Miami Hurricanes: ESPN 30 For 30 The U: Proud Of Being Dirty

Paul SalmanSenior Analyst IDecember 14, 2009


Watching ESPN's 30 For 30 - The U this weekend was a fascinating experience in several ways. As a college football fan, it was amazing to watch how a program turned around in such a short period of time, after such a long history of futility. The director did a great job of discussing the rise of the Miami Hurricans program in the 80's and tied it to the Miami culture of the time.

There was great detail about the arrival of Howard Schnellenberger in 1979, and his "pro style" approach to on field play, along with his goal of recruiting in the "State Of Miami" (southern Florida).

This focus allowed for Miami to capitalize on its region, along with creating a sense of pride among the players who were mostly local and united to create one powerhouse program. Schnellenberger had a five year plan to win the National Title and brought with him the confidence and bravado that still lingers with this program.

Upon winning the National Title in 1983, Schnellenberger stepped down to pursue a career with the USFL, which gave way for Jimmy Johnson, who took the Miami arrogance to an entirely new level.

Miami is a program that did not do things the "right way". They were looked upon as an outcast by college football elites, and their on field behavior led to rule changes about excessive celebration. Miami dealt with accusations of their players accepting money from local (and nationally best selling) rapper Luther Campbell who set bounties on opposing players, they had coaches arrested for possession of steroids, and they had players arrested for various run ins with the law.

Watching this documentary may make one look at Miami as the victim of a harsh NCAA committee. Most will come away thinking that Miami was just having fun and the NCAA was "boring". Their behavior in some ways is glamorized in this documentary.

Miami had created its dominance by recruiting local talent which proved to be very smart and worked perfectly. The region had many talented players who took to football as a way to stay off the streets. However, once they reached the top of the mountain, in order to maintain that level as THE dominant program, which was also no longer the underdog, they crossed the line.

It’s one thing to capitalize on your regional advantage, it’s another to use monetary incentives and performance enhancing drugs to continue your winning ways.

Watching these former players who are featured on the program (most of which did not amount to much in the NFL) made it really obvious how naive these players (still) are and how they just don't get it. These players in some ways have scarred the program forever.

When you think of the powerhouse programs like Michigan, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Alabama, Texas, Penn State, Ohio State, Nebraska, you think of classic winning programs. The Michigan Wolverines even have their definition of a "Michigan Man" who is a "gentleman whose integrity personifies the Michigan program." On the other hand, as discussed in the show, other programs deemed players "Miami Guys" if they had character issues.

These classic programs have shown you can win and be dominant while following the rules. (Granted some of these schools did also deal with NCAA violations, but it never overshadowed their on field performance, or was the signature of their program as it was with Miami.)

Many of these Hurricanes players featured in the program still say it was not their fault. They blame the NCAA for making them out to be the bad guys. Surprisingly, Michael Irvin comes off as the one who has "grown up" and agrees that it was not a case of the media making them bad, they were indeed, "bad".

Luther Campbell personifies this at the end of the program when he blames the president for the programs late nineties slight decline, along with the teams "boring" personalities due to the hiring Butch Davis as the coach in 1995.

Campbell never stops to think that maybe he helped forced the hand of the schools administration to change its approach. The team was in fact winning, often in dominating fashion, but that was overshadowed by their dirty play and off field behavior, which was endorsed by both their coaches, and celebrities like Luther Campbell.

It has been reported that current coach Randy Shannon has allowed Luther Campbell back into the program. Hopefully he will not have the same effect on them that he had in the 1980's as Shannon seems to have this program back on the winning track. Will that winning be done in the "right way" is yet to be seen.

To this day, Miami still has that "bad boy" stigma about their football program. While these former players may be proud of this, what they are missing is that because of them, their beloved program will never be able to have that respect of the other classic winning football programs.

This ESPN 30 For 30, while presenting the fascinating story of the Miami Hurricanes, it also gave these player a platform to make sure that this stigma lingers with their program.

(Sports Illustrated article from 1995 about why Miami should end its football program. While the article is a bit extreme with its title, it lays out some of the issues very explicitly.)