Mark Richt came to Miami and, in two years, made the Hurricanes an ACC Coastal Division champion for the first time in school history. The Canes played in the ACC Championship Game for a spot in the College Football Playoff. They played in the Orange Bowl game. They played in the games Miami football expects to encounter each season.
Given how marvelously successful 2017 was, and given his history at Georgia, where he won multiple SEC championships and fielded an especially strong team once every three to four years, it seemed that Richt was about to settle in for a long and prosperous tenure at Miami.
This did not mean that 2018 was going to be a great year. Before I joined Florida Football Insiders in September, I wrote this piece in August about the difficulty of following the 2017 season with another equally successful campaign.
However, while being skeptical about whether Miami could go 11-1 or even 10-2, I never thought Miami would sink to 7-5 in the regular season. More precisely, I never thought the Hurricanes would look so consistently clueless on offense. I thought this would be a 9-3 or possibly 10-2 team which would be competitive in its losses but not come up with the takeaways it gained in crucial situations last year. I didn’t think this would be a genuinely mediocre team.
Yet, that’s exactly what the 2018 Hurricanes were.
It was ugly. It was conspicuous. It was a case of substantial regression, not a slight downturn or the kind of season which, with a few bounces of the ball, could have been 11-1 again.
No, this season’s Miami offense played far too poorly to earn that benefit of the doubt.
This was a miserable autumn in which Richt lost the mustard on his fastball The good feelings in and around the Miami program after the 2017 joyride didn’t just evaporate; they evaporated and then turned to anger from fans. This never felt like a season in which fans thought, “Well, this season just didn’t break right. We’ll get ’em next year.” No, it was deeper than that. This was a season marked by thoughts such as, “How did we perform so well last season, bring people back this season, and become THIS BAD?”
The pitchforks were out for Richt in October and were never truly put away.
Okay, then. Three months were awful, but at least now Miami had four weeks to prepare for a bowl game against another 7-5 team which had conspicuously underachieved this season. Wisconsin was “Miami Midwest,” following an Orange Bowl season with a returning quarterback and several familiar faces… and utterly falling all over itself on offense. Miami looked at a beefier version of itself when it stepped into the Pinstripe Bowl to battle the Badgers.
This was a chance to get healthy in a winnable matchup against an opponent which started a backup, Jack Coan, at quarterback. With four weeks for Richt to prepare, this was a time for the head coach and offensive mastermind to show that he could coach up his quarterbacks and get them to play up to standard.
One bowl win wasn’t going to make the pain of the regular season go away. One bowl win wasn’t going to eliminate or severely reduce the problems faced by Miami — now without Manny Diaz, now without recruiting momentum, now without an 11-win season to celebrate — heading into 2019.
One bowl win, however, would have done a lot to quiet the growing fears that Richt had lost his touch. A crisp performance from his quarterbacks — not a spectacular one, but simply a display of basic competence and football IQ — would have given Richt the reassurance that he was entering 2019 with a regained sense of command over his offense. He needed that with Diaz heading to Temple.
Instead, Richt got a complete disaster. It could not have been worse.
Miami played down to the “warm weather team in cold weather” stereotype which was fully in evidence for Miami even in last year’s successful season.
The Canes played and moved like icicles in Pittsburgh. They moved as poorly against Wisconsin in New York. They were clueless on offense the whole game.
They were slow on defense at the start as they struggled to adjust to the conditions. Even against an opponent which couldn’t pass the ball with any consistency, the Canes couldn’t stop Wisconsin’s running game, which kept moving the pile and creating holes in the middle of The U’s defensive front.
Soft. Unprepared. Poorly coached.
No improvement over four weeks. No player development — especially not at quarterback — after weeks of bowl practices. No improved decisions or play calls from the offensive staff. No willingness to bench Malik Rosier at halftime (which should have been the obvious move) and give N’Kosi Perry at least a full half of football.
No brains. No clue. No toughness. No chance.
On a night in New York when Miami needed to at least show that it was capable of improving before 2019 came to a close, Miami delivered a stink bomb.
It was never the case that Richt’s job was in jeopardy this season. Miami would have become a very undesirable place for other big-name coaches if Richt had been fired this year. Other coaches would live in terror, paralyzed at the thought of virtually nonexistent job security, if they saw someone with Richt’s seniority and credentials shoved out the door ONE YEAR after an immensely successful 2017 season.
However, this Pinstripe Bowl did need to set the table for 2019. Richt did need to show to his bosses and his fan base that he could turn this ship around.
Instead, that ship ran into the hard rocks of Wisconsin’s linemen, wrecked on a December night in the Big Apple.
2018 is mercifully over for Richt and Miami. That’s the good news. The bad news is that with 2019 upon us, Richt has no more excuses and no more grace periods. He has managed to do the improbable: He has squandered every last ounce of the good will he generated in 2017. Richt has to know — and everyone in college football does as well — that if Miami doesn’t meaningfully improve in 2019, Richt will be looking for a new job. This doesn’t mean Richt has to win the ACC title or go 11-1, but it does mean that Miami has to win the games it is supposed to win.
In 2018, the quality of the ACC took a big tumble. The ACC Coastal champion, Pitt, lost five games en route to its division title and got buried by Clemson for loss number six. No ACC team other than Clemson won 10 games in the regular season. Against this version of the ACC, Miami should have been able to win at least nine games
It ended its season after the Pinstripe Bowl at 7-6, essentially a break-even team.
If the rest of the ACC remains as bad in 2019 as it was in 2018, and Miami can’t win nine games, Richt — with this 2018 disaster, capped by the Pinstripe Bowl debacle — has lost any margin for error. He has lost the benefit of the doubt he had in 2018 as his cushion, his buffer, against fan anger and displeasure.
The 2018 regular season got away from Mark Richt. The Pinstripe Bowl was a time to reshape attitudes.
Richt, as everyone can see, spectacularly failed to do that.
The hot seat talk — relative to the 2018 season — never added up.
Now we’re focused on 2019, though. Feeling warm yet, coach?
If this mess isn’t fixed, the 2020s will begin with yet another man calling the shots in Coral Gables.
We will see if this storied football school endures yet one more U Turn before the end of this decade. Games as bad as the Pinstripe Bowl should have been consigned to Miami’s past, but they are clearly still part of the present moment. Miami administrators are left to wonder if they will continue to be part of the future.
That’s exactly why Mark Richt took a tremendous 2017 season and exhausted its measure of value in the subsequent 12 months.
Canes OC Enos knows RBs must step up in 2019
The University of Miami created a buzz in the social media world last week after naming Jarren Williams the starting quarterback for the season. Williams will now work with new offensive coordinator Dan Enos to try and resurrect an offense that looked dead at the end of last season.
Enos was credited for a lot of the successes of Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa last season and will look for some of the same success with Williams.
Though, the Miami offense will need the running backs to step up in a big way this season. The sayings with all young Quarterbacks are: to limit turnovers, keep it simple, and develop a run game. While these will be essential for the Canes and Williams this year, the run game will be important for more than that.
When Enos got the Central Michigan program rolling the way he wanted, he had a dangerous rushing attack to complement his passing attack that has Miami fans so excited. In the 2012 season, Enos had his running back Zurlon Tipton rush for 1,497 yards and his QB Ryan Radcliff throw for over 3,000 years. The offense was so well balanced they had an average of 31.8 passes a game and 31.9 rushes a game.
At Arkansas, Enos had both Brandon and Austin Allen throw for over 3,000 yards respectively, and both had a running back run for over a thousand yards. At Arkansas, Enos also had multiple running backs carrying the ball for him utilizing the stable he had.
Travis Homer, the leading rusher for Miami last season, is gone, but the Hurricanes have a good group of backs coming into the season. DeeJay Dallas averaged 5.7 yards a carry last season with 617 yards and 109 attempts. Sophomore Lorenzo Lingard will look to have a breakout season. He only had 17 touches in 2018, but he was a high praised recruit coming into the program.
The Canes will need both guys to step up, so they can set up the strongest part of Enos’ offense, which is the ability to open up the offense downfield.
Last season, Miami’s yards per attempt was 5.9 and ranked 119th in the country. Enos’ 2015 Arkansas offense averaged nine yards per attempt, which ranked ninth in all of college football. The 2016 offense averaged 8.3 yards per attempt, which ranked 21st in the country, and in 2014 when he was at Central Michigan, his offense ranked 18th in the country, averaging 8.4 yards per attempt.
All his previous teams had an impact on the ground, resulting in these substantial downfield numbers. For Miami in 2019, the running backs will need to create some hurricane-like winds to disrupt the defenses and get the strong-arm Williams rolling.
Enos has been able to adapt his offenses in every spot he has been in his career. It will be exciting to see just how he can do so with these Hurricanes.
Zemek- Diaz and Mullen ready for intimate chess match
Some coaching clashes are compelling because of how different the two men are. Some coaching confrontations are enhanced by the level of mystery in the encounter. Some coaching matchups are fascinating. because the two men know each other well.
Saturday’s college football season opener between the Florida Gators and Miami Hurricanes fits into that third category. Dan Mullen and Manny Diaz know each other well.
How many times in the history of college football has this EXACT set of details below pertained to a season-opening coaching clash?
— The two programs involved in the game have won national titles in the past 20 years
— Both head coaches were previously coordinators at the schools they currently lead as head coaches
— Both head coaches served under SEC champion head coaches (Urban Meyer and Mark Richt)
— Both men were part of coaching staffs which participated in New Year’s Six or BCS bowls
— Both men had coached in the Orange Bowl in the past five years
— One of the two coaches not only worked for the other coach, but in two separate stints
— The two separate stints lasted exactly one year apiece
Yes, this is an uncommonly intimate coaching matchup.
Manny Diaz was Dan Mullen’s defensive coordinator — not once, but twice.
Mullen took over the Mississippi State program before the 2009 season. He invited Diaz to be his defensive coordinator for the 2010 season. Diaz then jumped at the opportunity to go to Texas and work for Mack Brown after Will Muschamp grew impatient with Brown (as the coach-in-waiting) and bolted for… Florida, where Mullen had worked from 2005-2008 under Meyer as offensive coordinator.
Diaz spent three years in Austin as the Longhorns flamed out and Brown lost hold of the program. (Brown has resurfaced this year as a rival for… yep.. Miami in the ACC Coastal Division with North Carolina.) Humbled and knocked down a peg in the coaching hierarchy, Diaz then spent the 2014 season at Louisiana Tech. It was Mullen who gave Diaz a lift before the 2015 season, enabling Diaz to once again coach not only at Mississippi State, but more generally in a Power Five conference.
Diaz — in a move mirroring his jump to an established veteran coach in 2011 — once again latched onto a big-name program led by a high-profile sideline sultan. He joined Mark Richt in Miami for the 2016 season. He once again spent three seasons as the coordinator for that program.
Unlike the Texas tour from 2011 through 2013, Diaz’s star clearly rose in Miami. The turnover-chain defense of 2017 was the reason Richt won the ACC Coastal and a berth in the Orange Bowl. Diaz’s reputation grew in Coral Gables. The disastrous 2018 season for The U had nothing to do with the defense, which held up its end of the bargain. Richt’s offense and his inability to develop Miami’s quarterbacks led the car to swerve off the road and into a deep ditch.
Diaz saw the sinking ship and wanted to begin his career as a head coach. The Temple job has been a short-term catapult for various coaches in recent years. Matt Rhule used it to go to Baylor. Geoff Collins — who once coached at Florida as an assistant — used it to go to Georgia Tech. A man named Al Golden — Canes fans want to forget him — used Temple as a stepping stone for the Miami job. Diaz sensed opportunity and went to Philly.
We all know what happened next. Richt retired. Diaz changed his mind. Here we are.
Diaz gets to match wits with Mullen. Manny not only has the advantage of knowing how Mullen thinks; he has been able to see how Mullen has evolved.
It is a very unique and particular dynamic: A coordinator got to see how a boss (his head coach) thinks in two separate occasions five years removed from each other. Diaz’s introductory course on “Mullenology” was in 2010 at Mississippi State. Diaz received the graduate course in 2015. (He didn’t have to pay tuition, either. He got paid for the course!) Now the two men meet in 2019, eager to see how their ideas have continued to develop.
The obvious yet extra-sexy aspect of this intimate coaching matchup: Mullen is an offense-first coach, Diaz a defense-first coach. If the two men both coached the same side of the ball, the battle of brains wouldn’t be nearly as interesting. It is PRECISELY because they occupy different sides of the ball that Diaz-Mullen and Canes-Gators are so loaded with intrigue.
At the beginning of this decade, they were introduced to each other.
In the middle of this decade, they reconnected with each other, again on the same coaching staff.
At the end of the 2010s, Dan Mullen and Manny Diaz will stand on opposite sidelines in a Week 1 cauldron of pressure.
The college football world will be primarily interested in seeing how both men have evolved in their own ways and on their own terms. Yet, the context surrounding Gators-Canes is incomplete if the relationship between Mullen and Diaz isn’t included.
How they evolve in their understanding of each other — not just their own autonomous selves — will have a lot to do with the outcome of Florida versus Miami.