My feelings seemed distantly familiar as I was shuffling towards the Hard Rock Stadium exit after watching the Hurricanes get dismantled on homecoming by chief rival Florida State 45-3. Sure, there had been plenty of disappointing showings from Miami over the years - FIU at Marlins Park; Miami’s thrashing in their lone appearance in the ACC Championship Game; Losing 58-0 to Clemson leading to Al Golden’s termination; Louisiana Tech shutting out Miami in the Independence Bowl. The list goes on...
But after some soul searching it occurred to me...this is 2007 all over again.
2007 (Painfully) Revisited
2007 was Randy Shannon’s first season at the helm. Stop me if any of this sounds familiar...
A former star Hurricane takes the helm of his alma mater. There’s some talent to work with (the 2007 team was anchored by future NFL talent Calais Campbell and Kenny Phillips), but overall the team is nowhere near where it needs to be to compete for conference, yet alone national, championships.
Shannon assembles what appears on paper to be a fairly impressive coaching staff. Offensive Coordinator Patrick Nix, a standout QB at Auburn, had just taken Georgia Tech to the ACC Championship Game as the Yellow Jackets’ play caller. Defensive Coordinator Tim Walton had a national championship ring from his time coaching at LSU under Nick Saban.
Notwithstanding, the 2007 season was an unmitigated disaster. Trouble surfaced early when Miami was destroyed 51-13 at Oklahoma (a good, but flawed, 3 loss team in 2007). But Miami rebounded and showed some signs of life including a Thursday night, nationally televised victory over Texas A&M (Dennis Franchione would resign at the end of 2007).
Then the wheels fell off. The Canes lost 6 of their last 7 games finishing at 5-7, missing a bowl game. At least their one win was against FSU. And so we arrive at the familiar feeling I had...
November 10, 2007 was the final game in the Orangebowl. The No. 21 Virginia Cavaliers came to town and embarrassed Miami to the tune of 48-0. Despite the losing streak, the Orange Bowl was rocking one last time to start the game. By the end, the only folks remaining were die-hard fans and those waiting to see a laser light show to mark the end of the stadium. I remember leaving that game, then a student, dejected but still cautiously hopeful that Coach Shannon would turn the team around. “This was Coker’s fault, and Shannon just needs time” is what we told ourselves because we had no other option. We say the same now about Cristobal taking over for Diaz.
Not unlike Cristobal, culture change was a big issue for Coach Shannon - as it should have been considering this was the year Miami had “The Brawl” with FIU. Coach Shannon removed the players’ names from their jerseys. Hats were not allowed indoors. GPA standards were instituted.
Despite missing a bowl game, the 2007 season ended with optimism thanks to a strong recruiting class. The majority of a historically talented Miami Northwestern team was coming to Coral Gables - including Sean Spence, Marcus Forston, Brandon Harris, Tommy Streeter, and Jacory Harris. Together with five star LB Arthur Brown, Miami had assembled what some recruiting services considered the number 1 recruiting class in the nation.
The Goal Now is to Avoid 2008 (and Beyond)
That optimism would quickly fade, and Randy Shannon would be dismissed three years later. Canes fans can be as mad as they want for how 2022 has gone but the reality is that Cristobal is here for at least 3 years. At least. So the goal now for Miami is to learn from its past so it can find itself back as a championship contender rather than, once again, looking for a new head coach.
Here’s a few ways how these next three years NEED to be different than 2008-10:
Beat Pittsburgh, Make a Bowl Game
2022 isn’t over just yet. Miami has one final game this Saturday with an opportunity to do something the 2007 team failed to accomplish - make a bowl game. Bowl games are important for new coaching staffs. It’s a few more weeks of practice. It’s a few more weeks for players to prove they’re buying in to the program. It’s a nationally televised game for the program. Even minor bowl games mean something.
For Miami to make a bowl game, they have to do something they’ve been unable to do this season: beat a bowl eligible team (Southern Miss, at 5-6, is the only Miami victory that could possibly receive an invite). Beating a decent team like Pitt would itself demonstrate progress for this team and distinguish this season from 2007.
Take Advantage of the Transfer Portal
The transfer portal wasn’t around in 2007, and thank goodness for the portal because without Henry Parrish, Colbie Young, and half the defensive line transferring in, this season could be even uglier. The transfer portal can be huge for plugging holes that 18 year-old freshmen aren’t ready to fill. While stacking recruiting classes is the ultimate answer to improving on-field talent, Cristobal has done a pretty good job of hitting the portal to fill in the gaps. In this respect, Cristobal has a leg up over Shannon.
Don’t Be Afraid of Changing Assistants - and Philosophies
This is my biggest concern for Cristobal. Miami has given him a nearly blank check to hire whatever assistants he wishes. Rather than hiring an offensive staff that would build on what Rhett Lashlee was (fairly successfully) implementing, Cristobal hired a well-regarded Big Ten coach whose offenses look a lot like what Dan Enos put on the field. I don’t think Enos is a bad coach. Saban doesn’t give bad coaches coordinator titles. Enos is the current OC at Maryland guiding a Big Ten offense that has scored at least 27 points in every contest but one, and the Terrapins just put up 30 pts on Ohio State. No, Enos wasn’t a bad coach he was just the wrong coach for Miami.
One thing Manny Diaz did right was to recognize that Enos was a bad fit and make the switch to Lashlee after just one season. In 2008, Shannon likewise dismissed OC Patrick Nix but erred in selecting Mark Whipple as Nix’s replacement. “Whipple Ball” faired no better because “Whipple Ball” looks a lot like pro-style, win the trenches in the November cold, Big Ten football. It worked fine ten years later at Pittsburgh, but had little success for Miami in 2010.
I’d be shocked if Cristobal fires Gattis this year. Shocked. Not unlike Saban, Cristobal is big on loyalty and stubborn on philosophy, and Gattis fits Cristobal’s philosophy. Unless an SEC or Big Ten team approaches Gattis with a head coaching opportunity, I don’t think Gattis is going anywhere. We’ll see if next year’s offense, with a hopefully healthy and youth-infused offensive line, is better than this year. If we see more of the same, Cristobal needs to seriously reconsider the team’s offensive philosophy or else he’s going to repeat Randy Shannon’s greatest sin.
We can’t put a bow on this conversation without mentioning Miami’s past sanctions. It was during the Randy Shannon era that Nevin Shapiro blew the program up. South Florida by its nature is a hotbed of shady activity that, at times, has proven irresistible for some players. Cristobal and Athletic Director Dan Radakovich have to be really, really careful in this new NIL era for college football. Only deep insiders know if this could be a problem. Hopefully not. But despite all the culture changes that Shannon, and now Cristobal, sought when he took command, the Nevin Shapiro sins still happened on Shannon’s watch. Miami cannot afford another sanctions scandal.