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.

EARLY DEEP-DIVE INTO THE MANNY DIAZ ERA & MEANING OF ‘THE NEW MIAMI’


The Miami Hurricanes survived a home showdown against the Central Michigan Chippewas last weekend—the entire premise of that sentence so deflating, this piece was pushed off until the climate cooled and a bye week could serve as a welcomed distraction.

In the wake of a win that had the feel and energy of a loss, there was no rush to deep-dive or breakdown the where, how or why of the lethargic debacle. Central Michigan brought the fight, Miami played down to the level of the competition and a sloppy, poorly-executed dogfight ensued. End of story.

Despite holding on for a 17-12 victory, game four of the Manny Diaz error was a stumble—both on the field, as well as the court of public opinion.

Close road setbacks against Florida and North Carolina were somewhat sellable; Miami showed fight in both, rallied late for the lead and played tough—a few mental team mistakes or breakdowns in a young secondary proving to be difference-makers in two losses by a combined seven points. From there, a 63-0 home rout of Bethune-Cookman felt like a perfect tune-up with ACC play a few weeks out—leaving no reason to believe Miami would struggle with Central Michigan, yet that’s precisely what happened.

There are two approaches one can take when digesting and processing this current State of Miami.

The more common method is to continue flying off the handle, bitching about 15 years of irrelevance, ranting that fans “deserve better”, that the “standard of excellence” isn’t being met and to fantasize about Miami hiring top-flight athletic directors and coaching staffs—bailing out on this new regime a third of the way through season one—while living in complete denial regarding to the desirability of these admin-related gigs at The U and blindly ignoring the state of the program Diaz and crew inherited.

Those who stand in that overreactive camp may as well bail out of this piece now and take their show to the nearest message board to scream into the ether. No time here to cater to the over-emotional, knee-jerk crowd that is going to bitch-moan-and-complain game-by-game, or even drive-by-drive. Been doing this too long to try and sell the unsellable.

These pieces are written for those who at least attempt to rise above the bullshit and are working to take a logical, realistic approach to what is, versus what one personally thinks a rebuild should look like—mostly-rooted in simply being tired of the Canes’ irrelevance and nostalgic for a better era of UM football.

CAN’T AUTHENTICALLY DISCUSS PRESENT WITHOUT OWNING RECENT PAST

Back to beating a dead horse—as so many still refuse to look at Miami’s overall body of work the past 15 years; screaming about some mythical ‘standard’ that hasn’t been the case since Butch Davis built a contender from the ground-on-up in the late nineties and Larry Coker pissed it away, unable to recruit and run a program at the high-level of his predecessor; Coker 35-3 with Davis’ talent his first three seasons and 25-12 his final three.

A few low-lights regarding the past decade-and-a-half of Miami Hurricanes football worth re-mentioning:

— 1-of-15 in Coastal Division titles and zero ACC Championships since leaving the BIG EAST after the 2003 season.

— An impossible-to-fathom 99-71 record dating back to Coker’s final season at UM in 2006.

— A three-year NCAA investigation that crushed the overall brand, crippled recruiting and made the head coaching gig a less-than-desirable option—in the midst of a five-year drought where UM was already a watered-down version of what it had been at the turn of the century. 

— Five different head coaches in 14 seasons and massive turnover regarding assistants during that span—resulting in zero growth or consistency.

Most-recently, a 7-6 run that saw Mark Richt stepping down after three years–the worst offensive production Miami football has seen since probation in the mid-nineties and a 35-3 post-season loss to Wisconsin that demoralized a program that felt it’d finally taken a step forward after a 10-3 run in 2017.

Knowing all of this to be true, how and why did so many supporters misconstrue any The New Miami talk as if it were some instant-fix—opposed to the long term-attitude adjustment, aggressive mindset, culture change and long-term end-goal product Diaz and staff intended it as?

Diaz got the job because Richt wasn’t getting it done and chose early retirement over the difficult task of rebuilding the Canes; the gig tougher than originally anticipated for the burned-out, long-time Georgia head coach.

Richt only landed the gig late 2015 because Al Golden was still a hot, off-brand mess year five—on the wrong end of a 58-0 mid-season, home ass kicking courtesy of Clemson and hitting his ceiling.

Golden was only hired because Randy Shannon stumbled to 7-6 year four and showed no signs of improvement—the former linebacker-turned-defensive-coordinator getting hand the keys only after Coker’s eventual skid, unable to maintain what Davis had painfully created—and in an era where former defensive coordinator and then-Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano turned down a return to Coral Gables.

Back in the day, coaching turnover was the exact opposite—four Miami top guys consecutively poached by the NFL (or USFL). The getting was so good in Coral Gables, big pro money was thrown at Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Erickson and eventually Davis—to make the leap; three of four leaving The U in pristine shape for the next-man-up.

All that to say, “the day” is long gone and Miami is consistently dealing with more common coaching changes—constantly hitting reset like so many other programs because things have gone awry with the current guy, the plug is pulled, a new regime begins and things either eventually turn, or it’s rinse, wash, repeat over and over again.

The Canes have been stuck in this negative loop hire after hire; hitting ‘reset’ every couple of years—a move that kills all and any consistency, forces culture rebirths and clean slates on the reg.

The Chippewas played the Canes tough and with :39 remaining, actually had the ball with a chance to pull off an upset.

IT’S ALL ABOUT … A LACK OF CONSISTENCY; FIVE HEAD COACHES SINCE 2006

It’s become an all-too-familiar place; that three-year window where patience is tested waiting on the newest head coaching hire to put his fingerprints on the program; breaking bad habits with current players and attempting to implement an attitude change with the new recruits—while expecting everyone to jell as soon as possible to quiet the outside noise, distractions and critique.

Diaz is the latest to get the keys to the king down—expressing a #TNM approach as end-goal from the get-go.

“We didn’t build this for August 24th—the idea here is to build monsters that last,” Diaz shared days after the season-opening loss to Florida.

Translation; we’re going to get after things as best we can with what we have—but we can’t clean up a 15-year mess over spring and summer, so be patient, buckle in and and set realistic expectations for 2019—a season that will be full of ups and downs.

“But come on, bro—is it asking too much to think this team has the talent to handle Central Michigan, bro???”

No, but it also shouldn’t be some next-level surprise when these “lesser” teams find a way to show up week-in and week-out, creating chaos for bigger programs—yet it’s been Doomsday for too many “supporters” based on the Canes not blowing out the Chippewas.

A dozen years ago when Appalachian State upended Michigan at home, it was an anomaly—but it’s since become more commonplace.

One month into this season Georgia State upset Tennessee in Knoxville, The Citadel took out Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Missouri was upended at Wyoming, while Florida State and Michigan needed overtime to survive Louisiana-Monroe and Army, respectively—while Iowa State needed three overtimes to avoid home humiliation against Northern Iowa.

Pitt upset Central Florida last Saturday and needed an early fourth quarter touchdown to avoid being upset by Delaware a week later. TCU crushed Kansas this weekend—the Jayhawks still riding high from a road dismantling of Boston College weeks back—yet the Horned Frogs dropped a recent home game to SMU; a Mustangs program that went 5-7 last year and is still best known for barely surviving the Death Penalty decades back.

The era of good programs sleepwalking through showdowns against feisty, upset-minded smaller schools—long gone. Power 5 schools best at least bring their C-game, lest them find themselves in trouble. Miami brought it’s D-game against Central Michigan and almost paid a steep price; something Diaz acknowledged post-game when calling out the season’s most-lethargic practice three days before the Chippewas rolled into HardRock Stadium and almost did the unthinkable.

Incredibly enough, even in the wake of almost losing, the Hurricanes limp-dicked their way through last Sunday’s practice session—which again put the first-year head coach in a position to go foot-up-the-ass with his players; proof of a broken culture and a fragility that has plagued this Hurricanes program for years on end.

When things have gotten bad during this down cycle, Miami has self-imploded—the wheels quickly falling off. Take any sub-par season over the past 15 years; decent starts to a season that fast turn dismal, multiple-game losing streaks that are a ripple effect of dropping a winnable game the Hurricanes can’t bounce back from. Coker, Shannon, Golden and Richt all have their fair share of those moments during their respective runs.

Even in 2017, when Miami eked out some close calls and puffed out chests at 10-0—the wheels were off after falling on the road to a four-win Pittsburgh team; the Canes lethargic in the ACC Championship against Clemson and showing zero resiliency in the Orange Bowl against Wisconsin, blowing an early 14-3 lead and falling 34-24.

The Miami Hurricanes are 8-11 since a regular season-ending road loss at Pittsburgh in late 2017.

NEW “STANDARD” HAS BEEN UNRAVELING, OPPOSED TO PAST ERAS OF DOMINANCE

Last September the Canes were tagged by LSU in the opener and smacked up a few scrubs to get to 5-1—before a four-game losing streak that began at Virginia days after a thrilling comeback to beat Florida State. Richt had another four-game losing streak his first season at Miami; the Canes unable to emotionally get over a late 20-19 home loss to the Seminoles, with a chance to take down the arch-rival for the first time in seven tries.

Golden had his 7-0 start in 2013 before finishing 9-4; including a post-season no-show against Louisville. Shannon had his 9-4 run in 2009—3-1 out the gate with wins over Florida State, Georgia Tech and Oklahoma, with a 31-7 loss at Virginia Tech worked in as undying proof the Canes were definitely not “back”. Toss in an overtime loss to unranked Clemson at home and another epic fail in Chapel Hill, Miami rolled into bowl season 9-3 and looked one-dimensional in a Champs Sports Bowl loss to Wisconsin.

Fans want to scream about some dated “standard” at Miami; welcome to the new-new—an era where the Canes show no resiliency or an ability to respond to any level of adversity; proving their nothing more than a mid-tier ACC bunch that only occasionally shows any sign of life.

Knowing this to be true, is it really a shock Central Michigan gave Miami fits for games into the Diaz era—a team that’s lost 11 of its past 19 games going into last Saturday? Is anyone truly surprised that practice was lethargic a few days after rolling Bethune-Cookman; heads and egos a bit inflated and feeling like things were back on track for beating up a nobody Wildcats squad?

Instead of being alarmed by things that are a direct result of what’s been the new norm that the past four head coaches have been unable to solve—shift the focus to how the fifth head coaching option since the Davis era is meeting the challenge head-on, while addressing and breaking down what is, the why and how it will get fixed, one painful moment at a time.

“We started non-competitive—which means we still choose to be competitive and when not to be competitive. And when I say ‘we’, it’s not every player. It’s not every player on one side of the ball, or the other—but there’s too many guys that run it for everybody,” Diaz explained hours after last Sunday’s effort-less practice—channeling an eighties-era, Johnson-like psychology-related, macro-approach to the problem, as well.

“When you talk about changing a culture, you don’t just put posters on the wall and it just happens. This is something that is years in the making and it’s never easy. Human inertia is to be average and mediocre. That current and that gravitational pull sucks you down every day—and so it just doesn’t happen where all of a sudden everyone is like, ‘I’m going to come in here and bring my best every day.’ That is quite literally why they call us ‘Coach’—to make sure that it happens.”

As to how and why this has happened at Miami; a program rich in culture and history over the past half century—the first-year head coach had more to say.

“New guys come in and they absorb the culture from the older guys in the locker room. That’s all the stories we heard here, the names that are hanging on the ceiling here—they all passed it down. At some point there’s a disconnect and when there’s a disconnect, it has to be rebuilt. It just doesn’t happen.”

Again, not “tweaked” or “finely-tuned”—but rebuilt; as in from scratch. Little pockets of talent at certain positions doesn’t make a championship team—years of building and buying in to a culture; those first wave of guys getting close, but not getting there—paving the way for the next wave of greats who learned and will benefit from those who were that initial class to kick off that rebuild.

Butch Davis felt the heat from 1995 through his year six, after an early 2000 road loss where No. 4 Miami fell at No. 15 Washington. 

WHERE ARE THOSE FOUNDATION-BUILDING, BORN LEADER-TYPE PLAYERS?

This isn’t foreign ground for Miami as the Hurricanes went through a similar process two decades back, albeit under different circumstances—post-probation and gutted scholarship-wise when Davis laid his foundation with those hard-nosed recruiting classes in 1996 and 1997 that set the stage for the dominance that would occur between 2000 and 2003.

A long-gone nineties era where the best local talent wanted to stay home to be a part of something special and took pride in being “the class” that turned things around; guys like Ed Reed eating shit as a r-freshman in Tallahassee in 1997, on the wrong end of that 47-0 ass kicking—saying years later that he didn’t come to Miami to be a part of that.

Four years down the road; #20 standing in that same locker room at Doak Campbell, screaming at his teammates about being hurt, not winning by enough and hell-bent on a mission to bring home a national title as a senior; returning for that one final go-around because he wanted to get the University of Miami it’s fifth ring.

Fast-forward to present day and a front-runner era of college football, where the best of South Florida’s best are worried about the now and personal gain; taking their talents to Tuscaloosa or Athens, knowing that over three to four years they’ll play for a few national championship and maybe win one, or two.

This is precisely why such a big part of Diaz’s culture change involves a different approach to recruiting and a more brass-tacks approach when it comes to recurring Miami-style guys who want to be Hurricanes and know what it means to not only play for The U—but to be part of that special first wave of greats that puts UM back on the trajectory it belongs.

If one can truly wrap their head around things from this vantage point, what was really expected out of of the 2019 season—and why were so many screaming, “12-0!”, predicting a rout of Florida, offended that Virginia was picked to win the Coastal Division and missing the entire point regarding The New Miami as a long-term goal, versus some off-season makeover? 7-6 last season and a history of wilting over the past decade-plus at any signs of adversity—as well as not knowing how to handle any prosperity?

The muscle memory in regards to mediocrity and setbacks; it runs deep and will take time to flush out with this current group—which will inevitably lead to some level of discord as the next wave of Diaz-recruited players rolls in with the attitude this new coaching staff it working to implement.

Miami’s loss to Boston College in 1984 was part of a three-game skid that left Jimmy Johnson 8-5 his first year as head coach.

LONE 2019 GOAL WAS TO FIELD A COMPETITIVE SQUAD LIKE ‘THE U’ OF OLD

Those who’ve accepted what is—the current state of the program, a decade-and-a-half of mediocrity and an understanding that each new regime change is two steps forward, one step back—are equally as disgusted with a 2-2 start and close call against the likes of Central Michigan; but simply don’t have the visceral reaction as their expectations for this season were rooted in logic and the laying of a new foundation.

Seeing a more competitive team that looked like the Miami Hurricanes of old, while competing for a Coastal Division crown and getting better as the year went on—that was the ultimate goal. Yes, it sucked royally to have Florida backed into a corner, only to make a handful more mistakes than “the Gator”— allowing them to escape, 24-20.

No, there are no moral victories, but there was enough good to take from that road loss in Diaz’s first showing—especially when considering the alternative would’ve probably looked more like Miami’s last showing on a football field; that lifeless, lethargic shellacking Wisconsin laid on the Canes in Brooklyn.

Two weeks later in Chapel Hill, the Canes were tagged early—shell-shocked by the packed house and rowdy crowd, despite knowing what was coming—but dug in and fought back; something that hasn’t been the case over the years. Miami took the lead late, appeared to have pulled off the comeback—only to see a secondary (missing last year’s veteran leadership) get burned again, as it was by the Gators, en route to another fourth quarter heartbreak.

It was an 0-2 start; but not the types of lifeless losses the Canes have been racking up since things went to shit a dozen years ago.

Miami took care of Bethune-Cookman and things seemed to be turning, despite the 1-2 record—until heads got big, effort got small and a coaching staff had to take things back to square one, yet again, working to teach kids how to deal with adversity, prosperity and everything in between—things that are second nature to contenders and championship-level programs full of players who can self-police.

As this season rolls on over the next two months, may common sense and logic kick into high gear for what will be an up and down ride. For those who struggle to get to that sensible place and need a little push—lean on some recent history lessons and situations some other first-year guys have been in, before getting things on a better path.

Everyone knows Miami’s head coaching family tree by now and some early struggles of first-year guys; Johnson’s run in 1984 with the defending national champs—dropping his final three in epic-fail fashion; a blown 31-0 halftime lead to Maryland, ‘Hail Flutie’ against Boston College the following game and a Fiesta Bowl loss to UCLA to finish 8-5—as well as fans still wanting to run Davis every season through year six, after an early-season road loss to Washington—only to clamor for his return consistently over the next two decades.

Step outside Canes’ culture for a moment and look up some stats and history on some of the best coaches the game currently has to offer.

Alabama was upset by Louisiana-Monroe year one for Nick Saban—ULM erecting this I-20 billboard for Tide fans en route to the Independence Bowl.

FIRST-YEAR COACHES OFT STRUGGLE TO CHANGE CULTURES & REBUILD

Nick Saban went 7-6 out the gate at Alabama, as the Crimson Tide were nowhere near the program he’s since built them into–dealing with the type of issues plaguing Miami over the past 15 years. Alabama was a dismal 46-40 between 2000 and 2006, under three different head coaches before Saban showed up—successful at LSU years earlier, but having failed in his short stint with the Miami Dolphins.

For all those sweating a close call against Central Michigan; Alabama lost to Louisiana-Monroe at home in 2007 under St. Nick.

Dabo Swinney is another current top guy that needed upwards of a decade to turn Clemson into a contender. After years of being barely-above-average under Tommy Bowden, Swinney took over for Bowden mid-season 2oo8 and managed to win the Atlantic his first full season, but backslid to 6-7 in 2010—including a home blowout against rival South Carolina.

Two years later—year three-and-a-half—an ACC Championship lost some luster after West Virginia throttled Swinney’s Tigers in the Orange Bowl, 70-33.

Should one really want do dive down the rabbit hole, dig up some old fan-driven sites and message boards from early in the careers of the two most-recent, multi-national championship winners and see how badly some wanted to drive both Saban and Swinney out of town—one written off as a has-been, the other as a never-was—yet in due time, both ultimately got the job done and are currently revered by their respective programs and fan bases.

Time—as much as Miami fans are sick of waiting, it remains the operative word as the aforementioned fifth coaching change since 2006 is the equivalent of hitting ‘reset’ on a video game, or wiping the whiteboard clean.

All one can ask for in this journey; a head coach that’s attacking the issues they come up in real time, while doing everything he can to speed up the process with what he has—and working tirelessly to get this thing to where he wants.

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.