The Miami Hurricanes entered the 2021 season with sky-high expectations. A veteran roster, a dynamic QB, a few dynamic transfers, a plethora of talented youngsters — from the last 2 recruiting classes in particular, a roster more talented than every team on the schedule save one, and a very, VERY favorable schedule (again, save one game), in a season that’s long been a target season for Miami.
And then the season started.
And then the losing started.
And with every loss, and every presser talking about the same things regarding Miami starting slow, or missing tackles, or needing to stay the course — the same course that has led to Miami LOSING GAMES — Manny Diaz has come under more and more external pressure.
The failure to win games is very important because YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME (shoutout to Herm Edwards), and moreover because as noted by ESPN writer (and SB Nation) alum Bill Connelly on The Solid Verbal podcast that if a college football head coach’s tenure isn’t producing by year three, it’s probably not going to work out.
In case you missed it, this is Diaz’s 3rd year in the Gables. And things aren’t great.
Earlier this year, Justin Dottavio took a deep dive look at the history of both national and Miami coaches in their third year. You can check that out in the link below.
Which brings us here today for the first installment of the Hot Seat Heat Check.
The premise is simple: we know Manny Diaz is on the Hot Seat, but how hot is it?
Before we get to this week’s temperature, let’s look back at the season so far and take everything that got us here into account.
Week 1: Blowout loss to Alabama
This was where things started to maybe possibly seem like they weren’t Kosher.
Since it was announced in 2015, the game against Alabama has been seen as a measuring stick game. Sure, Miami would be big underdogs against the Crimson Tide, but a veteran team with a veteran and mobile QB should be able to compete and make things interesting for the better part of the game, right?
Miami was down 27-3 at halftime and the game was very much, 100% over at that point. You can read the game recap and good/bad/ugly from that game for the details, but trust and believe Miami laid an egg in a game that the program had been targeting for nearly 6 years.
So that isn’t great.
Week 2: barely sneak by Appalachian State
The return game from the 2016 trip to Boone, NC where the Canes blasted the Mountaineers 45-10 in “the biggest game to ever be hosted by App State” (their words, not mine), Miami had a back and forth, nip and tuck game against this year’s version of AppState.
Led by former Clemson and Duke QB Chase Brice, a solid running game, and a pesky defense, the Mountaineers pushed the Canes to their limit. A late FG by freshman Andres Borregales lifted the Canes to a 25-23 win, but even with that result, the performance of Manny Diaz’s team incited more questions than answers.
Week 3: blown out by Michigan State
This, for me, was the end of the road. I wrote it at the time, but after this game, I was out on Diaz as coach.
But, to the events of the day, Miami and MSU were locked in a tight, back and forth game. MSU led 17-14 heading into the 4th quarter, and Miami was in prime position to win another close game and move to 2-1 on the year.
To put it mildly, that did not happen.
Michigan State blasted Miami 21-3 in the 4th quarter en route to a 38-17 blowout win, dropping Miami to 1-2 on the year. But even more than the result, was that way it happened. Michigan State just leaned on Miami and imposed their physical will on the Canes, and Miami was helpless to stop them.
Then the coup de grace: MSU Head Coach Mel Tucker in his post-game press conference called Miami soft. As detailed extensively by our SB Nation friends at The Only Colors, among many other things, Tucker said “...we wanted to drag them into the deep water, where we are, where we live.” So, basically, Tucker said his team wanted to drag Diaz’s team into the deep water because his team could handle it, and Diaz’s couldn’t.
The opposing coach just had his team beat yours by 3 TDs, outscore you 21-3 in the 4th quarter, then called your whole program soft.
Yeah. I didn’t need to see anything else.
Week 4: the annual FCS buy-game
Central Connecticut State came down to Hard Rock Stadium and got demolished like the annual FCS buy-game opponent should. The lopsided score meant nothing, because the underlying issues with the program persisted.
But hey, 2-2 on the year, right?
Week 5: Doink vs Virginia
Another close game. Another chance to pull victory from the hands of defeat.
But that pesky upright...
Locked in a dogfight with Virginia, Miami had the ball and drove the field, electing to run the clock and play for a FG instead of pushing to score a TD and relying on the defense to stop Virginia again.
Now, I agree with Diaz here that Miami was initially playing for a TD. But a big negative play on 1st down killed that notion, so then the Canes flipped to the last second FG attempt paradigm instead.
And, despite their best efforts to center the ball and give Borregales a center-cut chip shot from 33 for the win, the kick went awry, striking the left upright and bounding helplessly away, leaving Miami at 2-3 heading into the bye week.
More mistakes. More questionable calls. And yet-another loss to a P5 team, Miami’s 5th in a row to this point of the season.
Week 7: Rally Stalls at Carolina
This was a back and forth game against nemesis North Carolina, who was fresh off a loss to Florida State, featured Tyler Van Dyke in his first career start, and Jaylan Knighton stepping into a bigger role in his 2nd game back from suspension after Cam’Ron Harris went down with what ended up being a season-ending injury.
With some good things, like the fact that Miami didn’t quit when they (as has become routine) went down by a couple scores, there was more bad.
Instead of playing for a late FG (which would have tied the game) like they did against Virginia, Miami was CLEARLY looking to score another 2nd half touchdown to take the lead over the Tar Heels.
That effort ended, however, when TVD was intercepted throwing a slant off an RPO with 12 seconds left. Carolina kneeled it once, and Miami dropped to 2-4 on the year.
Week 8: A P5 win for the first time in 323 days vs NC State
One of a literal handful of teams to have not beaten a P5 opponent to this point of the season, Miami came out and built an early lead (shocking, I know) over the 18th ranked Wolfpack.
Miami, playing tons and tons of youngsters due to injuries and the fact that they’re just better than other, older players on the roster, had their best performance of the season, by far, and emerged with a 31-30 win over NC State.
The story this week, however, was the fact that AD Blake James turned down several interview requests following the Carolina game early in the week, most notably Chris Stock from 247sports who approached the AD at a basketball exhibition game, to only turn around and hold a conference call interview session with hand-selected journalists....on FRIDAY before the game.
James stated in this interview session that “Manny knows we need to win games”, which speaks for itself. Also of note, the AD declined to specifically respond when directly asked if Diaz would remain as Miami’s coach throughout the 2021 season, regardless of game results.
It was curious (to say that least) that the AD would go from radio-silent one day to directing a coordinated interview, which can only be seen as what it was: a PR stunt. But this speaks to James’s shortcomings as an AD as much as Diaz’s as a HC. But that’s a conversation for another time.
That brings us to now. And to the point of this piece: getting a Heat Check on Manny Diaz’s Hot Seat.
I’ll be running this back throughout the season with conversation about the previous week’s performance, and the chatter around that performance and the team, to get a feel for how hot the temperature is at the moment.
Week 8 Heat Check: A Medium-sized lakeside Bonfire
Things aren’t as hot for Diaz now as they were a couple weeks ago, but there’s still enough heat that it’ll burn him if he’s not careful.
And, even with this level of heat, a gust of wind or a squirt of gasoline — like a lopsided loss at Pitt this weekend or a couple few bad losses in a row — can turn the temperature up in a big, bad way in a hurry.
This lakeside bonfire isn’t the hottest thing in the universe, but make no mistake that there’s an active flame going, and if it’s left unchecked, it’ll grow larger and more unruly over time.
That the temperature this week. Check back next week to see which way the thermometer is going.