From the year 2000 through 2003, the Miami Hurricanes were the toast of college football. Four straight Big East championships. Four straight top-five finishes, tallying a 46-4 mark overall. Four straight appearances in BCS bowl games. One national championship (I’d argue two, and I’m not even a ‘Canes fan), and two more bowl victories over archrivals Florida and Florida State, respectively. And probably, most importantly, an invite to join the ACC. The Hurricanes were once again everything college football wanted: a dominant, marketable team in a major market , that could equally play the parts of hero and villain. Almost as expertly as they had back in the 1980s, Miami once again performed with near-flawless execution. Once they joined the ACC, nothing would stop them, nor the conference, from dominating the game.
Except that’s not what happened at all. Since joining the ACC, the Hurricanes have never won a conference nor a division title. They’ve never won 10 games, never won a prestigious bowl game, nor have they been invited to a BCS bowl or attained a top-10 ranking to end the season. There were no Heisman contenders, they had four different head coaches and to top it all off, a scandal that we’re still waiting to hear the verdict on. People have been talking “death penalty” for the football program for well over a year now.
How the hell did this happen?
Now, this isn’t to blame the Hurricanes for the recent conference realignment mess. For once in the past month, we’re trying to avoid that overblown fiasco. Rather, we’re solely looking at this from an institutional standpoint. What’s happened to the Hurricanes and how do they come back from it?
First off, there’s no one root problem for Miami. But rather, a perfect storm (no pun intended) of issues that all happened to come together at once. Never known for its institutional control in terms of football players, Miami has found the most success when recruiting a certain level of swagger to pair equally with talent (see birth of “The U,” Ray Lewis, Warren Sapp, etc.). When you’re winning national titles, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For every frown from so-called purists, you get a smile from ESPN and the game’s other backers, as a marketers’ dream. Combined with losing football, however, you’re left with players that need additional motivation — i.e. the right coach. Hence, problem number two.
Larry Coker was fired in 2006, after just six seasons, including one national title. His overall record: 60-15. Yet, folks felt there needed to be a change. He failed to truly motivate the team, and the ‘Canes appeared to be spiraling downward. Enter former Miami player Randy Shannon. Lacking the killer instinct to really get his players going, Shannon went just 28-22 with continuous top-flight recruiting classes. He was succeeded by Jeff Stoutland for one game, which was unsurprisingly a loss. Through one year, current head coach Al Golden is 6-6, and trying to weather one of the NCAA’s biggest scandals since SMU in 1987. He’s largely seen as a success due to his moral character and fortitude amidst trying times. On to point number three:
If imprisoned former booster Nevin Shapiro is to be believed, he supplied money, gifts and sex parties to players for eight years. And there’s a fair chance he wasn’t the only one, if true. This, more than anywhere else, is where Golden’s character is key. It’s time to kill “The U” for good. The braggadocio, the antics, the swagger than emanates from every fiber of the program, even in down years; all of it has to die in order to start the healing process. Based on Golden’s work so far, he may be the man for the job, but he has a lot still left to do:
- Beef up booster vetting process: I’m unsure how rigorous the process of screening football boosters is (probably not that much), but maybe it’s a good first step. Stopping guys like Shapiro from getting involved in the program in the first place may be the best way to prevent another scandal down the road.
- Voluntarily submit to a three-year postseason ban: This can include last season’s bowl opt-out, too.
- Stress student-athletes: Miami is a top-notch private institution. Make sure it holds all students (including athletes) to the highest standards possible. Golden should also institute a community outreach program for the football players to give back to the city of Miami.
- Marketing revamp: It may seem silly, but just change the way the team markets itself, and you’ll see a change in attitude and perception right off the bat. Something like “Not U, but us” would do just fine. If we’re thinking drastically, maybe even remove the iconic “U” for a few years, to really put some force behind it all.
… these ideas may seem over-the-top, but if Miami avoids the death penalty (I think it will, barely), there need to be some extreme actions to reform the program, while still improving the product on the field. No, the benefits may not be obvious immediately, but these things do take time. It’s time for a new era of Miami football. And if Golden has his way, it’ll likely be a more humble one.
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