SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
With UM beating Pittsburgh in Friday’s regular-season finale (after losing to Pitt last year), here’s one puzzling, troubling reality the new Hurricanes coach must wrap his arms around:
Why does this program lose so many games to teams with significantly lower-rated recruiting classes (UNC, Cincinnati, several others in recent years) and get annihilated by a Clemson team with a similarly ranked class?
In other words, has this been entirely a case of coaches not extracting the most out of the talent, or have Miami’s recruits been vastly overestimated?
Many fans believed it was largely a coaching issue. But two NFL scouts said it’s a combination of both, and one longtime recruiting analyst said the high grades for Miami’s classes are misleadingly skewed.
It’s an issue the next UM coach must figure out, as he determines where the talent needs to be upgraded, what schemes must be changed and how much of a scheme change can help with the current personnel.
Exploring the issue with evaluators who have watched UM closely this season and previous ones:
### A respected NFC scout, who has seen Miami in person and on tape: “When a team isn’t performing [to expectations], there are two reasons: The kid isn't good enough or the coaches aren't doing a good enough job. This situation is a combination of both.
“Offensively, on the lines and the skill positions, I don’t see nearly the talent of past Miami teams. Their top receivers would be third or fourth receivers on old Miami teams. Rashawn Scott and Herb Waters are third-day guys [in the draft]. Stacy Coley has talent, but his play is mediocre [until recently]. I don’t see a great running back there now.
“But defensively, they should be better than this. There are eight or nine [draft-eligible] kids I've been looking at on their defense; no way they should be losing 58-0. They have two defensive linemen, [Ufomba] Kamalu and [Calvin] Heurtelou who will be at NFL camps. Neither one would have played on old Miami lines, but I’ll take them to at least try to make my team.
“They will never be able to return to those famous defensive lines with Cortez Kennedy and Jerome Brown, but they've got defensive linemen that are more than respectable for the ACC.
“They've got a talented secondary. Artie Burns has the talent to be a first-round pick. Corn Elder is a pretty good player. Deon Bush -- he's going to play in the league, maybe a fourth or fifth-round pick. Tracy Howard is a good little corner, a draftable kid, could be your fifth or sixth corner [on an NFL team].”
In regard to Rivals.com saying Clemson and Miami signed nearly identically rated recruiting classes, the scout said: “Clemson obviously is more talented from top to bottom. But with some [Miami] kids, they have talent and it doesn’t convert to the field.” He said one issue for Miami is undisciplined play, not merely penalties but in other ways.
For example: “Artie Burns has got everything you want skill wise, size wise in a corner and he can run, but he is so careless and undisciplined,” the scout said. “He makes a good play and then two, three plays later makes a dumb play. He gave up a touchdown in the Clemson game because he was dumb in his [technique]. Now is that coaching? I’m sure the coach told him what to do, but he wants to do things his way.”
The other NFC scout said he’s convinced the coaching (especially defensively) is holding this team back and Miami must use a defense more reliant on instincts and less on thinking.
“They’ve got to get back to a 4-3 defense and get back recruiting big kids," that scout said.
### Recruiting analyst Larry Blustein, on how UM is losing to teams with much lower-ranked recruiting classes and being blown out by a team (Clemson) with similarly-rated classes:
“The canned answer is the coaching, but you’re grasping when you say that. It's a combination of things. The strength of Clemson was their defensive line, and the weakness of Miami is their offensive line, so they were exploited there.”
Blustein said: “USC went after five-star linemen and two- and three-star running backs. And five-star linemen can make two- or three-star backs look better. That's why USC didn't fade into oblivion after NCAA sanctions while Miami did.
“Miami hasn’t successfully recruited marquee defensive linemen in a long time -- they haven’t recruited guys in the right position to compete with Clemson.” He said the new coach must make that a priority.
“And some of these Miami kids were overrated,” Blustein said. “If these people doing the ratings were professional, they’d be working for a team. Rivals and Scout can make these anointments with nothing riding on it.”
But how can four-star St. Thomas Aquinas grad Joey Bosa go to Ohio State and have 21 sacks in his first two years there, while UM’s five-star Chad Thomas (from Booker T. Washington) had one?
“Bosa is being used in a better way," Blustein said. "And look at the guys around him --- they’re better than the guys around Thomas, guys who allow Bosa to freelance. As it turned out, it doesn't look like Chad Thomas and Tracy Howard were five star [worthy] kids.
“The other factor is schemes,” Blustein said. “Duke doesn’t have the athletes Miami has, but there's a scheme, the way David Cutcliffe coaches and the way the kids respond.
“A scheme change can really make a difference. You would think [UM coaches] would have said, ‘Let's change it up.’ They have more 4-3 guys than 3-4 guys. But you can’t make Brad Kaaya into a spread quarterback if they want to play [a pure] spread” next year.
Former UM Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta makes a valid point: “The kids are thinking way too much [on defense]. Pare the scheme back; run a couple plays over and over. Let the kids play fast.” (Let’s hope the new 2016 coordinator does this.)
### Local recruiting analyst Charles Fishbein: "People look at skill positions and say, ‘We have Duke Johnson, Phillip Dorsett.’ The one thing I don't hear anybody bring up is where are all the defensive linemen? When was the last time they had a lineman drafted in the first three rounds? Calais Campbell [in 2008]. Where do you win games? Up front. Every team in the top 10 is great up front. Miami's problem is never going to be skill positions.”
The other thing the Hurricanes must do, Fishbein said, is improve their strength and conditioning program. “If they keep [longtime strength/conditioning coach] Andreu Swasey, it won't matter who the coach is. When was the last time Miami wore a team out in the second half of a game?”
### A close associate of Butch Davis said last week that Davis was optimistic that he would get an audience with UM athletic director Blake James in the week ahead. And when Davis canceled his scheduled appearance in ESPN2's studio on Saturday, that fueled speculation that Davis' interview was this weekend.
The normally accessible Davis declined to respond when I asked him Saturday if he interviewed, and agent Jimmy Sexton declined to discuss it with our Susan Miller Degnan.
By the way, Davis did not tell ESPN management why he requested the day off. And UM isn't saying a word publicly about the search, with advisory committee members having been sworn to secrecy.
The friend said Davis was excited about the potential opportunity to talk to UM. Indications are that Davis interviewed this werkend. The question is whether what he has to say is compelling enough to lift him in James' eyes.
As we've written, James is considering Davis, despite some internal UM concerns about what happened at North Carolina (Davis was not implicated by the NCAA). And as we've noted, a friend of James has said that James knows he has Davis if nothing more appealing surfaces.
### Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel, in a piece analyzing every college coaching opening, said it would be surprising if the UM job doesn't go to one of four people: Davis (his favorite to get the job), Rob Chudzinski, Greg Schiano and Dan Mullen.
As we noted last week, Chud and Schiano have some support on UM's advisory search committee. And Mullen, the Mississippi State coach, interviewed with UM before Al Golden was hired and left a favorable impression on at least one of the few people involved in that search. But would he leave a job paying him more than $4 million annually?
[Noon update: UM is expected to explore UM alum Mark Richt after his firing from Georgia today.]
### Mario Cristobal is the most polarizing UM coaching candidate among Trustees (aside from Butch Davis), but associates and an NFL scout with whom he speaks said he has become a better coach working for Nick Saban.
A FEW FINS, HEAT, MARLINS NOTES
### New Dolphins defensive end Quinton Coples said Dolphins executive Mike Tannenbaum told him the plan is to keep him beyond this season, though it’s very likely the contract would be restructured to reduce his $7.7 million salary. Coples said the contract issue will be dealt with this off-season, but Tannenbaum made clear to him that this is not just a six-game experiment.
Tannenbaum, who drafted Coples in New York, “said he knows my potential and talent and realized I was out of position” with the Jets, Coples said.
### In the past quarter century of Dolphins history, only Randal Hill (twice) averaged more yards per catch than what Kenny Stills quietly is doing this year (18.4, on 18 catches).
But Stills is getting just 3.6 targets per game, compared with 5.7 in New Orleans last season, and former Saints teammates have been asking him why he’s not getting more passes.
Stills says he wonders that but won’t complain or lobby because “I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes or be like what gets attached to a typical receiver.”
### After being mistaken for Heat assistant Chris Quinn previously, Heat guard Tyler Johnson spent 10 minutes last week debating with a person who said he looks like Tyler Johnson (not the first time this happened) --- this after twice being turned away by AmericanAirlines Arena security when trying to enter the building, once this season.
“I’m a player,” he told security.
“Are you sure?” the security guard asked, calling a Heat official to verify.
### One wealthy businessman who approached the Marlins said Jeffrey Loria remains adamant that he’s not selling, but the person holds out hope he could change his mind after the team plays host to the 2017 All-Star Game.
He said the Marlins indicated that if Loria sells, he would ask for $1 billion. Forbes estimates the team’s worth at $650 million.
For more on Loria and his edict to dismissed Tommy Hutton, see our last post.