sleep—this one will give him nightmares for the foreseeable future.
Still, The Doink At The Rock wasn’t the story. It was Diaz’s team rolling in ill-prepared for another must-win moment—all the pregame sideline hooting and hollering—only to go three-and-out on the first two possessions and taking a safety on the third, winding up in a 9-0 first quarter hole.
Appalachian State became must-win after Alabama broke Miami’s spirit; the Canes barely got out alive. Michigan State was the next big-time moment—yet it was the Spartans and their second-year head coach with the late-game domination of the program once known for holding up four fingers and taking over; while Miami’s third-year head coach was out there making year-one blunders.
Central Connecticut State was a glorified scrimmage; yet instead of a 1-2 team humbled by an inauspicious start—Miami’s sideline resembled a South Beach photoshoot; rings, chains and flash bulbs galore, while Hurricanes players mugged for the camera and struck poses through the 69-0 rout of a scrub.
Both Miami and Virgina entered Thursday’s contest with matching 2-2 records; both well aware the victor had a new lease on life, while whoever fell to 2-3 was in for a world of hurt. Still, based on pre-season expectations and what Diaz and his Hurricanes were to deliver year three, UM’s free fall was set to be greater if losing at home under the lights.
DARK CLOUD HOVERING OVER DIAZ’S CANES
Diaz now sits 16-13 overall in two-plus years at the helm; his first season a brutal 6-7 run—defined by his inability to get Miami up after bye weeks, or tempering out-of-control egos.
After a late-season three-game win-streak against average competition—Pittsburgh, Florida State and Louisville, on the heels of losing in overtime to a one-win Georgia Tech squad—Diaz expressed that his team was reading headlines and believing their own hype, which caused the embarrassing three-game skid against Florida International, Duke and Louisiana Tech, who shut the Canes out in a third-tier bowl game.
Last year’s COVID-defined season saw Miami getting out to a house-of-cards 8-1 start—the 42-17 one-sided loss at Clemson the true measuring stick regarding how far Diaz’s team was from competing with the big boys.
The 2020 Canes also got the kind of breaks and bounces they didn’t receive last night—comeback wins after slow starts at North Carolina State and Virginia Tech, while barely surviving this same Virginia team—quarterback D’Eriq King literally willing Miami to at least two or three wins as a transfer.
Anyone paying attention knew that 8-1 could’ve just as easily been 5-4 going into the regular season-ending home showdown with North Carolina—who demolished the Canes, 62-26, before Oklahoma State capitalized on another Diaz-inspired slow start in a second-tier bowl game this time around.
Miami’s third-year head coach is now 2-5 in his last seven games—the pressure mounting more each week he can’t find a way out of the mess he’s created.
If the natives were restless when Diaz was a rushed hire in the final days of 2018, they’re out for blood now.
Kirk Herbstreit delivered a vicious blow to the University of Miami’s administration with his takedown of a flawed internal process; one that has resulted in a sub-par on-field product for the past 16 years, as well as five different head coaches between 2006 and 2019.
Neither Herbstreit or his other ESPN cohorts believe that UM cares about fielding a quality football program—and that Diaz is only a symptom of a bigger internal cancer.
“I don’t think it matters who the head coach is,” Herbstreit lamented. “Until you get a president, AD and coach together on the same page, I guess football doesn’t matter.”
UM president Dr. Julio Frenk attempted an academic-inspired, pre-game hail mary—by way of a lengthy release that said a ton, without really saying anything. An excerpt of the doctor’s madness:
“We must pay equally close attention to the drivers of disruption and the ways lines are being blurred between amateur and professional sports by factors including NIL legislation, antitrust rulings, promotion of gambling, conference realignments, and a corrosive discourse that falsely portrays college athletics as a means to exploit talented players, instead of what it really is: an avenue to expand opportunities for young people through access to higher education. We can either be disrupted, or we can play a role in strategically shaping the course of disruption.”
Channeling that big Billy Madison principal energy for Dr. Frenk, “What you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”
NATIONAL WRITERS TURN GUNS ON UM
The national shaming has since a ripple effect—local columnists now green-lit to say what everyone else has been thinking.
The Sun-Sentinel’s Dave Hyde came out guns blazing this morning; stating in his op-ed that the Diaz era “is past the point of no return”—and that was just the headline—before opening with, “Game, set, Manny Diaz Era, 2019-2021”.
Hyde referenced the Herbstreit take-down and Frenk’s desperate we’ll-get-this-fixed rant—while quick to point out that Miami’s evening takeaway was merely coming close to a last-second win over a Virginia team who was coming off of back-to-back beatdowns courtesy of Wake Forest and North Carolina.
“Miami was weirdly off-kilter and lacking energy in the first half,” Hyde explained. “It trailed 9-0 thanks to a safety. Virginia had 28 plays after the first quarter to Miami’s ten. Miami had all of 95 yards on offense at half. That was against a Virginia defense that allow its first two conference opponents an average of 587 yards and 48 points.”
The veteran South Florida columnist continued,”Who’s teaching tacking to these players? And, as for meeting the moment, each time Miami score its first three touchdowns to try to pull back into the game, the defense gave a score right back to Virginia.”
The only thing Hyde could’ve and should’ve also hammered home—the fact that Miami’s defensive regression, the piss-poor tackling, bad angles and garbage technique all fall on Diaz’s shoulders.
The megalomaniac head coach somehow promoted-demoted himself this off-season—re-assuming defensive coordinator duties, instead of bringing in an alpha dog to get that unit back on track; as if playing CEO and rebuilding a flawed program with a broken culture isn’t enough to handle.
Many will argue that Diaz was playing the percentages and that Borregales simply whiffed on a gimme kick—which is technically correct—but as proven, even playing odds isn’t fool-proof and there was something bigger at play for Miami and their desperate head coach.
An offense that struggled the majority of the evening was finally finding its groove late, as was a defense that was getting pushed around early—but was finally getting stops—keeping the Cavaliers out of the end zone the entire second half, sans one freakish, miracle grab for the highlight reels.
The Canes have struggled in the red zone for years, settling for too many field goals which come back to bite Miami—and with high-scoring North Carolina and North Carolina State on deck—UM needs a better offensive game plan that relying on Borregales’ right leg.
Had Miami escaped 31-30 with a last-second kick—a fitting final score only in the fact Howard Schnellenberger was posthumously inducted into UM’s Ring of Honor at halftime—it still would’ve been a missed opportunity for a bigger moment this broken team needed regarding all that lies ahead.
PLAYING STATS & ODDS; FOR LOSERS
Diaz and Miami are well past play-it-safe mode—the pressure is mounting and the season is fast-slipping away. As the losses pile up, the outside noise gets louder—forcing coaches and players to turn inwards towards reach other, embracing a head down, us-against-the-world mentality, which makes the victories that much sweeter, while insulating the unity from the heavy criticism when things go south.
Weeks back the Baltimore Ravens faced a 4th-and-1 at home against the Kansas City Chiefs—midfield and nursing a one-point lead with just over a minute remaining.
Percentages would tell head coach John Harbaugh to punt; pin the timeout-less Chiefs deep with virtually no time left and better his chances for victory. Godforbid the Ravens get stuffed and don’t pick up the yard, Patrick Mahomes is one quick throw away from getting his squad in field goal range for a game-winning kick—the Chiefs in position to win their fourth in a row against Baltimore.
Harbaugh intended to go for it all along—knowing three short feet would put the game away—but saw a potential rallying-cry moment and trust-building opportunity, asking quarterback Lamar Jackson if he wanted to go for it.
Harbaugh empowered his leader in that moment, even though the decision had been made—and proved the level of trust he had in his offense to put the game away. Jackson emphatically said ‘yes’—tucked the ball and ran a yard for the first down—Baltimore able to run out the clock and secure victory.
“Examined together, the final sequence in Baltimore’s win is a brilliant example of analytics, coach, and player acting like one. The team knew they were going for it. The coach knew his players would want to go and then put the decision on them,” wrote Tyler Lauletta of Insider.
Had Jackson gotten stuffed and Kansas City emerged victorious, Harbaugh would’ve been lambasted by every local newspaper and TV talking head—but he’d still have built necessary trust with his star player and sent a message to his team that they ride-or-die with Jackson; crucial after the young quarterback’s Playoffs struggles in Buffalo last year and Tennessee the year prior.
The momentum even carried over in the short-term, Baltimore down 17-16 at Detroit days later—Jackson completing a 4th-and-19 that set up the kick heard all around the league, as Justin Tucker drilled a record-setting, 66-yard game winner to crush the Lions.
Diaz and Miami needed more than to eke out a win Thursday night against one of the easier teams remaining on their 2021 schedule. Analytics, playing the percentages—the Hurricanes are well past that point, as yet another head coaching hire looks like a wrong-fit disaster, with the next rebuild on the horizon.
Borregales drilling the kick would’ve solved the evening’s problems, but there’d have been no teachable, bonding moment for both sides of the ball in need of serious growth. The only thing Diaz proved here is that he trusts his freshman kicker’s right foot more than he does his offense’s ability to find the end zone, or his defense’s skills regarding keeping a timeout-less Virginia from going 75 yards in under a minute.
Miami’s offense needed a touchdown, the defense needed a big stop and this Canes team needed a trusting head coach to put his balls on the line for their greater good—not to save his own ass, or to avoid another downtrodden post-game presser with more tired clichés and rah-rah rhetoric.
“The give games have been disappointing,” the head-slung-low Diaz shared in the bowels of Hard Rock. “There’s no excuse for it. There’s more to this team than that … We were on the verge of doing something really, really special tonight. We’ve got to take that part and build off that.”
Not quite sure how over a half of sub-par football, poor tackling, sub-par offensive execution, letting an opponent answer three scores and hoping to survive against a Virginia squad that other ACC programs have had their way with the past two weeks would’ve been “something really, really special”—but Diaz never met a hyperbolic statement he wasn’t all in on.
Really “special” would’ve been putting full trust and faith in his offense and defense to play football—riding the hot hand and punching in the score, while letting the defense pick up the slack and get a game-ending stop, for some real momentum going into the bye week.
If that somehow failed, Diaz at least had a bulletproof answer as to why—trusting his players on both sides of the ball to deliver in a big moment, setting the stage for some defining games on deck.
Now a conundrum exists for Miami faithful; never wanting to see this team lose—while knowing it will take a complete and utter collapse this season for a Diaz ousting and fresh start in 2022. How does one even attempt to rectify these feelings—actively rooting against the Canes now, with the hopes it sparks much-needed change tomorrow?
The brutal 2-3 start, the way the Hurricanes have lost—wrecked by Alabama and Michigan State, while outpaced by a sluggish Virginia team. There’s also the embarrassing practice of over-celebrating mediocrity with rings, chains and sideline photo shoots when players actually do their job—players mugging for cameras in games they’re losing, while no one in charge is pushing back on the antics, by simply acting like the adult in the room.
Diaz has long come across as the type of coach who wants to be liked and accepted over healthily feared and respected—but the “evolution” of Miami’s sideline hardware is giving off a vibe that the Canes’ head coach is working too hard to be “one of the guys”, instead of “the man”.
HERO TO ZERO: LOSE THE JEWELRY
The once-clever Turnover Chain captivated college football in 2017—and was a legitimate motivational tool that had Miami’s defense out-performing their 2016 efforts, sparking a 10-0 start to the season. From there the Mark Richt-led Canes went 7-9; bottoming-out with the 35-3 bowl loss to Wisconsin that sent Richt to retirement.
Where Diaz could’ve and should’ve rethought of ways to reshape a broken culture—he not only dialed up a third-incarnation of the chain; he doubled down with Touchdown Rings, for offensive players to celebrate doing their job when actually finding the end zone.
The phrase “jump the shark” itself has since jumped the shark, but so has Miami’s gaudy hardware experiment—bottoming out week one; the Canes busting out the hardware after a turnover—down 27-0 to Alabama—only to have to sheepishly return it to it’s case when the call was overturned.
Later in the game, the rings made their lone appearance after a Miami touchdown that pulled the Canes to within 31, down 41-10 at the time. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide was expectedly all business—outside of a post-game, well-earned “IT’S ALL ABOUT THE W” social media dig—while the Canes monkey business ways roll on, despite getting embarrassed every other week.
Like a parent delivering some tough love on their kids, Diaz needs to end this chain and ring experiment for the foreseeable future—until there’s actually something worth celebrating again. What was once trendsetting has since made Miami a laughing stock; which even the most laid-back of commentators is making mention of the absurdity of the Hurricanes celebrating in-game while actually trailing.
Every game of the Diaz era now takes on a must-win, most-important vibe—while the season’s biggest challenge is now on deck at Miami’s most-vulnerable time. Chapel Hill has been a house of horrors for Miami—now 3-5 since joining the ACC in 2004.
Mack Brown schooled his former pupil year one, jumping out to a 17-3 first quarter lead in 2019—the Canes coming off the bye, but still hungover from the late loss to Florida in the opener. Miami would scrap back, taking a short-lived 25-20 lead in the fourth—only to give up an unforgivable 4th-and-17 conversion, where a stop would’ve all but ended the game.
The Tar Heels were in the end zone five plays later, taking a 28-25 lead—the Canes going limp, missing a game-tying 49-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds.
A year later, a regular season-ending massacre in South Florida—North Carolina rushing for 554 yards and gashing Miami for 778 yards total—just steamrolling, out-toughing and smacking around a Hurricanes bunch that rolled in soft and was in no way ready for the fight the Heels were bringing.
North Carolina stumbled out the gate this season, upended in a low-scoring road opener at Virginia Tech—while on-the-rise Georgia Tech smacked the Tar Heels around to the tune of 45-22 last weekend; the home team turning it over three times while the Yellow Jackets protected the ball.
A week prior, UNC trounced the same Virginia team Miami struggled with—laying 699 yards and 59 points on the Cavaliers.
Make no bones about it, the Tar Heels will find another gear with the Canes are in town next week—and all sings points to a raucous environment at Kenan Memorial Stadium, regardless of an afternoon or evening kickoff.
Miami will have to dig deeper than any point before in the Diaz era if they are going to get the better of Brown and North Carolina—avoiding a 2-4 skid with feisty North Carolina State heading to Hard Rock and looking for revenge for the Canes’ late comeback in Raleigh last fall.
The Wolfpack are fresh off an overtime upset of Clemson—where they outplayed the Tigers all night and would’ve won in regulation, had their kicker not pulled a Borregales. (Too soon?) Prior to their South Florida visit, North Carolina State hosts Louisiana Tech and travels to Boston College—all signs pointing to a 5-1 record and a massive game at Miami for their players and fans.
Virginia was Miami’s best chance to turn around a dismal start to their season—as the schedule only tightens up from here. Diaz barely got his team past Appalachian State; the playing-with-fire energy resulting in getting completely burned by Michigan State days later.
The Canes turned those frowns upside down when getting to ham it up while beating up a glorified high school the following week—only to show up flat five days later against Virginia; rallying late, but not getting it done. The result; another moment where Diaz praised the effort in an attempt to mask the end result.
“Our fourth-quarter effort was worthy of victory,” Diaz said. “And ultimately, we came up one play short.”
GAMES LOST FIRST 59:57—NOT FINAL :03
Those that know, know—there is no bigger loser statement than a head coach attempting to pin a defeat on one play. Diaz’s Hurricanes didn’t lose because a freshman kicker clanked one off the upright; Miami lost because of a slew of lazy, poorly-executed football moments the previous 59:57 of the game.
— It was poor offensive line play for about three-and-a-half quarters of football.
— It was Tyler Van Dyke not finding his groove until the second half—as well as players like Will Mallory not holding onto the football—or offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee figuring out how to attack holes in Virginia’s defense until late.
— It was Kamren Kitchens dropping a sure-interception in the end zone—which might’ve gone the other way, a la Maurice Sikes at Florida in 2002—instead leading to Virginia’s first touchdown moments later.
— It was Marcus Clarke letting a takeaway not only slip through his hands—but the fall to the ground creating a circus-act catch as Dontayvion Wicks saw the ball fall into his lap for a third quarter touchdown.
— It was Diaz’s defense unable to get a stop after each of Miami’s first three touchdowns—Virginia going 80 yards after the first, 75 after the next and settling for a quick field goal after the third; 18 of the Cavaliers’ 30 points coming from this three responding drives.
— It was Harris running for no gain twice and Van Dyke falling for a two-yard loss when setting up a middle-of-the-field attempt for Borregales; the Canes not even executing this conservative series correctly. A few inches would’ve been a difference-maker on the missed attempt; let alone a few extra yards.
Van Dyke started slow, but found late footing—dropping some dimes and making some clutch plays—none bigger than his 24-yard mid-fourth quarter touchdown scamper, pulling Miami to within two. The defense came back with a clutch stop; the Canes taking over at their own nine-yard line—trailing by two, with 5:29 to play.
Miami was on the move; Van Dyke to Charleston Rambo for a big conversion on 3rd-and-14 and a big Cam Harris rumble on an ensuing 3rd-and-9—the back going for 22 yards, setting up 1st-and-10 from the Cavs’ 14-yard line; Virginia burning their first timeout.
With :91 remaining, the tipping point moment that fans will bang heads on the morning after—split between playing odds and setting up a true freshman to hit a makable kick, versus empowering the offense to keep the momentum going and trusting the defense to get a game-saving stop.
Miami ran Harris into the teeth of the defensive line on first and second down, but Van Dyke scrambled towards mid-field on third down, trying to give Borregales the best option at success. The rest was history, the snap, the kick, the clank, the let-down and the opposition’s celebration.
“Got to put him in a better situation. Offense has got to score,” said Harris post game—trying to take some heat off his young kicker. “We shouldn’t have put him in that situation.”
Big of Harris to take ownership, but it’s Diaz who must shoulder the blame for putting his entire team in this situation. Miami shouldn’t have been in a dogfight with an average Virginia team that North Carolina and Wake Forest demolished.
Nor should the Canes need to steal wins from Appalachian State, get outworked in the fourth quarter by Michigan State in South Florida’s head, or act like sideline buffoons when running up the score against Central Connecticut State last week.
Same to be said for countless other critical moments over the past year that helped add to this embarrassing 16-13 run that is about get worse.
At no time over the past two seasons has Diaz proven he has a team built to bounce back from a gut-punch like this—especially with a road trip to Chapel Hill on deck, even if the Tar Heels are slumping a bit. Same to be said for handling revenge-minded North Carolina State at home, a gritty Pittsburgh program on the road, or a surging Georgia Tech—who like Michigan State—is also taking a step forward year two under a new coach.
Florida State is arguably the easiest game-on-paper remaining—and even that isn’t a gimme—as rivalry games bring out the best, even when one, or both is down in this rivalry. Duke in Durham? That basketball school has taken two of their past three against the Canes.
Virginia was the must-win moment to stop the bleeding; a hard-reset that theoretically could’ve been built upon—1-0 in conference play, 2-2 in the rear view and the conference race wide open in a wonky year for the ACC.
Instead, the Hurricanes stumbled brutally in a game it they absolutely needed—which feels like a back-breaker for this fragile program in its current state.
A win over the Cavaliers would’ve delivered Diaz a stay of execution and 12-day reprieve.
Instead, it’s Dead Manny Walking and seemingly the beginning of another end.
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.