With the firing of former University of Miami Hurricanes Football Coach Al Golden, Miami will be in search of their fifth Head Coach since 2000. “The U”, as it is famously and infamously known as, has been in search of reclaiming their “glory years” for over a decade. Back in the 1980’s Miami’s Football was one of the dominant forces in college football, winning three national titles with three different Head Coaches. From 1983-2001 Miami has won five National Championships while sending hundreds of players to the ranks of the NFL.
But since their loss to Ohio State in 2002 National Title game the Football program at Miami has been on a downward spiral. From poor recruiting classes to teams not meeting expectations to coaching mis-hires by Athletic Directors, the tumult of the Miami Hurricanes program has been well documented. In fact, if it wasn’t for Billy Corben’s documentaries about “The U” many people would not understand the depth of the impact of Miami Hurricanes’ Football Program. The 1980’s Miami Hurricanes changed how other college football programs looked at players and football success.
Before the 1980’s many football programs success was gauged by winning Bowl games and beating their rivals year to year, and if you had players who won a Heisman Trophy or other major awards that was credited to coaching legacy. The emphasis was on the school and coaches. The players were treated as an accessory to success. But Miami Hurricanes Head Coaches Harold Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, and Dennis Erickson were not demonstrative leaders of their football programs. They focused on the student-athletes and let players express themselves on the field. After Miami’s dominance the standards for college football excellence shifted. No longer was the emphasis on just winning versus rivals and winning bowl games to make the university money. Instead the goal was great recruiting classes, sending as many players as possible to the NFL, winning as many games as possible, and playing a schedule that gets you on TV. Yes, winning championships are the ultimate goal, but the 1980’s Miami Hurricanes showed that a successful football program could no longer be gauged by just the old standards.
The standards set by “The U” in the 1980’s have evolved over the last 25 years. In 2015 The University of Miami is behind the times in terms of facilities, quality coaches, and winning big games. Miami’s football facilities are not up to par compared to many other schools who play Division 1 Football at the highest level of competition. Their stadium is a 45-60 minutes’ drive away from campus (depending on the time of day), and they have an obsession with hiring coaches who are lacking certain necessary skills to be successful head coaches at a University such as Miami. After Butch Davis left in 2000, look at the coaches who were brought in to be Head Coaches:
-Larry Coker was considered a “Players’ Coach”.
With a background as an offensive position coach and offensive coordinator, Coker won a National Title in 2001 and led the Hurricanes to another championship game in 2002 with a roster full of players recruited by former coach Butch Davis. Once those players left for the NFL, Coker never won more than 9 games in a season and he had trouble recruiting the same level of talent. Also as an offensive minded coach and his lack of recruit acumen the defenses his last couple years dropped off.
-Randy Shannon was hired to be a throwback Head Coach.
Because of his background as a defensive coach and as a former player at “The U” he was a very good recruiter. Despite Shannon raising the level of play of the team’s defense, cultivating top 25 recruiting classes for four straight years, and also raising the overall graduation rates and GPA of the football program, his win-loss record before he was fired was 16-16. Shannon was not a great football game manager nor was he good at hiring the right offensive coaches to develop the team’s offensive skill players.
-Al Golden was a rebuilding coach from Temple
Golden spent five years rebuilding a University of Temple Football program that had a win-loss record of 3-31 before he arrived on campus. After bringing Temple back to Football relevance and their first winning seasons in 30 years, he was hired to do the same in Miami. But when the school fell under NCAA sanctions, Golden’s uphill battle to rebuild the program took a major hit. His style of recruiting and coaching was not the best fit for a program whose tradition was based around great athletes being led to win big games. Golden had trouble beating rivals, consistently finishing the season below expectations despite the talent on the roster. According to many reports, Golden had trouble relating to players and his game plans were lacking in creativity.
Whoever becomes the next University of Miami Football Head Coach has an uphill battle in their efforts to try to raise the level of play of a program that has not won more than 9 games since 2003. Overcoming a lack of support from school administrators, underwhelming football facilities, poor stadium location, and recruiting to players who were in kindergarten the last time Miami was playing in a National Championship game; the challenge is real and daunting for anyone becoming the next Head Coach. Their next Head Coach needs the following attributes:
-High Football IQ and good coaching staff:
Miami needs to bring in someone who is more well-rounded than previous coaches. The great head coaches in college football in 2015 are great game day strategists, work well with their coaching staff, and know how to hire great coaches that compliment and fulfill the needs of the football program.
-Recruiting plus development:
Miami’s next Head Coach needs to be more than just a great recruiter. The coach needs to have experience at developing players to be great on game day. Having talent is a good start for any football team, but a coach who can maximize that talent on the football field is just as important. One of the major traditions at Miami is the hundreds of players who have gone on to be starting players in the NFL. Continuing this tradition is an important part of the school’s history and future success.
-Bridge the gap between the athletic department and the rest of the University: The next Head Coach of the University of Miami needs to build the relationship behind the scenes of advancing the football program. Whether people in South Florida want to admit it or not, Miami’s Football program has made that university millions of dollars, most of that money that has not been invested back into the football program. Most of that money was used to invest in academia, other athletic programs, and giving people with fat pockets more money to put in those pockets among the university’s administration. What made Charlie Strong a great coach at University of Louisville, Chris Pederson at Boise State, Mark Richt at University of Georgia, Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State, as well as Mark Bellotti and Chip Kelly at University of Oregon was their ability to not just win football games, not just recruit high level talent, but also get their university to invest resources into the football program and its players. These skills at relationship building with administration, academia, players and future recruits open doors for Strong, Pederson, and Kelly to get next level job opportunities while coaches such as Richt, Gundy and Bellotti became mainstays at their Universities.
Can the University of Miami reclaim their tradition of excellence? Yes, but they need the right head coach who can do what Larry Coker, Randy Shannon, and Al Golden were unable to do. Like I said earlier, you are recruiting kids who were in kindergarten the last time Miami was a great football program. The football program needs a fresh approach, a different strategy on and off the field, things that Coker, Shannon, and Golden were unable to offer.