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Portal Kombat or Contribution for the Miami Hurricanes?

Once the portal door opened, Manny Diaz fully jumped in. Mario Cristobal hasn’t been shy about using the portal, either. But is the portal leading to wins or just off-season hype?

Miami Hurricanes head into bye knowing true test in No. 1 Clemson is on the other side Michael Laughlin/South Florida Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The Transfer Portal opened in October of 2018 and has been the interest and fodder of both mainstream and niche sports culture ever since. Podcasts have dedicated entire episodes to the portal, there are websites dedicated to it, and programs now have staffers entirely dedicated to transfers.

The genius Fansville ad series by Dr. Pepper has taken their fair share of shots at the portal for multiple seasons. Rico has gone in one side of the portal while a punter has come out on the other side, and the entire defense is sliding right into the portal. Sounds familiar.

The Blueprint

Organizational Psychologist Adam Grant says that there are three blueprints for an organization’s template: 1-Professional (Skills) 2- Stars (Talents) 3- Commitment (Core Values). While Professional blueprints and Stars often fail, Commitment never fails.

The issue is- if it’s just Commitment to a current theme, and never adapts to the changing times, it won’t bring in huge rewards after a few years either. Clemson fits that idea, so far, but Swinney is making some changes to his model heading into ‘24. Will Cristobal?

Manny Diaz was interested in Stars/Talents, Mario Cristobal seems to be interested in Professional/Skills; while Dabo Swinney seems to have his focus on Commitment/CV’s.

The Program, LLC would define the ‘best’ employee as someone that is skilled, talented, and shares the organization’s Core Values. Throughout their dominant run through two eras of college football- Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide have fit that mold. Saban has recruited in the top-5 every season while using the transfer portal to fill important gaps (ex. Jahmyr Gibbs, Henry To’oTo’o) rather than completely re-vamp his roster.

Players choose to enter the transfer portal for a variety of reasons: homesick, injury, recruiting over them, and a coaching change are a few common reasons. It’s not all NIL and underhanded street agents looking to take a second milking out of the NIL cash cow.

Georgia, Alabama, Michigan and in 2022, TCU, haven’t been portal-heavy programs. The programs that have been portal heavy are teams like FSU, Colorado, USC, and Miami. The question I have to ask is are the Hurricanes just shuffling five to nine win players in and out for more 5-9 win players, or are the ‘Canes trusting their evals with high school prospects and filling in 2-3 holes on the depth chart?

Manny Diaz

When Manny Diaz took over as head coach of the Miami Hurricanes, his managerial style was more friend than head coach. Diaz focused on bringing in players with hidden potential. Diaz loved the transfer portal and saw players come and go over his three seasons in Coral Gables. He started off taking all potential, and shifted to less cultural issues and more realized skills.

Heading into the 2019 season, the portal brought Miami Tate Martell, Jaelan Phillips, Bubba Bolden, K.J. Osborn, Chigozie Nnoruka, Tommy Kennedy, Asa Martin, and Trevon Hill. While Phillips and Osborn excelled and Bolden, Nnoruka and Hill played their role; Martell, Martin and Kennedy were busts.

A year later, Diaz had a new OC and a new outlook on the portal. It’s safe to say that the value of culture was taught to Diaz the hard way over Year One as a head coach. In 2020, Miami brought in more team oriented guys like D’Eriq King, Jose Borregales and Jarrid Williams while watching troubled players exit.

The staff did take a risk in 2020 on Florida Gator transfer Issiah Walker Jr., and that didn’t pan out for much of anything other than another transfer. The more of his own players that were recruited in, the less Diaz relied on the portal. Prior to the ‘21 season the portal brought in Charleston Rambo, Justice Oluwaseun, Tyrique Stevenson and Deandre Johnson.

Mario Cristobal

Cristobal came to Miami from Oregon and brought a few names with him, while missing on some key transfers Miami should have picked up. FSU RB Trey Benson could’ve been a nice addition to the Cristobal ground-and-pound game but chose the Seminoles instead. Thus far, Miami has failed to attract a portal QB to compete for the starting job.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 05 Florida State at Miami Photo by Peter Joneleit/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Cristobal has brought in good, bad, and missing in action players from the portal. For every Henry Parrish Jr. that was a solid pickup, there’s a Frank Ladson (great job on the onside kick, bud) or Logan Sagapolu who has been missing in action in orange and green.

Prior to the 2023 seven win season, Miami brought in key contributors like Francisco Mauigoa, Matt Lee and Branson Deen, role players in Ajay Allen and Cam McCormick (he started but what was it really worth?), and MIA’s in Tyler Harrell and Luis Cristobal Jr.

Cristobal has been aiming for realized skill over Talent/potential or Commitment. Some of the players have fit the mold he wants, ala Lee and Mauigoa. Some haven’t and will turn around and re-enter the portal or just fade away. I get it, everyone needs practice bodies. You just wish they were freshmen with upside and culture over transfers with baggage.

In and Out

On the flip side of the portal, outside of 1-2 players Miami hasn’t lost big. Lawrence Cager went to UGA and caught four TD’s for the Bulldogs and Gil Frierson picked up an interception at Louisville, but name me a player that has blown it away at their new destination? Darell Jackson went to FSU and was ruled ineligible, but could’ve been a big piece for the ‘Canes DT rotation in ‘23.

Miami v Clemson Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images

Since 2019, Miami’s mostly benefitted from the portal, they haven’t been burned by departures. But will 2024 change that tune? Jaleel Skinner, Corey Flagg, Tyler Van Dyke, Donald Chaney and Jahfari Harvey are all in the portal. Is this the first year where portal departures really hurt the Hurricanes roster for more than just depth pieces?

The Future

Cristobal is heading into his third recruiting class at Miami. He’s known for acquiring talent at an elite level; he’s not known for developing or deploying that talent as a positional or schematic genius. Cristobal’s game day coaching is suspect, as is his strength and conditioning program.

The question about the massive portal hauls is whether or not coaches trust their acquisition and development. If you recruit those 25 players in only 4-5 make the cut, are you failing at your evals? Your development program (technical skill and S&C)? Swapping out 5-9 win players for more 5-9 win players won’t change anything, that’s just washing itself out. When do 23 of your signees stick and work while only 13 see the exit side of the transfer portal?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Rose Bowl - Oregon v Wisconsin Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Regarding the NFL Draft, at Oregon they babysat a blue chip offensive lineman in Penei Sewell (sat out 2020), and handcuffed Justin Herbert (a Mark Helfrich recruit).

The bulk of Oregon’s NFL Draft picks were in rounds 5-7, and they’ve been known for having some of the worst draft prep in P5 football. That’s bad on any level, but even worse when you consider Oregon is the home of some of the most elite facilities in athletic performance.

Reliance or Right

The question leaves me wondering if Miami can stop relying on the transfer portal for a dozen players and figure out just the right 3-4 perfect fits to the roster. The ‘Canes roster will be almost entirely Cristobal’s in ‘24- including the starting quarterback position whether it’s a portal QB or Emory Williams.

Which impact players are left from the Diaz Era in ‘24? Andres Borregales, Jared Harrison-Hunte (maybe), Jalen Rivers (also maybe), Jacolby George and Xavier Restrepo are the last few Diaz guys on the roster getting substantial playing time.

2024 is a massive year for Mario Cristobal and his success as a head coach. Not many coaches are afforded the time or patience to pull the nose up from mediocrity (12-12 and a losing ACC record) after three years at the helm. So... will this be done through the portal or through high school prospects and development? We’ll find out.


For Miami, the transfer portal has been...

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  • 65%
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