Five Reasons For Miami's Decline
By Ryan Lacey
Ten years ago, the Miami Hurricanes were on top of the college football world. Although they lost to Ohio State in the 2003 national championship game, Miami graduated one of the best classes in NCAA history and appeared headed toward a dynasty.
Things have a way of changing quickly these days and that’s what happened to the Hurricanes. Plenty of things have contributed to their demise during the last decade, most in their control and some due to bad breaks.
Let’s take a quick look at five of the biggest reasons the Hurricanes have faded into relative obscurity.
1. Larry Coker
The Larry Coker story is fascinating: He started his coaching career at the high school level in Oklahoma in 1971 before stops in Tulsa, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Ohio State as an assistant coach. He reached Coral Gables in 1995 and served as the offensive coordinator until head coach Butch Davis left in 2001. He had a perfect first season, contributing to an undefeated record and the school’s fifth national title. All that did was buy him far more time than he deserved. So as the record spiraled — 12-0 in 2000, 12-1 in 2001, 11-2 in 2003, 9-3 in 2004 and 2005 — he was allowed to stay. Once the Davis-recruited players graduated, Coker was unable to replace them with equal talent and lacked the coaching acumen required to develop athletes. His era ended in 2006 when the Hurricanes went 7-6 and he was replaced by Randy Shannon. Shannon went 28-22 in four years trying to clean up Coker’s mess and was dismissed because of the mediocre results.
2. Recruiting Regression
Coaching can only do so much in college football. You need the top-notch high school players to compete at the highest level. Miami’s recruiting ranking from 2003-06, when the school was losing more games than it had before, remained in the top 10 nationally (per Rivals), but the quality of the players clearly declined during this time. Some of this is circumstance; it’s impossible to foresee five-star talents Kyle Wright (on the field) and Willie Williams (off the field) being complete failures. Other five-star players such as Reggie Youngblood, Lance Leggett and Ryan Moore just didn’t make the necessary impact. All it takes is a few years of shoddy recruiting and it’s difficult to recover. Combine that with the reemergence of the SEC as the best conference in football, and securing multiple elite players is tough.
An understated issue with recruiting is how much technology has changed how teams get players. With the world smaller than ever, local products are bolting Florida for schools all over the country. This trend took off as Miami was on a downturn, and most of the talented kids from the state were either leaving or signing for rivals Florida and Florida State. Miami is finding out winning without talent is nearly impossible to do.
3. Too Much Swagger
While the swagger is the characteristic most associated with Miami, it was a positive that quickly turned into a negative. The 1980s national championship teams displayed an unrivaled sense of arrogance, which was fine because they had more than enough talent and outstanding coaching to back it up. This was revisited in the early 2000s, as Butch Davis’ squads possessed the same confidence that Jimmy Johnson’s did. Since then, constant calls to “get the swagger back at 'The U'” have been unsuccessful. With Al Golden at the helm, that philosophy faded. He champions a much more sensible blue-collar attitude and has a far better understanding of what it takes to build a long-term, successful program. His record at Temple speaks for itself and if he can improve Miami just as much as he improved the Owls, Miami will be back near the top of the ladder.
4. Joining The ACC
Since joining the ACC, Miami has posted a 66-46 record (nine seasons), including at least four losses in each of the last seven years. To put that into perspective, the Hurricanes went 86-23 the previous nine while in the Big East. It’s hard to ignore how much of Miami’s downturn coincided with its acceptance in the ACC. The quality of opponent increased as well; had Miami remained in the Big East, it could have been able to rack up one or two-loss seasons even as its personnel got weaker. This would have allowed them to compete for BCS games every year and remain relevant as a national entity.
Most believed the ACC would become the strongest conference in Division I football when Miami and Virginia Tech jumped to it in 2004. That has not happened. The conference remains in the shadow of the Big 12, Pac-12, Big Ten and SEC. Since joining the ACC, Miami has become just another team.
5. Scandals And Sanctions
Any time a scandal hits a school, there is always some sort of negative impact. During the last 10 years, Miami has been involved in numerous public relations fiascoes, ranging from the "7th Floor Crew” disaster to the brawl on the field with Florida International in 2006.
And then there’s the Nevin Schapiro scandal, which has seemed to drag on for the past century. Schapiro allegedly began providing benefits to Miami players starting in 2002, and continued to do so until 2010. This is somewhat ironic given how far the football product has fallen in that time. While the team was struggling at the time the report was released, the lack of institutional control displayed by the Hurricanes in allowing this to go on for so long undoubtedly had an impact on performance.
Having a negative influence like Schapiro around the football program is bad enough, but the punishments for such acts are far worse. Miami has already missed the past two postseasons as a result and who knows what is coming from the NCAA in the future. We’ve already seen countless examples of programs struggling to overcome such punishments.