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Miami Has Searched for a Way Back for Twenty Years, but the Path Forward Still Isn’t Clear

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The Hurricanes football program remains caught in a seemingly unbreakable cycle.

NCAA Football: Miami at Duke James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

When will Miami be back? That question has surrounded the University of Miami’s football program since December 30, 2005, the night the Hurricanes took a 40-3 loss to LSU in the Peach Bowl. In the ensuing years, Miami’s pursuit of being “back” has turned from a bright goal to look towards to a dark cloud that surrounds the program. The pressure of fulfilling that hope has consumed Larry Coker, Randy Shannon, Al Golden, and Mark Richt, and now the maelstrom has surrounded Manny Diaz, 14 years after that night and 18 after the Hurricanes last national title.

Ultimately, Miami’s losses and missed opportunities have come due to a multitude of reasons, yet all of those reasons boil down to one point; Miami has built a culture that believes that they’ll win purely because of the logo on the side of the helmet.

No one from outside the program should claim to know what is going on inside the locker room this season, nor should anyone claim to know what the attitude present was in any of the prior 17 seasons. Despite that, one thing has become abundantly clear, Miami’s attention to detail, leadership, preparation, and consistency have not been to the standard of a college football program with five national titles and a laundry list of legends.

The effort that Miami’s great teams of 1983, 1987, 1989, 1991, 2001, and 2002 put in has been lost in the last 15 years, and no coach has managed to find the formula for creating the leadership and culture that those teams built. Much has been said about how the attitude of high school recruits has “changed”, yet Clemson, Alabama, and others have built programs with leadership and effort reminiscent of the glory days of Miami football, and have done it in the modern world.

Peter Schneider, the man who “rebuilt” Walt Disney Animation Studios, said that when he began his job he knew he had, “120 days to change the culture, before the culture changed me.” Manny Diaz, in similar fashion, has been trying desperately to change the culture within Miami’s football program. However, after back-to-back losses to FIU and Duke, plus losses to UNC (6-6) and Georgia Tech (3-9), it’s time to seriously question whether there’s been any progress towards a culture change.

The fact that Miami wears the same uniform as the legends that took the field before them should not mean that the team should think that guarantees a win. Quite simply, in modern collegiate athletics, no game is a guarantee, in any sport, most especially football. The Hurricanes have not managed to put together a complete season since 2002. In reality, the ‘Canes haven’t put together a strong run of longer than 6 games since 2005, minus what now seems like an outlier of a season in 2017.

The modern version of the University of Miami’s football program has now confused their own invention, swagger, with what they now play with in reality, unfounded cockiness and a lack of preparation. The Hurricanes never expected to be handed a win in their “glory days,” they preferred working for them during the week at Greentree Practice Fields.

Other factors have certainly played a role in Miami’s lack of success, namely the program’s facilities falling behind the rest of the country’s and the Nevin Shapiro scandal, yet Miami’s main issue has always been resting on its’ laurels. Week in and week out the Hurricanes beat themselves, playing down to the level of their opponent and exposing themselves to shocking losses.

At some point, accountability has to be instilled in every level of the football program if Miami hopes to ever return to what it once was. The fundamental culture issue we’ve seen plague the Hurricanes this season is not exclusive to Manny Diaz’s young tenure, but it is one that he now has his chance to fix.

That path forward will be met with tough decisions, ones that coaches prior to Coach Diaz struggled to make. Al Golden’s tenure was doomed by his refusal to make changes on the defensive side of the ball, which ultimately culminated in a 58-0 loss to Clemson. Similarly, Coach Richt’s offense struggled, and rather than make changes he chose to resign and pass the mantle to Coach Diaz.

If Miami is to improve and return to prominence under Manny Diaz, he must learn to make the changes necessary to make the Hurricanes’ program modern and relevant again. No one but Diaz and those inside the program can say what those changes are, but accountability, and a change in culture, are the only ways back to success for Miami.