From Unbeateable to Rebuilding: The Miami Hurricane Story

Mitch Wilson@sportschatplaceSenior Writer IMay 22, 2009

3 Jan 2002:  Clinton Portis #28 of Miami carries the football against the Nebraska defense during the Rose Bowl National Championship game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.  Miami won the game 37-14, winning the BCS and the National Championship title. DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit: Harry How/Getty Images

While some fan bases out there are delusional and think there program can do no wrong, Miami fans don't fit that bill.

If you ever come across a true Miami Hurricane fan they will never talk about goals like winning a conference title, going to a bowl game, or " improving", there is only set of goals: To run the table and win the National Championship.

While winning a National Title for most is far beyond their wildest dreams, Miami fans always add the running the table. This is added because there has never been an instance where Miami has been given the benefit of a doubt in a tie breaker type situation, they always have earned their position by winning big games on the field.

Most know the story of the Miami program. How the Hurricanes came from out of no where by taking series against the big boys, usually playing two games at "their place" just to get teams on the schedule, to going on the greatest run in the history of college football and a team no one wanted to play anywhere.

While in the 90's the NCAA tried to put Miami down for the count, and most of the charges were serious and the Miami program was guilty of, Miami tradition was already in place and by 2000 the Canes were already on another run.

Sure there were some pained periods over the probation period like all of the reduced scholarships, the big losses which Miami fans hadn't seen in over 20 years, and not even a whiff of a National Title game, but the Canes rebuilt as they had done before, getting top level talent from their own backyard and dismissing what the "experts" who do recruiting rankings said.

The run ended with a National Title and a streak of 34 wins. In the midst of this came the departure of not just coach Butch Davis but of what got Miami there in the first place, and that's what we are going to look at here, how and why it all happened.

Before my Cane brethren stomp me for this, I just want to add that I think the program is headed back to prominence and I think running the table and winning the National Championship not only can, but WILL happen in the next three years.


1) The Hiring of Larry Coker

While Larry Coker was and is a player's coach, he was never a fans coach. He didn't have the head coaching experience and as Miami had sent their head coach to the Pro's four times in a row, the fans wanted a bigger name. Many of the big names considered turned Miami down and Coker was "settled" on.

Most Miami fans never liked Coker as the offensive coordinator. While outsiders can say he was part of the program and an insider, Coker was never considered as such by the Miami community. Cokers play calling as OC were controversial for years.

Coker also wasn't a strong disciplinarian, something that a team of superstars needs. While Miami had seen things get out of hand in a hurry during the Erickson era, they felt that because Coker was already part of the program, the players would respond to him.


2. Poor Recruiting

While Butch Davis can find a diamond in the rough and can make a guy no one wants the next NFL first round pick, Larry Coker wasn't born with the same gift.

While Coker had coached some of the greatest to ever play the college game like Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas, Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis just to name a few, Coker was never the recruiting coordinator.

By the time Coker took over, Miami was a national power and could get whatever players they wanted. Players were flying off the draft boards in the NFL and every high school star dreams of that day, why not go to a place where the odds are that dream will come true?

There are many high school stars who don't become NFL picks, this just hadn't been the case at Miami over a long stretch. While most know about the Miami first round pick streak that just ended this past NFL draft, few ever talk about the run Miami had before that one which was almost as great.

The fact is Coker listened to experts and didn't get players that played "Miami football." What is "Miami Football" you may ask, it's playing with a chip on your shoulder like you have something to prove and you can't wait to prove it. Whether it was the players, the coach or both, this seemed to evaporate under Coker.

According to the rankings, Miami had it's best recruiting classes ever under Coker. Miami got Kyle Wright who was the USA Today offensive player of the year and an all world QB. Ryan Moore, a Wideout who was tall, fast and just had all the tools. James Bryant and Willie Williams, the No. 1 and 2 rated linebackers in the country by every recruiting service. This list goes on and on.

While Coker did have his Devin Hester and Jon Beason, neither of these players ever reached their full potential as Miami Hurricanes. Coker could never find a position to fit Hester to get him on the field and the Beast couldn't wait to abandon the sinking ship.


3. Reality

Most people think of Miami as a big, state school, they aren't even close. Miami is a small private school which is sort of like a Notre Dame of the South.

Miami recruits against Florida and Florida State and rarely wins those recruiting battles for the guys who aren't directly in their backyard. While the back yard is full of talent, the poachers from all over the country are well aware of the goldmine.

Losing recruits to the Gators and Noles is nothing new. There have been plenty of Miami "commits" who watched Miami win National Titles from their dorm in Tallahassee or Gainesville.

In reality, it doesn't make a lot of sense that Miami could compete with the gigantic state schools around the country like Alabama, Texas, Ohio State, Michigan,Florida; just to name a few, Miami is just not big enough and doesn't have the income stream or alumni base.

While a top tier coach and recruiter can bring in some hidden gems and win some of the close battles, the fewer of those you win, the more damage to the program it does,

To make matters tougher, the players see their ex-team mates driving around in $100,000 cars and living in mansions, it doesn't give a lot of incentive to stick around and win a championship. It's rare for most college teams stars to stick around and not take first round draft choice money.

While most major programs have one or maybe two first round underclassmen choices to replace, Miami often had 5 or more as even second round picks and below like Clinton Portis (second round) and Frank Gore (third round) are just tough to replace time and time again.


4. The Odds

Winning streaks and title runs like Miami went on don't happen every day. In the post scholarship limitation era and since the introduction of Black players, it's only happened twice, both times at Miami. The odds of keeping it going over long periods of time are astronomical, that's why it never happens.

While many talk about the great Notre Dame teams of the twenties and Knute Rockne, those team's accomplishments pale in comparison to Miami's run. While people look at what Florida and USC did this decade, imagine a run where either your team or a team that beat you played for the national title 22 out of 25 years, we are talking epic.


5. The Image

Jimmy Johnson used to tell his players, "if you want to talk the talk, you better walk the walk." And while Johnson's teams were a menace on the field and were the kings of taunting and trash talking, they backed it up not just on the field but in the classroom and in public.

Johnson's teams had some of the highest graduation rates in the country and his players never hit the police blotter.

While this is something that is often misunderstood at Miami and many at Bleacher Report have scoured Google until all hours of the night looking for "dirt", it simply isn't there. While this is something the program may never get away from, it is something that can be maintained and contained, it hasn't been helped a lot recently.

A few years back Miami had an on field brawl with FIU a school located not more than five miles from Miami and has a lot of kids Miami players grew up playing against. WHile an on field brawl is never a good thing, Miami has done everything they could yet the image still haunts them.

Miami suspended many players and fired their National Championship winning head coach. There are many brawls and fights in college football, not all make Sportscenter. There are none that I know of where heads rolled on both sides like they did for this yet the image is still what most remember.

While the NCAA ultimately makes decisions regarding such punishments, they never came back to either school and said they were inadequate. It's the image that still lingers though you are more likely to find a USC-Notre Dame brawl on Youtube than anything to do with Miami.


6. The Move to The ACC

While no one thought changing conferences would be that big of a deal, it has been for Miami and under Coker they were unable to adjust. It's simply a different style of football week in and week out in the ACC than the team had been accustomed to and game planning for in the Big East.

It's comes down to a few simple things, as Miami's talent has been diminishing, the game planning becomes more important because players can't just make up for gaps with speed and ability.

In the Big East it was a man up style power game, the ACC is a different style.

While I don't want to get get too deep into it as I know x's and o's bore most people to tears, it comes down to ACC offenses chop blocking the nose tackle and sending a "scat back" type runner through the linebackers and into the secondary. A lot of times the Running Back is similar to a WR in physical stature and speed.

While Miami has a defensive and linebacker tradition, they have yet to find a Jon Vilma, Dan Morgan, Ray Lewis, etc. type who can go sideline to sideline and make tackles when the nose tackle has been taken out.

Add to this they haven't had a beefy Warren Sapp, Cortez Kennedy, Jerome Brown type nose tackle since Vince Woolfork went to the NFL to get his Super Bowl ring.


7. The Future is Bright

Miami has made recent moves to correct what has gone wrong and to bring back many of the things which were truly responsible for it's winning ways. While most players like and respect Head Coach Randy Shannon, he would never be called a "players coach", he's a true disciplinarian.

As an ex-Hurricane player during the Johnson years, Shannon knows what it takes to win. He knows the importance of recruiting locally and the roster is stocked with young local talent.

While Shannon has recruited size and speed, he has recruited guys who win football games. The core of his first full recruiting class came from Miami's Northwestern High School who had put together a winning streak and a run of National Championships of their own.

Shannon not only went for the big, fast, flashy wide receivers, but loaded up on linebackers, DB's and got the highest rated DL in he country in Marcus Forston to man the middle of the defensive line.

While Miami history shows that these might not be the players who bring Miami it's next national title as it's usually the next group, they certainly have a chance and it is the expectation.

It has been a quick and humbling demise and while Miami fans are encouraged by last years Emerald Bowl berth and the exceptional play of a team primarily composed of true freshmen, Miami fans are far from happy, content and are a long way from bragging about how great their team is.

Winning the National Championship and running the table is the expectation and all players that sign at Miami know that. Anything short  is a disappointment.

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