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.

VIRGINIA TAKES DOWN MUST-WIN MIAMI; OFFICIAL BEGINNING OF DIAZ’S END?

© VirginiaSports.com

The same foot that saved Manny Diaz weeks back against Appalachian State might be the one that eventually kicks him to the curb—with no one to blame but himself.

Miami lost a must-win showdown against a very average Virginia team on Thursday night—a game the Canes were never in until late—scrapping back, only to send a chip-shot, time-expiring, game-winning field goal attempt off the uprights.

It was a fitting end to an ugly game Miami lost a dozen times before a reeling head coach put the game on the foot of a freshman kicker for the second time in three games—and it could ultimately serve as the tipping point for The Diaz Era.

Andres Borregales will drill many a big kick or the Canes in the coming years. Until then, he’ll remain a footnote for how Miami theoretically lost this one. A kick he could’ve made in is sleep—this one will give him nightmares for the foreseeable future.

Still, The Doink At The Rock wasn’t the story. It was Diaz’s team rolling in ill-prepared for another must-win moment—all the pregame sideline hooting and hollering—only to go three-and-out on the first two possessions and taking a safety on the third, winding up in a 9-0 first quarter hole.

Appalachian State became must-win after Alabama broke Miami’s spirit; the Canes barely got out alive. Michigan State was the next big-time moment—yet it was the Spartans and their second-year head coach with the late-game domination of the program once known for holding up four fingers and taking over; while Miami’s third-year head coach was out there making year-one blunders.

Central Connecticut State was a glorified scrimmage; yet instead of a 1-2 team humbled by an inauspicious start—Miami’s sideline resembled a South Beach photoshoot; rings, chains and flash bulbs galore, while Hurricanes players mugged for the camera and struck poses through the 69-0 rout of a scrub.

Both Miami and Virgina entered Thursday’s contest with matching 2-2 records; both well aware the victor had a new lease on life, while whoever fell to 2-3 was in for a world of hurt. Still, based on pre-season expectations and what Diaz and his Hurricanes were to deliver year three, UM’s free fall was set to be greater if losing at home under the lights.

DARK CLOUD HOVERING OVER DIAZ’S CANES

Diaz now sits 16-13 overall in two-plus years at the helm; his first season a brutal 6-7 run—defined by his inability to get Miami up after bye weeks, or tempering out-of-control egos.

After a late-season three-game win-streak against average competition—Pittsburgh, Florida State and Louisville, on the heels of losing in overtime to a one-win Georgia Tech squad—Diaz expressed that his team was reading headlines and believing their own hype, which caused the embarrassing three-game skid against Florida International, Duke and Louisiana Tech, who shut the Canes out in a third-tier bowl game.

Last year’s COVID-defined season saw Miami getting out to a house-of-cards 8-1 start—the 42-17 one-sided loss at Clemson the true measuring stick regarding how far Diaz’s team was from competing with the big boys.

The 2020 Canes also got the kind of breaks and bounces they didn’t receive last night—comeback wins after slow starts at North Carolina State and Virginia Tech, while barely surviving this same Virginia team—quarterback D’Eriq King literally willing Miami to at least two or three wins as a transfer.

Anyone paying attention knew that 8-1 could’ve just as easily been 5-4 going into the regular season-ending home showdown with North Carolina—who demolished the Canes, 62-26, before Oklahoma State capitalized on another Diaz-inspired slow start in a second-tier bowl game this time around.

Miami’s third-year head coach is now 2-5 in his last seven games—the pressure mounting more each week he can’t find a way out of the mess he’s created.

If the natives were restless when Diaz was a rushed hire in the final days of 2018, they’re out for blood now.

Kirk Herbstreit delivered a vicious blow to the University of Miami’s administration with his takedown of a flawed internal process; one that has resulted in a sub-par on-field product for the past 16 years, as well as five different head coaches between 2006 and 2019.

Neither Herbstreit or his other ESPN cohorts believe that UM cares about fielding a quality football program—and that Diaz is only a symptom of a bigger internal cancer.

“I don’t think it matters who the head coach is,” Herbstreit lamented. “Until you get a president, AD and coach together on the same page, I guess football doesn’t matter.”

UM president Dr. Julio Frenk attempted an academic-inspired, pre-game hail mary—by way of a lengthy release that said a ton, without really saying anything. An excerpt of the doctor’s madness:

“We must pay equally close attention to the drivers of disruption and the ways lines are being blurred between amateur and professional sports by factors including NIL legislation, antitrust rulings, promotion of gambling, conference realignments, and a corrosive discourse that falsely portrays college athletics as a means to exploit talented players, instead of what it really is: an avenue to expand opportunities for young people through access to higher education. We can either be disrupted, or we can play a role in strategically shaping the course of disruption.”

Channeling that big Billy Madison principal energy for Dr. Frenk, “What you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”

Despite getting outscored 82-30 by Alabama and Michigan State combined, “The U” was all smiles at 1-2, while routing Central Connecticut State, 69-0.© StateOfTheU.com

NATIONAL WRITERS TURN GUNS ON UM

The national shaming has since a ripple effect—local columnists now green-lit to say what everyone else has been thinking.

The Sun-Sentinel’s Dave Hyde came out guns blazing this morning; stating in his op-ed that the Diaz era “is past the point of no return”—and that was just the headline—before opening with, “Game, set, Manny Diaz Era, 2019-2021”.

Hyde referenced the Herbstreit take-down and Frenk’s desperate we’ll-get-this-fixed rant—while quick to point out that Miami’s evening takeaway was merely coming close to a last-second win over a Virginia team who was coming off of back-to-back beatdowns courtesy of Wake Forest and North Carolina.

“Miami was weirdly off-kilter and lacking energy in the first half,” Hyde explained. “It trailed 9-0 thanks to a safety. Virginia had 28 plays after the first quarter to Miami’s ten. Miami had all of 95 yards on offense at half. That was against a Virginia defense that allow its first two conference opponents an average of 587 yards and 48 points.”

The veteran South Florida columnist continued,”Who’s teaching tacking to these players? And, as for meeting the moment, each time Miami score its first three touchdowns to try to pull back into the game, the defense gave a score right back to Virginia.”

The only thing Hyde could’ve and should’ve also hammered home—the fact that Miami’s defensive regression, the piss-poor tackling, bad angles and garbage technique all fall on Diaz’s shoulders.

The megalomaniac head coach somehow promoted-demoted himself this off-season—re-assuming defensive coordinator duties, instead of bringing in an alpha dog to get that unit back on track; as if playing CEO and rebuilding a flawed program with a broken culture isn’t enough to handle.

Many will argue that Diaz was playing the percentages and that Borregales simply whiffed on a gimme kick—which is technically correct—but as proven, even playing odds isn’t fool-proof and there was something bigger at play for Miami and their desperate head coach.

An offense that struggled the majority of the evening was finally finding its groove late, as was a defense that was getting pushed around early—but was finally getting stops—keeping the Cavaliers out of the end zone the entire second half, sans one freakish, miracle grab for the highlight reels.

The Canes have struggled in the red zone for years, settling for too many field goals which come back to bite Miami—and with high-scoring North Carolina and North Carolina State on deck—UM needs a better offensive game plan that relying on Borregales’ right leg.

Had Miami escaped 31-30 with a last-second kick—a fitting final score only in the fact Howard Schnellenberger was posthumously inducted into UM’s Ring of Honor at halftime—it still would’ve been a missed opportunity for a bigger moment this broken team needed regarding all that lies ahead.

PLAYING STATS & ODDS; FOR LOSERS

Diaz and Miami are well past play-it-safe mode—the pressure is mounting and the season is fast-slipping away. As the losses pile up, the outside noise gets louder—forcing coaches and players to turn inwards towards reach other, embracing a head down, us-against-the-world mentality, which makes the victories that much sweeter, while insulating the unity from the heavy criticism when things go south.

Weeks back the Baltimore Ravens faced a 4th-and-1 at home against the Kansas City Chiefs—midfield and nursing a one-point lead with just over a minute remaining.

Percentages would tell head coach John Harbaugh to punt; pin the timeout-less Chiefs deep with virtually no time left and better his chances for victory. Godforbid the Ravens get stuffed and don’t pick up the yard, Patrick Mahomes is one quick throw away from getting his squad in field goal range for a game-winning kick—the Chiefs in position to win their fourth in a row against Baltimore.

Harbaugh intended to go for it all along—knowing three short feet would put the game away—but saw a potential rallying-cry moment and trust-building opportunity, asking quarterback Lamar Jackson if he wanted to go for it.

Harbaugh empowered his leader in that moment, even though the decision had been made—and proved the level of trust he had in his offense to put the game away. Jackson emphatically said ‘yes’—tucked the ball and ran a yard for the first down—Baltimore able to run out the clock and secure victory.

“Examined together, the final sequence in Baltimore’s win is a brilliant example of analytics, coach, and player acting like one. The team knew they were going for it. The coach knew his players would want to go and then put the decision on them,” wrote Tyler Lauletta of Insider.

Had Jackson gotten stuffed and Kansas City emerged victorious, Harbaugh would’ve been lambasted by every local newspaper and TV talking head—but he’d still have built necessary trust with his star player and sent a message to his team that they ride-or-die with Jackson; crucial after the young quarterback’s Playoffs struggles in Buffalo last year and Tennessee the year prior.

The momentum even carried over in the short-term, Baltimore down 17-16 at Detroit days later—Jackson completing a 4th-and-19 that set up the kick heard all around the league, as Justin Tucker drilled a record-setting, 66-yard game winner to crush the Lions.

Diaz and Miami needed more than to eke out a win Thursday night against one of the easier teams remaining on their 2021 schedule. Analytics, playing the percentages—the Hurricanes are well past that point, as yet another head coaching hire looks like a wrong-fit disaster, with the next rebuild on the horizon.

Borregales drilling the kick would’ve solved the evening’s problems, but there’d have been no teachable, bonding moment for both sides of the ball in need of serious growth. The only thing Diaz proved here is that he trusts his freshman kicker’s right foot more than he does his offense’s ability to find the end zone, or his defense’s skills regarding keeping a timeout-less Virginia from going 75 yards in under a minute.

Miami’s offense needed a touchdown, the defense needed a big stop and this Canes team needed a trusting head coach to put his balls on the line for their greater good—not to save his own ass, or to avoid another downtrodden post-game presser with more tired clichés and rah-rah rhetoric.

Miami’s Marcus Clarke (#28) had his hands on a would-be interception, which turned into a catch-of-the-year candidate as Dontayvion Wicks (#3) came up with the ball.

“The give games have been disappointing,” the head-slung-low Diaz shared in the bowels of Hard Rock. “There’s no excuse for it. There’s more to this team than that … We were on the verge of doing something really, really special tonight. We’ve got to take that part and build off that.”

Not quite sure how over a half of sub-par football, poor tackling, sub-par offensive execution, letting an opponent answer three scores and hoping to survive against a Virginia squad that other ACC programs have had their way with the past two weeks would’ve been “something really, really special”—but Diaz never met a hyperbolic statement he wasn’t all in on.

Really “special” would’ve been putting full trust and faith in his offense and defense to play football—riding the hot hand and punching in the score, while letting the defense pick up the slack and get a game-ending stop, for some real momentum going into the bye week.

If that somehow failed, Diaz at least had a bulletproof answer as to why—trusting his players on both sides of the ball to deliver in a big moment, setting the stage for some defining games on deck.

Now a conundrum exists for Miami faithful; never wanting to see this team lose—while knowing it will take a complete and utter collapse this season for a Diaz ousting and fresh start in 2022. How does one even attempt to rectify these feelings—actively rooting against the Canes now, with the hopes it sparks much-needed change tomorrow?

The brutal 2-3 start, the way the Hurricanes have lost—wrecked by Alabama and Michigan State, while outpaced by a sluggish Virginia team. There’s also the embarrassing practice of over-celebrating mediocrity with rings, chains and sideline photo shoots when players actually do their job—players mugging for cameras in games they’re losing, while no one in charge is pushing back on the antics, by simply acting like the adult in the room.

Diaz has long come across as the type of coach who wants to be liked and accepted over healthily feared and respected—but the “evolution” of Miami’s sideline hardware is giving off a vibe that the Canes’ head coach is working too hard to be “one of the guys”, instead of “the man”.

HERO TO ZERO: LOSE THE JEWELRY

The once-clever Turnover Chain captivated college football in 2017—and was a legitimate motivational tool that had Miami’s defense out-performing their 2016 efforts, sparking a 10-0 start to the season. From there the Mark Richt-led Canes went 7-9; bottoming-out with the 35-3 bowl loss to Wisconsin that sent Richt to retirement.

Where Diaz could’ve and should’ve rethought of ways to reshape a broken culture—he not only dialed up a third-incarnation of the chain; he doubled down with Touchdown Rings, for offensive players to celebrate doing their job when actually finding the end zone.

The phrase “jump the shark” itself has since jumped the shark, but so has Miami’s gaudy hardware experiment—bottoming out week one; the Canes busting out the hardware after a turnover—down 27-0 to Alabama—only to have to sheepishly return it to it’s case when the call was overturned.

Later in the game, the rings made their lone appearance after a Miami touchdown that pulled the Canes to within 31, down 41-10 at the time. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide was expectedly all business—outside of a post-game, well-earned “IT’S ALL ABOUT THE W” social media dig—while the Canes monkey business ways roll on, despite getting embarrassed every other week.

Like a parent delivering some tough love on their kids, Diaz needs to end this chain and ring experiment for the foreseeable future—until there’s actually something worth celebrating again. What was once trendsetting has since made Miami a laughing stock; which even the most laid-back of commentators is making mention of the absurdity of the Hurricanes celebrating in-game while actually trailing.

Every game of the Diaz era now takes on a must-win, most-important vibe—while the season’s biggest challenge is now on deck at Miami’s most-vulnerable time. Chapel Hill has been a house of horrors for Miami—now 3-5 since joining the ACC in 2004.

Mack Brown schooled his former pupil year one, jumping out to a 17-3 first quarter lead in 2019—the Canes coming off the bye, but still hungover from the late loss to Florida in the opener. Miami would scrap back, taking a short-lived 25-20 lead in the fourth—only to give up an unforgivable 4th-and-17 conversion, where a stop would’ve all but ended the game.

The Tar Heels were in the end zone five plays later, taking a 28-25 lead—the Canes going limp, missing a game-tying 49-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds.

A year later, a regular season-ending massacre in South Florida—North Carolina rushing for 554 yards and gashing Miami for 778 yards total—just steamrolling, out-toughing and smacking around a Hurricanes bunch that rolled in soft and was in no way ready for the fight the Heels were bringing.

North Carolina stumbled out the gate this season, upended in a low-scoring road opener at Virginia Tech—while on-the-rise Georgia Tech smacked the Tar Heels around to the tune of 45-22 last weekend; the home team turning it over three times while the Yellow Jackets protected the ball.

A week prior, UNC trounced the same Virginia team Miami struggled with—laying 699 yards and 59 points on the Cavaliers.

Make no bones about it, the Tar Heels will find another gear with the Canes are in town next week—and all sings points to a raucous environment at Kenan Memorial Stadium, regardless of an afternoon or evening kickoff.

Dazz Newsome (#5) hauls in a game-winning score against Gurvan Hall (#26) moments after the Tar Heels converted a 4th-and-17 against the Canes. — © TarHeelBlue.com

Miami will have to dig deeper than any point before in the Diaz era if they are going to get the better of Brown and North Carolina—avoiding a 2-4 skid with feisty North Carolina State heading to Hard Rock and looking for revenge for the Canes’ late comeback in Raleigh last fall.

The Wolfpack are fresh off an overtime upset of Clemson—where they outplayed the Tigers all night and would’ve won in regulation, had their kicker not pulled a Borregales. (Too soon?) Prior to their South Florida visit, North Carolina State hosts Louisiana Tech and travels to Boston College—all signs pointing to a 5-1 record and a massive game at Miami for their players and fans.

Virginia was Miami’s best chance to turn around a dismal start to their season—as the schedule only tightens up from here. Diaz barely got his team past Appalachian State; the playing-with-fire energy resulting in getting completely burned by Michigan State days later.

The Canes turned those frowns upside down when getting to ham it up while beating up a glorified high school the following week—only to show up flat five days later against Virginia; rallying late, but not getting it done. The result; another moment where Diaz praised the effort in an attempt to mask the end result.

“Our fourth-quarter effort was worthy of victory,” Diaz said. “And ultimately, we came up one play short.”

GAMES LOST FIRST 59:57—NOT FINAL :03

Those that know, know—there is no bigger loser statement than a head coach attempting to pin a defeat on one play. Diaz’s Hurricanes didn’t lose because a freshman kicker clanked one off the upright; Miami lost because of a slew of lazy, poorly-executed football moments the previous 59:57 of the game.

— It was poor offensive line play for about three-and-a-half quarters of football.

— It was Tyler Van Dyke not finding his groove until the second half—as well as players like Will Mallory not holding onto the football—or offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee figuring out how to attack holes in Virginia’s defense until late.

— It was Kamren Kitchens dropping a sure-interception in the end zone—which might’ve gone the other way, a la Maurice Sikes at Florida in 2002—instead leading to Virginia’s first touchdown moments later.

— It was Marcus Clarke letting a takeaway not only slip through his hands—but the fall to the ground creating a circus-act catch as Dontayvion Wicks saw the ball fall into his lap for a third quarter touchdown.

— It was Diaz’s defense unable to get a stop after each of Miami’s first three touchdowns—Virginia going 80 yards after the first, 75 after the next and settling for a quick field goal after the third; 18 of the Cavaliers’ 30 points coming from this three responding drives.

— It was Harris running for no gain twice and Van Dyke falling for a two-yard loss when setting up a middle-of-the-field attempt for Borregales; the Canes not even executing this conservative series correctly. A few inches would’ve been a difference-maker on the missed attempt; let alone a few extra yards.

Van Dyke started slow, but found late footing—dropping some dimes and making some clutch plays—none bigger than his 24-yard mid-fourth quarter touchdown scamper, pulling Miami to within two. The defense came back with a clutch stop; the Canes taking over at their own nine-yard line—trailing by two, with 5:29 to play.

Miami was on the move; Van Dyke to Charleston Rambo for a big conversion on 3rd-and-14 and a big Cam Harris rumble on an ensuing 3rd-and-9—the back going for 22 yards, setting up 1st-and-10 from the Cavs’ 14-yard line; Virginia burning their first timeout.

With :91 remaining, the tipping point moment that fans will bang heads on the morning after—split between playing odds and setting up a true freshman to hit a makable kick, versus empowering the offense to keep the momentum going and trusting the defense to get a game-saving stop.

Miami ran Harris into the teeth of the defensive line on first and second down, but Van Dyke scrambled towards mid-field on third down, trying to give Borregales the best option at success. The rest was history, the snap, the kick, the clank, the let-down and the opposition’s celebration.

“Got to put him in a better situation. Offense has got to score,” said Harris post game—trying to take some heat off his young kicker. “We shouldn’t have put him in that situation.”

Big of Harris to take ownership, but it’s Diaz who must shoulder the blame for putting his entire team in this situation. Miami shouldn’t have been in a dogfight with an average Virginia team that North Carolina and Wake Forest demolished.

Nor should the Canes need to steal wins from Appalachian State, get outworked in the fourth quarter by Michigan State in South Florida’s head, or act like sideline buffoons when running up the score against Central Connecticut State last week.

Same to be said for countless other critical moments over the past year that helped add to this embarrassing 16-13 run that is about get worse.

At no time over the past two seasons has Diaz proven he has a team built to bounce back from a gut-punch like this—especially with a road trip to Chapel Hill on deck, even if the Tar Heels are slumping a bit. Same to be said for handling revenge-minded North Carolina State at home, a gritty Pittsburgh program on the road, or a surging Georgia Tech—who like Michigan State—is also taking a step forward year two under a new coach.

Florida State is arguably the easiest game-on-paper remaining—and even that isn’t a gimme—as rivalry games bring out the best, even when one, or both is down in this rivalry. Duke in Durham? That basketball school has taken two of their past three against the Canes.

Virginia was the must-win moment to stop the bleeding; a hard-reset that theoretically could’ve been built upon—1-0 in conference play, 2-2 in the rear view and the conference race wide open in a wonky year for the ACC.

Instead, the Hurricanes stumbled brutally in a game it they absolutely needed—which feels like a back-breaker for this fragile program in its current state.

A win over the Cavaliers would’ve delivered Diaz a stay of execution and 12-day reprieve.

Instead, it’s Dead Manny Walking and seemingly the beginning of another end.

Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello is a storyteller for some exciting brands and individuals—as well as a guitarist and songwriter for his band Company Jones, who just released their debut album “The Glow”. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.

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.

MIAMI’S D’ERIQ KING—CROWN JEWEL OF NIL & NEWEST FACE OF BIOSTEEL


The release came across the wire this morning—BioSteel Sports Nutrition Inc. (“BioSteel”) announced the signing of Division I quarterback D’Eriq King, making him the brand’s first collegiate name, image and likeness (NIL) deal and first college football ambassador.

A couple of quotes followed; King talking up why this product is imperative to his training—smart about what goes into his body and what not—while co-founder and co-CEO John Celenza praise the Miami Hurricanes’ quarterback as being an ideal brand fit, wishing him well on the season.

BioSteel also lists Patrick Mahomes, Luka Dončić, Ezekiel Elliott, DeAndre Hopkins and Jalen Ramsey as brand ambassadors—as well as some “smaller sport” athletes and the USA Hockey Team—but King is the first college athlete the hydration specialists have signed.

As of July 1st, King already landed sponsorship deals with College Hunks Moving Company, The Wharf (event venue in Miami), Murphy Auto Group and Dreamfield—as well as creating his own logo—a graffiti-like “D-King”, with an orange “1” representing the “i’ in his name; the mark itself emulating a king’s crown.

Six weeks later, King signed on with the Florida Panthers—where he’ll appear at some games, engage with fans on social media and produce digital content for the local NHL franchise.

Safe to say the whole NIL—name, image and likeness—NCAA ruling has played well in King’s favor; as did his decision to sit out his final season at Houston in 2019 (he played in the first four games, before sitting). The decision paved the way to his one-year transfer to Miami—a bonus season granted in 2021, by way of COVID and last fall’s quirky, quarantine-defined, socially distanced season—where the almost 24-year old King decided to return for a sixth season as a college quarterback.

NIL RULING; BLESSING, CURSE, BOTH, OR NEITHER?

There’s a deeper dive to be done on all things NIL—a long-overdue ruling in the eyes of many, though one that still has its detractors.

Terence Moore, a sports journalist and contributor at Forbes admits the NCAA had no choice to comply—but was quick to follow up with the claim it will damage both football and basketball on the collegiate level.

Moore states that the Transfer Portal “is about to go nuts”—the NCAA announcing that players can now transfer once before graduating, without having to sit out a year.

By mid-May a record 1,500+ basketball players declared for the NCAA’s version of free agency—with football expected to see their own version of a mass exodus; playing time no longer the only key query—where can players go to maximize their financial portfolio, which school, city and fan base will result in more followers than another.

On the surface, it all sounds harmless, but Moore believes the modern athlete with the individual mindset is about to go next-level, with winning becoming secondary.

Moore also pointed out the fine print with some schools, versus others—the University of Georgia now allowing their athletes to use the school’s iconic “Power G” logo for endorsements deals—while the University of Tennessee has zero problem with their players displaying the Volunteers’ logo, or brand. Rocky Top for the win with this advantage-giving decision.

The rest of the argument falls rather flimsy—Moore’s mention that athletes will struggle to figure out how to pay taxes (while stating that universities don’t have the bandwidth to help players figure it out), as well as perceived dissension between teammates—that haves, versus the have-nots who aren’t earning, potentially causing locker room drama.

As for that sea of players transferring—he never explains how this is necessarily an issue—just that it’s happening in larger numbers than before.

What Moore completely ignores, outside of the small competitive advantage Tennessee might’ve given itself over Georgia—or other schools overly-protective of their mark—the different sales pitch universities can give based on their strengths against other’s weaknesses.

KING UNLOCKED CHEAT CODE WHEN CHOOSING MIAMI

As mentioned earlier, King’s transfer from Houston to Miami in spring 2020 is the ultimate reason the quarterback is seeing the type of attention he’s garnering from brands who want to align with him. If he were suiting up for his final season in the AAC with the Cougars, instead of the ACC with the Canes—he’d be prepping for Texas Tech this weekend, instead of a highly-touted showdown against the Alabama Crimson Tide in Atlanta.

The Cougars will also face Rice, Grambling, Navy, Tulsa, Tulane, Temple and a handful of other scrubs—outside of Memphis and South Florida in September.

Post-Alabama, Miami hosts the Big Ten’s Michigan State mid-September and a standard conference schedule—including what should be a prime-time showdown against a Top 10 North Carolina squad, the in-state annual battle against Florida State and other quality match-ups against Virginia, North Carolina State, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Duke—all pumped out via ESPN, ABC and the ACC Network.

Conference and opponents aside, what about the city of Miami versus Houston—or the likes of Tuscaloosa, Clemson, Columbus, Gainesville, Tallahassee or Baton Rouge, for that matter?

The University of Miami has long been at a disadvantage for decades as a private university in large, diverse metropolitan city.

THE MAGIC CITY; REBIRTH DUE TO NIL SHIFT

Where the typical college town revolves around a successful football program, Miami remains an events-driven environment—as there is tremendous competition for the entertainment dollar and a slew of ways to spend one’s time, other than a stadium on a Saturday afternoon watching a non-championship caliber football team.

Miami’s ascension to the top of the college football world in the early 1980’s was the result of being a cutting-edge, outlier program who tapped into the nation’s best hotbed of athletic talent well before anyone else. Howard Schnellenberger kept local legends home—Melvin Bratton, Alonzo Highsmith and others who changed the game—and the Hurricanes were living proof that speed killed; defenses that smashed the wishbone and option, while Miami’s offense left slow and pasty Big Ten defenders choking on their dust.

Over time, other programs made their in-roads to South Florida’s treasure trove of talent—while these public universities who built football factories tapped into big alumni dollars to fuel their rise to glory—something the Hurricanes couldn’t use to their advantage, as the majority of UM supporters are local non-alum who pull for the program as they would the Dolphins, Heat, Marlins or Panthers.

All this to say, the pendulum could swing back in the Hurricanes’ favor as this NIL shift in thinking helps level the playing field. What Miami can’t offer in college town undying support, packed stadiums and big-fish-in-a-little pond adoration—it’s a legitimate paradise with sand, beaches, beautiful people, diverse culture, celebrity and entertainment. Miami Hurricanes players and coaches live in a place other folks pay to experience for a few days on vacation.

There’s a reason celebrities have flocked to the area for years—multi-million dollar homes on Fisher or Star Island, Coconut Grove or Key Biscayne. There’s a reason so many free agent athletes find their way to Miami at some point in their career—knowing it will create a season in life like no other.

Here I am in the place where I come let go—Miami the bass and the sun set low. Everyday like a mardi gras, everybody party all day. No work all play, okay. So we sip a little something, lay to rest the spill. Me an Charlie at the bar runnin’ up a high bill—nothin’ less than ill, when we dress to kill. Every time the ladies pass, they be like “Hi, Will”.

Can y’all feel me, all ages and races, real sweet faces. Every different nation—Spanish, Hatian, Indian, Jamaican, Black, White, Cuban, and Asian. I only came for two days of playing—but every time I come I always wind up stayin’—this the type of town I could spend a few days in. Miami the city that keeps the roof blazin’.

Party in the city where the heat is on. All night, on the beach till the break of dawn. Welcome to Miami…

The old whack-track by Will Smith is a bit dated decades later, but the lyrics and sentiments still hit hard. There isn’t any place in this country like Miami—especially for high-profile athletes looking to live the good life.

THE U: TRANSFER PORTAL DREAM DESTINATION

There’s a reason “The U” has become the hottest transfer destination for college football’s best over the past few seasons. Before King.

Tate Martell didn’t ultimately pan out, but the former Ohio State quarterback and start of Netflix’s QB1 series was considered a crown jewel-type grab in January  2019—and Martell’s decision sparked the transfer of former high school teammate and 5-Start USC safety Bubba Bolden to UM.

Prior to that duo, Miami also reeled in former 5-Star defensive end Jaelan Phillips from UCLA—the oft-injured, underdeveloped talent ultimately playing his way into a first round NFL Draft pick this spring; reeled in by the Dolphins and thrilled to remain in his adopted city.

Wide receiver K.J. Osborn found his way to UM in this cycle, as well—followed by Miami nabbing defensive end Quincy Roche, kicker Jose Borregales—as well as two key offensive line pick-ups in Issiah Walker Jr. and Jarrid Williams.

In this most-recent off-season, the bounty continued with defensive end Deandre Johnson—a Southridge product who opted for Tennessee out of high school—returning to the hometown program to run it back, as well as offensive lineman Justice Oluwaseun of UNLV. The Canes also nabbed veteran Oklahoma wide receivers Charleston Rambo, who is expected to start against the Crimson Tide this weekend—as well former Georgia cornerback and Southridge grad, cornerback Tyrique Stevenson.

All the aforementioned players took their talents to Coral Gables to play for Miami—simply for the football and the city and prior-to the NIL rule was put into place.

If this was the type of damage third-year head coach Manny Diaz and staff could do on the portal recruiting trail—just imagine the sales pitch when the city of Miami is now also part of the package as a money-making playground for college football players who moonlight as influencers?

The King Effect showed on the field last year, as Miami worked its way to 8-3 in the shortened season—as well as the locker room, where the transfer quarterback’s charisma, winning attitude and leadership skills helped cut through a long-time toxic culture at “The U”.

Next up, for the Texas native—laying and providing a blueprint for current and future teammates to follow in regards to image creation. pitching product, social media strategizing and laying the first building block in a personal-brand empire—with Miami the perfect backdrop for the journey.

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.

‘THE U’ DEEP-DIVE; WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE MIAMI HURRICANES IN 2021?

I started a North Carolina recap weeks back and scrapped it, quickly realizing how pointless an effort it would be. A week later, a similar approach when it came to an Oklahoma State bowl game preview.

Why bother regurgitating the same post-game assessments or pre-game keys to victory when nothing has changed regarding Hurricanes football over the past 15 seasons?

When I covered Miami athletics to earn a living years back, the job was literally writing all those standard pieces. These days, after an overdue career change—sportswriting downgraded to a hobby—it all seems like such a waste. After a quarter century covering the Canes, I’ve learned to pick and choose my battles.

If Miami was still playing championship-caliber football, yes, this would be a different animal. Same to be said if I honestly felt the Canes were legitimately close to competing again.

Writing about this program win the late nineties, where tangible progress was made as Butch Davis guided the Canes through probation, back to the pinnacle of college football—a golden era for up-and-coming writers and message board early adopters.

Miami fans could feel change in the air, while ESPN pundits kept throwing dirt on UM’s casket—so using words and a deep knowledge of this program, to prove those clowns wrong—I felt like Canestradamus. It was exhilarating.

By 2000 Miami was officially back and for those along for the ride, it was four consecutive BCS games, two title game berths, a championship, a 34-game win-streak and a 46-4 run we all assumed would be the new-new—until it wasn’t.

Within a few years, the Hurricanes entered this Groundhog Day-negative time loop that like the Bill Murray weatherman character in the 1993 fantasy-comedy—and for several reasons, Miami hasn’t been able to shake it.

Murray’s character Phil Connors finally gets back to normal, after realizing the err in his ways and correcting the flawed behavior. It’s said he dwelled in that self-imposed purgatory for somewhere between 10 and 10,000 years—which is pretty much what Miami’s state of irrelevance feels like to anyone who bleeds for this program.

Like Connors, the University of Miami continues making the same mistakes over and over—while expecting different results. It’s Einstein’s definition of insanity—played out year after year in Coral Gables, with no end in sight as the powers that be simply aren’t football-driven at the level modern day powerhouses have adapted and accepted.

DAWGS’ ALUM-DRIVEN DOLLARS—A GAME-CHANGER

Last fall, I deep-dove the University of Georgia’s expensive revamping of their athletics department.

ESPN’s Mark Schlabach had recently written a piece which discussed the finances of the Bulldogs “do more” pledge—intended to help head coach Kirby Smart get closer to what Nick Saban has built in Tuscaloosa.

“As Kirby has mentioned a number of times, the difference in a lot of these games is a matter of inches,” Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said. “With his goal of doing more, we’re trying to make up whatever that little difference could be.”

That “little” difference; a $200M+ investment into Georgia’s football program.

The article went on to talk about Georgia’s alumni-fueled Magill Society and the $121M raised through donations—full of members that have pledged a minimum of $25,000 over a five-year period. McGarity mentioned over 1,000 donors had been added between 2018 and 2019.

Outside of facilities upgrades, these donations allowed Georgia to spend more money on recruiting than any other FBS program—$7M+ over three years; topping Alabama’s $6M+ and Tennessee’s $5M. It also allowed Smart to pay his assistant coaches more than $13M per season.

Each time I re-read Schlabach’s article, all I could envision was a half-empty HardRock stadium—sparsely packed full of Miami fans yet to upgrade from Nike to adidas gear—while a handful paid to fly a banner at high noon, voicing their displeasure regarding the current state of affairs.

In the big money world of college sports, it appears Georgia is playing chess—while Miami has an old Chutes & Ladders board game, chewed up by the dog and missing half its pieces.

It’s a top-down problem at Miami, it’s been this way for decades and whatever the process—it isn’t working.

Donna Shalala was too hands-on as a president—solely focused on the medical department of her university, but wanting to keep football—a necessary evil—on a short leash. Low-rent head coaches, guaranteed ACC money, Nike dollars and 8-4 seasons were more than fine, barring the Hurricanes stayed out of trouble.

Dr. Julio Frenk is the opposite; a hands-off president who puts all his trust into what his board of trustees suggests athletic director-wise—and Miami’s board seems content with Blake James as a fundraiser, despite Hurricanes football, basketball and baseball all underachieving as of late.

James’ hire of Mark Richt in 2016 was seen as a good grab, even though it proved to be the right guy at the wrong time—the long-time Bulldogs’ head coach ready to call it a career before his alma mater called. All that to say, the lack of a proper search for a head coach at the beginning of 2019 when Richt stepped down—unforgivable.

Even if Diaz turns out to be “the guy” for the Hurricanes, both James and the board failed in the process.

In one way or another, Miami struck out on every head coaching hire since Davis. For Manny Diaz to have UM over a barrel—after he’d just accepted the Temple opportunity—one would be a fool to believe he wouldn’t have come running to his dream job weeks later, if Miami landed back on him after interviewing others.

The rushed process was amateur hour—and indicative of Miami’s flawed hiring technique over the past decade-plus.

In stark contrast to Miami’s approach to building a powerhouse, UGA president Jere Morehead realizes the importance of football, empowers McGarity to run athletics—McGarity bringing on Smart and giving him the resources to build a powerhouse.

Toss in a football-focused board of trustees and a massive alumni base willing to write checks to fund a winner—Georgia has the infrastructure in place to be a national power. Whether they get there or not; it’ll be up to Smart, his staff and the football gods—but it couldn’t be more teed up for them.

To date, the Bulldogs are four decades removed from their last national championship (1980) but it’s not for lack of a proper foundation—so expect the poaching of top-quality recruits from Miami’s backyard to keep taking their talents to Athens, and other big money SEC powers.

SMOKE & MIRRORS SEASON EXPOSED

Miami fans have voiced their frustration with Diaz—the 6-7 run last year and some poorly managed games, as well as the way the Hurricanes stumbled to 8-3 this season—dropping their final two in ugly fashion for yet another late-season collapse, which has been the norm for way too long.

The loss to North Carolina was abysmal—Miami falling 62-26 at home on senior day, while surrendering a program-worst 778 yards, and an NCAA record 554 rushing yards to a pair of running back teammates.

For the sake of laying everything on the table, it should be noted what the Hurricanes were dealing with personnel-wise as this season wound down.

The college football world saw Miami put its season on hold days after a November 14th comeback at Virginia Tech—riding a four-game win-streak after getting dismantled at Clemson a month prior. The Canes were 7-1 at the time, but wouldn’t see the field again until a December 5th makeshift showdown at Duke—due to a massive COVID outbreak within UM’s walls, as well as issues at Wake Forest which had the Blue Devils replacing the Demon Deacons.

While it was known that the program was in a tailspin, it didn’t come out until days after the the Tar Heels showdown just what was happening with the defensive coaching staff.

Utah State-bound safeties coach Ephraim Banda and recently “reassigned” defensive line coach Todd Stroud were both knocked down hard by the virus this season; to the point where neither were in the building for the home finale.

Maligned defensive coordinator Blake Baker was also said to be out for two weeks with COVID. In fact the only defensive coaches to not fall in this season were strikers coach Jonathan Patke and recently-departed cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph.

For those interested in more, CaneSport did a deeper dive on how the Hurricanes were rocked by this disease late 2020.

Does all that internal strife forgive a 36-point loss with an Orange Bowl berth on the line—as well as some career-worst, record-setting defensive failures? On some level, sure—but it doesn’t account for almost two decades of mistakes and a broken process that must be addressed if Miami will ever become a championship-caliber program again.

COVID ISSUES ASIDE; UNC BUILT TOUGHER THAN UM

Even at full steam, it’s hard to argue that Miami would’ve played at the same physical level North Carolina rolls under second-year coach Mack Brown.

The Tar Heels seemed to out-tough, out-work and out-play the Canes much in the same manner Clemson did earlier in the year. There remains a lacking backbone regarding Diaz-lead teams—starting last fall before COVID had made its way onto the scene.

Based on the chaos of this pandemic-defined season, a lot of coaches and programs will get a mulligan—but that doesn’t mean bad traits, characteristics or repetitive flawed behavior can go ignored.

If the third-year head coach is going to find success at Miami—which feels less likely after the way this season ended—Diaz is going to have to take that long, hard look in the mirror and start addressing what-is, versus the filtered, coach speak-fueled version he’s been delivering since taking over in the wake of Mark Richt.

Certain stigmas have defined Diaz’s program after two seasons.

There is the much-discussed inability for teams to get up after bye weeks—a trend that started last season against North Carolina (bye week after Florida loss), continued against Virginia Tech (bye after Central Michigan scare) and popped up when Miami was embarrassed by Florida International two weeks after routing Louisville at home.

Diaz called the FIU loss “one of the lowest points ever in this proud program’s history” that November—stating that he took “full ownership and responsibility” for the loss, challenging his guys to respond—only to see Miami stumble at Duke the following week.

This season wasn’t much better. Miami rolled Florida State, but got crushed two weeks later at Clemson—and for the second year in a row under Diaz, the Canes weren’t bowl ready—falling into a 21-0 hole against Oklahoma State, before waking up in the second quarter.

COACH-SPEAK BIG PART OF BROKEN CULTURE

Equally as scary, the message sent to the team when backs are up against the wall.

In the bowels of the old Orange Bowl after a commuter school delivered one of the most-embarrassing upsets in Miami football history, Diaz’s words spoke of desperation, fluff and delusion.

“What I did tell the guys in there, is two years ago, Troy went to Baton Rouge and beat LSU, who right now is the number one team in the country. Things can change, but it needs to change. It has to start with myself and the coaching. We have to do a better job of coaching our guys.”

Comparing LSU’s loss to Troy with Miami’s to FIU is meaningless—as it failed to point out all the work the Tigers’ program put into growing back into a championship caliber program it became two years later.

A week after being upset by Troy, LSU bounced back to beat No. 21 Florida in Gainesville. The following week, they took out No. 10 Auburn in Baton Rouge. The week after Miami was embarrassed by Florida International, it lost by double digits at Duke. The following game it was shutout by Louisiana Tech in a bowl game.

Diaz stated after that FIU debacle, that his player got big-headed after convincing wins over Florida State and Louisville that had them ill-prepared mentally and emotionally for the energy and passion the Davis-led Golden Panthers would bring in that program-defining match-up.

A program that struggles to handle prosperity and the up and down nature that comes with wins and losses—you’re going to fill these kids’ heads to what a loaded program like LSU was accomplishing—with an eventual Heisman-winning quarterback under center, future national champion and first pick of the NFL Draft?

Putting Diaz’s words through today’s entitled, teenage student athlete’s filter—who wouldn’t be hard-pressed to hear, “LSU got upset by a scrub team and two years later they were in the driver’s seat for a title!”—as if the transformation was that nonchalant.

Fans of the long-running animated comedy South Park might recall the vintage “Underwear Gnomes” episode—where the gnomes’ three phase business model was to collect underpants in phase one and to turn a profit in phase three—while their flow chart showed a giant question mark in phase two.

That second phase is obviously the actual doing and the only step of the business plan that means everything—and Diaz’s example is no different. Lose to FIU in phase one, but be championship caliber by phrase three—while phase two and the actual process of ascending to greatness has no defined plan.

For Diaz, the clock is ticking a little harder and faster than it might for other coaches or programs. Miami’s fall from grace the past 15 years gets harder to swallow as the years roll on—championship-caliber football feeling eons away.

Diaz now the Canes’ fifth head coach since the 2006 season. UM is now also 111-80 since the 2005 Peach Bowl blowout at the hands of LSU—numbers no one ever expected to see when Miami was such a dominant force at the turn of the century.

REVAMP DEFENSE; ADAPT OR DIE

One of the key’s to the Hurricanes success over the year has been a stalwart defense, which hasn’t been the case since Diaz appointed Baker in 2019. Diaz’s defense made national headlines under Richt in 2017; a season the Turnover Chain was more than a prop—Miami playing well above its 2016 level.

Back to the earlier point regarding Diaz accepting what-is, opposed to his filtered version of reality—an honest look at UM’s current defense and what it will take to have that side of the ball look like it did in the era he grew up watching.

One sign of being a true leader; knowing how to let go of control in favor of being in charge. Diaz used to be in control of the Miami defense, while Richt was in charge of the program—Manny proving to be a successful manager of that one aspect of Hurricanes football.

Two years into this head coaching role, Diaz appears to have a hard time letting go of his defensive responsibilities—empowering a way-over-his-skis coordinator like Baker, who remains reliant upon Diaz to both help him game plan and to carry the slack.

When the Canes found themselves sitting at 2-3 in mid-October a year ago—fresh off a 42-35 loss to Virginia Tech—Diaz reinserted himself in coaching-up the defense as Baker was reeling. The short-term result was positive, as Miami clamped down in the red zone the following week in a dogfight with Virginia—but the writing was on the wall that the Hurricanes had a problem.

Fast forward a year and the Canes’ defense gave up 516 yards and 34 week two at Louisville—a game Miami most-certainly would’ve lost without transfer D’Eriq King under center, as well as the Cardinals’ defensive woes of their own.

Winning shootouts was never a staple of great Hurricanes teams—yet that’s precisely what needed to be done on a few occasions this year with Baker’s soft, poor-tackling, out-of-position and lost-way-too-often squad.

King’s heroic performance at North Carolina State saved Miami in a 44-41 high-scoring affair; the Canes racking up 620 yards—but on an afternoon where the offense sputtered against North Carolina, it was the Tar Heels who put up video game numbers against Baker’s bunch.

Much was made of the relationship with Brown and Diaz during the loss to the Heels; the teacher firing the student back in 2013 when Texas’ defense was rolled by BYU on Diaz’s watch.

The Longhorns gave up 679 total yards—550 on the ground—including 259 rushing yards to Taysom Hill, who also threw for three touchdowns on the 40-21 blowout; numbers that seem pedestrian compared to what Baker allowed on senior day.

Yes, it was a COVID-driven year and Miami’s defensive personnel was a hot mess—but will Diaz sell that in effort to buy his coordinator more time, or will be look at the larger body of work and realize that two years of Baker’s defense is enough of a litmus test to prove a change is in order?

DIAZ MUST TAKE A PAGE FROM DAVIS’ BOOK

Year four was the one that brought change during the Davis era—as a two-year sampling wasn’t enough during the probation-marred mid-nineties. Those first couple seasons were a throwaway as Miami’s roster was gutted and wasn’t fielding enough bodies to compete.

By 1998, the tide was starting to turn—Miami losing a close one in overtime to Virginia Tech, while narrowing the gap against Florida State; a 26-14 loss light years more competitive than 47-0 the previous season.

7-2 going into the unofficial Big East championship game—an Orange Bowl berth against Florida on the line as conference champs—and the Hurricanes are demolished at Syracuse, 66-13.

A week later, a rescheduled game against the second-ranked Bruins—where the Canes held on for the 49-45 comeback win. Miami’s defense surrendered 670 yards, but survived—amassing 689 yards on the afternoon.

North Carolina State dinged Miami for 498 yards, but the Canes rolled up 594 in a 46-23 victory and Davis had seen enough. Fourth-year coordinator Bill Miller was relieved of his duties—as a three-game stretch where 134 points and 1,566 yards were given up, was not going to make Miami contender again.

Davis tapped a then-relatively unknown defensive mind in Greg Schiano, whose mantra was, “attack, attack, attack”—bringing a more aggressive scheme, with tighter pass coverage and linemen whose mission it was to penetrate.

Schiano’s opening challenge; slowing the ninth-ranked Buckeyes in the Kickoff Classic—which Miami did, in a 23-12 upset.

Interviewed weeks before the 1999 season opener, Schiano shared the following.

“Kids have to believe what they’re doing is the right thing,” he said. “You can have a one-man rush, and if they believe it’s the right thing, they’ll do it well.

“They need to see how you can help them get better. It’s more prevalent in the NFL, but if a guy sees you as someone who can help them get better, they’ll listen to every word you say. If they see you as someone who’s full of it, they’re not going to listen to you and they’re not going to respect you.”

Prophetic words all those years ago which are still applicable today—players not respecting coaches who are full of it.

While an 8-3 run was nice enough on the heels of 6-7—Diaz is at that Davis-like crossroad when he must made the hard decisions to turn this program from pretender to contender.

Chest-thumping over eked-out wins against sub-par ACC talent and relying on grad transfer quarterbacks to mask defensive inefficiencies is not a long-term solution for Miami.

Winds of change must blow for Diaz this off-season—both in a defensive revamp, as well as his own personal approach to running this program. Two years being the liked and accepted guy—it’s not going to cut it.

There were understandable question marks in early 2019, when Diaz cruised into a booster event on an 88-foot yacht.

A few months earlier, the new head coach’s first team meeting not only featured a WWE-like spectacle—but tackling dummies featured “7-6” on their chests as some sort of motivation regarding how “The New Miami” would respond the following fall. (Spoiler alert; the Canes managed to backslide to 6-7—while the ridiculed TNM moniker disappeared for year two.)

Amongst the fracas, a then 44-year old Diaz mixing it up with his players and getting in on the body-slamming action in a sea of college student athletes.

Davis was a seasoned 42 years old when taking over the University of Miami’s football program in 1995—some hard miles on the odometer.

Davis did five years under Jimmy Johnson coaching-up the defensive line for the Canes in their heyday (1984-1988) before following the legend to Dallas for a seven-year stint as defensive line coach and defensive coordinator–picking up a national champion and two Super Bowls along the way.

The healthy dose of fear and respect the players of that era had for Davis—which was still on display all those years later when FIU looked more like “The U” than Miami in the upset of 2019—such a stark contrast to the the liked and accepted approach Diaz has taken his first two years as a head coach.

While the past can’t be rewritten, the future remains wide open—and after epic fails to end back-to-back season, the clock is ticking for Diaz.

Time to make some tough short-term decisions this off-season, that can result in long-term success—or accept the fact it’s the beginning of the end; a ceiling reached and a dream job over before it ever really got underway.

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.