As coaches shift around in the offseason, fans will be pleased and - even more so - annoyed. We’re a society of “what have you done for me today” type of people. That’s what the world is unfortunately evolving to become in today’s instant information (and instant results and/or gratification) society.
Unfortunately, that translates into a high level of impatience with, and vitriol towards, your (insert favorite school’s) head coach. That’s the nature of the business of all of sports, collegiate and professional. And most coaches in pressure-cooker positions are compensated well enough to offset any tidal wave of negativity or doubt being unfair to them that fans can bring. So that’s nice (from their perspective).
But what should our expectations really be? We know it’s really, REALLY hard to turn a program around, and not just anyone can do it. All coaches are different as well. Is there a time table that should be given? 3, 4, 5 years? Should the level/direction of recruiting set the time table and a reasonable level of expectations.
I say this because my other alma mater - the University of Tennessee - hired one Josh Heupel from UCF this week. I did not have high expectations for this hire, as Tennessee is in as bad a position as I’ve ever seen it since I became a student in the 1990s. It’s horrendously bad. But before the McDonald’s bag allegations came out (Google it, if you’re not aware of the allegations), I was ready to give former head coach a fourth season. He inherited a mess, he needed time to get it moving in the right direction. Year two seemed to be headed that way, with a bowl win and an 8-5 finish to the season.
But just one (disastrous) season later, they were looking for a new coach. Again. It wasn’t good enough under Derek Dooley, who got 3 years. It wasn’t good enough under Butch Jones, who got 5 (most of 5, at least). And it wasn’t good enough under Pruitt, who’s gone after 3.
Coaching turnover every few years isn’t going to move you forward. To the contrary, it’s going to set you back. New coaches, styles, and philosophies rotated in, which have to be learned by and adapted to personnel, which takes time. Players skipping town (players have been flooding out of Knoxville this month, including their All-SEC-caliber kicker). Countless other issues with turnover. Bottom line is that Tennessee got it wrong, and has since they fired Phillip Fulmer.
My point for the Canes is this: be careful what you wish for. There has been a vocal number of Miami fans on social media who were disappointed enough with the end of the 2020 season to warrant putting him on a “hot seat.” I think having that mindset entering the 2021 season would be a mistake.
Miami has had more than its fair share of turnover since Larry Coker was let go after the 2006 season. Randy Shannon got 4 years, Al Golden got 5, and Mark Richt left on his own after 3. That’s a bit more of a lifeline than Tennessee gave its coaching, but not by a whole lot. Miami’s head coaches have never been ones to stick around for all that long (and college football head coaches have a limited shelf life, we know). Maybe that’s been the problem.
I can hear you pounding away on your keyboards: “So why is this any different, Craig?”
Because I’m seeing players buy in, both inside the program and on the recruiting trail. I’m seeing a focus being made back on Miami as a brand. And, speaking of brand, with players being able to make money off their name and likeness soon, I have a feeling that a man as adept on social media and building a brand as Diaz will have no problem fostering those opportunities for his players. That’s something he can sell.
In short, I see something being built here that I haven’t seen in any of the previous failed coaches.
But we know results on the field matter, and Manny has to be able to show he can improve in that area. What is a reasonable expectation for a head coach with Manny’s experience and the condition of the Miami program? My expectations for 2020 were progress. I had always set 9-2 as my money regular season record. They just missed it. But that represented a two-win, four-loss improvement over the prior season. And Miami looked dominant at times. Creativity was found on offense, and when it struggled, the Canes’ defense kept them in games when it mattered.
I’m not thrilled with how the season ended. I had serious questions about Diaz’s comments on 560 am the week after the UNC disaster. I was highly critical of him after that interview. But I have to give him credit: he corrects his mistakes, and he does it quickly.
The football program is moving in the right direction. Miami’s defense at times last year moved in the right direction. The Canes were in a enviable place in the last week of the regular season - the College Football Playoff Top 10.
Things could be SO much worse at UM. Instead, the needle is pointing upwards, even if some fans see that needle pointing closer to the East than North.
I, like most folks, am worried about getting worked in the opener against Alabama. I don’t want to give a “pass” to Manny for that game, as I want to see if we can compete. What I WANT to see is if Miami can take the next steps by not just continuing to win games he should (i.e., the App State and Michigan State games at home in the following weeks), but getting better and avoiding the disastrous performance in a difficult environment. I want to fight, adapt where needed, and be in every game until the end. No more UNC disasters.
That all being said, I believe in Manny Diaz as being able to lead this program. He’s gotten recruits to buy into playing in south Florida much the way that Howard Schnellenberger worked on creating the State of Miami back in the 1980s. Even more of a good sign is that many players have opted to return when they didn’t have to, which speaks to me about a positive environment and experience at the University of Miami. Players in prior lean years used to run screaming to the draft, even guys with little realistic top-end draft status. I’ve had concerns about different parts of the coaching staff, and to his credit, Manny has taken steps to address them and make them better. You may not agree with the action taken, but you can’t say he has done nothing. Enos was bad, and he was shown the door. The defense was not up to Manny’s standards under Baker, and he’s off to LSU (for one reason or another).
At the end of the day, he’s done what is necessary to try to improve this football team, and he’s made what I believe are some strong hires to remedy certain problems (i.e., Rhett Lashlee, Garin Justice, etc.).
For those of you who are disappointed in what Manny Diaz has done based on the end of 2020 and for some reason want a change.....
......be careful what you wish for. Just ask any of my Tennessee friends.