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Breaking down legendary Miami coaches first game as Hurricanes

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Manny Diaz is set to kick off his career as head coach of the Hurricanes

Miami Hurricanes... Photo by Focus on Sport via Getty Images

Manny Diaz is set to kickoff his head coaching career in just three days when the Hurricanes head up to Orlando to take on the Florida Gators. Plenty of optimism has surrounded the program since his hiring.

Whether it was fixing a broken recruiting class through the transfer portal, hiring a highly touted offensive coordinator that has brought life to a flatlined offense, or putting his team through rigorous summer workouts that has transformed their conditioning, Diaz has been winning since his arrival.

But the off-season doesn't count on Saturdays. Despite doing all of those great, tangible things to improve the program, he has yet to win absolutely anything at Miami. Saturday will be his first test and it’s a big one.

Losing this game may not be the worst thing in the world, but winning would be Miami and Manny Diaz bursting onto the college football scene and letting everybody know they are here to stay and they are here to win — now.

Miami Spring Game Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

It is difficult to set concrete expectations for the first year head coach. He has been around the program for a long time, so it’s not like this is a complete transformation. However, this is the first time Diaz will have the headset on as the head coach and his decision making, time management, and communication skills will be put to the test.

As excited as we are to see Diaz kick off his career, let’s look back to see how some legendary Hurricanes coaches started their careers.

Howard Schnellenberger

After serving as the Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator between 1975-1978, Howard Schnellenberger took over a dying Miami Hurricanes program that had gone 6-5, including a 22-21 win over Florida, the year prior to his arrival.

In his first game as head coach of the Canes, Schnellenberger led the team to a 24-12 victory over the Louisville Cardinals at the Orange Bowl.

Penn State v Miami Hurricanes Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

The legendary Miami coach finished the season 5-6, but had two big time wins over 19th ranked Penn State in Happy Valley and... the Florida Gators.

Jimmy Johnson

Despite winning a national championship, Howard Schnellenberger left the program, opening the door for one of the most prolific coaches in Miami Hurricanes history — Jimmy Johnson.

January 1, 1988: NCAA Orange Bowl Game - Oklahoma Sooner v Miami Hurricanes Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

The Hurricanes opened up the season with the #1 ranked Auburn Tigers in a Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, where they won 20-18 thanks to a 25-yard Greg Cox field goal to put the Canes ahead late in the fourth.

Bernie Kosar had established himself as a star after leading the Canes to a championship and completed 21 passes for 329 yards in the opener.

Sophomore Alonzo Highsmith also out-shined a guy by the name of Bo Jackson by carrying the ball 22 times for 140 yards, while the Heisman trophy winning back tallied 96 yards on 20 carries.

It was Miami’s 12th straight win and they ended Auburn’s 10-game winning streak with the opening game victory.

And just five days later, Johnson got his team together to take on (guess who).....the Florida Gators in Tampa, where the Canes defeated the Gators 32-20.

Dennis Erickson

We all know the story. Jimmy Johnson left coach the Dallas Cowboys and Dennis Erickson took over.

In his first game as the Hurricanes head coach, Erickson led the #3 Hurricanes to a 51-3 win over the Wisconsin Badgers.

Temple Owls v Miami Hurricanes Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Craig Erickson was making his first start for Miami and led the way with 281 yards and four touchdowns on the day, which was more than Jim Kelly, Vinny Testaverde, Bernie Kosar, or Steve Walsh threw for in their first game.

It was a dominant step forward for a team that would become a national champions after beating #2 Notre Dame and #7 Alabama to end the season.

Erickson finished his first season 11-1, with the only loss coming against Florida State at Doak Campbell.

Butch Davis

It’s 1995 and Butch Davis has took over for Dennis Erickson at Miami. Unfortunately, Erickson left the Miami program with a heap of NCAA violations, giving the Hurricanes a post-season ban in Davis’ first year.

Butch Davis...

In his first game at Miami, the Hurricanes flew west to take on #12 UCLA and it was not pretty. The Canes lost 31-8 and count up losing three of their first four games, beating FAMU and losing to Virginia Tech and #1 Florida State along with the Bruins.

The switch flipped after being demolished by Seminoles on national television and Butch’s team wound up winning their last seven games, which started an 11-game winning streak extending into the 1996 season.

Larry Coker

The Canes had been left out of the national championship in 2000 after being ranked #2 in both the AP and Coaches Polls and had beaten Florida State, who somehow got in over the Canes.

Boston College Golden Eagles v Miami Hurricanes Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images

Butch Davis decided in February that he was going to take the Cleveland Browns job, leaving Miami in tough place. The players, such as Ed Reed, vouched for Coker to get the job because this team was in line to win a national championship and didn't want anything to change.

They were certainly correct as the 2001 Miami Hurricanes not only won a national championship, but are widely considered the greatest college football team of all-time.

While Coker could hardly be credited for the team’s success, he is still a national championship winning coach.

In his first game as head coach, Coker’s team was on the road at Penn State and beat the Nittany Lions 33-7. It was one of eight games that year that the Hurricanes would hold opponents under ten points.

Mark Richt

Despite what we saw from the Hurricanes in 2018, there is no denying Richt’s importance to the program. In 2017, Richt took the program to their first conference championship game since joining the ACC in 2004.

Florida International v Miami Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

His first game as the coach of the Hurricanes came against FAMU and he didn't play a power 5 team until they went to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech on the 1st of October. He got off to a hot 4-0 start before losing four straight, then winning the next five, giving Miami their first bowl game win since 2006 when Miami beat Nevada 21-20 in the MPC Computers Bowl.


Being just three days away from Manny Diaz’s first game against the Florida Gators has created a palpable buzz not only around the football program, but across the city of Miami, throughout the state of Florida, and across every corner of country as Florida and Miami clash in the kickoff of the 2019 college football season.

Hopefully one day we can look back at Manny Diaz’s first game here and place him in the same conversation as Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, and Butch Davis. Time will tell.

For now, it’s go time.