They hoisted him onto their shoulders. A show of respect for a man that had his pride ripped away just a few weeks earlier.
Larry Coker was fired on November 25, 2006 after four seasons of declining results in Coral Gables. But he would be the last Miami coach to lead the Canes to a bowl victory.
Miami’s 21-20 win over Nevada in the 2006 MPC Computers Bowl (as it was called then), in temperatures that reached the low teens with the wind chill factor, was appropriate. The only thing that had chilled more than the frigid, frozen blue turf at Boise State was the competitiveness of the Hurricane program under Coker.
That being said, as you all know, the squeaker in Boise has been it – the last Hurricane bowl trophy to be hoisted. “B-o-w-l” has been a different kind of four-letter word ever since.
The streak started following the 2008 season, as the 2007 campaign ended with a forgettable 5-7 mark. A trip to San Francisco to play in the Giants’ baseball facility resulted in a 24-17 loss to Cal that was not nearly as close as the score indicated.
Two trips to the junior circuit bowl game in Orlando resulted in two varying, yet underwhelming performances against Nebraska and Louisville. A victory in either of those games would have given the relatively-memorable 2009 and 2013 teams 10 wins, a feat not reached since 2003. Instead, Wisconsin pushed Miami around in a 20-14 loss, while Teddy Bridgewater engineered 36 consecutive points in a 36-9 thrashing.
The failures in El Paso and Shreveport are as forgettable and dismissive to relive here as the team’s desires to have even been there.
So it brings us back to Orlando, where Miami will try for a third time in eight seasons to win the Champs Sports/Russell Athletic Bowl and cap a season with a win against a big name and ranked opponent.
Looking back at the beginning of this season, it’s hard to really say where this team should have gone. It’s always hard to figure out what’s going to happen when you have a new head coach, new positional coaches, and new offensive and defensive schemes. Not to mention having players on the roster that slogged through some of the worst losses in recent memory, including a lifeless 58-0 dismemberment by Clemson.
Well, at least I can speak for myself. I felt this team had enough talent to win the Coastal, and if not for a few gut-wrenching plays that went against the Canes this year (the blocked XP, the UNC touchdown that wasn’t, wide open Njoku falling down in Blacksburg), maybe it would’ve happened. Who knows.
But I’m not going to turn my nose up against a 4-game winning streak to end the season. A strong finish has been something that’s eluded the Miami program under Shannon and Golden, after falling to FSU.
Yet, here we sit on a 4-game winning streak, and the 14th-ranked team in the nation will take the field next week against our boys. A team that, not long ago, faced Oklahoma for effectively the conference title and a potential outside shot at the playoffs. After the gut punch in South Bend to fall to 4-4, I think that scenario is one that any Hurricane fan would take at this point. And, from all accounts I’ve seen, it seems the players are actually stoked to be in Orlando and playing West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Look, we all want to be back winning conference titles and playing for the whole shebang, but it’s going to take some steps to get there. And that first step towards a successful 2017 and beyond is a strong finish to 2016.
Beating West Virginia won’t be easy. They rank 12th in the nation in total offense with 507 yards per game and have put 34 or more points in the board in half their games this season. But they can be had defensively, especially on the ground, and Miami has been humming these last few weeks.
West Virginia is a good team, but this certainly is a winnable game for Miami…..much more so than the last time they were here in 2013 against a Bridgewater-led Louisville squad.
But….they need to finish. Finish the job. Finish 2016 strong. Finish Richt’s first season as a (relatively) successful one. And, quite possibly, finish Brad Kaaya’s career on a high point.
And, for the love of God, finally finish this losing streak that’s carried on far, far too long.