Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
As a break from the normal site information, Lt. Philip Nolan takes a look at the current state of Miami football, and tries to bring a bit of reality to a fan base that desperately needs it.
This piece isn't likely going to make any friends, and it damn sure may make me some enemies, but its contents are straight from the mind of a die hard Canes fan. Everything I am about to say in this thing is based on reality and logic. If you don't like any of those things, choosing instead to pin your hopes and dreams on what your team used to be and, in your mind, should always be, you may not want to read any further.
Please stop comparing this team to anything pre-2003. Frankly, you sound silly.
The Miami program that you see before you is, and likely will never be, anything remotely akin to the teams from the 80's, 90's, and early 2000's. Let it go. For the sake of the program, the fan base, and whether you like to hear it or not, the respect that our brand of football gets, let it go. It isn't like Miami has been some sort of eternity long juggernaut. They arrived on the scene out of nowhere like a Bill & Ted phone booth, and out stepped The Architect, Howard Schnellenberger. Then, he left. Interestingly enough, under his successor, Miami got better. Then, the same thing happened. Jimmy left, and Miami still won titles. While those decades of success and rings and prominence brought the university and the football team all the attention in the world, it also did one thing that it never should have. It spoiled a fan base into thinking that that sort of success was sustainable forever. The thing that all of those teams had in common wasn't talent, or recruiting, or attitude as much as it was the level of coaching that held it all together. For most teams, transitioning from Schnelly to Jimmy to Erickson would be a dream. Without those three, Miami might not have been as successful as it was, for as long as it was.
Fast forward a few years, and look at what happened after Butch Davis left. Larry Coker came in, won a title with Butch's recruits, and then the wheels fell off. Mediocrity started to settle in, and how did the school respond? By trying to pull a West Virginia and hire the hometown kid, the guy who had been a part of the team for his whole career, who the players loved. Sure, Randy Shannon was a great story, and he could actually recruit, but he fostered a football team based on complacency and favoritism, and based off of numerous reports, failed miserably at developing players. Guys were leaving the program early for the NFL on the strength of the Miami name and it's success in the NFL over the years, rather than their actual talent level. They get to the combine, excel, and then they have to sit down with coaches and coordinators and interview, and that is where they fail. It's well documented, Sam Shields was wasted by Shannon playing at wide receiver, now he's an all-pro corner back for the Packers. Lamar Miller was supposed to be a first round draft pick, but took a huge stumble because he had almost no football IQ. As it turns out, the mindset of "catch the ball, run fast, and tackle hard" doesn't fly the majority of the time in the NFL. You have to be able to understand the game, read defenses, and just generally know what is going on at all times.
Now we have Al Golden. He wasn't brought in to continue Miami football after Shannon. He was brought in to blow up the program completely, and rebuild from its ashes. He set aside the program's NFL success, the family mentality, and the national recognition, and put them all in a safe place. Then he placed the dynamite, pressed down the plunger, and blew up the mediocre football team that we as fans had been watching and bitching about for years.
His first year on the job was marred by transfers, kids being dismissed, and, of course, the NCAA. People started worrying when he dismissed some guys and others transferred. Then it turned out that they either didn't want to earn their playing time, or were going to cause trouble. He did his best with the team that he was given, which admittedly had a lot of talent. The issue he had was that guys didn't buy in. The team was rife with guys who thought they should play based on the fact that they were highly recruited, or had been there for a few years. Basically, the team was still under the Shannon mentality. This was further evidenced by the fact that all of those guys left early last year instead of staying. It was completely obvious to everyone, perhaps even them, that they shouldn't have left, but they did anyway. The optimist will tell you it was because they were lied to by their agents. The pessimist will tell you it was because they were greedy and wanted the money. The realist, however, will see through all that bullshit and tell you they left because they didn't like the program Golden was running. They didn't like the fact that freshmen would be able to play instead of them, they didn't like the fact that they were ranked in practice by effort instead of by class. They didn't like the fact that there was no guff, that if you screwed up you were suspended, whether it was before the Bethune-Cookman game or the National Championship. So they bailed.
The constant background noise during all of this turmoil has been the hum of a fan base hungry for winning. Starving to get back to the ways that the U once had. Ignoring reason and reality in the face of "we did it before, we can do it again." Sure, Miami can, and should, get back to winning games, and potentially winning the conference and maybe, just maybe, a title or two. The problem is that those things take time at normal schools with normal situations, and Miami is neither. Miami football right now is at a foundational stage. The program is being slowly rebuilt from the ground up, with new coaches, new players, and a brand new mentality. There is a huge delay in construction coming down the pipe soon, but Miami will continue to build. The right man is leading this team, and the coaches below him are the right men for the jobs that they do. Unfortunately, every day they have to wake up and face a group of fans who would expect a 10 win season out of a team of 2 and 3 star recruits, simply because they play for Miami. They look at Golden's first two years and fail to realize that yes, he brought in 33 kids in one class, but a lot of those kids were brought in to fill roster spots. Can they play ball? Certainly. Were they brought in to be the next Dorsey & Co? No. Golden ballooned that class to the numbers he did because he saw what was coming. He saw the kids leaving early, and the sanctions coming down the pipe, and he did the smart thing. He built depth.
What has he done in his second year? Behind playing more freshmen than most other schools in the country, he has the Canes on the cusp of going to their first ACC Championship game in the school's conference history. Sure, the record isn't great, but he also had to throw these kids to two of the top 5 teams in the country, FSU, and a tough slate of road games. Now, they have to look forward to playing Duke, DUKE, for the chance to win their division, and our fans are losing their minds. Most can't fathom how a basketball school could ever be on the same playing field as Miami. They refuse to see any situation in which Duke beats Miami at football. Bigger than that, they fail to see the fact that Duke has a great head coach who has been building that program for years, growing talent, and not losing it to the NFL draft. Now he has a team of guys who have played together for a while, are experienced, and have good coaching behind them. When compared to Miami's raw talent, sure, maybe they don't stack up. But Miami's talent is raw, learning, and, in some positions, just not there at all. Fans want to blame the coaches, and that's fine in certain cases of mismanagement. Coaching can't create talent that isn't there, however, and that's Miami's main issue this year. Duke has a chance to beat Miami because they have the experience, the coaching, and consistent talent. Miami has a chance to lose this game because they are lacking talent at a few positions, and they are young and inexperienced at almost every other one.
The realist in me is enraged at this type of reaction. Not living in Miami, I have the chance to see how people react to our program whenever it is brought up. I get to hear the opinions of people not associated with the ACC or Miami. What they see in the case of the football team is exactly what it is. A team full of youth and talent that can win games on those two strengths, but will lose games because that isn't enough. What hits harder is when they talk about how the fan base is made up of people who can't let the past go. Who refuse to support their team simply because they aren't winning, or playing like they did in the 80's. That's what sucks, because I know it's true. That mentality will never change, though, and maybe it shouldn't. It makes Canes fans who they are. Maybe it's just frustrating from the perspective of someone who, while I hate to admit it, agree with those who are struggling to understand why Duke might win this game. It stops there, though. I refuse to go so far as to say it is flat out unacceptable, because it has to be. There's no other option with this team but to accept it for what it is, and support it while it grows.
I live and breath Miami football, but I am completely able to take myself out of the realm of Orange and Green bias, and see this team as what it is in its current state. You will never hear me say "8-4 is terrible because that's not up to standards." If you want to, go right ahead. I'm not your dad, and I sure as hell can't tell you what to do. What I can tell you, though, is that you are setting yourself up for disappointment for the rest of Miami football's tenure.
The Miami football program, as it stands right now, does not have standards anymore. Those days are gone. The trophies, rings, and records are all still there, and will be forever, but it has been a decade since Miami's last title, and it's time to accept that and move on. If you want to have expectations and dreams of titles every season, that's perfectly fine. Hell, the coaches and players share those dreams with you each year. It's why they play. The line is drawn, though, when those expectations mar your ability to logically see what this team is, and why they lose games against teams like Virginia, UNC, and potentially Duke. Miami football slowed to a grinding halt until these past two years, and while that was happening, those other teams were building. They were going through the same process that our team is now. They were bringing in talent, coaching it up, and breeding a team atmosphere under good coaching. Miami is doing that right now, even under the looming NCAA. Even with sanctions coming, Golden is recruiting hard, and getting results.
So please, even if just for a little while, take off the Miami hat and take a few steps back. Realize that the team you and I both love just isn't good right now, but it will be. Stop lamenting these results as unacceptable and horrible, simply because they don't measure up to what you saw as a kid. It's time to lock the glass doors on the trophy case and walk away. The legacy will always be there, but it has nothing to do with the way things are now.