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What went wrong for the 2009 Miami Hurricanes?

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They started 3-1 and finished 9-4 with a bowl loss in Randy Shannon’s best season at Miami.

Boston College v Miami Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The 2009 Miami Hurricanes came in with a ton of hype after a 7-6 season in 2008. The 2009 season saw Jacory Harris as the clearcut starter at quarterback and an upgrade at offensive coordinator from Patrick Nix to Mark Whipple. Randy Shannon was in his third season as the head football coach, coming into 2009 with a record of 12-13 through two seasons.

The Miami recruiting classes from 2007-2009 were ranked 13th, 1st and 16th in the nation, respectively. The Hurricanes can barely sign a five-star prospect over a five year period today but in 2008 brought in three in the same class in Arthur Brown, Marcus Fortson and Brandon Harris.

Shannon wasn’t a great head coach by any means and that’s clear because he’s had to work his way up from linebacker coach to UCF defensive coordinator. At this point it looks like Coach Shannon will never be an FBS head football coach again, and maybe he doesn’t want to be.

South Florida v Miami Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Personnel

The amount of NFL players on the 2009 roster is unreal considering the ‘Canes lost to two unranked opponents and 22nd ranked Wisconsin. Quarterback Jacory Harris threw for 3,352 yards (8.2 yards per attempt) and 24 touchdowns with 17 interceptions. Harris was interception prone while at Miami and Whipple’s love of the deep ball didn’t help. The U had three running backs split time in Graig Cooper, Damien Berry, and Javarris James. The trio combined for 18 rushing touchdowns and 2,000 yards on the ground.

The receiver room was led by Leonard Hankerson who caught 45 balls for 801 yards (17.8 yards per catch) and six touchdowns. He was flanked by Travis Benjamin’s 501 receiving yards (17.3 per catch) and four touchdowns and tight end Jimmy Graham’s five receiving touchdowns.

On defense, Darryl Sharpton and Colin McCarthy led the team in tackles with 106 and 95, respectively. Sharpton added nine tackles for loss while McCarthy tied Allen Bailey for the team lead with 11. Bailey, a defensive end, added seven sacks while Brandon Harris, Micanor Regis and Randy Phillips hauled in two interceptions a piece.


Schedule

Compared to the 1995 Miami Hurricanes I covered (read more here) prior to this 2009 team, the 2009 team played a much more difficult schedule. The ‘Canes lead off with a road game against 18th ranked Florida State, a home game against 14th ranked Georgia Tech, then a road game to Blacksburg against the 11th ranked Hokies, before a home stand against the 8th ranked Oklahoma Sooners. That’s enough of a scheduling snafu early on to pound your program into submission. Miami emerged with a 3-1 record from the opening four games and making the ACC Championship Game seemed possible, even with the loss to Virginia Tech.

Then the second half of the season happened. The ‘Canes slipped up in overtime against unranked Clemson at home, again on a road trip to Chapel Hill against the Tar Heels, and once again in the Citrus Bowl against 22nd ranked Wisconsin. By the Citrus Bowl, Miami had ran out of steam and we’re going to look at what happened and what could’ve gone better for Miami throughout the season.


North Carolina State v Florida State Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Miami 38 - Florida State 34

In Bobby Bowden’s last year in Tallahassee, the Seminoles finished 7-6 so Miami’s Week 1 win over their rival might’ve seen blown out of proportion. Miami topped FSU at Doak Campbell Stadium 38 to 34 in front of a wild crowd. The ‘Noles were led by Christian Ponder, Jermaine Thomas and Rod Owens on offense and Nigel Bradham, Dekoda Watson and Jamie Robinson on defense.

I just finished up the 2009 FSU-Miami game and something I really enjoyed was the heart the Miami kids showed. Young players were playing like veterans and it reminded me of guys from the 1994 teams at Miami. They might not be quite up to the talent level of 1991 but man they’re working to impress.

The things that are blatantly obvious are the turnovers, bad decisions to squib from Randy going into the half, plenty of 4th and short punts, and penalties galore. There was NFL talent all over the field for the ‘Canes, and this wasn’t an acquisition issue as Miami had the top rated recruiting class. This is a development and deployment issue. I still believe if Mike Leach was hired for the gig Miami wins a national championship.

Again, the heart was there. Jacory Harris played hurt and with a desire to win and that desire was all over despite the wasted timeouts from the coaching staff. Randy Shannon always seemed in over his head and it was evident in this win, and I would bet it becomes more evident against UNC which I will watch tomorrow.


Purdue v Wisconsin Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Miami 14 - Wisconsin 20

Sadly, I was at this Champs Sports Bowl. Thankfully, I didn’t have to pay to attend. The Badgers finished 2009 with a 10-3 record, including their bowl win over Miami. The Badgers were quarterbacked by Scott Tolzien in Bielema’s tight end and fullback heavy offense. Tailback John Clay ran for 1500-plus yards with 18 touchdowns. He’s backed up by future NFL’er Montee Ball. Wide Receiver Nick Toon led the team with 805 receiving yards and hauled in four touchdowns.

J.J. Watt and O’Brien Schofield were a dynamic duo for the Badgers. Schofield finished 2009 with 24.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks while the young Watt had 15.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks after transferring from Central Michigan.

With the opening kickoff return for a touchdown being called back by a stupid penalty, you can see the lack of discipline for Miami from the onset. It’s hard to beat teams like Wisconsin who grinds up the clock and puts together long drives if you’re going to take points off the board or extend drives or limit yours.

Cooper did score right away and man he was really good and I forgot truly how good he was. After that the Miami offense went complete dark. Wisconsin did what they do, they hit tight ends and ran power right through Miami. Wisconsin went on a 17 point run to have a 17-7 lead over the ‘Canes heading into the 4th quarter.

The Miami offense failed to start strong on 1st down and continually found themselves in 2nd and 7-8 yard situations. Most of those led to 3rd and 7+ yard situations and eventually being sacked and punting. With Cooper being injured and Harris limping Mark Whipple made few adjustments. Mark Whipple’s offensive line is swiss cheese for Harris but Whipple doesn’t adjust and call screens to slow down the pass rush and wear out the Badgers. Whipple also doesn’t cut out the play-action to keep Harris facing the targets and threats.


South Florida v Miami Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

So what went wrong?

Watching the Champs Sports Bowl was an accident but wound up a good idea. I feel like you can see the two biggest weaknesses of the Miami staff showing in this game. Shannon’s inability to lead and build a program and Whipple’s inability to adjust throughout the game. During a halftime interview Shannon puts the blame on his offensive coordinator. A true leader takes all praise and passes it around, and accepts all criticism in public. The Program LLC’s leaders Eric Kapitulik & Jake MacDonald would agree.

In Michael Lombardi’s Gridiron Genius, the NFL Personnel guru discusses the characteristics that make a leader or great head coach. Those items are command of the room, command of the message, command of self, command of opportunity, and command of the process.

Command of the room: This is a leader that gives subordinates something to commit to. “As Belichick says, ‘Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes but no plans’” (pg 35). On page 37, Lombardi describes Jon Gruden as someone who should be, “better at coping than complaining.”

Command of the message: Lombardi says, “What is a good plan if you can’t articulate it? (pg 37). He goes on to list coaches like Bill Parcells and Belichick who are master communicators.

Command of self: “Personal accountability,” Lombardi says, “is the ultimate sign of strength” (pg 38). Page 38 details that a coach must have an ego, but must control that ego. Coaches can’t take all the credit nor pass off the blame. A head coach, as the leader, must spread around credit and own the blame.

Command of opportunity: Lombardi uses words like “leader,” “core beliefs,” “command,” and “motivate” (pg 41).

Command of the process: Pages 42-43 go on to describe a situation with Jim Mora Jr. and his staff in Atlanta where favoritism and a lack of consistency tore apart the Falcons franchise. Lombardi says, “When rules don’t apply to everyone, the ensuing chaos collapses whatever foundation a leader has tried so hard to build.

An example Lombardi uses that relates well to Shannon is Rex Ryan. Ryan, the former Jets and Bills head coach, has looked good early on in regimes. But Ryan makes no qualms about not only being a ‘defense guy’ versus a head coach, but also puts his offensive staff and players on an island. Lombardi feels that won’t make for a Super Bowl winner and is the reason guys like Rex Ryan and Randy Shannon don’t work out as head coaches.

You can pick and choose which of the commands Randy Shannon was lacking in and which were his strong points but in the end his players disobeyed him and hung around with Nevin Shapiro, he blamed his offensive coordinator at halftime of a bowl game, and his program fell apart around him and he was fired. Shannon has never been given the rare “second chance” to prove himself after failure.