MARIO CRISTOBAL TO MIAMI HURRICANES FAITHFUL; “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?”

There’s an old adage in journalism about a focus on being right, opposed to the empty calories that come from being first and risking getting it wrong.

Unfortunately, old school sportswriting processes don’t exist when everyone has a voice, platform and take via social media—the constant race to break news, or to offer scathing critique with limited information—with emotion besting logic and common sense.

If someone isn’t giving their hot take on Twitter within minutes of reading a rumor on a message board—don’t even bother playing the game or attempting to enter the chat, as you’re too late.

Before this rant goes all “old man yells at cloud”, let’s cut to the chase and make sense of the past almost-three months in Hurricanes history.

Former Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal lost the Pac-12 title game on Friday December 4th and by Monday morning he was announced as the University of Miami’s 26th top dog—returning to his alma mater after a strong run with the Ducks, and four career-building years in Tuscaloosa, where he drafted his blueprint on how to build a juggernaut while studying every move Nick Saban made.

That in itself should’ve been the only storyline and national focus.

Instead, a hot mess of Miami supporters frustrated with the timeline—while critics, attention-starved talking heads and garden-variety haters piled-on UM in regards to process, or leaving it’s current head coach out to dry for 48 hours—as if he didn’t pull his own shady moves two years prior.

The story wasn’t about Cristobal’s homecoming; instead a focus on how he left Oregon, or how Miami worked under the radar to land the architect for a return to glory. If the same storyline surrounded any program outside of the University of Miami, the narrative would’ve been everything and it’d have been the feel-good story going into the off-season.

For any out-of-the-know, Cristobal is a Miami native who played for local Christopher Columbus High and stayed home to play for the hometown Hurricanes–where he won two national championships under Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson—before joining the program as a grad assistant under Butch Davis, which he parlayed into an invite to resume-build by join Greg Schiano at Rutgers, when the former defensive coordinator was named head coach in 2001.

Three successful years in Piscataway sent Cristobal back to UM for a three-year run coaching tight ends and offensive line—before nearby Florida International gave him his first shot as a head coach, cutting his teeth with the Golden Panthers for six seasons.

Cristobal took the underfunded, poorly-run program to its first bowl game—and first post-season win—before the experiment prematurely crapped out and he was off to Alabama to learn from the best in the biz, which paved his way to Oregon and a spot with the Willie Taggart-led Ducks—where he was promoted to head coach when Taggart bailed for Florida State.

Cristobal looked in for the long-haul with Oregon—a 35-12 run over four seasons with the Ducks, highlighted by a 12-2 season and Rose Bowl win in 2019—as well as three division titles and two Pac-12 championships.

It’s this point of the story where Miami most take pause, as Cristobal-to-the-Canes couldn’t have been more far-fetched as 2021 came to a close. The on-the-rise head coach was building something special in Eugene—all the money, all the resources and his own Nike contract from Phil Knight to help sweeten the pot. Life was good for Cristobal and arguable a 99% chance he would settle in for a lengthy run with a Pac-12 contender.

All that to say, one-in-a-million shots are discussed for a reason—because sometimes the 1% wins out and the improbable actually happens when stars align perfectly.

While all was well in the Pacific Northwest, a story was brewing downs south as Miami continued its lengthy run of underachieving under Manny Diaz—the Canes’ fifth head coach in 14 seasons—seismic shifts fast-taking place with new, big-money, billionaire boosters coming out of the works and hellbent on bringing Cristobal home to build a winner. (Not to mention, influential 305-bred moguls like John Ruiz and family on a mission to get ‘The U’ it’s own near-campus stadium at Tropical Park, or elsewhere.)

If not for Diaz’s early face-plant this past season—digging a year-three hole impossible to crawl out of—the final six weeks of 2021 don’t play out in miraculous fashion for ‘The U’—and even now, its still somewhat impossible to fathom just what the f**k happened to reverse this brutally-bad course Miami had been on; UM crying poor for decades, not making a financial commitment to building a winner and settling for low-rent, knee-jerk, safe hires for years.

Cristobal-caliber coaches were forever out of reach for ‘The U’—until one day they weren’t; a fact that when combined with daily noise on social media, via a fan base that’s been as off-track as this program itself the past two decades—it helps make sense of the chaos witnessed the past 76 days since a program-defining changing of the guard that still doesn’t feel real.

These new ways, big moves and monstrous off-season victories have even proven too much for some to grasp—tripped up every step of the way, with no ability to let things play out before coming in hot.

Kevin Steele was hired as Miami’s defensive coordinator just over two weeks ago—February 3rd and one day after National Signing Day, where Cristobal worked his magic over a seven-week span to turn Diaz’s disastrous 60th-ranked class into the 15th-best in the nation—an all-killer, no-filler haul of 14 players, with a few late-in-the-process surprises.

In vintage Miami fan fashion, the narrative remained focused on those who got away—some blaming a lack of a defensive coordinator when highly-coveted defensive end Shemar Stewart stuck with Texas A&M, instead of focusing on the fat NIL bags Jimbo Fisher and staff dropped, en route to what on-paper is the most-talented recruiting haul of all-time—packed with seven 5-Star ballers, including Stewart.

The second half of December and all of January was nothing but a bitch-fest regarding the timing surrounding assistant hires; digs at Cristobal “striking out”, dragging his feet or being in over his head—while any who praised his thoroughness or process was immediately mocked as the Miami Miserables relied on old muscle memory—expecting things to go south or quickly blow up, as has been the case since 2005.

In a matter of weeks, Cristobal took Diaz’s 60th-ranked class and finished with a punch-packing No. 15 group.

FOCUS ON THOSE ONBOARDED; NOT WHO GOT AWAY

In mid-January, defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson was poached by Alabama—many unable to grasp that when Saban calls, smart coaches answer, take the promotion and haul-ass to Tuscaloosa to further their careers—just as Cristobal did post-FIU, after temporarily agreeing to join Al Golden and staff in 2013—sticking around a matter of days before he was called-up to Bama’s big leagues.

At the same time, there were also leaks that Arkansas offensive coordinator Kendal Briles supposedly turned down Cristobal in the Canes—when in reality, it appeared to be a textbook negotiating move to shake down the Razorbacks for more cash. (According to Miami, no offer was ever made—and per Cristobal’s hiring history, offers aren’t extended to assistants not legitimately committed to getting on board.)

Cristobal was attacked for “losing” Robinson—fans in sky-is-falling mode again. The ace recruiter and former secondary coach who called Miami his “dream job”—it was now and indictment on Miami’s new leader for “T-Rob” wanting to beef up his resume by working for the best-run program in the sport.

The perceived “hits” continued days two weeks later when co-offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon—who followed Cristobal from Eugene to Coral Gables—got a shot to return to his alma mater and trekked north to Georgia to work under Kirby Smart and the defending national champs. The topic resulted in an all-over-the-place, 72-page thread on CanesInSight—one that went as far as attacking McClendon’s wife’s looks as why she didn’t feel comfortable in Miami—prompting his barely-got-to-know-you stint at UM.

Not for nothing, but Charlie Kelly and his “Pepe Silvia” evidence wall on a fan-favorite episode of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia comes across more logical than some of these current message board threads and Twitter Spaces rants.

Robinson and McClendon jumping ship, no assistants hired by NSD—too many refusing to let things play out; chastising Cristobal and prematurely playing that here-we-go-again card—negativity was quickly replacing all new goodwill surrounding the program, and for what? These self-imposed timelines by overly-aggressive fans who want to make up 15 years of incompetence in 15 minutes?

Whatever self-imposed dark skies fans chose to hover under for two months—clouds finally parted after the Steele hire and February has gone gangbusters ever since for Cristobal and his Canes.

Three days after landing a veteran defensive coordinator, Cristobal poached Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis—the 2021 Frank Broyles Award Winner also a masterful recruiter who runs a balanced offensive attack and is a massive addition to the staff.

Next up, the Robinson void was filled—and improved upon—when Cristobal poached Georgia’s defensive backs coach Jahmile Addae from Smart’s staff. Addae was ranked by 247Sports as the nation’s No. 2 recruiter for the Class of 2022—the Dawgs No. 1 in scoring defense, No. 1 in red zone defense and No. 2 in total defense during their 2021 title run.

No McClendon? No problem, as Cristobal reeled in Appalachian State offensive coordinator Frank Ponce in a quarterback coach and passing game coordinator role. Ponce is another ace recruiter and was a successful head coach at Miami Senior High, where he also played—these deep local ties set to pay dividends with local high school coaches on the recruiting trail.

For good measure, to add a little more beef to the defensive side of the ball regarding experienced position coaches, it was announced Friday night that Cristobal is adding Charlie Strong to his staff as linebackers coach.

The former longtime Florida defensive coordinator—and top-flight recruiter—parlayed that success into a four-year stint as Louisville’s head coach, before getting hired away by Texas and then a run at South Florida in the same role. One year as an Alabama assistant lead to a one-year role with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2021—and now he’s on board with Cristobal’s Canes.

Another sneaky little pull during this February to remember—former Michigan State staffer Andrew Rodgers took his talents to Coral Gables two weeks back. One big storyline from 2021; how the Spartans and Mel Tucker dominated the Transfer Portal with two dozen new players—including former Wake Forest running back Kenneth Walker Jr.—it was Rodgers who creates lists and compiled the info for Tucker regarding these transfers.

Add these key pieces to staff that already saw Joe Salave’a (defensive line), Alex Mirabal (offensive line), Aaron Feld (strength and conditioning) and Jeff Eaton (assistant strength coach) following Cristobal from Eugene to Coral Gables—this might’ve just become the best top-to-bottom coaching staff in the ACC in a matter of weeks.

Translation; Cristobal and Miami are going to go ham on the Portal in the coming month, in a way that should even supersede Diaz’s impressive three-year off-season run.

Highsmith in a much-talked about GM-type role; the final piece to the infrastructure puzzle Cristobal is building.

Lastly, for context- and narrative-sake—chatter surrounding Alonzo Highsmith returning to Miami in the oft-talked about GM role many wanted him in a year ago—balls seem to be in motion. Manny Navarro of The Atlantic–and former Miami Herald UM beat writer—guested on the a recent “Wide Right” podcast and worked in the Highsmith tidbit (around the 53:35 mark) when discussing if Ed Reed will continue in his Chief of Staff role under Cristobal.

All of this recent movement playing to the hyperbolic title of this piece—the Maximus Decimus Meridius quote from Gladiator—after the former Roman general makes mincemeat of a few well-armed opponents. Cristobal remains fueled—by his Cafecito scuba tank and desire to build a winner—to hear, or give a collective shit about any critique or outside noise.

Not delivering on superfans’ timetables? No one gives a shit. Questioning the resume of guys he thoroughly interviewed through a rigorous process? That’s why Cristobal pockets a reported $8,000,000 annually and has a monster budget to bring on who he deems the ideal fit—while critics furiously peck away online, getting Doritos dust all over their keyboards.

FROM PRETENDERS TO CONTENDER-ISH OVERNIGHT

Incredible to think that three short months ago Miami was shuffling out of Doak Campbell Stadium as losers, dropping a must-win game to a joke of a Florida State program that had won six football games dating back to October 2020—upset at home by Jacksonville State two months prior, and sitting at 3-5 when the Hurricanes rolled in.

Fans were at their wits end with Diaz—the 1-2 start to open his third season at the helm; demolished by Alabama (mocked for celebrating with silly jewelry while getting manhandled) and outlasted by Michigan State (outscored 21-3 in fourth quarter after holding up “four fingers”)—while almost upset by Appalachian State in-between the two (a late field goal to escape victorious).

The chase for a Coastal Division title was even all but out the window by mid-October—sitting at 0-2 in conference after gut-wrenching, slow-start, last-second losses to Virginia and North Carolina.

The unexpected emergence of Tyler Van Dyke and a Heisman-like performance from the new quarterback helped Miami go 5-1 from that point on—but it also masked a dismal defensive performance as Diaz’s unit underperformed, regressing as the year rolled on.

There was zero hope going into 2022 had this madness continued; Diaz set to lose offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee—by way of Van Dyke’s emergence and SMU wanting their former play caller to return in a head coaching role—while Diaz stubbornly stuck to his self-imposed dual role of program CEO and maligned defensive shot-caller.

Recruiting was a disaster and a 7-5 run killed any improvement narrative had Diaz returned for year four—but everything changing when a few rogue Miami boosters went big game fishing and set out to  in Cristobal.

The act itself nothing more than a pipe dream and ultimate long shot before pressure ramped up by way of the slow start to a new season—resulting in a few difference-makers building off the shots fired by ESPN College GameDay’s Kirk Herbstreitwho took UM to task on the September 25th broadcast.

University of Miami football had legitimately been irrelevant since the 2005 Peach Bowl—when No. 9 LSU waxed No. 8 UM, 40-3 on New Year’s Eve—and it’s been a rinse-wash-repeat disaster ever since.

Larry Coker gutting his staff for a lame-duck 2006 season before getting canned—leading to the low-rent hire of defense coordinator Randy Shannon, who was never ready for prime time—going 28-22 over four seasons. Meanwhile, Golden was an empty-suit and nowhere near the up-and-comer he was tabbed as coming out of Temple—going 32-25 before canned in the middle of his fifth season, on the heels of a 58-0 ass-kicking Clemson laid on Miami at home in 2015.

Mark Richt was the right guy at the wrong time; the Canes needing the 2006 version of the former Georgia Bulldogs head coach—not the 2016 guy leaning towards retirement with too many miles on the odometer after a 15-year run in the SEC—temporarily reignited when his alma mater called.

As for Diaz, that show was over before it started—former athletic director Blake James with a career-defining gaffe—paying Temple a reported $4,000,000 to bring his defensive coordinator home as head coach, 12 days after he’d agreed to taking over the Owls program and signed less than a day after Richt stepped down.

Due diligence and any legit interview and hiring process, be damned—which thankfully helped lead to James’ departure and the off-season hiring of Clemson’s Dan Radakovich—who Miami has since made the highest-paid athletic director nationwide.

Those who followed this program for decades—defeated is an understatement. The OG’s saw the top of the mountain in the 80’s and early 90’s, suffered through the probation era, saw Davis rebuild this program against all odds—only to capture that fifth national title in 2001, with Miami set up to dominate for years to come.

Instead, Davis’ extension was mismanaged and he bailed for the NFL payday—leaving the wheels to fall completely off in matter of years. Still, hope remained as no true college football power emerged—until Saban turned things around at Alabama and captured his first championship with the Crimson Tide in 2009.

At that moment, Miami was stuck hoping it could fail upwards—relying on past glory, and hoping it could keep enough local talent home to compete—which didn’t happen as the likes of Alabama, Georgia and the others started throwing millions of dollars at recruiting budgets, in effort to lure South Florida’s best out of state.

Wheels fell off New Year’s Eve 2005 in Atlanta and have never been put back on—until now—as Cristobal will change everything.

NO MORE FOOL’S GOLD; ‘THE U’ WITH REAL DEAL

Each new hire brought a modicum of home to Miami faithful—if Shannon could just lock down local talent, if Golden could create something out of nothing like he appeared to do at Temple, if the proven and experienced Richt could do with the Canes what he did earlier in his career with the Bulldogs—or if Diaz could find that 2017 defensive energy, coupled with bringing a prehistoric offense into the modern era.

All those “if” moments never panning out—while the Hurricanes put together a pathetic 118-85 run, starting that gut-wrenching night in Atlanta on December 31st, 2005.

Hope is what keeps college football fans coming back for more—albeit expectations vary on the respective program one pulls for. Some hope it’s the year they can simply beat a rival, others hope to win a division and to get a crack at a conference title—while the elite aim for conference championships, College Football Playoffs berths and playing for national championships.

Miami used to be a title-or-bust program back in the day; where a 10-2 run in 199o—capped with a 46-3 beatdown of No. 3 Texas in the Cotton Bowl and No. 3 rank in the final polls—was seen as a “down” season; an opening-season loss at No. 16 BYU getting the Canes off to a bad start, with title dreams ending in South Bend late October went falling to the sixth-ranked Irish.

To go from that, to only winning the Coastal Division one time since joining the ACC in 2004—boat-raced out of the stadium by Clemson, 38-3 in Miami’s lone ACC Championship Game appearance? The logical Cane learned to make peace with history, to appreciate the glory days and to hope for a resurgence—but to expect the worst, as 7-6 seasons were the new norm and 9-4 seasons were the new benchmark for a step-foward season.

All of this is what makes the Cristobal hire so hard to wrap one’s head and heart around less than three months in. These kinds of big-money moves happen at other programs—not at the University of Miami—highlighted in an October 2019 deep dive we did at ItsAUThing.com regarding the University of Georgia’s $200,000,000 investment in their program; the “Do More” campaign designed to help them make up what little ground their was between the Bulldogs and the University of Alabama Crimson Tide.

Two years later, the investment paid off and Georgia took home its first national championship since 1980. Could Miami legit be on a similar trajectory with Cristobal and the financial commitment the university is now making in its efforts to again become a contender?

LEARN TO BE A WINNER AGAIN; PROGRAM & FANS

Cocky as Miami fans come across, 16 seasons of being a pretender took a toll—that loser’s muscle memory real—which causes many of the negative reactions to any perceived setback; the time it took to assemble a staff, an assistant bailing for a bigger program or a 5-Star the Canes started chasing late in the process going elsewhere.

It’s almost as if many supporters of ‘The U’ don’t know what to do with any level of prosperity—while unable to “trust the process” of a real head coach, as so many previous frauds spouted the phrase and never delivered.

The tide as finally turned for Miami and before going into spring football, some Portal robbing and some spirited fall practices that set the stage for Cristobal’s inaugural season at his alma mater—a quick reset and acknowledgement of all that’s taking place.

Diaz is gone, Cristobal is home—and while the process of assistant-hiring didn’t fit the self-imposed timeline of many—the gangster, Saban-like moves of Miami’s native son are all that matter right now.

Months back, this program was on track for a Ponce to replace a Lashlee as offensive coordinator, while fans could only hope Diaz focused on his CEO role and brought someone like Strong run his defense. Instead, it’s Cristobal in charge, a head-coach-caliber offensive coordinator like Gattis in the driver’s seat, a salty veteran like Steele running the defense—and ballers like Ponce and Strong both stepping into coordinator-like roles, simply to be a part of something special that is brewing.

If that doesn’t get the orange and green juices flowing, check your pulse to make sure you’re alive.

Everything has changed overnight in Coral Gables—which is part of the reason it’s so hard for some to digest all that is taking place. That being the case, it’s time to exhale, sit back and enjoy the ride—because for the first time in a long time, there is a process that be trusted and a total pro in the driver’s seat—confidently on the move and chasing that sixth ring.


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.

DIAZ OUT, CRISTOBAL IN AND MIAMI HURRICANES READY TO AGAIN CHASE CHAMPIONSHIPS

Mario Cristobal is the new head coach of the University of Miami football program.

The feeling of typing and reading back those words remains incomprehensible in this whirlwind of a 2021 season—not to mention 15 years of incompetence and some degree of acceptance that “The U” would never again compete as a big time college football contender.

Equally as welcoming, the news that Manny Diaz is out—his Hurricanes entering the preseason with a glimmer of hope, a No. 15 ranking and expected to take a step forward in a make-or-break third year for the now former head coach.

Instead, the type of free-fall that ended an era and ushered in a new one—humbled by Alabama in the opener and a late kick needed to survive Appalachian State the following week, only to see Miami then outworked and out-hustled by a Michigan State squad with a second-year coach looking much further ahead than UM’s third-year guy.

The Spartans were the ones who were supposed to wilt in that sweltering South Florida heat and humidity—not the homegrown kids, who held up those fourth quarter “four fingers” before getting outscored 21-3 over the final 15 minutes.

The ugly 1-2 start prompted ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit—the Hurricanes’ unofficial 2021 MVP after all that’s unfolded—to undress UM’s top brass in front of the nation, hours before Miami beat up on a glorified high school out of Connecticut and mugged for cameras with chain and rings like they were en route to 4-0.

No sooner were all eyes a fledgling Miami program, Diaz went 0-2 in conference play in a Coastal-or-Bust season—the Canes now 2-4 as defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory against Virginia and North Carolina, who both finished the year with matching 6-6 records.

A freshman quarterback played some rookie-of-the-year level football—literally—which did nothing but postpone the inevitable, as an MVP offensive performance only masked the fact that Diaz retaking over the defensive coordinator role was a disaster; Miami the worst-tackling unit in the nation for most of this season, when defense has always been UM’s calling card.

The comeback narrative exploded in tragic, yet necessary fashion—a disastrous loss against a Florida State squad that had won six total games over a two-year span.

All of Diaz’s warts were on display in this rivalry showdown; from an opening quarter where Miami had eight penalties—false starts, late hits and mental mistakes—to a comeback blown after failing to convert on a late third down and surrendering a 4th-and-14 dagger, which capped an 11-0 run for the Seminoles in the game’s final minutes.

DIAZ: TOOK LUCKY BREAK, BROKE IT IN TWO

The tank-job in Tallahassee saw any comeback narrative fast crashing and burning, rendering lackluster wins over Virginia Tech and Duke completely meaningless, outside of bowl eligibility and a ticket punched for El Paso to take on Washington State month’s end.

On his way out the door, Diaz lobbied like the son-of-a-politician; working to spin negatives into positives—focused on kids not quitting, despite facing “significant injuries and adversity”, as well as “unique challenges” to which his players “repeatedly responded”.

Zero talk about a 2-4 start, or the fact a 3-1 run in November was against bottom-dwelling teams that finished the season with a 17-31 combined record—in the worst collective year the ACC has seen in forever; No. 17 Pittsburgh and No. 18 Wake Forest facing off in a lackluster championship game—Diaz whiffing when the Coastal was wide open and a basketball school took the Atlantic.

When the smoke finally cleared, Diaz was 21-15 after three years—on par with the type of dead-end runs predecessors like Randy Shannon and Al Golden put together before soon fired—as well as 0-2 in the postseason, zero division titles and a slew of signature losses, with no landmark victories.

Many clamored for Diaz’s exit as far back as 2019, when the first-year coach was upended by former Miami dynasty architect Butch Davis and Florida International—Canes players rolling in flat and dancing on the sidelines while down 23-3 in the fourth quarter against a commuter college, before waking up and seeing comeback fall short.

The Golden Panthers have won one measly football game since that colossal upset over Miami two years ago.

A week later, the still-punch drunk Canes were embarrassed at Duke and then shutout by Louisiana Tech in a meaningless bowl—6-7 in a season that started with Diaz mixing it up with players and tacking dummies with “7-6” on their chests, in the same building Cristobal would hold an introductory presser less than three years later.

Diaz was part of an ongoing rinse-wash-repeat process; knee-jerk hires, low-rent up-and-coming coaches and rebuild-after-rebuild do-over moments—and without a recent influx of money and a handful of big-money boosters taking things into their own hands—history shows that there would’ve been a year four, if not more for Diaz.

Cristobal’s has come up for years—half of a crowded board of trustees room lobbying for him in 2019 when Diaz was hired, but the rest of the room too shaken by Oregon’s buy-out to entertain the notion as a reality. As Diaz stumbled to a losing inaugural season, Cristobal went 12-2, winning the Pac-12, a Rose Bowl and conference coach of the year honors.

The refrain with Diaz was the same as with a Golden or a Shannon; Miami could ill afford to send their current coach packing, couldn’t afford a wish-list coach’s buyout and certainly couldn’t take on a bloated top-flight head coach’s salary—let alone his demands for the next-level staff it’d take for him to even entertain the move.

In the matter of weeks, months or even years—the embarrassing hat-in-hand, frugal mindset went up in smoke.

MONEY FINALLY TALKED; BULLSH*T SENT PACKING

Jaded and stuck-in-their-ways, millionaire board of trustees members who once yielded all the power—pushed aside when big-dick-energy, nine-zero-having billionaires took the reigns; Canes loyalists like John Ruiz and Jorge Mas and their respective families very vocal in their desire to see Diaz’s #TheNewMiami looking more like old, ass-kicking, take-no-prisoners Miami and that decade of dominance era that once defined this proud program.

There was also the COVID-inspired turnaround of Miami’s own U-Health department; in the red for years, but now in the black to the tune of almost a billion dollars the past two years—yet there currently so much donor money at play, the Canes haven’t even had to tap into medical school profits.

Should athletics need any of those funds, president Dr. Julio Frenk has seen the light—thanks to guys like Rudy Fernandez—abandoning the old eat-what-you-kill attitude former president Donna Shalala had towards athletics; hence Miami leaving Nike for more adidas money, or abandoning the Big East for the ACC and the TV revenue that came by way of a more-prestigious conference.

The University of Miami literally went from digging in couch cushions for money, to doing Scrooge McDuck dives in a swimming pool full of greenbacks—again, unfathomable after years of crying poor.

This return to the University of Miami was always Cristobal’s dream job—even if he wisely and professionally chose to avoid putting his homecoming through any nostalgic filter during Tuesday’s welcoming press conference. The passionate, calculated and driven head coach is showing a degree of gratitude regarding the pinch-me opportunity—while staying on-brand with his time-is-wasting, let’s-get-to-work attitude and energy.

This quickly and wisely shuts down the emotion-related queries that reporters in Eugene and Coral Gables are chasing, in effort make sense of and to humanize the moment—but for reeling Ducks fans making sense of the departure, as well as Canes fans clamoring for soundbites signaling a return to glory; Cristobal also staying on point with the now and future at “The U”, without getting distracted by the type of nostalgia the media loves peddling fans.

Without all this found money and new power moves, Cristobal would still be in Oregon today—a fool to abandon what he was building with the Ducks. Resources galore in a Pac-12 conference ripe for the taking for years—where he could take the blueprint he helped implement under Nick Saban at Alabama in four years as an assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and head of recruiting, learning from the best in the business.

Cristobal was so respected in his four-year run in Tuscaloosa, many had him on a short list to replace Saban when the iconic head coach steps down in the coming years—a logical landing place after chasing Pac-12 titles and Playoff berths in Eugene, which was in the cards soon enough, proven by a 35-13 stint heading back to an interim bowl game loss in 2017.

Tossing out last year’s COVID-defined season—more brutal for the Pac-12 than others, as suspect leadership resulted in a shortened season and later start than most—Cristobal went 22-5 in 2019 and 2021 combined; winning the division twice, a conference championship and a spirited Rose Bowl.

Flaws? Sure, there was an annual loss-of-focus moment where Oregon pissed away championship dreams—tripped up by an average Pac-12 opponent it should’ve rolled—not to mention the buzzsaw Cristobal ran into against Utah this season, dropping two of his final three games with the Ducks in ugly fashion; his offense looking nothing like the squad that dropped 550 yards and 35 points on third-ranked Ohio State in Columbus months back.

All that to say, the good greatly outweighs any bad—and outside of Saban, every coach in the sport seems to have moments and games like these. The goal is to keep working for season-long focus, which comes in due time with veteran leadership, the right players and those special seasons where championships are within reach—the team feeling it and getting into an unflinchable zone.

CANES IN THICK OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL CHESS MOVES

A week before Miami landed Cristobal, USC fired a shot and pulled Lincoln Riley from Norman to Los Angeles, hours after Oklahoma choked away a Big 12 title game berth and crack at the Playoffs, falling to rival Oklahoma State in the regular season finale, along with an earlier loss against Baylor which came back to haunt.

Last year, early-season losses to unranked Kansas State and Iowa State had Riley and OU in a fast 1-2 hole, before bouncing back and winning the Big 12—but the damage was done and Playoffs dreams ended in September. The year prior, the Sooners were in last in the final four and crushed by top-seeded LSU—but still had no answer for an inexcusable loss to a Kansas State squad that finished 8-5 and fell to Navy in the Liberty Bowl.

No sooner was Riley a Trojan, Brian Kelly bailed South Bend for Baton Rouge and a monster payday from LSU—abandoning the one-loss Irish after a dozen years at the helm. A regular season home loss to Cincinnati kept Notre Dame out of this year’s Playoffs; one of many head-scratching losses in Kelly’s career—though less egregious than the postseason beatings he’s taken over the years.

Last year the Irish were dismantled by Clemson, in a COVID year ACC title game appearance, then smacked around by Alabama in the semifinals, outscored 65-24 over eight quarters of big time football—proof that Kelly had his his ceiling in South Bend. His best there wasn’t going to cut it—Kelly needed a bigger time program if he wanted to win a national championship, hence the fake Southern accent and beeline towards the Bayou state.

The disgruntled folks in Oregon can fight and deny it, but Cristobal’s decision proves that Miami is the better program when the Hurricanes are hitting on all cylinders—which hasn’t been the case for two decades, until this week.

The way UM refused to invest in football over the years, zero argument that UO ran smoother—with their top-notch facilities and Phil Knight shoe money pumping—swinging for the fences and more upside as a result.

Not anymore.

Not with the abundant talent in South Florida and not with the return of a hometown hero, with two decades of deep recruiting ties and newfound support from UM to seriously get after it.

Still, for all the financial talk and boasting about Oregon’s deep pockets, it was Miami who came in hot with the $8 million-per-year, 10-year offer—trumping the annual $7 million the Ducks were willing to pay—and its the Canes who are allocating an $8 million annually for assistants, which now tops the number Clemson allows Dabo Swinney for his guys.

Cristobal’s coaching prowess, his new financial resources, UM’s aggressive new attitude—as well as the talent pool in the Canes’ backyard—it all adds up to Miami having another gear Oregon wasn’t expecting.

A paradigm shift has taken place and “The U” is officially back—because these long-awaited changes are set to deliver conference championships, Playoffs appearances and the big-time football the Canes would never see again if competing on a budget and hoping stars would align someway, somehow.

The new-look Miami and these type of deep-pocket resources; Cristobal is being set up for success—just like powerhouses in Alabama and Georgia—both of which spend more money on recruiting than any other NCAA programs, in effort to lock down the talent in UM’s backyard.

The result; the best of Dade, Broward and Palm Beach county have been leaving the state en masse for Tuscaloosa and Athens—chasing conference titles and national championships.

CANES DAYS OF LOSING TOP-FLIGHT TALENT ENDS NOW

The recruiting pipeline out of what Howard Schnellenberger dubbed “The State Of Miami”—it’s been broken since Larry Coker attempted to keep alive what Butch Davis worked so hard to rebuild decades ago.

Forget what Alabama stealing an Amari Cooper out of Northwestern or Georgia going into American Heritage and poaching a lifelong UM fan like Sony Michel—what about losing Central’s Devonta Freeman and Dalvin Cook to Florida State at a time when both the Noles and Canes were average and on a level playing field?

Even lowly Louisville built it’s entire program on having it’s way with top Miami prospects when Charlie Strong ran the show and pulled recently-fired Canes defensive line coach Clint Hurtt north when the Shannon era came to a close.

The Cardinals’ 2011 roster featured 25 players from Schnellenberg’s fenced-off region—including a dozen from Dade County; eight of which hailed from Northwestern—including quarterback and receiver duo, Teddy Bridgewater and Eli Rogers.

Screw an article, one could write a book regarding almost two decade’s worth of local prospects bailing on the Hurricanes, coaching turnover and low-rent rebuilds. Forget what Alabama, Georgia, Florida State or Louisville was peddling—it came down to what Miami couldn’t offer.

So many kids and their parents who grew up on “The U”—looking for any way to justify their kids playing at home, but in the end forced to accept that the hometown program lost its way and their kids would be better off taking their talents elsewhere.

All of this explains why Hurricanes fans are jumping out of their skin over an a head coach who just got his teeth kicked in by Utah two times in the past three weeks. Oregon in whatever shape or form they were in under Cristobal this fall; pales in comparison to what he can bring to UM, with a new-school attitude, budget an big-Cane energy—set to produce two vastly different results.

Cristobal is the first sitting Power Five head coach Miami has hired since Dennis Erickson left Washington State for South Florida in 1989—eventually replaced by Davis, who cut his teeth under Jimmy Johnson as a defensive assistant at Miami and went next level with the Dallas Cowboys; winning championships at both stops.

Davis’ recruiting efforts could never receive enough praise; the 2001 roster he assembled—and even the “how”—hamstrung with lost scholarships in the late nineties due to years on probation, yet still cherry-picking talent and the right-fit guys to rebuild this program.

PATH TO MARIO (UN)OFFICIALLY UNDERWAY FOR YEARS

Cristobal’s recruiting success has been on display for years. Nationally recognized for his road wins at Alabama, there’s also a Davis 2.0 aspect to what he brings in this return home; as it’s not just about talent—it’s about identifying Miami guys and seeking the kind of player that will be an ideal fit for this unique program.

The beauty of a five-year run as a player between 1988 and 1992—when the program went 55-5, won two national titles (1989, 1991), lost a championship game (1992) and was arguably the best team in the nation the two years it didn’t play for it all (1988, 1990)—the high-level players Cristobal was around daily. The attitudes, the work ethic, the way championship players carry themselves.

Cristobal also saw it as a grad assistant between as Miami was turning a post-probation corner; part of that 1998 team that went from a 66-13 drubbing at Syracuse to a thrilling 49-45 upset of second-ranked UCLA days later.

There for that statement win in the Meadowlands against No. 9 Ohio State in the 1999 opener, the near-takedown of No. 2 Penn State at the Orange Bowl weeks later and match-ups at No. 1 Florida State or No. 2 Virginia Tech—teams that owned probation-era Miami, but a feeling the was turning as players were growing into future superstars overnight.

When Miami broke five-game losing streaks to the defending national champ Seminoles and title-game runner-up Hokies in 2000, the Canes were back—and snubbed of a title shot, took their frustration out on No. 7 Florida in the Sugar Bowl—off the field in a notorious Bourbon Street brawl, as well as the Superdome via a 38-20 smackdown.

The muscle memory of Miami’s 26th head coach as both a player and an assistant—as well as where his coaching trajectory took him over the past 15 years the Hurricanes were bleeding out—it all led back to this moment.

“What better place than here—what better time than now?,” as Rage Against The Machine so passionately shouted it two decades back, as the Canes turned their 1999 comeback corner.

Further proof this is a game-changer for Miami; the reaction from the outside—proving the “us against the world” mentality is back in full-force—as the college football universe gets chippy whenever the Hurricanes seem to be on to something.

The critics, rivals and haters prefer “The U” stands on the precipice of greatness; living for those early-season runs where outsiders—not insiders—start with all the premature, “Is ‘The U’ back?” chatter, knowing it’s not and getting ready to pop the bubbly when the Canes ultimately fall.

UM football is polarizing and when talking about a small, private school nestled in Coral Gables—where most fans aren’t alumni—there is going to be more hate surrounding this program than love.

The heads on College GameDay often quick to say the sport is better when Miami is a contender; they know the Hurricanes are good for ratings. Many of ESPN’s top-ranked games have UM on the marquee; most of the nation tuning in praying “The U” gets wrecked—which has been often as Miami sports a 118-85 record dating back to a 2005 Peach Bowl beating courtesy of LSU, 40-3.

THE ERA OF DOUBLE STANDARDS RETURN

Look at all the outside chatter this week and the hypocrisy surrounding Miami’s efforts to land Cristobal, opposed to what USC and LSU did to nab their big fish.

Zero focus on how Riley abandoned Oklahoma hours after losing at Bedlam and sending rival Oklahoma State to the Big 12 title game and pissing away a shot at the Playoffs—or fact that conversations with the Trojans obviously took place for weeks, based on how quickly a deal came together.

The same for Kelly’s coarse goodbye to his players, the morning after they learned via the wire that he was bailing out—not to mention viral video of his faux Cajun accent in his first public outing as the Tigers’ new head coach—both non-news stories that were buried within a day.

Riley to USC and Kelly to LSU are feel-good stories—no one in the media harping on how Oklahoma or LSU were left high and dry—or chastising the process.

After years of penny-pinching and media rants about how a college football is better when Miami is contender—moves are made to precisely shift that narrative—the Canes writing checks to compete and bringing home their native son in epic fashion; the media wants to make it all about the “how”.

Cristobal—known as one of the good guys and one of the sport’s brightest coaching stars—landing his dream job; nitpicking articles immediately pointing out that UM didn’t show “common courtesy” in reaching out to Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens for permission to speak to the Ducks then-head coach—while hammering Miami for how it handled Diaz over a 48-hour period; Cristobal chatter starting up hours after Friday night’s Pac-12 game, deals worked on over the weekend, Diaz fired Monday morning and Cristobal-to-The-U official by Tuesday. 

Coaching at this level is a cut-throat game and all seems to be fair in love and war, until it happens at Miami; the forced outrage and case-building to constantly make UM the villain—yet lost in how Miami supposedly mistreated Diaz, the fact three years prior the recently-fired Canes leader was the one doing the screwing.

Hired by Temple mid-December 2019, Diaz strangely stuck around the Miami program for a last hurrah at defensive coordinator—a meaningless third-tier bowl game after a 7-5 season—when he should’ve been in Philadelphia building a staff, on on the road closing recruits, much like Cristobal has since arriving in Coral Gables late Monday night.

Wisconsin went on to smoke Miami in Pinstripe Bowl, 35-3 on Thursday December 28th—third-year head coach Mark Richt calling it a career the morning of Sunday December 30th. Diaz—back to South Florida from New York, dealing with loose ends before heading back north—openly lobbied for Richt’s job, had his agent pressuring UM to get a deal done immediately and 16 days after agreeing to terms with Temple, he was named Miami’s 25th head coach; the same evening his boss stepped down.

THEY HATE US ‘CAUSE THEY AIN’T US…

The logic-driven college football fan would quickly formulate a thought that Diaz arguably got what he had coming in some karmic fashion—doing Temple dirty, finding payback in how Miami let him squirm for a few days—and that’d be the end of it.

Instead, outsiders and national writers have turned into social justice warriors overnight—feigning outrage over how Diaz was treated, when in all reality the displaced frustration is solely rooted in Miami landing a top-flight coach ready to lead them back to the promised land.

ESPN’s Andrea Adelson—a Miami native, University of Florida graduate and former columnist of the Independent Florida Alligator—went attack-mode in her latest piece; that Gators DNA pumping as she talked up the Cristobal hire, as well as reports that Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich is also UM-bound.

“Simply throwing money at the problem, and making two good hires on paper, is not going to cure a rotten culture that has surrounded the program, seeped into its very foundation, spread its tentacles and suffocated those who have tried to change it.

That rotten culture left Miami officials—desperate to land Cristobal—to abandon decency and class and leave another native son, former coach Manny Diaz, dangling in the wind for nearly two weeks while it cajoled someone else to take his job”, Adelson wrote in sanctimonious fashion.

The long-time columnist even let emotions get in the way of facts when describing Richt’s exit in late 2018.

“That rotten culture places outsized, unrealistic expectations on everyone who walks in the door, and as soon as the struggles begin, lights fires only to watch them burn. Nobody is given time to get anything done. Look at celebrated coach Mark Richt. It was only five years ago his hire was celebrated and former athletic director Blake James was praised for doing what nobody thought possible. But when things went bad in Year 3, the pitchforks came out and Richt resigned.”

Not one word in her piece about the offensive-minded Richt fielding one of the most-prehistoric offenses Miami has seen in decades—in line with former defensive coordinator Diaz taking back defensive reigns this season, while that side of the ball backslid and was the worst-tackling, underperforming units in the nation.

Same for letting emotion replace fact, resulting in selective memory as there were “pitchforks” out for Richt; just an ask that the veteran coach bring in a quality play caller and sticking to a CEO role, instead of the nepotism that kept his son Jon Richt coaching quarterbacks and involved in the offensive game-planning.

Worn down from 15 years in the SEC—leaning towards retirement before his alma mater called—Richt tapped out as the rebuild seemed too daunting. There was also a recent diagnoses of early onset Parkinson’s Disease—which he wasn’t ready to share with the world—which Adelson left out of her carefully-worded piece, working in the phrase “rotten culture” in three consecutive sentences.

Adelson is hardly alone in her shaming of Miami’s handling of its break-up with Diaz and it’s courting of Cristobal—but a noteworthy example as her tone shift over a 19-day span is telling.

Weeks back Adelson went all-in on a glowing piece regarding the 20-year anniversary of the 2001 national champion Miami Hurricanes—quick to lean on “South Florida” street-cred—growing up 250 miles north of Miami, in Orlando—and landing a gig with the Orlando Sentinel upon a return from Gainesville.

“I had a front-row seat as the Miami beat writer for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, that season. I grew up in South Florida, and watched the previous four Miami national champions closely. I went to the University of Florida, where as a freshman in 1995, the Nebraska Cornhuskers staked their claim to the greatest-of-all-time throne after dismantling the Gators in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl. I still have visions of Tommie Frazier leaving Gator defenders in his wake,” Adelson wrote.

The piece went on to nostalgically praise the 2001 talent-heavy Hurricanes—how hard they hit, how hard they worked, how they dominated the opposition—as well as the unparalleled leadership and how accessible, mature and professional the faces of the program were.

“That openness allowed us to truly get to know the players and coaches, and develop a rapport with them, so we could tell their stories in a deeper way — and share a fair narrative as the season unfolded. Nobody was too “big time” for anything. We could see with our own eyes what made that team go.”

Praising Miami’s past greatness so easy, even a Gator could do it—Adelson reaffirming these Hurricanes of 20 years ago were undoubtedly college football’s GOAT’s. Giving UM it’s due as the program officially rises from the ashes—an immediate narrative shift—rivalry DNA arguably kicking in and partially fueled by savior Dan Mullen flopping, while feigning excitement for the Billy Napier era, as Miami jumps out of its collective skin landing a whale like Cristobal.

Or maybe it’s simply good business, as Miami is a polarizing program and an ESPN writer is going to gain more traction riling up rival fans and outsiders about the Hurricanes making moves than they would speaking from the place of someone with true insight to “The U”—fully aware what an unprecedented, out-of-nowhere move this was for the long-time, cry-poor university.

Supporters of UM, alumni or even beat writers and long-time op-ed columnists—well aware Miami is back on track when forced again to embrace the hate—rivals and opposition in a fit of rage, arguing points with emotion instead of logic and harping on the way something was done, opposed to what was accomplished—which was the way stories about Riley to USC or Kelly to LSU were reported, or digested.

Miami won’t be “back” overnight—but there’s no denying the seismic shift that just took place in college football, as the Hurricanes followed up big moves by Southern Cal and LSU with resounding checkmate. “The U” is technically *back* when that sixth national championship is claimed, but safe to say Miami is a legit contender again and won’t be backing in ACC title games, or trying to win division titles on a wing and a prayer.

Cristobal isn’t perfect, but he checks off every box that matters most—and he’ll not only be embraced by his hometown and alma mater with open arms—he’ll do with with a level of financial and administrative support never seen before at the University of Miami.

Combine that with the lockdown about to be put on Schnellenberger’s “State Of Miami” as well as the ability to send one of the game’s best recruiters into the homes of top talent nationwide…you already know.

Heed the warning, college football pundits—December 6th, 2021 is the day the game completely changed…one mo’ ‘gen. The college football universe has been puton notice; building a champion has become top priority for the University of Miami—and with the right coach, the infrastructure, the blank checks and proximity to the nation’s best talent—you have every right to be mad, sad, scared and despaired.

Been a minute since this phrase held any meaning, but it’s a Canes thing—y’all wouldn’t understand.

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.

CAN MANNY DIAZ AND MIAMI HURRICANES MAKE EARLY SEASON STATEMENT?

Year three of the Manny Diaz era is about to get under way with the Miami—and the ultimate challenge awaits the Hurricanes, who take on college football’s Goliath this weekend in Atlanta; the defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide.

Historically year three is make-or-break for new head coaches, as their fingerprints are officially on the program—most having two full recruiting classes by this point, while wrapping up whatever class there predecessor had coming in and putting together pieces for what will be year four.

The program’s culture is either getting better or worse by this point, while upperclassmen are either becoming who they were supposed to be, or aren’t buying into what the new guy is selling and they check out.

Diaz’s first two seasons at “The U” have been a mixed bag on the field—a 14-10 run, with no real signature victory—outside a 52-10 pasting on a putrid Florida State program that went 3-6 during last year’s COVID-hijacked season.

However, there have been some signature losses—most-notably a disastrous loss to lowly Florida International in November 2019, where the Canes ended the year with a three-game losing stream, falling to Duke and getting shut out by Louisiana Tech in a no-name bowl.

Miami got out to an 8-1 start in 2020, by way of a few late rallies and comebacks—the one loss coming at Clemson, where the juggernaut Tigers took down the Hurricanes in an understandable men-versus-the-boys fashion.

What didn’t make sense; Miami’s home finale no-show against North Carolina, with an ACC Coastal Division title on the line. COVID ravaged the Canes’ coaching staff the week-of, and players were said to have been off-kilter as a result of the chaos—but neither forgives a 62-24 pasting, where North Carolina rang up UM for 778 total yards—554 on the ground, by way of two purpose-driven running backs.

To Diaz’s credit, both nationally embarrassing moments sparked much-needed change—which soon followed.

LEARNING ON THE JOB; MAKING MOVES

The anemic offense in 2019 resulted in the firing of offensive coordinator Dan Enos—while a sub-par defensive outing last fall saw defensive coordinator Blake Baker pushed out the door, as well.

Rhett Lashlee too the offensive reigns in Coral Gables last season and the impact was immediate—also sparked by a Transfer Portal game-changer when former Houston quarterback D’Eriq King chose Miami as his final collegiate stop.

In order to shore up the defense, Diaz decided to don the comfortable defensive coordinator cap again—a job he held at UM for three seasons under former head coach Mark Richt, as well as calling the shots at Texas, Louisiana Tech and Mississippi State in years passed.

Diaz made a few other off-season moves, since a close bowl loss to Oklahoma State last December—an outcome that came after King tore his ACL in the first half, and quarterback N’Kosi Perry was unable to bring it home, despite a valiant effort. (Perry has since transferred to nearby Florida Atlantic.)

A few other coaching changes took place—namely the addition of Travaris Robinson taking over defensive backs, with former coach Mike Rumph moved into a recruiting department role—while former recruiting staffer Demarcus Van Dyke stepped in to coach cornerbacks.

Todd Stroud was also moved into an advisory role, paving the way for Jess Simpson to return as defensive line coach—having spent the past two season in the same role for the Atlanta Falcons.

All coaches have had an immediate impact—in their position, as well as on the recruiting trail—but it’s all theory and one big dress rehearsal until the Hurricanes take the field at 3:30pm ET on Saturday afternoon.

‘THE U’ VS. BAMA—FIRST MEETING SINCE ’92 SUGAR

The Crimson Tide roll in on a 14-game win streak—last losing a rivalry game at Auburn in November 2019. Prior to that, a close call at home, where eventual national champion LSU got the better of Nick Saban, which doesn’t happen often in this current era of college football.

Over the past six seasons, Alabama is a combined 79-6 with three national titles, while Miami has gone 48-27—with three different head coaches, and one lone bowl win, over that same span.

The Crimson Tide was decimated in spring’s NFL Draft—losing quarterback Mac Jones, go-to receivers Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith—as well as lockdown corner Patrick Surtain II, running back Najee Harris, long snapper Thomas Fletcher, offensive linemen Deonte Brown and Landon Dickerson, and defensive MVP of last year’s national championship game, lineman Christian Barmore.

All that to say, Alabama’s last five recruiting classes were ranked #1 (2021), #2 (2020), #1 (2019), #5 (2018) and #1 (2017)—the definition of reloading, not rebuilding. The Tide will plug-and-play some brand new talent this year, but there’s no denying the program-best 10 players who were drafted in spring will leave a short-term hole.

Season opening match-ups like this, in a sport where there is no preseason—is the biggest reason Miami at least has a chance of pulling off an upset this weekend, despite being a 19.5-point underdog. Not to mention the fact that this is the most sound the Hurricanes have looked across the board in years.

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young is a 5-Star talent and will undoubtedly be the next great gunslinger coming out of that football factory in Tuscaloosa, but there’s no fast-tracking experience and Young will be making his first start against the Diaz coached Hurricanes’ defense this weekend.

Conversely, King rolls in a 24-year old sixth-year senior with 32 starts and 9,570 passing yards under his belt.

CANES’ BEEFING UP ON BOTH SIDES; BIG IMPROVEMENT

The second-year Miami quarterback will also do it with the most-experienced offensive line the Hurricanes have boasted in years—the nation’s most-seasoned, with 190 combined starts between the five. UM returns it’s top eight offensive lineman from last year, as well as UNLV transfer Justice Oluwaseun.

Navaughan Donaldson returns, sitting out most of last year working his way back into playing shape after an ACL injury in 2019—while center Corey Gaynor rolls in with 25 starts under his belt. Zion Nelson and Jakai Clark are the young guns in their third season, each with 21 starts—while DJ Scaife has 31 starts and all compete with Houston transfer and seventh-year senior Jarrid Williams for playing time.

On the ground, it will be a tough-running, three-headed monster for the Canes—with Cam Harris returning for one final go-around, while freshmen Don Chaney Jr. and Jaylan Knighton are back for their thunder and lighting attack.

Receivers were notorious for some key drops last fall—Dee Wiggins and Mark Pope the biggest culprits—but with more depth in 2021, there are more options to take their reps.

Saturday’s depth chart shows one familiar face—Mike Harley, said to have reinvented himself this off-season—but Oklahoma transfer Charleston Rambo is starting ahead of Wiggins, with Keyshawn Smith the third starter. Michael Redding III and Xavier Restrepo also cracked the two-deep, but Pope is nowhere to be found.

Tight end Will Mallory replaces the departed Brevin Jordan—which many see as an upgrade, with Mallory more of the prototypical tight end, to Jordan’s tweener size and style.

Defensively the Hurricanes also look sound—Bubba Bolden running it back one more time at safety and the de facto leader on that side of the ball. Miami also welcomes former Georgia corner Tyrique Stevenson back home—the former Southridge product wanting out on Athens and back in on what Diaz and the Canes are cooking. Stevenson will also handle punt return duties on Saturday.

DJ Ivey and Te’Cory Couch were named started, with Stevenson backing both—while Gurvan Hall holds down the safety spot aside Bolden.

Amari Carter returns as striker, Corey Flagg Jr. at middle linebacker and the aggressive Keontra Smith rounds out the middle of the defense at weak side—while former linebacker Zach McCloud has been moved to defensive end, where he and Jahfari Harvey will bookend a combination of Jonathan Ford, Nesta Jade Silvera and Jared Harrison-Hunte at tackle.

Brother of Jose, Andy Borregales takes over kicking duties, while Lou Hedley and his big leg are back at punter—with Harley and Restrepo will return kicks.

A STEP CLOSER TO BACK, OR ANOTHER FALSE START

While that depth chart breakdown was a bit egregious, it was done with reason—rattling off some of the names, depth, experience and additions to the roster—it feels like Miami is slowing undergoing a metamorphosis into contender again.

Lots of work remains; recruiting getting stronger—more 5-Star kids like Leonard Taylor and James Williams grabbing that Canes hat when time to commit—as well as cherry-picking the portal for one-year guys who can come in as difference-makers.

Culture has been a problem at Miami on an off for years—dating back to the Larry Coker declining years and the end of the Randy Shannon era—guys not buying in and upperclassmen having a negative impact on each new crop of kids, setting a bad precedent and kicking off a toxic cycle that wasn’t getting fixed.

Al Golden was a wrong-fit guy from day one, but the Richt era took some of that leftover talent and began shaping it into something special. The Canes took a step forward in 2017, but it really was a house of cards as the lack of stability and quality at quarterback was a massive problem.

Historically, Miami has always been as good as its quarterback—dominate throughout the 80’s and early 90’s with a slew of big names, four national titles and two Heisman winners—but as the position dropped off, so did the wins and competitiveness.

King’s bonus year by way of COVID; it might be the lucky break the Hurricanes have been searching for—an experienced leader and winner with one more chance to be around this program and to shine a light where there had once been darkness. It also allows the future—Tyler Van Dyke and Jake Garcia—to sit behind and learned from a seasoned vet and total pro in King.

Miami literally has a quarterback who is older than second-year San Diego Chargers’ second-year starter Justin Herbert—and those four years at Houston, the well-thought out decision to transfer, his mother’s cancer diagnosis and loss of his father Eric King, in early 2020—how can everyone on this team not look up to and learn from the Hurricanes’ godsend quarterback.

Prior to King’s arrival, it was a two-man battle between Perry and Jarren Williams, whose since transferred to South Florida—the lack of competition leaving both Richt and Diaz in a lesser-of-two-evils situation; Perry unable to unseat Malik Rosier in 2017 and 2018, while Willams got a leg up in 2019—but played musical quarterback chairs with Perry throughout the year.

The Diaz Era kicked off with quarterback uncertainty, as Williams got his first start against Florida in the 2019 season opener—beating out both Perry, and Ohio State transfer / Instagram influencer Tate Martell, whose since taken his talents back home to UNLV.

BIG TIME STATEMENT GAME FALLS FLAT IN 2019

The Gators rolled in hot off a 10-3 season in year one under Dan Mullen, crushing No. 8 Michigan in the Peach Bowl—while the Canes saw a coaching change on the heels of a 7-6 run that had Richt calling it a career; Miami dropping five of their final seven games, as well as a season-opener where the eight-ranked Canes took a healthy beating from No. 25 LSU.

No. 8 Florida was a 10-point favorite over Miami—the spread a show of respect to the long-running in-state rivalry—but most predicted the Gators to roll the Canes in Diaz’s first game.

Instead, Miami took a 13-7 lead into the locker room, fell behind 17-13 in the third quarter, jumped back out to a 20-17 lead and eventually fell 24-20—in a game where fragile kicker Bubba Baxa missed a chip-shot 27-yard field goal that would’ve pushed the lead to six with 9:48 remaining, not long after the erratic Jeff Thomas muffed a late third quarter punt, setting Florida up on the Miami 11-yard line, where the Gators punched it in three plays later.

Had Baxa hit the earlier kick, the Canes would’ve been in position for a makable game-winner in the final moments—but needed seven and were stifled, in a game the offensive line looked more like a turnstile—surrendering seven sacks and 16 tackles for loss.

Both teams played a sloppy game, but Florida survived and parlayed the outing into a successful 11-2 season—falling only to No. 5 LSU and No. 8 Georgia—but winning the Orange Bowl to close out year two under Mullen.

Conversely, Miami carried their hangover to Chapel Hill—in a quick hole, scrapping back, taking a lead, only to give up a 4th-and-17 to the Tar Heels and a late touchdown in a heartbreaking loss.

The Canes rolled Bethune-Cookman, struggled against Central Michigan, found themselves down 28-0 in an eventual loss to Virginia Tech, beat Virginia, lost in overtime to a 1-5 Georgia Tech squad, only to get big-headed after wins over Pittsburgh, Florida State and Louisville—setting up mortifying losses to FIU, Duke and Louisiana Tech.

Diaz started the spring with a WWE-style throw-down at UM’s practice facility—players beating on dummies with “7-6” taped on to them—only to go 6-7 on the year, with arguably the program’s most-embarrassing loss on his resume.

Another rant about where things stood two seasons ago, but with purpose.

Miami and Florida both had their share of early-season jitters and the Canes almost parlayed it into the upset. Had these two teams met later in the year, a safe bet UF would’ve prevailed in stronger fashion—but for that one evening in late August 2019, a UM team that all but gave the game away, went toe-to-toe against an SEC power and was one play away from what would’ve been a season-defining win.

CANES’ EXPERIENCE VERSUS BAMA’S REBUILD

Florida 2019 is no Alabama 2021—but Miami 2021 is also no Canes of 2019—and with King under center, a winning attitude pumping within the program, an offensive line that is night and day from the first group Diaz fielded years back, a safe bet Miami will show up Saturday afternoon in Atlanta.

The pressure is squarely on Saban and Alabama to hit the ground running, as there is a bevy of inexperience across the board—albeit talented, and part of a methodical, dominating program built to to win, while rarely losing.

Can Miami take early advantage of Bama’s learn-on-the-fly ways in the first half? Does Lashlee’s Auburn experience against Saban have any impact (the Tide going 3-1 against the Tigers during the span)?

What about Alabama bringing in Bill O’Brien at offensive coordinator, on the heels of Steve Sarkisian taking the Texas head coaching job? The Tide also introduce Doug Marrone as their new offensive line coach—Kyle Flood heading to Austin with Sark—while plugging in handful of new players there, as well?

All these Crimson Tide intangibles, coupled with the Hurricanes strengths—is it enough to be a tipping point Saturday afternoon? Time will tell, but a safe bet that if Miami is going to pull off a game like this—it’s here and now, before the national champion has time to gel and gets title contender-ready as fall rolls on.

Saban is arguably the best to ever do it—many rebuilds in his career and his teams always ready to go week one, despite the coaching or player personnel that takes place every off-season. The closest a team has come to taking Bama out in a recent opener; Florida State four years ago—in Atlanta, as well.

SELF-IMPLOSION BIGGEST HURDLE TO CLEAR

The Tide were the top dogs and the third-ranked Noles rolled in for what looked like a solid match-up on paper—Florida State a seven-point dog—and for a while, it was a game—until a disastrous seven-play sequence derailed everything for the Seminoles late in the third quarter.

Alabama took a 10-7 halftime lead—catching a break on a missed pass interference call, which would’ve put Florida State up by four. Instead, the Noles settled for a field goal attempt which was blocked. An uneventful third quarter played out, until the final minutes—when a blocked punt set up the Tide at the FSU six-yard line. The Noles clamped down, forcing a field goal and staying within striking distance at 13-7.

Florida State fumbled the ensuing kickoff, Alabama taking over at the 11-yard line, punching it in on the next play and taking a 21-7 lead after a successful two-point conversion.

Injury to insult in this case, when quarterback Deondre Francis—who coughed up two second half interceptions—was sacked from behind and tore his ACL in the process; derailing his and Florida State’s season as the Noles finished 7-6.

For three quarters, the Noles gave the Crimson Tide all it could handle—but gave it away by way of a blocked punt, a blocked field goal, a fumble recovery on a kickoff return, two second half interceptions, as as a football gods first half screw job that took seven points off the board.

Can Miami pull off the unthinkable? Maybe. Maybe not, but there’s zero chance with any type of Florida State implosion, circa 2017—or even the sloppy play in the almost takedown of Florida two years ago.

It’s going to take the Canes’ absolute best, the Tide’s second-best and a level of purpose, passion, belief and execution Miami hasn’t shown since the 41-8 beating laid on Notre Dame four years ago—the Canes as confident as they’ve looked this decade for that one magical night in 2017.

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.

FIND-A-WAY MIAMI HURRICANES DELIVER IN RALEIGH & BLACKSBURG


If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that perspective really is everything.

In the face of a global pandemic and forced quarantine—does one have the ability to find some positives, where others will only focus on the negative?

The inconveniences are obvious—social lives limited, masking-up whenever venturing out into public—but what about the bonus time with family that wouldn’t have existed under normal circumstances; this forced-slow down giving us all the ability to reevaluate and to plan for a new-new when the time comes.

Relating that to football—and the Miami Hurricanes, specifically—some are overly critical of the way in which this squad is underperforming, while others are simply appreciating the wins that keep racking up. Truth be told, the answer probably lies somewhere in between the two polar opposites.

Miami survived at Virginia Tech this past weekend—eight days after eking out a come-from-behind win at North Carolina State. Four combined points were the difference in these eight quarters of football and both games saw the Hurricanes rallying late on offense, while getting necessary stops on defense, in order to get out alive.

Even more impressive, Miami did it with one quarantined arm behind its back—13 players out for COVID-related matters. The Hurricanes were without a handful of starters, a well as some key reserves. At one point, the game itself was almost called off—but Miami pushed to play, showed up, hung tough and prevailed—which is a real footnote to this season and testament to how the Hurricanes have handled a very odd 2020 campaign.

Virginia Tech jumped out to a 14-3 lead on Saturday afternoon, as a sparse Lane Stadium. Miami moved the ball early, but missed a scoring opportunity by way of an oddly-timed and strangely-execute fake field goal on a 4th-and-3 from the Hokies’ 30-yard line. In what would’ve been a makable 47-yard attempt by Jose Borregales, Miami instead had holder Lou Hedley flip the ball to the immobile 205-pound kicker, who was stuffed after scrambling for a year.

It was one of those plays that had it worked, no one would’ve batted an eye—but regardless of it’s success, there’s no debating that the Hurricanes would’ve been better suited keeping the ball in the hands of the immovable D’Eriq King, or one of three bruising running backs, a both Cam’Ron Harris and Jaylan Knighton took a few handoffs on the previous eight plays of the drive.

The early aggressiveness on the opening drive wasn’t even the game’s biggest head-scratching moment. Save that for an ill-timed and poorly-executed two-point conversion attempt late third quarter, which could’ve cost Miami the win, had Hendon Hooker and Virginia Tech’s offense not self-imploded on their final few possessions.

MIAMI OFFENSE COMES ALIVE LATE; DEFENSE CLOSES STRONG

Trailing 24-13 halfway through the third quarter, the Canes offense finally came to life on a 13-play, 75 yard drive—Harris punching in the six-yard run on a possession where Miami executed on 4th-and-1 and 3rd-and-3 to stay alive—the fourth down conversion coming on the heels of 2nd-and-17 after King was sacked on first down.

With a chance to pull within four, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee chose overthinking over common sense, calling for a throwback to left tackle Zion Nelson, which was doomed from the start—ending with Nelson not just getting stuffed, but the Canes penalized for an ineligible receiver on the boneheaded call, as well.

Had Miami logically kicked the point after, it’s a 24-20 ball game, and the ensuing 10-play, 82-yard drive—stamped by a 36-yard strike to Mark Pope, where King avoided the blitz and signaled to Pope to be ready—would’ve seen the Hurricanes take a 27-24 lead with just under six minutes reaming, barring Borregales made his kick.

Instead, another failed two-point attempt—a better call, but poor execution as Don Chaney Jr. wasn’t able to haul the pass in—and a 25-24 lead that was not only too close for comfort, but one that would’ve left Diaz and staff lambasted had Virginia Tech been able to kick a game-winning field goal late, opposed to one that would’ve tied the game and sent things to overtime.

Thankfully the Hurricanes defense stepped up while Hooker and the Hokies stalled out.

On the first play from scrimmage after Miami took the lead, Hooker air mailed a deep ball in the diving arms of Te’Cory Couch—the first time the Hurricanes picked off the Hokies since the final minute of a 38-14 route in Blacksburg in 2018.

Miami took possession with 5:48 remaining, only to go three-and-out—punting the ball back to Virginia Tech in just over a 90 seconds, as another sack of King left the Hurricanes in an undesirable 3rd-and-15.

The Hokies rattled off 19 yards in back-to-back plays—getting out of the danger zone after Hedley bombed a 52-yard punt downed at the nine-yard line, but a timely sack by Jaelan Phillips retuned the favor, leaving Virginia Tech to try and fight out of a late and-long situation. An incompletion by Hooker was made worse when the quarterback lost his footing on 3rd-and-15, his knee hitting the ground for a nine-yard loss.

Miami again took possession with an opportunity to close—Gurvan Hall with the fair catch at the UM 43-yard line—only to see Lashlee predictably and conservatively running back-to-back with Harris and Chaney Jr., before King was run down on a 3rd-and-5 attempt that lost three yards. The Hurricanes forced the Hokies to burn all three timeouts on the possession, but only took 13 seconds off the clock—Virginia Tech with the ball back and 1:45 on the clock with a chance to kick a game-winning field goal.

A first down would’ve put Miami in kneel-out mode—while an incomplete pass would’ve saved the Hokies a timeout—so running the ball wasn’t the crime; it was the vanilla manner in which Lashlee went with back-t0-back handoffs into the teeth of a front seven most of the afternoon.

By the time a designed run was called for King on third down, Virginia Tech knew with 100-percent certainty was was on deck and snuffed it out immediately—Lashlee whiffing on an opportunity to call a safe pass to a running back, or calling a designed run for King earlier, when the expectation was to pound the rock with Chaney Jr. or Harris.

Hedley’s leg again saved Miami, as his punt was downed at the four-yard line—the Hokies taking over with 1:37 remaining and zero timeouts.

Hooker found Tre Turner for a 19-yard pick-up, getting out from the shadow of his goalpost—using both his arm and legs in an attempt to pull off the comeback. The Hokies picked up three first downs over the next minute-plus, stopping the clock momentarily—though time was still the enemy.

Facing a 4th-and-10 from the VT 43-yard line with :05 remaining—the Hokies chose miracle mode, over a Hail Mary—dumping it off to Tayvion Robinson, who played hot potato with three others on offense before being dumped for a six-yard loss that ended the game.

BACK-TO-BACK COMEBACKS DEFINE LATTER HALF OF SEASON

The rally against the Hokies—where the Canes didn’t see their first lead until the 5:59 mark in the fourth quarter—was the opposite of what took place at North Carolina State the Friday night prior, outside of trailing by double digits and rallying to victory.

A bonafide shoot out, the Canes and Wolfpack traded blows all evening—North Carolina State striking first, Miami responding and eventually taking a 21-14 lead before UM’s offense cooled and the home team went on a 10-0 run to close out the first half, 24-21.

The Hurricanes tied things up early third quarter with a field goal—only to allow the Wolfpack to drive 75 yards on the ensuing drive; Bailey Hockman hooking up with Emeka Emezie for a 34-yard haul-in on 3rd-and-4, followed by a big 14-yard tear-off by Hockman, setting up Zonovan Knight on back-to-back runs and a one-yard score.

Miami responded with an 85-yard drive of their own; back-to-back plays to Pope for 39 yards and a game-tying 17-yard score to knot things up, 31-31 late in the third quarter. Momentum immediately went out the window one play later, as Knight returned the kickoff 100 yards for the score. The Canes next possession stalled out; Miami settling for a 38-yard field goal from Borregales—the deficit cut to seven.

The Hurricanes defense flexed-up and forced a much-needed three-and-out—the offense back in action and looking to tie things back up–which looked to be the case when Harris punched it in on 4th-and-Goal from the one-yard line, though the play was blown dead as replay took a second look on a third down run by King that came up a half-yard short. Harris go the call again on fourth down, again scampered in but Miami was hit with a false start and moved back to the five-yard line.

Much to the chagrin of some, Diaz and Lashlee correctly took the three points—trotting out the automatic Borregales for a 22-yard put-through that made it a 41-37 ball game; putting the onus on the defense to get a stop. Tying the game up was obviously the preference, but Miami could ill afford to not score on that possession, with just over six minutes remaining.

It would take two scores to win—the safe choice on this drive simply meaning the Canes would need a game-winning touchdown, opposed to a field goal on their next possession—whereas getting stuffed on fourth down would’ve put Miami in position where a touchdown would at-best tie the game and force overtime.

The defense bowed up—Couch with a monster sack on 3rd-and-9—giving Miami the ball back and their own eight-yard line with 3:50 remaining and 92 yards between a comeback victory, or an agonizing defeat. King found Mike Harley for a 35-yard pick-up on 2nd-and-8, getting the Canes near midfield and after a 3-yard run by Harris and incompletion to Dee Wiggins—went back to the well and caught a streaking Harley for a 54-yard touchdown.

For a receiving corps that slept-walked for a few weeks, starting in Clemson—Harley, Pope and Wiggins began coming alive and haven’t let up—starting with Harley’s 170-yard outing against Virginia and rolling into a 153-yard outing in Raleigh—all of which obviously make King’s job easier; the transfer quarterback finally finding the deep ball again at North Carolina State.

LATE RALLY IN RALIEGH; SHOT IN THE ARM CANES NEEDED

Hockman and the Wolfpack took possession from their own 25-yard line with 2:43 remaining—where much like Hooker with his late first-down gaffe—Hockman put too much heat on the ball, which was deflected into the arms of DJ Ivey for a game-sealing win. King’s wheels got Miami 12 yards on a 3rd-and-6, putting the Canes in victory formation with 1:40 remaining.

The late turnover marked the second straight game where Miami forced a late turnover to close out—Virginia down 19-14 with the ball: 23 on the clock and no timeouts, relying on some end-of-game trickery, resulting in a fumble that Quincy Roche recovered. The Canes escaped, after giving up a 32-yard run by Brennan Armstrong, followed by 35-yard touchdown strike to Ra’Shaun Henry on the next play—cutting Miami’s lead to 19-14 with 5:27 remaining.

Much like this weekend’s win over Virginia Tech, Miami was in position to close out against Virginia with a couple of first downs—but looked to have stalled out on 3rd-and-8, before Wiggins drew a pass interference call at the 2:56 mark. With new life, the Canes and Lashlee ran a series similar to the 13-second possession in Blacksburg; fourth-string back Robert Burns up the middle for one, Knighton up the middle no gain and a King run on third down the lost a yard.

With the Cavaliers already out of time outs, the Canes shaved over two minute off the clock—setting up the need for a miracle finish if Virginia was to drive 80 yards in :23—securing a victory that ultimately staved off any critique, which winning often does.

Nitpicking after a win is always better than the same effort after a loss. Taking shots at fake field goals, poorly-timed two-point conversion attempts and conservative late play-calling; the type that allows team to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory—it’s done with the desire to see the mistakes corrected moving forward, opposed to with the understandable venom that would’ve come had these decisions led to losses.

WINNING CLOSE BATTLES; FIRST STEP IN CONTENDING AGAIN

Much like the 2017 season, these Hurricanes are winning the type of close games that they blew in 2018 and 2019—which in this season of transition, ultimately was the biggest goal. Prior to the COVID-fueled reshuffle, Miami was gunning to with the Coastal Division, en route to a ACC Championship game berth.

Instead, teams like Temple, Wagner and Michigan State were dumped from the schedule—with Clemson, Louisville and North Carolina State all added. The Canes also saw Duke removed, when those three Atlantic foes were added. Notre Dame was also welcomed into the ACC temporarily this fall and with the top two conference foes facing off in December—opposed to the best from the Coastal and Atlantic—Miami will most-likely be on the outside looking in, even if it takes out Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and North Carolina to close out the regular season.

Getting to Charlotte this December; Miami wanted to see how it matched up with Clemson in the Trevor Lawrence era—as these two different division foes weren’t set to meet in the regular season again until 2022, when the heralded quarterback will be long gone.

The Canes got that crack at the Tigers during the regular season, weren’t ready for primetime and we’re outplayed, 42-17—all questions answered—and in a rematch with Clemson one win away from reaching the College Football Playoffs for the sixth consecutive season, does anyone really believe this overachieving Miami team is going to lay down a roadblock?

With Notre Dame beating a Lawrence-less Clemson in double overtime weeks back, Miami’s hope of a rematch took a massive hit—as the Irish seem on pace—as both teams seem destined to win out; Clemson facing Florida State, Pitt and Virginia Tech, while Notre Dame closes with North Carolina, Syracuse and Wake Forest.

Even if one of the two stumble, no doubt that these are are the most-balanced and deep team in conference this year. If Miami fans are rooting for anything, it should be the combination of winning out—with Clemson falling to either Pitt or Virginia Tech—which would set up a showdown with Notre Dame for a conference title.

All that to say, Plan B isn’t too shabby, either. Should Miami, Notre Dame and Clemson all win out—with the Tigers topping the Irish in Charlotte—both will most-likely reach the Playoffs, leaving Miami to represent the ACC in the Orange Bowl, most-likely against hated rival, Florida.

Of course all of this is moot, should the Canes shit the bed against Georgia Tech, Wake Forest or North Carolina—just the type of games Miami seems to drop down the stretch in the ACC, when looking ahead and trying to do conference title game math.

LATE SEASON ACC STRUGGLES HAVE PLAGUED UM FOR YEARS

Back in 2005, an eight-game win-streak after dropping the opener at Florida State—Miami was hyper-focused on winning out and getting another crack at the Noles. Then two weeks after upsetting No. 3 Virginia Tech in Blackburg, the Canes lost at home to a three-loss Georgia Tech team, 14-10—sending the Hokies to Jacksonville, instead of two-loss Miami. It was the season that proved to be the beginning of the end for Larry Coker, whose Canes got wrecked 40-3 in the Peach Bowl and stumbled to 7-6 the following fall, resulting in his termination.

Come 2009—the third year of the Randy Shannon era— Miami started strong with conference wins over Florida State and Georgia Tech—and an out-of-conference upset of Oklahoma—before falling at Virginia Tech. A month later, an overtime loss at home against Clemson served as the knockout punch—as the Yellow Jackets won the rest of their ACC games and topped Clemson in the conference title game, before losing to Iowa in the Orange Bowl.

Year three under Al Golden, the 2013 Hurricanes jumped out to 7-0 and No. 7 in the nation, before getting wrecked at No. 3 Florida State—and then sleepwalking through losses against Virginia Tech and at Duke. The road loss in Durham proved the deciding factor for the Coastal that fall, as the Blue Devils survived road games at Wake Forest and North Carolina down the stretch, hanging on with two ACC losses to Miami’s three.

Mark Richt and crew blew it in 2016, as well—4-0 out the gate, before a missed point-after kept Miami from upsetting No. 10 Florida State, 20-19. The hangover continued with a lifeless 20-13 home loss to North Carolina the following week. Virginia Tech routed the Canes, 37-16 a week later—only to see Miami choke away a comeback at Notre Dame, 30-27, capping off a four-game losing streak.

Those back-to-back-to-back conference losses against the Noles, Tar Heels and Hokies were the difference-maker as a Virginia Tech earned a trip to Orlando with only two conference losses, where Clemson held on for the win.

Water is wet, fire is hot, grass is green—and anytime the Hurricanes are looking too far down the road, or doing funky math when dreaming big about the ACC title game—you can bet the house that getting-ahead-of-itself Miami will choke.

While a win isn’t always a win—as the way, the why and the how that victory was secured are always worth analyzing—in this 2020 season, prevailing in any way, shape or form is truly the ultimate goal.

ON PAR TO EXCEED ORIGINAL 2020 GOALS

Miami was never set to be true contender this year; not national and not even in conference. Winning the Coastal—for the second time in 17 seasons—and getting a measuring-stick match-up with Clemson; that was the ceiling for year two under Diaz. Doing that meant Miami would have to win the close games it gave away last year, to the likes of Florida, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Florida International and Duke.

The wins haven’t been pretty this fall, since losing at Clemson. A shootout at Louisville and rout of Florida State gave reasons for optimism early, but that loss to the Tigers was definitely the type of moment that can take the wind out of a team’s sails.

In years passed, Miami would’ve arguably gotten tripped up by a defensive team like Pitt the ensuing week—showing up flat and not ready to deal with the adversity. Instead, the Hurricanes’ defense clamped down in the red zone—which proved to be the difference-maker in a 31-19 victory.

Miami jumped all over Virginia a week later, by way of a two-play, :28 scoring drive—only to manufacture 12 points the rest of the evening. It what turned out to be a gritty, low-scoring affair—the Canes with only two field goals, until Chaney punched in a touchdown early fourth quarter—the home team took the Cavaliers’ best punch and hung on for the win.

Folding on a Friday night in Raleigh after a bye week; not far-fetched for modern-day Miami. Two years ago, the Canes did just that at Boston College—shut out in the second half and falling 27-14, still smarting from a 16-13 loss in Charlottesville two weeks prior. This time around, Miami outscored North Carolina State 23-17 in the second half and closed strong with a 13-3 fourth quarter run.

Riding high off that comeback against the Wolfpack, a danger game on-paper at Virginia Tech loomed. The Hokies were reeling from Liberty upsetting them at home a week prior—a game Virginia Tech looked to have in the bag, after returning a blocked field goal for what looked like the game winner.

Instead, the Flames got a do-over by way of an icing-the-kicker time out going wrong—and after an eight-yard pick-up on 4th-and-6, drilled a 51-yard game-winner as time expired.

Virginia Tech showed up looking to prove a point on Saturday—but so did Miami, who even after a slow start, never mailed it in—which is ultimately the biggest growth opportunity for this 2020 season. Before the Canes can start winning the big games again, it must take care of business week-in and week-out against average conference foes.

That mid-September win at No. 18 Louisville? Miami’s first victory on the road against a ranked team since a the eight-lateral, last second comeback at Duke in 2015. This most-recent win against the Hokies? The Canes’ first road victory as a Top 10 team since hanging on at North Carolina in October 2017.

Is this 7-1 bunch a truly legit Top 10 team? The pollsters don’t seem to think so—the Canes dropping from No. 9 to No. 12 in the latest AP poll (though the Coaches Poll kept Miami at No. 9.) despite hanging on to win. That said, do the polls even really matter at this point? Not really. Winning football games matter—and if the last three showdown were decided by a combined nine points, or nine touchdowns—fact remains the Canes are 4-0 since stumbling at Clemson.

Baby steps. It’s not what a frustrated fan base necessarily wants to hear—but one’s desire to be a contender again doesn’t change the timeline it will take to get back on top. Not after a 13-16 run from the end of 2017 to the beginning of this season, not when this program has looked like a mid-tier ACC team for a decade and a half and not when losing the types of close games it’s re-learned how to win this fall.

Another shot at revenge against Georgia Tech next weekend, followed by what look to be two shootouts against the likes of Wake Forest and North Carolina—who combined for 112 this weekend, with the Tar Heels hanging on for the 59-52 victory.

Should King and these Canes hang on for an 10-1 regular season, it will be Miami’s best since 2017. Prior to that, one has to go all the way back to 2002 to match the output.

Stay the course, appreciate what’s taking place and know that closing strong is the perfect remedy to success both on the recruiting trail and the Transfer Portal—both of which are the Canes’ key to again becoming a true contender, in due time.

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.

MIAMI HURRICANES COME TOGETHER ON SENIOR DAY; SMOKE LOUISVILLE


The Miami Hurricanes passed their final home test of the season, overwhelming the Louisville Cardinals, 52-27 on Senior Day and homecoming at HardRock Stadium.

This was the type of game that the Canes easily could’ve let slip away due to a slew of reasons—but none bigger than showing up unprepared and not bringing the fight; which thankfully hasn’t been the case the majority of this inaugural season for Manny Diaz and staff. Even in early losses to Florida, North Carolina and Virginia Tech—Miami played scrappy, overcame early error and was in position to win all three games late, before ultimately not getting it done.

To Louisville’s credit, it brought the fight, as well—496 yards on the day, while dominating time of possession—but three turnovers, sloppy-as-hell play (14 penalties for 121 yards) and an inability to stop Miami’s offense, ultimately led to the 31-point blowout.

MIAMI OFFENSE ROLLED ALL DAY; CANES’ D LIMITED CARDS

Early on, it appeared nobody was going to stop anybody; the Canes marching 92 yards on its opening drive—highlighted by a 41 yard hook-up from Jarren Williams to Mike Harley; low-lighted by back-to-back face-mask penalties on the Cardinals that set DeeJay Dallas up for any easy five-yard punch-in on 1st-and-Goal.

Louisville answered with an 80-yard strike to speedster Tutu Atwell; the former Miami Northwestern product shining early back home in front of the local crowd, tying things back up—despite some early self-implosion from the Cards.

If there was any oh-shit-type-feeling that Miami was in for a shootout and questions about the offense bringing it, they were quickly answered when Williams went back to Dee Wiggins on a 67-yard touchdown strike on first down—a play similar to last weekend’s dagger in Tallahassee; the 56-yard early fourth quarter strike that pushed the Canes’ lead over the Noles to, 24-10.

Special teams delivered for Miami, as well—K.J. Osborn helping flip the field in the return game, while Al Blades Jr. partially blocked a punt—both leading to short fields and quick scores—which was ultimately the theme of the day; the Hurricanes showing up in “all three phases of the game”, which coaches especially love to go on about in the wake of a lopsided win.

Diaz touched on this, as well as what finally sparked a turnaround after a slow start to the season.

“The best part is the players get it. They know it is all about their accountability and connections to one another. It is in the little things. We see it in practice. It is like parenting a child. At some point they have to learn and they have to mature,” Diaz explained post-game.

“We have a very young football team. We did not honor very many seniors. We have some young guys that are maturing and starting to get it and they recognize what wins. That has been the most encouraging part.”

CANES TURNED A CORNER AT PITT; HAVEN’T FLINCHED SINCE

After a loss to Virginia Tech, followed by a gritty win over Virginia, only to backslide with an inexplicable loss to a one-win Georgia Tech squad—this season was in disarray, leaving many to openly wonder when these aforementioned young guys were going to mature, get it or recognize what wins. Thankfully that flip soon switched.

The same DJ Ivey that was caught slipping on two plays against the Yellow Jackets that directly cost the Canes 14 points—strutted into Pittsburgh the following week and hauled in game-changing interceptions in a 16-12 slug-fest that Miami pulled out. That road game against the Panthers is also where the season changed at quarterback, with Williams re-entering for a ceiling-hitting N’Kosi Perry, tossing the game-winning touchdown to Osborn; a 32-yard strike with under a minute remaining—Williams coming in cold and delivering.

Where Miami looked like it might’ve turned a corner that Friday night against the Cavaliers, it took two more weeks for things to finally come together—setting the stage for that “perfect storm” moment in Tallahassee the first weekend of November. Florida State’s rough season aside, Miami finally put together what was its most-perfect performance to date; improved offensive line play, Williams hitting the deep ball and a spirited defensive performance—highlight by Greg Rousseau, the one-man wrecking crew.

The Canes took another step forward against the Seminoles, showing they could handle not just adversity, but prosperity—winning a key rivalry game and coming in hot off the comeback at Pittsburgh, opposed to flat, like it did against lowly Georgia Tech days after topping Virginia.

This win over Louisville—again, not a perfect outing—was another big moment for this rebuilding-type season under a first-year head coach. The Cardinals aren’t world-beaters, coming off a 2-10 run last fall that saw the second coming of the Bobby Petrino era coming to an end late in year five.

POTENTIAL TO GET ‘OUT-COACHED’, DIAZ & CREW CAME WITH A PLAN

Scott Satterfield was tossed the keys in the off-season—after a successful five-year stint at Appalachian State, where he won the Sun Belt Conference title three years in a row. A combined 29-9 record over that successful run and known as one of the more-successful, on-the-rise offensive minds in the game, Satterfield had an immediate impact at Louisville his inaugural season—bringing a 5-3 record to HardRock this past weekend; those three losses coming against Notre Dame, at Florida State and Clemson.

Based on recent history and Hurricanes’ muscle memory; it was hardly a stretch to think Miami might not roll in prepared against Louisville. Despite some solid defensive play by Diaz’s squad the past few weeks, the Cardinals’ offense was averaging just over 444 yards-per-game going into this showdown—meaning this wasn’t the week the Canes could afford to struggle moving the ball—and they didn’t.

Five of six offensive possessions in the first half, Miami scored touchdowns—only punting once, with 9:24 remaining in the second quarter, after an incompletion on 3rd-and-7. Leading 28-14 at the time, the defense forced a quick three-and-out and the offense stayed aggressive—Williams scrambling for 12 yards on a 3rd-and-9, setting up a 17-yard touchdown pass to back-up tight end Will Mallory on a 3rd-and-8.

When the Cardinals got back after it, trying to trim the lead before halftime—a seven-play, 57-yard drive was thwarted by way of an end zone interception by the surging Ivey, on 1st-and-Goal from the UM 18-yard line; a ten-yard holding call the play prior, putting Louisville and quarterback Micale Cunningham in a lurch.

Up 35-14, the Hurricanes received the opening second half kickoff—driving 66 yards on six plays, for another score; a 36-yard strike from Williams to Harley—made possible by offensive coordinator Dan Enos finally committing to the run these past few weeks; Dallas scampering for 20 yards on the first play from scrimmage and Cam Harris picking up 12 more, two plays later.

The Cardinals answered on the ensuing drive and the Canes punted, only to be bailed out by more clutch special teams play; this time Jimmy Murphy diving on a ball muffed by Atwell—the fan-favorite, senior walk-on getting his first Turnover Chain moment in his final home game. Three plays later on a 3rd-and-15, Williams found Harley again—this time for a 28-yard score, that proved to be the dagger, putting Miami up 49-21 with 6:59 remaining in the third quarter.

Camden Price tacked on a field goal for good measure in the waning moments of the third quarter—getting the Hurricanes to a nice looking total of 52 in the box score—though a 58-yard touchdown run by Hassan Hall middle fourth quarter gave the Cardinals a meaningless score, making things look slightly less lopsided.

POTENTIAL TO WIN FIVE STRAIGHT; CLOSE BOWL SEASON STRONG

With two games remaining—a bye this weekend before Florida International at Marlins Park and a road finale at Duke—Miami is in very good position to finish 8-4, which seemed almost unthinkable late day on October 19th after the Hurricanes slipped to 3-4 after falling in overtime to the Yellow Jackets.

There were a few different trains of thought coming into the 2019 and year one of the Diaz era—those who expected #TheNewMiami to be some instant-fix, screaming about an undefeated season and rolling Florida game one—and then the more-logical crowd; frustrated with 15 years of irrelevance, but realizing nothing was getting fixed overnight.

For the latter, the season goals weren’t as clear-cut definition-wise—win x-amount of games, win the Coastal and beat both in-state rivals, as anything less is unacceptable—or things of that nature the win-now crowd was demanding. Progress can get lost or ignored in a loss, just as a win can mask deficiencies few (outside the coaching staff and players) take time to dissect when basking in the glow of victory.

Realistically speaking, the goal for this year needed to be growth, progress and the Hurricanes taking steps towards looking like the Miami of old. Yes, there were still three conference losses in the books by late October; the Canes still carrying on the annual tradition of reinventing new ways to drop winnable ACC match-ups—but the recent habit of fading down the stretch after those disheartening Coastal Division setbacks has dissipated.

Miami won four of its past five conference games, against the meat of the schedule most expected to be the most-troubling—Virginia on a short week, at Pittsburgh, at Florida State and Louisville, on the heels of a rivalry game.

All that’s left to do now is close strong; putting in on Florida International—former head coach Butch Davis on the other sideline, in a monstrosity of a stadium built on the hallowed grounds of the beloved Orange Bowl—and taking care of a Duke team that’s lost four of its past five games going into this weekend; the Blue Devils most-likely 5-6 for the finale against the Canes, needing a win for bowl eligibility.

While the Coastal Division is still a mess, Miami’s three losses mean at least a half dozen things have to fall into place for the Canes to back into a match-up with Clemson—something that’s completely moot without a win at Duke, so no reason to put any pointless energies towards what is nothing more than a pipe dream right now.

Crazily, the Hurricanes might actually be in better shape by not winning the division—as an 8-4 record is prettier than 8-5, which most-likely is the result of a showdown with the defending national champions—leaving Miami an outside shot at reaching the 2019 Capital One Orange Bowl; insane as that sounds.

If no ACC team is ranked in the College Football Playoff Committee’s Top 25, sans Clemson—the Orange Bowl gets to choose its ACC team to face a foe from the Big Ten, the SEC, or Notre Dame—and the way things are playing out, Wake Forest doesn’t look like it will be ranked (barring an upset of Clemson this weekend); all of which would leave the hometown Hurricanes the most-attractive ACC match-up for the Orange Bowl, despite a four-loss season (should UM win out.)

Improve, get better and look more like Miami. It didn’t seem like that would be the case as recently as a month ago—but credit to Diaz, the staff and these Hurricanes players for a mid-season hard-reset that looks set to save year one, setting up for a strong recruiting haul and step forward in 2020—which is precisely what the University of Miami needs to (finally) get back to contending ways.

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.