On November 11, 2017, the Miami Hurricanes boat raced the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on ABC, part of the College Gameday feature package shown in front of millions of people from South Beach to South Bend, from Fifth Avenue to Rodeo Drive, all of whom thought “The U” was “back.” This was the latest chapter in “The U is back” storybook, but unlike all those other times, this one seemed to be for real, as recruiting, program culture, and rivalry momentum seemed to finally be on the right track.
412 days later, the same program laid an egg in the Bronx, losing 35-3 to the Wisconsin Badgers. Since that glorious night at Hard Rock, a reincarnation of “Catholics vs Convicts,” UM is 8-9, and an especially appalling 4-8 against power five teams.
Fans are right to believe that this U-turn is sudden and unacceptable, but seismic shifts in a program’s direction are precedented in recent college football history. Let’s focus on three examples.
Brady Hoke at Michigan
Brady Hoke inherited a difficult situation in Ann Arbor. Rich Rodriguez had just been fired after three sub-mediocre seasons at the Big House, and the fanbase rallied around Hoke as the ‘Michigan man’ that was to bring the program back to the days of championship football.
Hoke’s first season in 2011 exceeded expectations as the Wolverines went 11-2 with a win in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, and more importantly, a win over archival Ohio State, their first in seven years (sound familiar, Canes fans?).
Recruiting results skyrocketed. In the 2012 and 2013 classes, Hoke’s first two of his own (not counting the 2011 class he had a month to put together), the Wolverines finished 4th and 6th nationally accounting to the 247Sports composite.
But the realities of college football began to catch up to Hoke as early as his second year. Quarterback Denard Robinson, the electric dual-threat out of Deerfield Beach, regressed though his senior season. Michigan—ranked 8th in the preseason AP poll—was dismantled by Alabama in the season opener at AT&T Stadium in game that was not physically competitive (also sound familiar, Canes fans?). While the Maize and Blue somewhat recovered and finished 8-5 on the year, they still finished short of the Big Ten title game, a level they were heavily favored to reach. To add to the misery, Jadeveon Clowney and the South Carolina Gamecocks beat them in the Outback Bowl with the help of Clowney’s monster forced fumble replayed on SportsCenter to this day.
Recruits may have begun to notice, as that season, along with a 7-6 campaign in 2013—featuring another loss to Ohio State and another blowout bowl loss—sent their 2014 recruiting class down to 20th.
Hoke wouldn't survive his fourth year. The 2014 season was a disaster in Ann Arbor at 5-7, including losses to not just Ohio State, but Minnesota, Rutgers and Maryland. The incompetence surrounding the handing of QB Shane Morris’ concussion magnified the perceived incompetence of Michigan’s then-head coach, as a once promising regime went up in flames in a relatively short period of time.
Charlie Strong at Texas
After the Mack Brown era ended in Austin, the Longhorns brought in Charlie Strong from Louisville after the 2013 season, with the hope that a fresh, new face could return the ‘Horns to the championship tradition not seen since Vince Young led the team in 2005.
Strong proved that he was strong on the recruiting trail (no pun intended). His classes finished 17th (his partial class he had to salvage immediately after his hiring), 10th and 7th in the nation according to 247 from 2014-2016.
After a 6-7 first season, Strong and the Longhorn nation expected to get the program rolling again in Strong’s second campaign in 2015. It was indeed then that Strong got his first signature win, a 24-17 victory over Oklahoma.
While the rest of 2015 sputtered out of hand late in the season, 2016 look to be the big year as Texas defeated Notre Dame to start the season. As Joe Tessitore said while calling the game on ESPN as QB Tyrone Swoopes swooped into the end zone for the winning score in 2OT, “Texas is back!” thought America. Again Canes fans, sound familiar?
The rest of 2016 was not as nice out in the Lone Star State. Losses to California, Kansas State and Kansas (yes, KANSAS) derailed the Longhorn’s hopes of being back. Texas could and would have another successful season, but it would happen in another year and with a different coach.
Butch Jones at Tennessee
After Vols legend Phillip Fulmer retired after the 2008 season, neither Lane Kiffin (we know how that went) nor Derek Dooley could return Tennessee to anything remotely mirroring expectations, and Butch Jones was hired in 2013 to rebuild the program ‘brick by brick.’
Jones, like Hoke and Strong (along with many Canes coaches early in their tenures), was celebrated among fans, with the face of the Vols often seen in commercials and on T-shirts.
After a 5-7 season to start his career in Knoxville, Jones began to crank it up in year two, signing the 7th ranked recruiting class in 2014 and getting the Volunteers back in the postseason for the first time since 2010. A blowout win over Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl, along with 4th ranked recruiting class in 2015, and another blowout bowl win that year against Northwestern in the Outback Bowl, left fans wondering if these efforts would earn the program its much-anticipated “signature win.”
That moment came in 2016, Jones’ 4th season, against the Florida Gators. UF had 11 consecutive wins against Rocky Top, but the Vols overcame a 21-0 deficit behind a 38-0 run that turned Neyland Stadium into a lituation in the second half. Suddenly, Tennessee was ‘back.’
The buzz didn't last long. The Vols next anticipated signature moment—this time against Alabama—was foiled as the Tide imposed their will, 49-10. Losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt left questions going into 2017.
Off-field issues also plagued the program around this time, with Jones seemingly answerless. There was the issue of a fight at practice being covered up by Jones, who blamed the incident on a helmet falling on a player (you read that right), along with other gaffes such as “five star hearts” being prioritized ahead of five-star recruits (convenient coach speak when recruiting is down) and the heavily joked about “champions of life” soundbite. The midseason departure of star running back Jalen Hurd also questioned Jones’ s ability to control the program (yet again, sound familiar, Canes fans!?).
Five-star recruits? Nah, Butch Jones only wants those with "five-star hearts" https://t.co/WhuvhpjnFK— College Football by SB Nation (@SBNationCFB) February 2, 2017
A maligned recruiting class set the stage for a miserable 2017, in which Jones was shown the door after a string of bad losses, which were a combination of blowouts and close games against bad teams.
The Miami Hurricanes brought in a big name coach from an SEC program after the 2015 season. While it took a year, Miami finally got over the hump and defeated Florida State for the first win over the Seminoles since 2009, and backed this up with the gigantic win over Notre Dame. In addition, the Canes signed back-to-back top 12 recruiting classes and the stage was set for the momentum to continue through 2018.
The head coach in Coral Gables is not the first head coach to lead an extremely disappointing year, falling short of high preseason expectations following positive seasons at the helm.
The head coach in Coral Gables is not the first head coach to be popular among his team’s respective fans early in his time at a given stop in his career, and is not the only head coach to see his popularity drop as the sample size of results grows larger and larger.
The head coach in Coral Gables would not be the first head coach to turn his program around mid-tenure when it can appear things are heading south rapidly.
However, the three coaches on this list were all victims of today’s reality in college football. In spite of promising futures at their former jobs, the roof eventually caved on all three. Although their firing would have been inconceivable at one point in their tenures, as results changed, attitudes changed. These coaches suffered from the same misfortunes occurring in Miami right now.
And nobody in the game is sheltered from this reality. If I were Mark Richt, I would not be overly confident in my ability to tread water in Miami for too much longer if recent results hold.