Three years ago then-Hurricanes head coach Manny Diaz stood in the bowels of Marlins Park on “a very, very dark night”.
Miami had just been upset by Florida International—a crosstown, commuter school rival—on the hallowed grounds where the beloved Orange Bowl once stood, playing host to a 58 home-game win streak that took place a lifetime ago.
“One of the lowest points ever in this proud program’s history,” Diaz told reporters, followed some coach-speak about taking responsibility and what not, before going out and losing to Duke a week later.
29 games and a coaching change since, the Hurricanes are again reeling from the type of loss that theoretically should never happen to a program of it’s nature; Miami beaten-up by Middle Tennessee State a week after coming up short in a mistake-filled, low-scoring affair at Texas A&M.
Only this time it was the $80-million dollar man on the sidelines for “The U”, with a hand-picked, highly-paid coaching staff that supposedly ensured embarrassing games of this nature would no longer be the norm in Coral Gables.
That’s not to say Mario Cristobal was ever expected to change two decades of a broken culture overnight—but this was the kind of setback that just blew ten months of hope and goodwill right out the window; the honeymoon officially over as soon as the 45-31 loss was in the books.
Rest assured Cristobal will get back to work and will die trying to resurrect his alma mater. The first-year head coach is known as one of the most-tireless workers the sport has seen in some time, though there are two battles being fought as Miami slips to 2-2 on the season, with ACC play kicking off October 8th when North Carolina heads south.
How does Cristobal work towards his long-term goal of rebuilding his version of a competitive, talent-rich powerhouse over the next half decade—while making changes on the fly?
Futhermore, how does Miami’s newest leader figure out how to get the most out of the personnel he has—not the personnel he expects to field after a few more recruiting cycles—as the head coach won’t be given a mulligan or any breathing room by an impatient fan base?
It’s been a quandary past Miami leaders have failed to solve; Cristobal the sixth new Hurricanes head coach in 17 seasons and third in the past five years—putting even more pressure on UM to start winning winnable football games immediately.
“THE U”: A DISASTROUS DECLINE FOR YEARS
Taking over a squad that went 21-15 under Diaz the past three years, as well as a 28-24 run dating back to the 10-0 start Mark Richt posted in 2017—before going 7-9 and abruptly retiring after a 2018 bowl loss—Cristobal inherited a broken program in need of a complete overhaul and a serious culture change.
Of course this isn’t what a pent-up fan base wants to hear. Not after roughly two decades of incompetence, underachieving and a slew of false starts.
Every new Miami head coach—after Larry Coker—has been saddled with the baggage of the failed regime that’s come before him; each new fresh start bring more pressure than the guy who previously walked the path, as the last four coaches have failed the Hurricanes, the program slipping further into mediocrity and irrelevance as a result.
In the wake of this embarrassing upset—where Middle Tennessee State outplayed, out-toughed and out-coached Miami—a ridiculously entitled attitude and mindset from some in the fanbase regarding “lowered expectations” and the Hurricanes having “no business” losing to a team like the Blue Raiders.
All of which begs the question, says who?
The University of Miami entered this season 118-85 since the 2005 Peach Bowl debacle against LSU. When divided by the 16 years it took to accumulate that ugly number, it averages out to 7.4 wins-per-year and 5.3 losses.
For context—and to help explain some of the long-time Canes’ fans deep-rooted entitlement—Miami amassed a 107-14 record between 1983 and 1992, where it won four national championships (1983, 1987, 1989, 1991), left three on the field (1985, 1986, 1992), got screwed out of playing for one (1988) and screwed themselves out of playing for another (1990).
The average season for Miami during that “decade of dominance”—10.7 wins-per-year and 1.4 losses.
Since joining the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004, Miami has won the lesser Coastal Division once and is 0-for-18 in ACC titles.
In contrast, Virginia Tech—who also bailed the Big East when UM left—picked up six division titles and four conference championships its first 13 seasons in the ACC, before falling on harder times.
Miami closed out the 2019 season with an inexcusable late season loss to Florida International, followed by a double-digit loss at Duke and a bowl game shut-out at the hands of Louisiana Tech.
A handful of players on this current roster were part of that dismal inaugural 6-7 season under Diaz—yet this loss to Middle Tennessee State remains such a head-scratcher?
Again, for what reason—outside of ancient history and too many with their heads in the sand—still living in long-gone glory days for a once-great program?
Fact remains, this is a below-average football program and has been for the better part of two decades. Middle Tennessee State took full advantage of that lethargic attitude and half-ass effort, in the most-recent showdown where UM just assumed it could go through the motions to beat another “lesser” team.
Sure, there was an era a lifetime ago where a dominant Hurricanes program pulverized teams like the lowly Blue Raiders. The type of nobody who lost before even getting off the bus—dead and buried behind the West End Zone by sundown.
That was then, this is now and another little brother-type program just cleaned slipping big brother’s clock.
The uniforms may look similar and the “U” on the side of that helmet evokes memories of championship ways, but the DNA is nowhere near the same and the caliber of players representing this program aren’t worthy of the accolades, belief and trust that past Miami greats fought for and earned.
In short, these current Hurricanes players haven’t done shit and deserve no benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.
NO ROOM FOR FOOL’S GOLD DURING A REBUILD
The biggest mishap over the past 10 months is the false bravado a fan base exuded the minute a native son head coach returned home to a huge payday; a 10-year, $80-million contract and a budget for a top flight coaching staff, as well as the administrative swap out of a pretender-for-contender when Clemson’s Dan Radakovich took over as athletic director.
Cherry on top, Miami even added Alonzo Highsmith in the previously-discussed general manager-type role that almost took place under Diaz, before the insecure head coach stopped that move from taking place.
Overzealous fans took these upgrades to the bank and ran with them—ramping up the trash talk with rivals and quick to proclaim that Miami was “back”—which made for a fun offseason, followed by a harsh reality when Cristobal and the Canes rolled out the remnants from last year’s 7-5 squad.
This attitude that a staff upgrade would result in some just-add-water approach to rebuilding “The U”—nonsensical and moronic for any who have paid attention to the product on the field since Miami joined the ACC. Cristobal and staff were expected to instantly overhaul a program that brought in classes ranked 11th (2021), 17th (2020) and 27th (2019) the past three years, turning the Canes into a sleek and jelled unit four weeks into year one?
Same to be said by the fans and media making much ado about a sophomore quarterback with only nine starts under his belt.
Starved for the next great hope at a program that hasn’t lived up to its ‘Quarterback U’ moniker in two decades, the legend of Tyler Van Dyke got underway last fall after some unintentional trash talk as four-loss Miami prepped to host No. 18 North Carolina State.
The Canes hung in there for a 31-30 victory and stole another nail-biter at No. 18 Pittsburgh a week later, 38-34—the newest option under center throwing for seven touchdowns and 751 yards in back-to-back upsets of ranked teams, as the narrative began to write itself for a desperate fan base.
By season’s end, Van Dyke went 5-1 down the stretch—throwing for 300-plus yards all six games, with 20 touchdowns to three interceptions—leading to a slew of off-season articles and preseason accolades that are now looking somewhat overblown.
Van Dyke managed to shine brightly when expectations were low as he replaced an injured D’Eriq King, but after an offseason with a slew of hype—ACC’s-best accolades or chatter about future NFL Draft status—when the lights came on for game one in the Cristobal era, undefeated with a lot to prove, it’s been a deer-in-the-headlights reaction ever since.
Glaring weaknesses for the revered quarterback and warts exposed in a new offensive system, without a few next-level receivers who helped bail him out and mask flaws last fall.
Lost in the storybook hype, the fact that Van Dyke had the luxury of stepping in for King when Miami sat at 1-2, throttled by Alabama and outlasted by Michigan State—the Canes losing those two games by a combined 52 points, while barely holding on at home against Appalachian State.
After a few bad-luck breaks against Virginia and North Carolina had Miami and Van Dyke both 2-4 and 0-2 in ACC play—the pressure and the wheels completely off.
Expectations were low for the rest of 2021 and then-offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee had Van Dyke letting it rip in a one-dimensional offense—defined by shoddy offensive line play and virtually no running game—and for the most part, it worked as the quarterback played out of his mind and the Canes had some close-call games go in their favor.
Miami beat North Carolina State, Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech by a combined eight points, before a disastrous outing at Florida State. Bounce-back wins followed against Virginia Tech and Duke; the Canes going 7-5 on the season, which could’ve easily have been 4-8 without some unexpected, next-level quarterback play.
A similar storyline in 2020 as King hit the ground running and willed the Hurricanes to an 8-3 season that was also the product of some unorthodox quarterback play, a yeoman’s effort from the energetic signal caller and three more narrow wins.
Miami outlasted Virginia, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech by a combined nine points late in the season—before routing Duke, getting throttled at home by North Carolina (62-24) with a Coastal Division title on the line and falling in a bowl game against Oklahoma State.
Anyone who watched the Diaz era with an honest and discerning eye over those 36 games—the slow starts, sloppy play, games given away, or blowouts against any real competition Miami faced—what was honestly expected year one of the Cristobal era?
“At least doing enough to beat shitty a Conference USA team like Middle Tennessee State!!”
Fair enough, but that statement is also based on Miami as a once-successful program and not this current crop of Hurricanes players, known for playing down to competition for decades—and with the parity in today’s game, good teams simply can’t no-show or half-ass it against “lesser” competition.
WAKE-UP CALLS ARE NEEDED FOR ALL
Look no further than preseason No. 5 Notre Dame getting upended at home by Marshall, sixth-ranked Texas A&M getting stifled by Appalachian State or UTEP smacking around Boise State the first month of this season. The Hurricanes are the most-recent (and definitely not the last) victim of an entitled generation of players who show up expecting to beat formidable foes, even when they haven’t even put in the work.
Don’t believe it? Dig up a few post-game quotes from a few Miami offensive lineman in the wake of last week’s upset.
“We… I say we, everybody, because we’re all in this together. We looked at that team ‘Oh, we’re gonna win this game’,” said offensive lineman Jalen Rivers postgame. “So we came in obviously unmotivated, kinda slow and we had to ramp things back up when we got punched in the mouth.”
There was also center Jakai Clark, who stated, “We weren’t as locked in as we should have been pregame. During the week we had a good week of practice, but pregame…me personally, I feel as though we weren’t as locked in as we should have been,” while also calling his team’s attitude “lethargic”.
Without naming names, the trend also continues with current Miami player quick to post images or video clips to their social media platforms—glamorizing individual plays they made in a game the Hurricanes collectively lost as a group.
If the Getty Images coming across the feed are legit, toss ’em up on the ‘Gram with some caption about hustling, grinding and getting back to work—a faux attempt at motivation, when reality it’s an immature, self-absorbed practice common for the current generation featuring its share of attention-starved, me-first athletes.
The team losing comes secondary to individuals celebrating a captured moment where they looked good—converting it to social media currency and the endorphin rush of likes, or ass-kissing fan comments.
All that to say, social media isn’t the culprit—a pretender’s and loser’s mentality is, as well as a lack of leadership and veterans in that locker room not having the stones to call out the destructive behavior.
You’d think the level of disgust, embarrassment, frustration and anger would be palpable around Greentree since Saturday’s laughing-stock loss. Things getting thrown around, or at minimum some serious soul-searching.
The aforementioned Clark was a freshman on Miami’s 2019 team that lost to FIU—yet he’s giving quotes about players not being locked-in pre-game, rolling in unmotivated and slow—getting “punched in the mouth”? Where was any conversation from upperclassmen on this roster who took it in the shorts via the Golden Panthers three years back?
“Don’t sleep on these Blue Raiders. I’m telling you. Look at that shit that happened to us three years ago when FIU took us out. Need to keep that guard up as these cats are coming to play and believe they can win.”
Does anybody really believe Cristobal and staff didn’t have a collective foot up the ass of this team all week after that loss at Texas A&M? The first-year head coach talked postgame about his team coming up short, needing to improve and eliminating issues that hurt Miami in the loss.
“We’ve got to get better. Playing a tight game doesn’t automatically make you more successful next week. We’ve got to go to work. We’ve got to look in the mirror and face reality. We gave up some opportunities that you just can’t give. And we did that. That’s upsetting,” said Cristobal, postgame in College Station.
“It should burn. It needs to burn. It needs to feel really, in a way, motivational knowing we could be a good team but becoming a good team is not just going to happen. We’ve got to keep working. We’ve made some progress, but we could have coached better tonight. We could have played better tonight. We could have executed better tonight. We’ll get back and we’ll get back to work.”
The only thing that burned the following week was Miami’s secondary getting torched for passes that went 69, 71, 89 and 98 yards, respectively—three of which went for touchdowns, the other leading to one.
PLAYERS MUST BE HELD FULLY ACCOUNTABLE
How does a hot-and-cold player like D.J. Ivey look like he’s turned a corner at Texas A&M, with a pretty-good showing—only to revert back to burnt toast-mode and that same dude who got torched on a fake punt and a late touchdown in an overtime loss to a one-win Georgia Tech squad in 2019?
How does Tyrique Stevenson—who for a minute looked like he was going to declare for the NFL Draft earlier this year—write in a recent CaneSport blog post that when pressed by his head coach as to what happened the day prior, he had zero answers?
“I talked with coach Cristobal on Sunday before a team meeting, he just ran into me. He just asked me, `What happened? What do you think happened?’ I said I don’t know, you just have to get back to the drawing board and see the holes that we’re missing and we just have to start plugging them in with the right players and the right mindset. He thought I had an answer, but the answer is `I don’t know, coach, we just have to get back to work, figure out what went wrong, where the holes are and keep working and try to improve in those areas.’”
The phrasing of the head coach’s questioning is important here; “What do you think happened?”—to which Stevenson had nothing.
Don’t doubt for a minute Cristobal couldn’t have answered it for his cornerback.
A two-time national champion at Miami, recruited by Jimmy Johnson and spending four years under Dennis Erickson, on a 44-4 squad, loaded with superstars and future NFL’ers—who parlayed that experience and knowledge into a coaching career, instead of going his original route of joining the Secret Service.
Grad assistant under Butch Davis, position coach and recruiting head after following Greg Schiano to Rutgers—and then back to Miami, before getting his shot to cut his teeth for six years as a bottom-feeder program like FIU, before getting picked up groomed by Nick Saban when originally on his way back to Coral Gables under Al Golden in 2013.
Four years in Tuscaloosa and the four years as head coach at Oregon, where he went 35-12 and won the Pac-12 twice—Cristobal knows that the teacher isn’t teaching if he’s feeding the pupil the answers. It’s a learning experience for his cornerback to figure out and articulate what went south and why.
Who knows if Stevenson even picked up on any of that, or if the majority of this current roster even truly comprehends all the hell that just took place?
Plus, how do these players even get “back to work” when to a man they can’t even identify what went wrong?
CURRENT CULTURE COULDN’T BE MORE BROKEN
Fans don’t want to buy into the whole “culture” argument—quick to cite the massive payday and coaching staff upgrade, as if it equates to a turnkey solution and immediate buy-in from the 100-plus players on this roster.
Unfortunately life doesn’t work that way—no matter how salty you are that this program sucked for the past almost-20 years.
Fat and want to lose weight? It comes off one pound at a time. Skinny and want to bulk up? Start lifting and prepare for incremental results. Want to become a guitar player? Get ready to suck for a few years and to shred your fingers in the process.
Planting a garden as it feels like the apocalypse is coming any day now? Drop those seeds, water away and wait patiently while seeds become seedlings, before they flower, fruit and ripen, giving you some tomatoes … in half a year.
Everyone knows this by now; nothing good comes easy, success takes time and hard work is the cornerstone of everything. Progress can’t be fast-tracked and the only thing that can be controlled right now is the infrastructure—which despite the 2-2 stumble out the gate, it still where it needs to be for this program’s long-term future, minus a few tweaks here and there if this first wave of coordinators and position coaches don’t fit the bill.
All that to say, Cristobal must quickly figure out how to parallel path and build for tomorrow, while solving the problems of today. It simply can’t be a long-term vision with an “Under Contruction” sign at the front door of Hecht Athletic Center with some “Project Complete — January 2025” declaration, while a fan base sits around waiting for three years.
The quarterback solution everyone felt was a strength going into this season; welcome to a full-blown conundrum before even getting out of September.
Whether that’s all on Van Dyke, this loss of his two go-to options to graduation and his top new target sidelined with a foot injury—or the scheme that first-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis is running—something has to give, and fast.
Miami wideouts struggled to get open against Texas A&M’s third-string secondary, while the Canes defensive backs got absolutely torched in man coverage against Middle Tennessee State, after looking halfway decent against the Aggies.
Doesn’t take Canestradamus to predict that combo is no recipe for 2022 success.
The result entering the ACC portion of the schedule; every coach’s nightmare—a loose-playing back-up quarterback looking more comfortable than the starter. Jake Garcia has just entered the chat and now the one position on the field that looked like Miami’s biggest strength entering the season—while salvaging last year and making 2020 look better than it was—it’s seemingly entered train wreck-mode.
Even worse, the wrong decision could absolutely destroy psyches and fast send the 2022 down the drain; coaches giving up on Van Dyke too quickly, Garcia underperforming and then going back to the starter that the staff showed they had no faith in by making the switch.
Fun times ahead.
While the overhyped yahoo fan either seriously, or jokingly woofed about “15-0!!” when Cristobal was hired—fact remains this current crossroads is where the first-year coach needs to earn his paycheck; problem-solving on the fly, as the wrong moves set the program back and ultimately push the turnaround timeline further down the road.
FIND A WAY; TAKE THE AVERAGE COASTAL DIVISION
Fans love to mock the annual, “Coastal is still within reach!” narrative when year after year fall apart for the Canes, but as far as Cristobal’s inaugural season goes, Miami did lose the two of the most “meaningless” games on the schedule—despite the fact one was a glorified high school team that hails from a place called Murfreesboro.
North Carolina. Virginia Tech. Duke. Virginia. Florida State. Georgia Tech. Clemson. Pittsburgh. The result of those eight showdowns will write Miami’s 2022 season narrative; not the last two weekends.
Of course if one shits the bed against the likes of a Middle Tennessee State, the odds of beating half of those teams—let alone all eight—is an uphill battle, but then again so is life. Welcome to Cristobal’s and his staff’s challenge for the rest of this football season. Figure it out, gents.
Outside of Clemson, the rest of these teams are absolutely pedestrian—and even the Tigers are a shell of what they’ve been the last decade.
Cristobal knows what’s at stake; the same dilemma his last few predecessors faced—winning big enough with what he has, in order to land the kids he needs to ultimately win bigger—which feeds off itself, attracts more talent over the next few recruiting cycles, putting Miami in position to be a true contender in the next three to five years.
Whether this team has the guts, heart and character to scrap its way into the Coastal Division hunt year one, we’ll see— but anything less than obvious improvement over last year’s 7-5 debacle is an indictment on this staff for not figuring out how to get the most out of these kids.
An fortunate and opportune time for a bye week as this program needs to stew on this loss a little longer; especially when players are offering up media quotes about not being ready to play, while others can’t answer the simple where-it-all-went-wrong question for the coaching staff.
Safe to say back-to-back losses are keeping this coaching staff up all night, during this 14-day lull before Miami takes the field again—but what about these Hurricanes players? Are they stewing and ready to take the frustration out on North Carolina, or are they in that dangerous it-is-what-it-is state of mind?
Fans can bitch about high-priced coaches all they want, but these players can’t be immune to the same harsh criticism.
Not at Miami, not when they’re very vocal on social media and not in an NIL era where amateurism has gone out the window and college athletes have pretty much reached the semi-pro ranks. Everybody is fair game once you take a check for services rendered.
Miami’s football history is rich, distinguished and hangs over the head of anyone who puts on that “U”-adorned helmet—but until enough current Hurricanes realize heavy is the head that wears the crown, nothing is going to change. These kids have to want it—and if they don’t, then the next few recruiting classes will push them aside, as the ones ready to rebuild this thing the right way.
Rest assured, every class Cristobal brings in from ’22 on out will fast-understand what it means to be a Mi-am-i Hurr-i-cane—authentically; not in some nonsensical, “It’s All About The U” marketing department, t-shirt, schedule poster verbiage or hashtag.
The question over these next eight games; can this coaching staff drill pride, winning ways and next-level effort into the heads of the last three classes—or are Diaz’s kids too far gone?
There’s still time to write your history, Miami.
Sky’s the limit, but you best clean it up fast if you don’t want to be a footnote in this disastrous chapter for the Canes.
Christian 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 Miami-bred band Company Jones, who just released their debut album “The Glow”. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.