The Miami Hurricanes’ Déjà Vu And Breaking the Cycle

Let’s start with some multiple choice.

“The numbers are so astonishingly bad as to stress the bounds of reality.”

The following quote can be used to accurately describe which of the following?

  • Miami’s bowl record.
  • The routine, record setting performances of Canes’ opponents.
  • Miami’s preparation to start games.
  • The ability of the Canes’ WRs to catch.
  • Miami’s inability to finish seasons.
  • All of the Above.

If you answered “All of the Above,” you are correct.

The shocking thing about the blowout loss to North Carolina and the subsequent bowl loss to Oklahoma State is that none of it is particularly shocking. We’ve seen this movie before.

This exact movie.

How does this keep happening across multiple coaches?

Agendas over Excellence

Let’s be realistic about human nature. Yes, the ultimate goal of any football program is to win games and championships.

But people are people, and everyone has personal agendas as well. If you work really hard on something at work and the team you’re a part of succeeds, but everyone but you gets promoted, you’re going to be upset even if the team succeeded.

And this is no different. Careerists ultimately are going to protect their careers. And often, that means the safe move, the risk averse move, the prioritization of status quo over substantive change. That’s how you end up in the same place over and over again.

To put things into context, since Dennis Erickson left Miami, every single coach Miami has hired but Al Golden has had previous Miami experience. This is perfectly fine when the program is at the top of the pyramid. And when you think about it, all the hires can make sense in a vacuum:

  • Promoting Larry Coker to replace Butch Davis makes sense. Team was at the top of college football.
  • Promoting Randy Shannon to replace Larry Coker makes sense. He was one of the top Defensive Coordinators in the country and had ties to Miami.
  • Replacing Randy Shannon with Al Golden makes sense. We’ve double-downed on Miami guys and taken a chance on a coach with no head coaching experience, so let’s bring in a coach with head coaching experience and no ties to Miami.
  • Replacing Al Golden with Mark Richt makes sense. He had won everything but the National Championship at Georgia, had Miami ties, and could at least run a professional outfit in contrast to the rank incompetence and inability to manage anything that Al Golden displayed.
  • Replacing Mark Richt with Manny Diaz…okay, this one is pretty indefensible. Temple hired him because that was his logical career progression. He was essentially starting his Al Golden journey. We somehow managed to combine 2 previous failed hires (Defensive Coordinator off previous staff and Head Coach at Temple) into 1. And we did so without even conducting a proper coaching search. With that said, if you want to defend it, you could say that Richt was certainly safe to coach here another year if he chose to do so, and so you are promoting an assistant off of an overall successful staff.

In a vacuum, you can justify any of these hires. But here’s the problem.

At no point with any of the 5 hires I mentioned, with the possible exception of Mark Richt, did Miami actually hire the best person they could for the job. 

And, more importantly, at no point was hiring the overall best coach for the job the primary concern. It was always finding the guy they wanted to hire for political, financial, or stability reasons, and then reverse engineering the logic from there, hoping the football would work out.

When I am managing people, I often urge them to follow an approach of “Think, Plan, Implement”:

  • Think about the problem you’re actually trying to solve.
  • Plan to solve it.
  • Implement the plan.

Spoiler Alert: the plan never works exactly right. But since you went through the process of really thinking about the problem you were trying to solve, you can reinvent and modify the plan as you go to continue to solve the original problem as it evolves over time.

My question to this administration is what problem are you trying to solve minutely, hourly, weekly, monthly, and yearly? They can keep saying they’re “Building Champions” but it lacks any credibility at this point:

The school has not won a conference since the 2003 season. What champions are they building?

It’s not that they don’t want to win. Don’t get me wrong, when Miami goes out there against North Carolina and get embarrassed on national TV, their phones are also blowing up with texts from people they haven’t talked to in 5 years who think it’s hilarious. They want to win.

The problem is they are trying to win against programs whose entire existence is built around winning in the cutthroat world of college football where the margins are basically non-existent while trying to placate agendas that are either counter to or at the very least not supportive of on field winning. 

You can’t win with one hand tied behind your back. Too often, the focus is on “message control” or protecting people, whether it be coaches, staffers, or players. We have, over time, seen the standards erode to the point that last year the team lost to FIU and then followed that up with 2 more losses, and there was never a thought that the head coach was in jeopardy. Whether or not he should have been fired is not the point, the fact is there was no realistic chance of a reaction to those performances because believe it or not, this program does not have championship standards.

We all publicly acknowledge it. We could all see Al Golden was a disaster, yet we needed Clemson to win 58-0 to get him out?

And if you’ve think that’s changed, look at how many of you were rooting for the D to meltdown against Oklahoma State just hoping that this would be enough to convince Manny Diaz to fire Blake Baker. Had we not seen enough? We needed to run it back again to convince him? If we’re at that point where the worst defensive performance in school history after 2 years of defensive ineptitude “needs more evidence” for substantive change, then we’re all acknowledging we are not “Building Champions” but “Placating Mediocrity.”

Is all hope lost? No.

Water Under The Bridge

However we arrived at this moment, we’re here now. The truth is, there is never going to be championship pressure from the administration. If a coach consistently wins between 8-10 games here, everyone will be fine with it in the Athletic Department. They’ve proven it over time, excusing seasons at or near .500 and puffing their chests out when the team moderately ticks up. If you want proof of this attitude, look at this:

Contrast that with the amount of times that publicly the AD has represented that everything is going great and according to plan. At no point in the last SEVENTEEN YEARS has Miami lost less than 3 games. Any program that routinely defends progress to a high-water mark of 3 losses thinks it’s acceptable.

With that said, we have one piece of hope. Our program lies in the hands of Manuel Alberto Diaz II.

Just because his bosses are okay with 8-3 does not mean he has to be. If he really wants to win championships at Miami, he can zig where his predecessors have zagged.

Those are the 3 previous head coaches at Miami. Notice a pattern? They all had uptick seasons very similar to the one Diaz just experienced. It was a good record, a lot of fun, and ultimately misleading. In 2009, 2013, and 2017, you could see the rot. Things went the teams’ way to get to that record, whether it be close wins against bad teams, miraculous plays, luck…they got some bounces. It’s only natural that the ball also bounces the other way down the road if that is what you’re relying on to win.

And as we eulogize the 2020 Canes, certainly those things apply to them as well. The Canes finished the year 1-3 against teams with winning records from major conferences, with the 1-win being NC State where D’Eriq King put up this stat line to lead the Canes to a comeback, 3-point win:

That is what it took to beat a P5 team with a winning record this year. Not to mention the number of bad teams that King single-handedly won the game against. Is this sustainable or repeatable?

Of course not, and pretending the record was representative of onfield play will only lead to a reversion to the mean, as it did with Diaz’ predecessors.

Truth is the Canes could get much better and still lose 3-4 games next year. Records can lie to you, breed complacency, and ultimately lead to failure.

But what if Diaz isn’t complacent? What if he actually takes a “Think, Plan, Implement” approach?

  • Think: How do I win a National Championship here?
  • Plan: What changes do I need to make to point this program in that direction? This includes looking at improving things we already do well, a critical thing we seem to routinely miss.
  • Implement: Execute the plan this offseason, because if it doesn’t go well, his clock that is already ticking will hasten towards inevitably running out.

And this starts with embracing his role as a head coach. As I was moving up in my career, my manager once gave me a sage piece of advice that I would impart on to Manny Diaz. She told me:

You have to be able to let go of your previous role. It’s no longer your job. Hire people you believe can accomplish the goal of that job. They won’t perform the role the way you would, and you’ll have the urge to dive in and “fix” things so they look the way you think is right, but that’s no longer your job. And if you’re doing that job, who is doing your job? Invest in the right person and trust them. 

It’s a tough lesson to learn, but one he needs to learn quickly. Does he want to be Manny Diaz, Defensive Coordinator, or Manny Diaz, Head Coach? If it’s Manny Diaz, Head Coach, then hire the best person he can to run the defense, and focus on running the program, instilling discipline, raising standards, managing games…areas that the team is sorely lacking in at this point.

Being a head coach is really hard. Most of them fail. Which is why it’s farcical to think that a first time head coach can step into a challenging role in a program that has spent 2 decades flailing and also multi-task as a defensive assistant. Autonomous offensive and defensive coaches with Diaz actually running the overall program is the best path forward, regardless of the name in those roles (even if he concludes Blake Baker is the best DC for Miami, then let him run the D autonomously. If he feels the need to coach the defense in any capacity, he is acknowledging he has an inadequate defensive staff).

Back to the history of Canes’ failures past…there was a time where they were not complacent.

You wouldn’t know it by looking at this, but Butch Davis fired his Defensive Coordinator after the 9-3 season in 1998. Why? It wasn’t good enough. Beating UCLA 49-45 was magical, but it wasn’t the road to a championship.

He had to make a move, even after winning the bowl game, if he wanted to actually “Build Champions.” And the team was significantly better in 1999, even if the record didn’t show it, just like the 2021 season could have a better team with a similar or worse record. That 1999 team lost to (at the time) the #1, #2, and #3 teams in the country, including both participants in the National Championship game, ended the year dominating a ranked team in a bowl game, and was clearly better than their record.

Diaz has a similar opportunity. He can strive for perfection to attain excellence, push the boundaries of this program, and try to elevate the standards…or he can be happy with where we’re at, go with a version of “trending up,” and see what staying the course brings him.

There is no guarantee of success or failure, and ultimately, everyone in every walk of life is judged on results.

But Diaz, fresh off a strong record, with a strong recruiting class coming in, is uniquely poised to raise the standards of this program. Opportunities are rare and fleeting.

The question must be asked…is this football program prepared to do the difficult work of competing for championships, including being ruthless, uncompromising, and non-negotiable? Only Manny Diaz can answer, because he alone can elevate this program. No one else in an authority position can be bothered to.

Vishnu Parasuraman is a contributor for @FiveReasonsSports and generally covers the Miami Hurricanes. You can follow him on twitter @vrp2003

2 replies
  1. says:

    It all starts at the top and that is where Miami is flawed. For years we believed that a hands-off president (Frenk) would be a better solution than a hands-on president (Shalala) who actively didn’t care about football and was content with mediocre coaches and three-plus loss seasons as long as the kids stayed out of trouble and the ACC money rolled in.

    We’ve learned now that there has to be a mindset at the top that football is important; a revenue driver, as well as a large piece of the collegiate experience. You need proud, check-writing alumni for this to work.

    The school is short-sighted in thinking adidas and ACC money are enough—when in reality, a legit strategy to build a power program would get a handful of wealthy boosters to write big checks.

    Jere Morehead is the president at the University of Georgia and he is a pro-football president. He’s empowered Greg McGarity to run athletics, which led to a $200,000,000 investment in athletics (much coming from alumni), as well as running off Mark Richt for Kirby Smart years back.

    Dr. Julio Frenk doesn’t care about athletics—which is better than him having an opinion the football doesn’t matter—but a weak-minded, egotistical BoT and this belief that Blake James is “good enough” because he’s a decent fundraiser—it’s a small-minded loser’s mentality that delivers you a weak coaching hire like poaching Manny Diaz back from his little stint at Temple.

    Until the mindset changes from the top on down, it will be more of the same regarding the past 15 years of Miami football.

  2. Ytown Cane
    Ytown Cane says:

    Very honest analysis but Manny and Blake have no idea what a major college football program is from the top down. You need a powerful AD. ( Gene Smith got the rules changed&)and now Ohio State is playing for the NC. Blake I s a glorified ticket salesman trying to build an elite football program, he has not shot. Alonzo was the answer to run football ops ang Gino would beAD. That would have been a step in the right direction.


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