Every fall for the last decade, someone at some point asks if Miami football is back.
Each season ends with the same answer.
We’ve waited for Miami football to come “back” since January 2003. Sure, the following season the Hurricanes won 11 games, including the Orange Bowl over rival Florida State.
But that 2003 campaign included consecutive losses in the Hurricanes’ two marquee matchups. Those defeats to Virginia Tech and Tennessee were the first cracks in the dam, and it didn’t take long for it to burst.
Miami football isn’t coming back in 2015. Were that not evident in the ‘Canes’ first three contests, which included a sluggish start at FAU and near-choke vs. Nebraska, Thursday’s 34-23 loss at Cincinnati made it abundantly clear.
Thursday may well have sealed the fate of head coach Al Golden, 31-23 in his four-plus seasons at The U. with the high watermark coming in a 9-4 2013.
A 9-win season is hardly enough to save a Miami coach; hell, it was after his second straight 9-win season that Larry Coker started feeling the heat.
Barring a surprise run to the ACC Championship Game, and perhaps a conference title, Miami could shop the coaching market for the third time in just nine years.
Any top-tier head coaching prospect would want to take his talents to South Beach, right? Miami’s a program with a rich history and numerous national championships and some of the nation’s best high school football right in its backyard.
But there’s a formula for success at Miami that I can’t put my finger on — frankly, I’m not sure many can.
There are things that jump out. The seemingly never-ending circling of NCAA buzzards, spanning multiple eras of coaches, probably doesn’t help.
The move from the Orange Bowl to Sun Life seven years ago has done Miami no favors.
Miami’s underachievement goes deeper, however.
I believed Golden to be an underrated hire with huge potential for Miami. He took a Temple program that hadn’t gone bowling since the late 1970s and won 17 games over two seasons.
Golden did so by aggressively and successfully recruiting local gems like Bernard Pierce and Muhammad Wilkerson. My thought was, if he could find such success with players in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey, he’d clean up in South Florida.
Butch Davis brought back Miami football from its last downturn by homering on the local recruiting scene; why not Golden?
Golden’s recruited well, but parlaying talent into wins has proven problematic.
That’s long been a problem at Miami. And, even at the zenith of its last dynasty, the ‘Canes were more noteworthy for talent than play-calling, anyway.
The 2001 Miami football roster is one of, if not the greatest collection of talent in college football history.
That’s a credit to Davis, who wasn’t there to coach that team, and it’s also a completely unattainable model in today’s college football landscape.
Talent is simply more well distributed now. There’s a greater number of competitive programs around the nation, with university athletic departments taking a more active approach toward building success football teams.
Miami football won’t come back simply out-talent-ing college football. The Hurricanes need the talent and the tactics, evident from the moment they lost the 2003 BCS Championship Game.
Coker, fired just five years later, was at the helm for the title in 2001. He was also there for the title loss in January 2003, when Jim Tressel coached a less talented Ohio State team past the Hurricanes.
Coker became head coach of the most talented team perhaps ever because Davis, the man who put it together, didn’t stick around to see his work pay off.
Davis left Miami in the winter of 2001, fresh off an 11-win season in which the Hurricanes could very well have played for the national championship.
The 2000 team may not have had the opportunity to win it all, but the 2001 team looked like an overwhelming favorite from the outset. Davis passed on that chance to instead coach the Cleveland Browns, then in just their third year as an expansion franchise.
Now, the NFL is a jump from college in a number of ways. Davis leaving Miami before his labor bore fruit isn’t necessarily any different than Jim Harbaugh moving across the Bay after Stanford’s 2011 Orange Bowl win.
However, Davis’ departure was a bizarre affair. This 2001 Sports Illustrated account details Davis bumping heads with Miami administration before taking the Cleveland job.
What could be a destination job — should be a destination job — simply hasn’t been. What indications are there that it is now, should Miami part ways with Golden?
Tradition is probably more burden than benefit at this point. The moment things on South Beach start going south, TV is ready to air tweets from disgruntled and/or confounded former ‘Canes.
What is happening with @CanesFootball
— Michael Irvin (@michaelirvin88) October 1, 2015
Meanwhile, the more time that passes without Miami football returning to its former place of prominence, the more it becomes an abstract.
Former players like Michael Irvin sounding off on their day will only sound increasingly like the parental harangues they tune out to the new generation of college football prospects.
When Davis took over, Miami was just three years removed from appearing in a national championship and four from winning a split title with Washington.
Twelve years and nine months have passed since Miami was last playing for a national title.
So I ask not if Miami football is back; rather, will Miami football ever be back?