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Why Has Miami Failed to Return to National Prominence? (RIP Miami Football, Part 2)

Returning Miami From the Dead Has Proved an Uphill Battle

Miami v Florida International Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images
If you did not see the first part of this article, you can view it here.

Hiring Not One, Not Two, But Potentially Five Failed Head Coaches In A Row

While Manny Diaz’s tenure as head coach has just begun, it has been a disaster thus far. Diaz does deserves the opportunity to make schematic and position coach changes in the offseason. If the inertia of the program does not reverse, that would make it five consecutive failed coaching hires for a university that made four great hires in a row from 1979-1995. Coaches do not hire themselves and with such systemic failure by the university, it is time the root cause be held accountable.

Miami v Florida International Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Larry Coker Lost Control of the Program, Destroying Its Reputation by 2006

In 2001, Miami hired Larry Coker to chaperon the 2001 team as it coasted to Miami’s fifth title. By 2006 however, Coker’s jovial facade had been unmasked and the program was in disarray. 2006 began with a disappointing loss to FSU on Labor Day night in the Orange Bowl.

The Canes won their next game against FAMU and then headed up to Louisville, where they proceeded to get stomped—after causing a pre-game skirmish by stomping on Louisville’s midfield cardinal logo. Since the mid-2000s, Miami’s arrogant feigned “swagger” has undoubtedly hurt the program far more than it has intimidated the opposition.

A month later, FIU came into the Orange Bowl wanting a fight and they got it in the form of the Miami-FIU brawl. Why Miami ever agreed to play FIU again after their pugnacious and envious demeanor in the first ever meeting is case and point as to the incompetence of Miami’s athletic department. When playing FIU, FAU, and USF, Miami has nothing to gain but everything to lose. No one will remeber how Miami dominated FIU in 2006, 2007 and 2018, when Miami held the Golden Panthers to 20 offensive yards through three quarters: it is expected. Everyone will remember FIU beating Miami in 2019.

In the weeks following the FIU brawl, Miami lost to GT on the road, which snowballed into four consecutive ACC losses.

Miami did beat a ranked BC team (led by Matt Ryan) in the last game of the 2006 season to become bowl eligible. At 6-6, Miami went to the MPC Computers Bowl in Boise, Idaho where they beat Nevada 21-20. After the regular season, Larry Coker was fired but was allowed to coach the bowl.

First Coaching Search Leads to Hiring of Randy Shannon: Coker’s Former DC

After the 2006 debacle and embarrassment of a season, Miami was in shambles. Because Coker lost control of the team, Miami’s players had run amok and ruined the image that Butch Davis had restored. Miami’s top target was Greg Schiano, but he declined to interview. Miami did interview Mike Leach but was reportedly irked by his quirky personality. Leach was very enthusiastic about the Miami job and wanted it badly. His air raid attack would have undoubtedly excelled with the caliber of athletes Miami could attract at that point.

Taking a gamble, Miami hired its defensive coordinator, Randy Shannon, who admittedly produced very good units from 2001-2006. With no head coaching experience and only 5 years of coordinating experience, Shannon hired an amateur staff with Pat Nix as OC and Tim Walton as DC. The 2007 season was a disaster—much like Manny Diaz’s first season. I will never forget the 48-0 drubbing by a 9-4 UVA team on November 10, 2007: the last game at the Orange Bowl which Miami willingly left after 70 years of memories and 5 national championships.

Shannon did improve the program slightly and clean it up in 2008 and 2009, but failed miserably in 2010, culminating in a home loss to USF and his subsequent firing.

Shannon must be commended however, for warning and threatening punishment to assistant coaches and players who interacted with the weasel, Nevin Shapiro.

Second National Search Leads to Hiring of Al Golden: A Very Poor Cultural and Schematic Fit

After Shannon was fired, Miami conducted a “national search” and hired “up and comer,” Al Golden. The candidates for the job were reportedly Marc Trestman, Randy Edsall, and Kevin Sumlin. Of those, only Sumlin has had any semblance of success at the collegiate level.

Al Golden was a terrible fit for Miami from the start. Most damning to his tenure, was his passive “read and react” 3-4 defensive scheme, which required a true nose tackle and a playing style that nullifies the aggressive attacking style Miami has always played. After five woeful years, Golden was finally fired after a 58-0 drubbing at home by Clemson. Embarrassingly, AD Blake James publicly issued a “vote of confidence” immediately after the game which was then retracted when the school decided to fire Golden.

An Interim AD Who Is Unqualified, Becomes Permanent AD in 2013

An infinitesimally weak and incompetent AD is a large part of why the university cannot hire a quality football coach. The ‘Canes need a strong, competent, and autonomous AD who knows sports and football in particular, not a yes-man who takes orders from a Board of Trustees that does not know how to (or prioritize) field a nationally-relevant football program.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 18 Virginia at Miami Photo by Richard C. Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As further evidence of the Miami athletic department’s gross incompetence, consider that Jim Larranaga—the Hurricanes men’s basketball coach—had to email his Wikipedia page to the athletic department in order to interview, because they did not even know who he was!

The aforementioned anecdote is simply preposterous, as Larranaga was a well-respected and well-known commodity, who had taken George Mason to the Final Four! A former ticket salesman at Miami and associate athletic director at the University of Maine, Blake James is not qualified to head an athletic department that oversees a 5-time national championship football team.

A Meddling Board of Trustees and Incompetent AD Are a Bad Combination

After Al Golden was fired, Miami once again conducted one of its notorious “national searches” with a committee of former players Jonathan Vilma and Vinny Testaverde, administrator Jennifer Strawley, and Board of Trustee (BOT) members Hilarie Bass, Steve Saiontz, and David Epstein.

Hilarie Bass, former president of the American Bar Association and founder of the “Diversity and Inclusion Institute” is the current chair of the UM BOT. While Bass has had a decorated career as a lawyer, I am unsure if that is relevant as it pertains to the hiring of college football coaches. It seems to me that winning games and molding student-athletes into capable and competent men and women is the end goal of a collegiate athletic program—not necessarily “diversity and inclusion.” It should be noted Bass has been a power player on the Miami campus since the days of Butch Davis.

Jennifer Strawley, Like Blake James, Is Unqualified to Be Second in Charge at Such A Prestigious Football Program

Jennifer Strawley: UM’s Deputy Athletic Director, Chief Operations Officer, and Chief Woman Administrator, is second in charge in the Miami Athletic Department and was the manager and overseer of the 2015 coaching search. Strawley arrived to Miami in 2012 after two stints with the NCAA and Columbia University, where she served as an associate athletic director and administrator for football. With all due respect to Strawley, the Ivy League’s Columbia University and the program dubbed “NFL U” have almost nothing in common when it comes to athletics.

NCAA Photos Archive

Strawley was a part of the search committee that failed to hire Dan Mullen, who interviewed for the vacancy in 2015 and would have been a slam-dunk hire. Compounding matters, the 2015 search committee once again hired Korn Ferry in 2015 to consult. Korn Ferry was also utilized in 2006 and 2011 and was the firm that placed Jim McElwain at Florida and Charlie Strong at Texas.

Third National Search Nets a Past-Prime Mark Richt, Despite Dan Mullen Wanting the Job

Despite all of this, Mark Richt fell into Miami’s lap when Georgia fired him in December of 2015. Miami hired Richt as its coach just days after Georgia had let him go. In hindsight, Miami probably should not have hired a coach who was just fired for under-performing, but at the time it seemed a solid hire.

Richt did have some success at Miami, which included: winning Miami’s first bowl game since 2006 in 2016, winning the ACC Coastal Division for the first time in school history, and winning 10 games in 2017. Most memorable of all however, was Miami reaching #2 in the CFP Rankings, a week after a 41-8 thrashing of then no. 3 ND.

2017 did however, fall apart at the end of the year due to injuries, poor quarterback play, and an anemic offense. Richt’s Canes entered the 2018 season ranked in the top 10 before being humiliated in Dallas by an admittedly under-ranked LSU team.

Richt’s refusal to adapt and evolve his offense—and fire himself and his son as OC and QB coach respectively—was his undoing. I find it hard to believe that after three straight losses at the tail end of 2017 in which Miami only scored a combined 41 points, Richt would have been allowed to continue calling the offense without significant changes at any other big-time program. A day late and a dollar short is the story of UM’s reactive athletic department.

Richt Does Miami a Huge Favor by Resigning and Miami Panics and Hires Its Outgoing DC Within Mere Hours of Richt’s Announcement

Fast forward to Mark Richt’s retirement in December of 2018, and Miami once again promoted its defensive coordinator from within. This time, Miami failed to even conduct a basic search and made the decision within 24 hours, failing to interview any other candidates. While Manny Diaz excelled at Miami as a defensive coordinator with mostly Al Golden’s recruits, he had failed miserably at Texas prior and was too risky of a hire. UM should have allowed Diaz to cut his teeth at Temple and gone after a proven commodity like Matt Campbell from Iowa State. Even Rex Ryan or Chuck Pagano from the NFL ranks would have been intriguing options.

Manny conveyed in offseason interviews that he understands Miami and I hope that is the case. In year 1, it is apparent that he has missed on most of his position coach and both coordinator hires. In the offseason, Manny must part ways with Dan Enos and his plodding pro-style scheme: the time is long since due for the Miami Hurricanes to field an exciting, up-tempo, spread offense.

Blake Baker’s defense, which is too aggressive sometimes and too passive other times, has made a mockery of the defensive “standard” established by Diaz’s units from 2016-18. At times this season, I have even seen shades of Mark D’ Onofrio with strange pre-snap alignments, 3-man fronts, and defensive ends dropping into pass coverage.

Perhaps most importantly, Diaz must scrap the gimmicky trinkets and slogans and instead channel those things which made Miami great in the first place: work ethic, discipline, intensity, focus, playing without fear, and a sheer will to win. After a calamitous night against FIU, all goodwill and apparent progress is lost. It is hard to imagine Diaz can recover unless he completely revamps his approach and coaching staff. It must be noted he transformed one of the worst defenses in the country in 2015, into one of the best in 2016, but the task at hand is much more arduous.

Bethune-Cookman v Miami Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Georgia Tech v Miami Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Conclusion Moving Forward

While Manny Diaz is the coach for the interim, the point remains: Miami should not be in a position where yet another under-qualified coach learns on the job and for that, Miami’s athletic department must be held accountable. A strong football program with a clean outward image is a boon to the University of Miami, as it facilitates university efforts to expand academic offerings and build better facilities. It is time that those in charge of the “U” recognize this and put a plan to action to restore the Hurricanes tattered and tarnished football legacy, or else Miami will only get worse and worse.