There’s no defending Al Golden and the way his football team finished this season.
A record of 6-6 and being tied for last in a weak Coastal Division with the amount of talent UM had this season is just ugly. The Hurricanes should have been better than they were, and yes, this has all the same feel to it of Randy Shannon’s four years on the job.
There's been no significant progress. Just the same old mediocrity.
The numbers tell you a big part of the story: Golden is 28-21, 16-16 in ACC play. Shannon was 28-22, 16-16 in ACC play. Both coaches lost the focus of their teams for the final two games of their fourth seasons once they were eliminated from division contention.
It’s been equally embarrassing and abysmal for Canes fans to swallow.
But I’m here to tell you coaching has only been half of the problem during this 11-year run of average football. The other part: Nobody in charge seems to care as much as the fans or former players do about winning titles or shedding this new image of being average.
I’m not talking about Golden. He gets paid and is contractually obligated to care through 2019. I’m talking about the school president, athletic director, board of trustees on down. Those people. It’s one thing to be visible, clap and say the right things, be supportive. It’s another thing to invest in winning, to demand it, to expect it.
I’ve only been around this program as a reporter since about 2003, but I can tell you few people were more visible, more vocal and more passionate about winning on the field than former athletic director Paul Dee. Nobody demanded it more.
He was there for the good and bad after UM’s first run of titles was over in 1991. Dee arrived in 1993 and was in charge until 2008. He guided UM through the Pell Grant scandal, hired Butch Davis and then kept Larry Coker around to lead UM to its last national title in 2001.
You might remember that 2001 season for the title. I also remember it for what happened in June the summer right before it happened. Donna Shalala took over as president.
Shalala has done a tremendous job for UM, raising billions, being a leader. Brand new buildings have been cropping up all over campus for the past 13 years. She’s been there to support all the athletic teams, fighting the NCAA through the Nevin Shapiro mess (it would have been worse for UM if she wasn’t there in Indianapolis front and center). She’s done a lot of great things. Making sure the football program hasn’t slipped to where it is now isn’t one of them.
Since Dee stepped down in 2008 (it felt like his power was dwindling toward the end of his reign), UM has been through three athletic directors and the Shapiro mess. Meanwhile, the demand for excellence on the field –- the push for that sixth ring –- has quietly faded to the back burner. What we hear now is ‘Let’s win the Coastal!’
How did we get here? Here’s my theory: money.
UM did a lot of winning in the 1980s, 90s and early 2000s because they had a lot of great players and a lot of great coaches. But they did it without really spending a whole lot of money on the coaches, the facilities, their home stadium or anything else. College football was relatively small back when the good times started. Howard Schnellenberger figured out he had the most talent-rich backyard in the country and laid the foundation. State of Miami he called it.
In the end, though, there’s a reason Miami went through a number of coaches while Florida State held onto Bobby Bowden and Florida had Steve Spurrirer for years. When college coaches started making more money, Bowden and Spurrier got paid. Why did Schnellenberger leave UM after winning the title in 1983? The USFL was going to pay him more. Jimmy Johnson? Dennis Erickson? Butch Davis? They went to the NFL too. You might remember UM hired all those guys without really breaking the bank for any of them.
That happened for years with assistant coaches too. Remember Rob Chudzinski? Mark Stoops? Dave Wannstedt? The Canes had a pretty good run on assistants when coaches were willing to take a little less money to build their resumes before moving onto bigger and better things.
What’s happened over the last decade? Well, it’s not just that Miami’s remained cheap. It's also that everybody else has been raising their game too. New TV contracts and conference affiliations have put schools that once couldn’t stay on the same field with UM’s team speed on equal or better footing with the Canes everywhere else.
Up until the last year or so, UM’s facilities were considered among the worst for a power conference school. Now, the Canes are better, but still below average of what Top 25 programs have to offer. Have you seen what they’ve got in places like Alabama, Oregon, Texas, Florida State and Florida? Heck, scouts tell me all the time there are teams in non-power conferences with indoor practice facilities and all kinds of stuff UM doesn’t have.
Attendance is another issue. Say what you want about former greats not caring about playing in a half-empty Orange Bowl on some Saturdays when UM played snoozers against weak Big East teams, but the OB never felt as empty or lifeless as Sun Life Stadium has for UM over the last seven years.
What five and four-star can’t miss recruits would want to come play at No Life Stadium when just about every other school in a power conference puts UM’s real attendance and atmosphere to shame with on-campus stadiums? How can UM compete with that? Recruits nowadays care about everything –- not just about UM’s fading glory days or rich NFL history. That used to sell. Not anymore.
The saddest part of all of this isn’t that the Canes are behind on many fronts aside from coaching. It’s that Dee really was the last guy in charge at UM that made you feel like somebody was really fighting to maintain a gold standard.
Remember that ticket advertisement UM put out back in June urging fans to “GO TO FEWER GAMES!” The message was buy tickets for Florida State and North Carolina because we know you won’t show up to the other games. How pathetic was that?
UM likes to portray itself as frugal because it has to be. Small, private school setting, no stadium of its own. But don't let that fool you. The Canes have dough. They've received all the same TV deal money and conference money every other ACC school has. It’s just that the dollars don’t seem to be going back into football enough.
How do I know that for sure? I don’t. UM is a private school. They don’t share one ounce of information on how much they spend on coaching or the football budget in general.
But this is how you know they aren’t keeping up with the Joneses when it comes to paying football coaches: the results. Outside of former offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch (now with the Jacksonville Jaguars) how many assistants since Shannon took over in 2007 have moved onto bigger and better jobs? Has anybody seen or heard from Patrick Nix? Mark Whipple in now the head coach at 3-9 UMass. I can tell you nobody has been trying to pry away the assistants who have been here the last four years.
Athletic director Blake James said last week -- before the Pittsburgh loss -- Golden wouldn’t be fired after this season regardless of how things panned out. James also said Golden reserved the right to make all changes on his staff. No moves would be forced upon him.
At this point, I would have to expect Golden will make moves. He has to. Status quo isn't cutting it.
It wasn't at Florida. That's why the Gators cut coach Will Muschamp, who was hired right around the same time as Golden. He went 28-21, but won the SEC East and made it to the Sugar Bowl in 2012.
Sunday, Nebraska fired Bo Pellini because his team finished 9-3. Pellini won at least nine games every year he was there and finished 67-27 combined. You know who pulled the plug on Pellini? Former UM athletic director Shawn Eichorst, who spent two years at UM, and gave Golden his extension through 2019 because of how he handled the Shapiro bomb that was dropped on him shortly after getting the job.
Ironically enough, Eichorst told Nebraska reporters Pellini was fired because he “didn’t win the games that mattered the most.”
Remember when winning the games that mattered, mattered at Miami?
Golden hasn’t done that yet. That’s a fact. His biggest win to date? Over 9-3 Duke this year.
Bottomline: he should have won more with this year’s team. The Coastal, weak as ever, was there for the taking. The Hurricanes, potentially with four top 100 picks in next year’s draft (only Florida State and Oregon have more), grossly underachieved.
It's hard to explain some of the things that happened this year. How does five-star cornerback Tracy Howard start a ton last year and regress to hardly playing this year? How did Stacy Coley, one of your most electrifying players last year as a freshman, regress? Why was Dallas Crawford -- one of your 22 best -- sitting behind a former walk-on most of the season?
The one thing I don’t blame Golden for -- not being able to get his team up for these last two meaningless games. The Canes did the same to Shannon. When UM lost to FSU -- after investing all it had to beat the Seminoles and keep its Coastal Division hopes alive -- there was nothing tangible to play for anymore. Virginia and Pittsburgh, meanwhile, were fighting to become bowl eligible.
Golden was essentially a coach without a carrot to dangle. In the end, do you think it really mattered to the players if they were 8-4 or 6-6 when they couldn’t win the one thing they set out to accomplish in the beginning? Maybe to the fans, but certainly not the players.
Here is where we’re at: If UM’s leaders want to get serious about winning again it starts with who is chosen to replace Shalala.
That new school president can’t be satisfied with just winning the Coastal Division or selling fans on what this week’s uniform combination is going to be. They don’t want to see another 3Penny Film about how hard guys are working, read another report about where UM’s next recruiting class is ranked or be reminded about that NCAA cloud Golden had to deal with.
Canes fans are tired of all that. They want results.
Enough quality talent has come and gone through Coral Gables over the last 11 years -- no, not as frequently as it did before, but enough -- to win the Coastal at least once. Miami hasn’t done that.
A huge part of that failure is on coaching. The bigger part of that is how much financial support Shannon and Golden have received to go out and bring in quality assistant coaches and coordinators to help make these players better and get the most out of them. In the end, you can have a real nice car, but you can’t expect to win the race if you’ve got a below average pit crew you’re paying with nickels and dimes. You’re giving the driver no chance.
The proof is in player development. Anybody remember the last time UM had a pass rusher opponents feared while he was here? No, but we’re quick to point out how good Olivier Vernon looks with the Dolphins. How about a defensive tackle who plugged the middle and was a menace? Vince Wilfork is in his 10th season in the NFL. How about a ball-hawking safety like Ed Reed? Where’s that next guy been?
Until Brad Kaaya showed up, we were all wondering when UM was going to have a top flight quarterback again.
Why? Yes, there have been recruiting mistakes. Lots of them.
Much of the local talent UM has been able to hang onto lately didn’t pick the Canes because they were an elite program. They stayed home for the love of The U, because they grew up rooting for Sean Taylor and dreaming of being Canes.
Imagine where UM would have been this season if Duke Johnson hadn’t decided to stick with the hometown Canes even after they fired Shannon? How about Denzel Perryman? Or Phillip Dorsett?
In the end, this blog post isn't a fire Golden letter or even a fire Mark D’Onofrio letter.
I’m just saying UM’s problems extend beyond Golden. It extended beyond Shannon.
The U needs somebody in charge to really care about how far this program has fallen, come up with a plan to right the ship, demand excellence and invest in the program all out.
Right now, to me, it just seems like the folks in charge in Coral Gables are happy if you show up for two games a year. They're okay with mediocrity.