‘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.

MIAMI HURRICANES COME TOGETHER ON SENIOR DAY; SMOKE LOUISVILLE


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

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

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

MIAMI OFFENSE ROLLED ALL DAY; CANES’ D LIMITED CARDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POTENTIAL TO WIN FIVE STRAIGHT; CLOSE BOWL SEASON STRONG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello earns a living helping icon Bill Murray build a lifestyle apparel brand. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.

GEORGIA BULLDOGS’ $200M INVESTMENT; A NEW REALITY ‘THE U’ CAN’T IGNORE


“The Miami Hurricanes should be the gold standard of college football, not anyone else.”

That’s not a quote from the early 2000’s when ‘The U’ in the midst of a 34-game win streak, four consecutive BCS appearances, two championship game berths and a national title. Nor was the statement uttered by some NFL general manager around the same era, when the University of Miami had 19 first round draft picks over a four-year span, taking over and dominating the league—to the point ‘NFL U’ was a commonplace moniker.

Nope, these were the ramblings of a random poster on a U-themed fan site on a Tuesday afternoon in early October of this year, days after the Hurricanes slipped to 2-3 on the season after a loss to Virginia Tech; the heat getting turned up by a segment of the fan base that expected 15 years sub-par play, corrected five games in by Miami’s fifth head coach in 14 seasons.

The Canes got a home win a few days later over Coastal Division favorite Virginia; but the difference between 2-3 and .500 football isn’t going to quiet the frustrated critics.

The rest of this particular message board thread—40 pages deep, over a four-day span—hammers first-year head coach Manny Diaz for being in over his head, getting out-coached on a weekly basis, calling for assistants to be fired five games in, while fantasizing about a world where the keys were never turned over to the former defensive coordinator late last December when Mark Richt suddenly called it a career—a wish-list of other big-named, fairy-tale options always rattled off as the disgruntled ones stew.

Logic and reason seemed to have checked out a while ago with these particular “supporters”—zero consideration given to the fact that Miami has been in a 15-year lull entering this season; evidenced by a 35-3 bowl game beat-down in Richt’s final appearance, a 97-70 record dating back to a 40-3 trouncing by LSU in the 2005 Peach Bowl and a 7-9 run since a loss at Pittsburgh in 2017 took all the wind out of a 10-0 start.

Will Diaz succeed or fail as the University of Miami’s 25th head coach? Way too soon to tell. Even the iconic Nick Saban went 7-6 out the gate at Alabama in 2007, with a home loss to Louisiana-Monroe—despite winning a national championship at LSU four years prior. Regardless of opinion, some truth.

Diaz seems as on-brand as anyone that’s ever coached this program—understanding what made Miami great in the past—while hard-wired to try and get to the root of the problem; changing, tweaking and fixing in real time, opposed to letting things play out and reevaluating down the road.

His first move last January; firing the entire offensive staff for underperforming—sparing no one—wanting that side of the ball to be as aggressive and game-dictating as the defense he was the architect of the past three seasons. As for that defense which has dropped off in 2019, while last year’s talent can’t be replaced this fall—now four losses in, Diaz has gotten more hands-on with the defensive coaching as he’s seen enough to know something has gone awry.

“There is a culture that was created here back in 2016 that for some reason we just have not been able to recreate,” Diaz shared the Monday morning after the loss to the Hokies. “It is not a coaching issue. It’s not a scheme issue. This has nothing to do with anyone on our defensive staff. This is simply just there is a lack of connection between the players on our defensive side of the ball.

“We don’t look like we trust each other. We don’t play with the techniques that were coached during the week, and ultimately they need the utmost accountability. That comes from the head coach, which comes from me. That process began last night. We sat and we watched every snap of the game as an entire defense. We talked through all of our mistakes. We owned all of our mistakes collectively as a group and that will be what continues now going forward. We need to get our defense playing like the Miami Hurricanes again because it didn’t look like that on Saturday.

“I’m jumping right in the middle of it. I’m going to make sure we’re all accountable to just do what we’re supposed to be.”

Halfway through a new season—and regime—Diaz is doing all he can right now, which fans must let play out; saving their evaluation for year’s end—and then another a year from now, looking to see that year-one to year-two improvement and how the Hurricanes look this time next fall.

Instead, a group of “fans” attempted to fly a pregame banner prior-to the Virginia game—a low-rent, pro sports fan-type move, thankfully thwarted due to bad weather—calling for Miami to fire athletic director Blake James and his deputy director Jennifer Strawley, while others continue encourage supporters to stop going to games, in some that’ll-show-em-we-mean-business type of protest, which is the crux of this piece.

EMOTION BESTING LOGIC—COMMON SENSE NOWHERE TO BE FOUND

The small-mindedness, entitlement and delusion on display; it’s hit a point where a long overdue reality check is needed. This ongoing approach where so many continue sharing their take on what they think this program should look like—taking out 15 years of embarrassment due to  irrelevance and a lack of consistency by way of coaching turnover; completely rooted in nostalgia and emotion, with zero attempt at any logic or reason.

A month ago ESPN’s Mark Schlabach penned a piece that should’ve been eye-opening and prompting more discussion amongst those who have the audacity to believe Hurricanes football should be the sport’s “gold standard”; “Inside Georgia’s $200 Million Quest To Take Down Alabama”.

Despite the fact the Bulldogs won 24 games over the past two years, played for two SEC Championships—winning one, gifting away another—as well as a national title game appearance; blowing a lead and falling in overtime, Georgia has taken on a “do more” attitude in regards to arming head coach Kirby Smart with everything he needs to gain a competitive against current king-of-the-hill, Saban and his dominant Crimson Tide.

“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 shared with Schlabach. “With his goal of doing more, we’re trying to make up whatever that little difference could be.”

(Cue the anti-James rhetoric and rants that Miami should have an athletic director of McGarity’s caliber—while missing the irony that he has a monster budget, big alumni donations and he too hired a forty-something former defensive coordinator with zero head coaching experience, but that’s neither here nor there.)

That “little difference” McGarity speaks of, has resulted in the following for a Bulldogs program that hasn’t won a national championship over the past 39 seasons—and one that just shit the bed to unranked South Carolina at home last weekend; the annual Smart regular season flop against a double-digit underdog:

— $174,000,000 in facility upgrades over the past three years; including a new 165,000 square-foot facility (Butts-Meher Heritage Hall) that made up $80,000,000 of that spend—resulting in a bigger weight room, locker room offices and an improved sports medicine facility. Another $30,000,000 went towards a new 102,000 square-foot multi-use indoor practice facility.

— $63,000,000 went towards a renovation of Stanford Stadium; a revamped recruiting lounge, an enlarged scoreboard and other bells and whistles to dazzle potential Bulldogs on game-day, as well as recruiting trips to Athens where the Georgia has been stockpiling and poaching South Florida talent since the Richt era.

— On the recruiting front, Georgia now spends a cool $1,500,000 more annually than any other FBS program; over $7,000,000 over the past three years. This number now surpasses Alabama—second with a $5,600,000 annual spend, while Tennessee is third, dropping $5,000,000-per-year, yet little to show for it. (For context, the annual recruiting budget under Richt was just under $600,000; a $2,630,000 increase in 2018 for the Dawgs.)

— As for Smart and his staff; a combined annual salary of $13,000,000.

As astronomical and hard-to-fathom as all those numbers might be, the most-important information and footnote is yet to be mentioned—the fact that Georgia has raised over $121,000,000 in barely four years through The Magill Society, which “Serves as the leadership fundraising entity under The Georgia Bulldog Club. This organization is philanthropic in nature with its members invested in the success of Georgia Athletics.”

This group was formed in 2015 and “recognizes those that make commitments of $25,000 and above” over a five-year period. Over 1,100 new donors have joined this elite club over the past year. A minimum of $25,000 times 1,100 new members in 2018 equals at least $27,500,000 towards Bulldogs “athletics”—the majority of which will obviously be steered towards football, as Athens is the heart of SEC Country.

“That’s allowed us to basically pay for these facilities through our donations,” McGarity said of of the Magill Society. “We haven’t had to take on any long-term debt. Fortunately, we haven’t had to raise ticket prices or donation [requirements to buy tickets] to pay for these facilities. Right now the model we have is allowing us to keep ticket prices as low as we can. That’s been a key thing for these projects to move as quickly as they can. The donors have responded overwhelmingly to support what Kirby wants to do.”

Meanwhile, Miami fans just used GoFundMe to cover the cost of the aforementioned $495 banner intended to take a pre-game shit on the athletic department, believing that boycotting games in already a barely two-thirds full stadium will somehow “send a message”—while Georgia just signed up over a thousand new members ready and willing to pony up at least $25,000 towards their football program.

Stop the incessant bitching for a moment and let all that sink in—as well as questioning the overall sanity and entitlement of any Hurricanes football supporter believing Miami should be riding-high atop the sport, based on these financial facts.

All those years of getting into debates regarding support and fandom with alum of bigger state schools; “I’ll bet you didn’t even go to Miami, did you?’—this is where those arguments officially come to a head; the dollars and cents issue with the majority of a program’s fan base having not attended said university.

Alumni will break out that checkbook—not just for sports, but for the betterment of their beloved school. The affinity for their alma mater isn’t just relegated to on-the-field success—so when you’re talking about state schools with four- of five-times the undergraduates that Miami has and times that over a decade—it’s a huge numbers game, where UM is at a massive disadvantage.

MIAMI THRIVES—EXCEPT COLLEGE TOWN EXPERIENCE

The majority of Miami’s fans are individuals with nothing more than regional ties to a collegiate sports team who are along for the ride when the getting is good, but can easily pull back or bail out when things go south. Upon a crash and burn, or decade-long football program drought, interests and focus fast shift elsewhere, as a city like Miami—making it easy to check out during championship year droughts.

Take those larger state schools in smaller college towns, versus a private university in a suburb of a large, diverse metropolitan city—one with four professional sports franchises and an overflow of opportunities in regards to how one spends their entertainment dollar—and the the distance becomes even greater.

Athens, Tuscaloosa, Clemson, Baton Rouge, Columbus—full-fledged college sports towns. Miami is an events town; proven by the sparse crowds when mid-level conference teams come to town, opposed to the absolute raucous party environment—both on-campus and at Hard Rock—when No. 3 Notre Dame traveled south two years ago to take on an undefeated, seventh-ranked Hurricanes bunch.

Hell, even when Miami fielded its best team in program’s history in 2001—still at the beloved Orange Bowl—the Hurricanes only drew a reported 31,128 for a match-up against Temple—as a game like that isn’t an “event” and there are better things for non-alum football fans to do with their day.

The state school versus private university difference—as well as alumni versus location-based fans—is hardly new news. Nor is the fact that football factories and SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 powerhouses will throw hundreds of millions of dollars worth of support at the cause, in effort to try and build a champion—all of which should serve as a reminder just how incredible and improbably Miami’s success has been.

$200,000,000+ raised in Athens, yet the Hurricanes have won five national titles (and left a few on the field) since the Bulldogs last championship in back in 1980. How? By Miami again creating it’s own special sauce; somehow finding an advantage and figuring out how to do more with less.

It worked in the past and it’s the only answer moving forward—staying on-brand and playing to unique strengths—as the University of Miami will never have a big enough checkbook to play at the high-stakes table—especially without a strong alumni base that speaks with their wallet, not into the ether on message boards, or social media.

This is literally textbook definition of money talking and bullshit walking.

The head coaching position—same as the athletic director gig at the University of Miami—are niche gigs and not for everyone. These are college football and university-related positions, for people who want the small college town experience, of which Miami couldn’t be any further from.

The big city energy and a region full of transplants. A  quaint school with an off-campus stadium, playing second-fiddle to pro sports franchises, eccentric nightlife, beach culture and other spirited events that make up South Florida living—as well as the lack of that large, supportive alumni base—these are all turnoffs to coaches and administrators who have chosen university-driven careers.

Canes fans turn out for big games and good times, but when losses pile up—a mostly non-alum fan base checks out.

Decades back, yes, Miami football was able to reload at the head coaching position after Howard Schnellenberger built a winner, left for the USFL and Jimmy Johnson was able to carry the torch and bring home another championship; the original “NFL U” a moniker for coaches as Johnson wound up in Dallas, Dennis Erickson parlayed his success into the Seattle job and Butch Davis, though title-less, was the architect of the rebuild and was tabbed to do something similar in Cleveland.

Had Schnellenberger, Johnson or Davis planted their flag in Coral Gables and dug in for the long haul, Miami could’ve become a full-blown dynasty, in the traditional sense of the word—especially after Davis’ six-year rebuild and the state of college football at the turn of the century.

Of course none did, because long-term hasn’t ever been the logical plan at a program with UM’s set-up and resources. All used UM as a stepping-stone to bigger paydays and higher profile jobs—while all to a man have said that their time at the University of Miami was the most-special era of their respective careers and all each had their regrets about leaving; the point where they’d have loved a do-over.

Also a stepping-stone opportunity at Miami; the athletic director position—as proven twice over the past decade when Kirby Hocutt parlayed his four years into a better opportunity at Texas Tech and Shawn Eichorst used his even shorter stint to land the Nebraska gig. Neither was a “Miami guy” or on-brand, but both had the up-and-comer designation—which is also the reason UM was merely a pit-stop and both wound up at state schools with bigger budgets and alumni bases.

Prior to Hocutt and Eichorst, the Hurricanes’ longest-tenured athletic director was the late Paul Dee, who spent 13 years in a job he fell into by way of circumstance. Originally hired as Vice President and general counsel back in 1981—Dee was thrust into the AD role when Dave Maggard left the position after two years, finding a golden parachute in a Managing Director of Sports opportunity for the 1996 Summer Olympics, opposed to hanging around to see how a pending Pell Grant scandal was set to play out in Coral Gables.

It was a role Dee held until 2008, preceding Hocutt—making almost three decades since the Hurricanes had a gun-slinging type athletic director in Sam Jankovich—which was a completely different time and brand of college football. In the modern era, all Miami knows is that the past two guys bailed for greener pastures, while James retuned to Coral Gables after seven years at the University of Maine—six as Director of Athletics.

James started his career at Miami in ticket sales and has an affinity for South Florida, hence his return in 2010 and staying put ever since—which for better or worse is an important criteria for the Miami job, as again, it lacks the college town experience which many who work in collegiate athletics look for—limiting the field of candidates.

James was instrumental in bringing Richt back to his alma mater in 2015. Whatever one thinks of the hire in hindsight—Richt proving too tired for the rebuilding task after three years—it was a pivotal move for Miami; the first time UM went after an established head coach, opposed to an up-and-comer type.

UM broke out the checkbook and agreed to a reported $4M annual salary—the most it’d ever forked out for a head coach’s salary—only months after Donna Shalala stepped down; the former president the biggest roadblock to Hurricanes athletics since probation in the nineties.

The Richt era saw an increase in salaries for assistants, as well—which opened the door to bring on Diaz as defensive coordinator, after Dave Aranda chose LSU over Miami—while the respect for Richt and his 15 years running a top-notch SEC program helped get UM’s long-discussed indoor practice facility project over the hump; a $1M personal donation from Richt a huge perk that made up for limited alumni support.

WANTING TO WIN, VERSUS BUILDING A WINNER

In the wake of Richt’s abrupt retirement last December, James—and the Board of Trustees—made the move to bring Diaz back from ah 18-day stint as Temple’s head coach—which like the actual hire of the first-time head coach itself, is way too to judge as a win or a loss.

What the disgruntled are quick to call a “lazy” hire, was at worst a low-risk move—with huge consequences—based on some logical variables that too many either ignore or dismiss.

Sure, Miami could’ve conducted a full-blown search—starting January 6th, 2019—as Richt’s post-Christmas, pre-New Years bow-out came in the deadest week of the year. Four weeks prior to National Signing Day, the University of Miami would’ve been seeking for its 25th head coach—which would’ve decimated an already depleted 18-man class, setting the program even further back. With Diaz, there was continuity—as well as an ability to assemble his staff well before UM would’ve hired a new head coach.

Diaz’s hiring also guaranteed the return of would-be outgoing seniors like Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckey and Zach McCloud—which would’ve gutted a defense that already lost Jaquan Johnson, Sheldrick Redwine, Michael Jackson, Gerald Willis and Joe Jackson. As bad as things are right now defensively—they’d have been infinitely worse.

Miami’s off-season robbing of the Transfer Portal also wouldn’t have been as effective; Diaz reeling in Tate Martell, KJ Osborn, Bubba Bolden, Trevon Hill and Jaelan Phillips—as well as bringing Jeff Thomas back when he was all but gone to Illinois.

However it plays out with Diaz—as there are no guarantees with just about any head coaching hire—the logic and reason both made sense. Diaz hit the ground running as Miami’s defensive coordinator in 2016, quickly revamping an utter mess left by Al Golden and Mark D’Onofrio; immediately changing the broken scheme and getting guys to buy in day one.

Miami’s D took a huge step forward and by year two, went next-level—much of the success fueled by the on-brand, transcending Turnover Chain—that not only captivated all of college football, but give the Canes an old school, disruptive, aggressive vibe it had lacked since the heyday of the early 2000’s.

An anemic offense held both the 2017 and 2018 squads back—leaving James and the BoT with an understandable belief that half the the program was where it needed to be, so retaining the guy who built that out and trusting that he could find a counterpart to have a similar effect on the offense—was hardly far-fetched.

A reported $1.2M was allocated for Diaz to lure Dan Enos away from Alabama. How that hire ultimately plays out, time will tell—but for the Hurricanes, it was still a get—and the increased salary for assistants was again a good football move showing that Miami’s administration does care about football in this post-Shalala era.

In the end, the University of Miami is fighting this battle with one hand tied behind its back—but isn’t giving up. The way it was able to win and dominate in the past; those avenues are closed—so it’s time to take some less conventional detours in finding news ways to succeed.

Miami won’t soon become a state school with 40K undergrads, producing hundreds of thousands of new alum every decades—so it’s doing the next-best thing; trying to maintain and build off its brand—James with ties to UM’s last rebuild under Davis and Diaz having grown up in South Florida during the Decade of Dominance, with a true understanding of what the Hurricanes tick back-in-the-day.

Seeing what a Georgia is doing in regards to their investment into athletics; demeaning—but equally as liberating, as it frees Miami from feeling like it has to play the game in an orthodox manner in which it will never compete.

Just as it did four decades ago when Schnelly started an against-all-0dds dynasty in 1979, Miami is going to have to stay clever and unconventional in its process—praying for the stars to somehow align, while the football gods shine a little love—as college football is always a better place when the Hurricanes are relevant; playing in disruptive and polarizing fashion.

Chris Bello has been covering University of Miami athletics since the mid-nineties. Getting his start with CanesTime, he eventually launched allCanesBlog—which led to a featured columnist stint with BleacherReport. He’s since rolled out the unfiltered, ItsAUThing.com where he’ll use his spare time to put decades of U-related knowledge to use for those who care to read. When he’s not writing about ‘The U’, Bello earns a living helping icon Bill Murray build a lifestyle apparel brand. Hit him on Twitter for all things U-related @ItsAUThingBLOG.

MIAMI HURRICANES COME UP SHORT IN CHAPEL HILL … AGAIN


Chapel Hill is a living hell for the Miami Hurricanes.

Has been since joining the ACC in 2004 and getting upset by a 3-4 squad when ‘The U’ was the No. 3 team in the nation —and by the looks of this latest installment, the curse lives on.

I hammered this point on social media all week, until I was Tar-Heel-blue-in-the-face—yet too many who follow this program refused to buy it.

This is The New Miami, bro. We’re the Canes; those Tar Heels ain’t shit. Past is the past; history means nothing. South Carolina gave that game away last week. Freshman quarterback is garbage—our defense will eat his lunch. We’re gonna hang 40+ on those scrubs.

Instead, it proved to be just the house of horrors type of game that Miami often deals with at North Carolina. Fall into an early hole, finally wake up, fight to scrap out of it, give up a late score and ultimately come up short—this time in strange 28-25 fashion as a blocked point after try brought on a pair of two-point conversion attempts. The Tar Heels made theirs; the Canes didn’t.

Days back, I laundry-listed out the ways the Canes have lost to the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill—where Miami is now 3-5 since joining the ACC; literally reinventing ways to fail at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Another chapter was added this weekend by way of a failed kicking game, where seven points were left on the field in a three-point loss.

Manny Diaz and staff had two weeks to get Miami prepared for this early-season, in-conference road match-up—and while the Canes again showed some resiliency and fight, it was a second consecutive outing where a handful of boneheaded plays all played their part in being the difference-maker.

Miami unraveled early, down 17-3 by late in the first quarter—reminiscent of a 23-7 hole in 2009 and 27-0 halftime deficit in 2007. The Canes knew they were walking into a sold out stadium and that the Tar Heels were still flying high in the new Mack Brown era after last weekend’s upset of South Carolina—yet for whatever reason, UM still looked unprepared for the moment.

The usually-sound defense made freshman quarterback Sam Howell look all the part of a superstar, opposed to the newbie he is. The Canes’ defense couldn’t get to him much all night, never forced a turnover and allowed him to go down in Tar Heels’ folklore by way of a nine play, 75-yard drive—with a 4th-and-17 completion, no less—retaking the lead with just over one minute left on the clock. 

Another game where Miami won the stats battle, but ultimately couldn’t get it done—488 total yards; 309 through the air and 179 on the ground, while dominating the time of possession—and losing the stat that mattered most; scoreboard.

Buried in the frustrating loss; the fact that quarterback Jarren Williams put together another impressive outing at a position where the Canes have struggled for years. The r-freshman was 30-for-39 for 309 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers—but just like his first go-around against Florida weeks back, couldn’t complete a comeback, despite the ball in his hands for a final drive.

Miami also got nice production out of running backs DeeJay Dallas and Cam’Ron Harris, but struggled in the red zone—settling for field goal attempts; two of which sailed wide.

The thin line between winning and losing has proven excruciating two games into this new season; Miami literally one play away in each game from 2-0 and ranked, instead 0-2 for the first time since 1978.

Despite being mistake-plagued and trailing early, the Canes fought back all night took their first lead with just under five minutes remaining in the game—but quickly let it slip away; also reminiscent to a fourth quarter score against Florida and a lead that fast evaporated.

Where the loss to Florida was out of conference and not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things (outside of simply losing to the hated Gators, which is always pure hell to deal with)—going down 0-1 in the ACC is a rough spot for Miami; especially falling to a North Carolina squad that was picked near the bottom of the Coastal Division.

The premise of winning the division when not yet facing the best competition the Coastal has to offer; it doesn’t exactly exude confidence moving forward.

OVERBLOWN EXPECTATIONS VERSUS CURRENT REALITY; STILL OFF

The fact that any in Miami’s fan base were screaming “run the table” in the preseason shows just how obtuse some are in regards to what it takes to build a contender, as well as not fully understanding that 15 years of hovering as a mid-tier ACC program doesn’t get fixed through eight months of marketing hype and rebranding.

The New Miami is just a fancy way of explaining that the Hurricanes’ program has been doing it wrong for way too long and it’s time to raze this thing down to the foundation and rebuild in the mold of great Miami teams from yesteryear that Diaz grew up idolizing.

Nothing about any of that that will be easy—especially after 7-6 last season, a fifth coaching change in 14 years and a brand new quarterback—yet many still expected to knock off No. 8 Florida in the opener, followed by a dominant win over North Carolina in their house week two.

Again, where is this entitlement coming from—and why?

For those who confused Diaz’s explanation of the team he plans to build, with some just-add-water approach regarding what Miami currently has on board personnel-wise—that’s on them and an inability to assess a situation for what it is, versus what they want it to be.

You can’t fast-track yourself from average to contender overnight. If you could, it wouldn’t have taken Dabo Swinney an up and down eight years to start consistently winning the ACC and bringing home Clemson’s first national title since 1980; the same Swinney that Tigers fans wanted to run out of town the first six years the “unqualified” head coach was building a contender.

Gurvan Hall (26) looks on as Dazz Newsome (5) reels in the game-winning touchdown with 1:01 remaining.

Yes, the Canes could just as easily be 2-0 as they are 0-2, but the mistakes made are precisely what happens with a new head coach and brand new offensive staff on the heels of a six-loss season. You can see what you’re trying to emulate and can articulate who you want to see this program grow into—but to actual do, on the road in real time—it shouldn’t come as a shock when years of bad muscle memory kick back in and the team flinches under the lights.

Miami has shown commendable fight against both Florida and North Carolina; scrapping back in both games in a way that never would’ve been the case in 2018. When the Gators went ahead 17-13 late third quarter, last year’s Canes would’ve folded—instead of bouncing back with a quick touchdown. Against the Tar Heels, that 17-3 deficit would’ve been a back-breaker and Miami would’ve gotten rolled up. 

Instead, it rattled off 10 points before the half and finally got the go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter—holding North Carolina to a field goal from the four-minute mark in the first quarter, until the final minute in the fourth.

Pressure ramps up late when you’re short on time. Miami has learned to catch its breath early in the game when things start to get away, but hasn”t figured out how to bear down in those final minutes when everything is on the line; especially not with the youth it has on the defense everywhere, sans linebacker—or with a freshman-heavy offensive line trying to buy time for a r-freshman quarterback with two career starts under his belt.

What was the strongest link over the past few seasons, fact remains the Canes’ defense failed one a few occasions and its cost them two football games.

No sooner did Miami fail to create points out of a fourth quarter interception of Feleipe Franks, the maligned quarterback came back on the next play from scrimmage and torched the Canes for a 65-yard pick-up, which set up the game-winning punch-in. Miami needed the type of stop it had gotten several times up to that point, but in the game’s most-crucial moment, it folded.

The same happened in Chapel Hill two weeks later; Miami gets the go-ahead score late, only to let North Carolina march down field to answer—with a monster fourth down conversion, no less.

EVEN GREATEST TO DO IT DEAL WITH GROWING PAINS EARLY ON

Some will confuse explanations for excuses, but as hard as the pill is to swallow—these Canes are learning the hard way what it takes to win, just like past teams before them that eventually became great.

Everyone remembers the legendary plays Ed Reed made throughout the 2001 season, yet forgets his sophomore year when he and Mike Rumph got burned on an 79-yard hook-up from Kevin Thompson to Chafie Fields that saw Penn State come back against a Miami team that had just scrapped to and retaken the lead—down 17-3 in the third quarter and ultimately falling, 27-23.

Later in that 1999 season, Ken Dorsey was tossed all over Lane Stadium when thrust into action when Kenny Kelly got hurt against Virginia Tech—the wide-eyed Dorsey swallowed whole in his first real game action.

There are countless other examples of eventually great players yet to hit their prime, but we’ll leave it here for now. Growing pains are real and even future greats have moments of struggle on the way up.

Miami has some guys right now that could very well be good down the road, but they’re just not there yet. Brian Hightower had his shot at pulling in a game changing grab last night, but couldn’t—while Mallory rebounded from a bad showing against Florida to catch the go-ahead score, but couldn’t hang on to the two-point conversion.

Meanwhile, the secondary is struggling tremendously and missing Jaquan Johnson, Sheldrick Redwine and Michael Jackson a lot more than anticipated.

Bandy got burned badly by the Tar Heels, but looked next-level the past two seasons when he had more help out there. Al Blades Jr. picked up a crucial unsportsmanlike penalty late against the Gators and hasn’t tackled well, to date. DJ Ivey got himself suspended for the opener and looked out of sorts against the Tar Heels; including an early pass interference call that led to a score.

Gurvan Hall has also struggled; out of position on the aforementioned big late hook-up for Florida that led to the game-winning touchdown—not to mention, Carter, who hauled in a Gators’ interception, but got himself booted against North Carolina in a game where the Canes’ secondary couldn’t afford a depth hit.

The defensive line also doesn’t have the muscle it had last season.
Gerald Willis missed the bowl game against Wisconsin and as a result, the entire line took a step back in that game without his presence. 

Willis has since moved on, Joe Jackson blew off his senior year to be a fifth-round NFL pick and the Canes lost some depth when transfer Tito Odenigbo and Demetrius Jackson graduated. Nesta Silvera remains sidelined with an injury, while Virginia Tech transfer Trevon Hill is still working his way back into playing shape, due to shoulder surgery last winter.

Miami’s secondary is sorely missing the experience and confidence of Jaquan Johnson (4) and Sheldrick Redwine (22).

A true contender can overcome those setbacks with a next-man-up attitude; Miami can’t—as it’s nowhere near contention yet. Just the fact that the Canes are still so reliant on transfers for depth sake; it should tell you how far this program is from being championship-caliber.

When one is a contender, you reload instead of having to rebuild—and you don’t suffer the growing pains these Hurricanes are dealing with.

Fact remains, the breaks just haven’t gone Miami’s way early this season—many self-inflicted, but not all. The Canes did more good than bad the past two showdowns; enough that both games could’ve easily have resulted in victories. The bad just happened to come late at the worse possible time, ultimately costing them—twice.

All that to say, no, there are no moral victories. 0-2 is pure hell any way you slice or dice it. The only thing worse would’ve been Miami getting blown out in either or both games, as there would be nothing to build on, whereas there are some teachable moments here that if corrected, can still make for a good, step-forward season.

Still, this start is absolutely a setback that is going to bring with it a wave of negativity—something that a native Miamian like Diaz is aware of, and expects. As quickly as fans ate up The New Miami, a renewed attitude and an assault on the Transfer Portal—anyone who knows anything about supporters of ‘The U’ is well-aware just how quickly things will turn shitty if wins aren’t racked up.

JIMMY, BUTCH & DENNIS LACKED EARLY SUPPORT; BECAME GREAT

Of course, those who are turning fast and refuse to give a new coach time to find his footing—these are the same ones who flew banners trying to get rid of Butch Davis year three as he cleaned up somebody else’s miss—and still wanted him gone year six after an early-season loss at Washington—yet clamored for his return every time there’s been a coaching change at ‘The U’ over the past decade.

Folks with this short-sighted approach also wanted Jimmy Johnson out after going 8-5 year one with the defending national champions—while others didn’t even want him in the first place; feeling defensive coordinator Tom Olivadotti should’ve been promoted when Howard Schnellenberger left for the USFL.

Johnson hit the ground running in 1984 with road wins against Auburn and Florida, but losses to Michigan and Florida State quickly had the Canes at 3-2. Cue the rumblings.

One can only imagine the late-season shellacking Johnson would’ve taken on social media back in the day after blowing a 31-0 home lead to Maryland, a post-Thanksgiving, ‘Hail Flutie’ loss to Boston College and a Fiesta Bowl setback to UCLA to end the season with a three-game losing streak in ugly fashion.

Dennis Erickson was praised year one; picking up where Johnson left off—the cupboard full after the 1988 season; installing his one-back offense and not tinkering with the defense.

The former Washington State head coach got a pass for losing in Tallahassee with a back-up quarterback—and ending the season with a home rout of top-ranked Notre Dame, before knocking off Alabama in the Sugar Bowl for the program’s third national title—but the tide fast turned when dropping the 1990 season opener at BYU, as the top-ranked, two-touchdown favorite, defending national champs simply didn’t lose those types of games.

Yes, Larry Coker couldn’t maintain what Davis created, Randy Shannon didn’t have what it took, Al Golden was an empty suit and Richt was on the wrong side of his career arc—too spent to dig in and do a young man’s job. No one is calling Diaz the next Schnelly, JJ, Erickson or Butch, either—but writing him off two games in when realizing what knee-jerk reactions would’ve meant reading what Johnson and Davis went on to build; people need to get a grip.

No, none of that U-related history excuses the sloppy play or coming up short that’s started this new season with a thud; it’s simply a reminder to have some perspective regarding where this program’s been the past 15 years, what Diaz inherited and where he hopes to take it.

These glaring problems didn’t appear overnight and sure-as-shit won’t get fixed that way, either. As tired as fans are of the Canes being irrelevant; the fan-turned-coach who actually signed up for the rebuild is tired of it, too—hence his signing up as Miami’s 25th head coach in program history, working tirelessly to right the ship.

The disgruntled fans who tried to run off Butch Davis are the same ones who begged for his return the last few times UM hired a new coach.

There’s a reason Miami went 7-6 last fall. There’s a reason Mark Richt stepped down—after another season with a multiple-game losing streak. There’s a reason why the Canes have only taken the Coastal Division once in 15 tries, have never won the ACC and haven’t had a perfect regular season since 2002.

Athletics weren’t a priority to former university president Donna Shalala; who opted for a handful of low-rent hires for over a decade, while putting all her energy and resources towards UM’s medical school. Shalala stepped down in 2015 and within months, Miami’s Board of Trustees green-lit the hiring of Richt; a proven name instead of another up-and-comer—as well as a reported salary around $4M-per-year—which was new, big money territory for the University of Miami.

Richt immediately pushed for a bigger budget, allowing him to hire better assistants than Hurricanes football had seen in the past—instrumental in Diaz’s return to South Florida; resulting in the immediate revamping of the defense—as well as helping get a much-talked-about indoor practice facility pushed over the hump, by way of a $1M personal donation.

Translation; Miami has only been rebuilding since 2015—as everything that took place the decade before that was nothing more than Shalala going through the motions; this program backsliding a little more each and every year. Throw that decade out the window because nothing resembling a rebuild took place in that lost era.

Even with the Hurricanes documented struggles over the years, some still spent the off-season calling for an undefeated, run-the-table regular season—despite Miami dropping five of its past seven games, dating back to a home comeback over Florida State last October—and are beside themselves that this new-look team came up short in two tough road games.

Fans sitting around this summer talking about UM being a dark horse Playoffs contender—meanwhile this new coaching staff is busting their asses to to break bad habits that have persisted for years;  teaching kids how to close out games against mid-level conference teams that have found outplay the Canes for years.

POSITIVES ARE THERE SHOULD ONE CHOOSE TO SEE THEM

Fact remains, even in two losses—marred with mistakes—Miami looks better top to bottom than it did last season. There’s an energy and passion that was lost last year, but seems to have returned. Youth and inexperience at a few key positions; these are the issues and unfortunately there is no quick fix. These kids will have to learn on the fly and hopefully grow up quick.

“It is very similar to a week ago,” Diaz said postgame Saturday night. “They are competing, they are playing with toughness, they are doing a lot of the things we’re asking them to do. There is not a guy in that locker room right now, coaches included, that can’t do more and can’t play or coach better than they are right now.”

In hindsight, this (obviously) wasn’t a good year to open with a road trip to Orlando to play the Gators, or for a night game in the always-tough Chapel Hill week two of the season. There’s a reason coaches like to schedule the likes of a Bethune-Cookman and Central Michigan—Miami’s next two opponents—in effort to kick off the rust, after spring, summer and fall with no real contact.

The Canes dropped two games by a combined seven points—and can easily pinpoint where things went off the rails.

Williams has been a surprise at quarterback, in regards to how quickly he’s easing in to the role. Yes, he’s missed some throws or has held on to the ball too long, but he’s protected the football much better than the turnover machines who were under center last season.

That said, his offensive line remains young, green and makeshift—and will continue learning as the go, which will make for an up and down year.

Just the fact that the Canes are still so reliant on transfers for depth—it should tell you how far this program is from being championship caliber. When one is truly a contender, you can “reload” instead of having to “rebuild”. Miami is nowhere near that place yet and is still suffering from growing pains.

0-2 isn’t where anyone wanted to be at this point—especially Diaz and this new staff—but it’s where the Canes have landed, so you deal with it and move on. The season is far from over and Miami will get back-to-back weeks at home to work out the kinks against some lesser teams.

Come October, it’s back to ACC play and home games against Virginia Tech, Virginia and Georgia Tech that will go a long way in shaping the Coastal race. Miami isn’t back on the road again until a late October road trip to Pittsburgh, followed by an early November showdown in Tallahassee—five in a row at HardRock and hopefully a hard reset after a brutal start to this new era of football.

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.