As Miami Hurricanes tight end Chris Herndon fell on the onside kick to clinch victory in Pittsburgh, the final game in a turbulent season came to a close (bowl game pending). There were three distinct phases to this season, and it is worth addressing it as such.
Livin’ On A Prayer (3-0)
It’s hard to remember now, but Miami started the season 3-0.
Of course, as with much of the Al Golden Era, there was nothing that felt good about these minor successes. Even in blowing out Bethune-Cookman everything looked off.
Then, FAU happened. The Canes won by 24 points but it was ugly. FAU was close well into the second half before Miami pulled away. We didn’t know this at the time, but the Owls were not just bad when going against Power-5 schools. They would finish the year 3-9 with their only wins coming against Charlotte, FIU, and Old Dominion.
Nebraska looked like an opportunity to pick up a quality win and at least show that the team had a pulse. And for three quarters, it sure looked like maybe this Canes team had something. And then D’Onofrio, and whatnot — the Canes won in OT. This turned out to also be a 5-7 Nebraska team… so not good.
This was the Choose Your Own Adventure portion of the season. If you wanted to be negative there was ample evidence. The team blew a 23-point lead against Nebraska. They were tied in the second half with FAU.
But if you wanted to be positive, the team was 3-0, played three strong quarters against Nebraska, and a strong second half against FAU. It was possible that there was a good team somewhere in here, and no irrevocable damage had been done.
End of the Road (1-3)
The facade came crumbling down on a Thursday night in Cincinnati.
The Bearcats are not good, no one thought they were good, and there was no reason for Miami to lose to them. There was also no reason for Al Golden to be coaching this team, but because of that, the loss to Cincinnati happened, and by double-digits. There was no more defending this sham.
As fans, we were treated to the first of many “adjustments” to the season goals. At this point, we hadn’t played a conference game yet, so Golden clung to that. Technically true, but if you’re getting dominated by Cincinnati, there is likely only one way for the season to go.
Florida State arrived with an opportunity for Golden to at least not go winless against the school’s chief rival and perhaps notch the long-awaited quality win. This was such a strange game. The Seminoles came out and whipped Miami in the first half, but repeatedly shot themselves in the foot and instead of putting the game away, only lead by 10. And Miami took advantage, outplaying FSU in the second half and leading in the fourth quarter, before doing what Golden does and blowing it late.
In a way, this was Golden’s Battle of the Bulge. It was a surprisingly strong performance given the state of the program at that point, but it ultimately ended with another loss and hastened his exit.
But fear not, Canes fans! It wasn’t a Coastal game. This team was going to win the Coastal!
The Virginia Tech game was two once-proud programs slapping each other with pillows. Miami looked like crap, the Hokies continually screwed up, and the Canes found that elusive ACC-Coastal win. It didn’t inspire much confidence but the Canes sat at 4-2 (1-1 in the ACC) and controlled their own destiny in the ACC Coastal.
It’s shocking how quickly this whole thing unraveled from there. In the course of 24 hours, it went from QB Bradley Kaaya talking about a rematch with FSU in the ACC Championship Game to the worst loss in school history to Clemson to Blake James reiterating that Golden was going nowhere and the team was focused on Duke to the Board of Trustees stepping in and forcing Blake James to fire Al Golden.
A New Beginning (4-1)
All of a sudden, the weight of having to save an overmatched coach’s job was removed, and the Canes responded by “cutting loose” against Duke. We’ll remember the miracle play that won this for the rest of our lives, but the Canes actually dominated a ranked opponent on the road for most of the game. And then D’Onofrio blew the lead (running theme over this end of game push), which necessitated the miracle play.
This is honestly the only thing of real note that happened in this last five-game stretch. There were wins against UVA and Pitt that looked comfortable throughout, only to get nervy at the end after the defense imploded. There was the win over Georgia Tech, which looked to be going horribly wrong one possession in before the Yellow Jackets’ QB was knocked out of the game. And there was the loss, a blowout by North Carolina.
If anything, this five-game stretch reinforced everything we suspected about this program coming into the season. Miami suffered from a complete disadvantage intellectually at the coordinator level. And the head coach was out of his depth. Removing one of those certainly helped, and allowed the vast amount of talent that the Canes have shine through, at times. But the coordinators were still holding the program back, and what was is still far short of what could have been. Larry Scott should be commended for getting this team to answer the bell and take the team to a 4-1 record off the backs of a historic embarrassment.
I’m so Excited, I’m So Excited, I’m so… Scared
This team flashed enough talent to make anyone optimistic about the future. Brad Kaaya has obviously been a bright spot, but against Pitt he showed the ability to throw on the move, something we haven’t really seen from him. It makes us wonder what proper play calling could do for him.
The defense, oh the defense. There hasn’t been this much wasted talent since Michael Jordan decided to go play baseball. Imagine a defense that is actually encouraged to attack instead of the opposite. Like Max said in Mission Impossible, “The possibility alone is worth 10 million.”
On the other hand, it’s 10 years since the Canes have been a top program. TEN years. If this hire is bad, we are going to waste another 4-5 years. And who knows how much longer because the conduct of the athletic department does not inspire any confidence. Our last 2 hires involved hiring a consultant to tell us that we should hire our own defensive coordinator and bringing in an extra from an Enterprise Car Rental commercial.
More troubling still is it took the AD literally getting slapped over the head with a paddle that said, “Golden can’t coach” on it for them to fire this coach. The 2015 season was ultimately wasted, not just because it failed, but because all signs pointed to it failing before a ball was kicked, and the administration was an active participant in this destruction.
I have no idea what will make a good or bad hire. It’s not that I don’t have an opinion, it’s that I don’t have an informed opinion. There is no secret sauce or magic formula for hiring a coach. And it even takes time to know if a coach is good or not. Will Muschamp went 11-2 and won the Sugar Bowl in his second year at Florida. He failed catastrophically after that.
I’ll give any coaching hire 2-3 years (barring any kind of catastrophic sucking) to prove his worth. But the program is at a crossroads. The talent is there to compete right away. It’s time for the coaching to match that.
The dream is that the school reaches its potential. The nightmare is that we continue to wallow in mediocrity.
Follow Vishnu on Twitter @VRP2003