Friday, December 4, 2015

A New Sheriff in Town

I’ve been trying to come up with some sort of impassioned response to Miami hiring Mark Richt.

About how he is going to bring the swag back.  About how this is the grand slam, savage hire we have been waiting for.

The truth is, I can’t get there. I remember being super excited for Randy Shannon and again for Al Golden after their introductory press conferences, and we all know how that turned out.

So I am a bit more reserved this time around.

But, that doesn’t mean that I’m not positive about it. In fact, this is the most positive I have been in a long time.

This is a great hire. In fact, it is hard to find a more solid collegiate football coach than Richt. I would even call it a home run.

Georgia got sick of winning 10 games a year for 15 years or, frustrated with a seeming inability to win their weakened division for the past 3 seasons…or maybe even just bored with being married to the same guy for so long. They made a move to replace Richt with a young hotshot, and Miami benefited. One man’s trash can be another man’s treasure.

Truth be told, when it was first reported that Richt was a candidate, I was not happy.

First of all, I can’t stand the Bible thumper crap.

Second of all, I saw a man who was burnt out and seeing diminishing returns. The fans at Georgia had a point…how, in the increasingly crappy SEC East, had the guy failed to make the SEC Championship game for 3 straight years?

And here’s a stone cold fact: over the past 7 seasons, Richt’s record against top ranked teams wasn’t just bad, it was borderline Al Golden-esque.

So, being the researcher I am, I did some digging.

I remember the 2007 Dawgs as the best team in the country. They didn’t win the SEC. They didn’t go undefeated. But they were the best team in a wacky season that featured long runs for Boston College, Kansas and USF in the Top 5, and LSU winning the national championship with 2 losses.

After that season, Richt seemed to take a step back. He stopped calling plays, delegating the duties to Mike Bobo. He still had good teams, and he developed Aaron Murray into one of the most productive SEC quarterbacks of all time.

In fact, Murray lead the Dawgs within one tipped pass of the SEC Title in 2012, which would have locked up a date with Notre Dame for the national title, a game every person on this planet knows Georgia would have won in a rout.

Another thing that stood out: almost every single year, Georgia lost a major contributor to injury. Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb, Keith Marshall…pretty much every year there was someone. The year where everyone stayed healthy? The aforementioned 2012.

So what does all this mean?

Well, the injuries thing means that Richt seemed to get extraordinarily unlucky at Georgia.

Now, I know there are some who would say that a real man makes his own luck, or some corny crap like that from a frat dude’s Facebook profile.

But we all know that is bullshit. Every team in college football has 2 or 3 key players that have a disproportionate effect on the season.

For instance, a QB like Brad Kaaya. Or a running back like Duke Johnson. Or a linebacker like Sean Spence of Denzel Perryman. We have seen firsthand what happens when guys like that get hurt. Now imagine that happening every single year. You get the point.

So, we come back to my initial concern: the motivation.

Why would a guy who took a step back into a CEO role be the guy we are looking for?

This is Miami. I want an angry, testy, chip-on-their shoulder up and comer, godammit. More Jimmy Johnson, less Larry Coker.

Well, here’s where Richt won me over. In his farewell press conference at Georgia, he specifically talked about wanting to be hands on and calling plays again.

This man wants back in the trenches. He wants to get his hands dirty. He has regret. He has fire in his belly…otherwise known as a chip on his shoulder.

People forget some things about Mark Richt.

For instance, he coached 2 players to Heisman Trophies at FSU: Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke. Hard to find two guys more different in their skillset, but he made both of them in to the best player in the country.

Players, not plays. That's what Al Golden promised, and it's what Mark Richt delivers.

Back before he lost whatever power struggle he lost at Georgia and abdicated his play calling role, he used to run a fast paced, smash-mouth , Pro-Style offense.

Mark Richt’s best Georgia teams played attacking, fast, physical defense. They took safeties and made them linebackers (Thomas Davis and Alex Ogletree come to mind…both still play on Sundays).

They took linebackers and made them pass rushers.

Sound familiar? That’s what all the best ‘Canes teams were built on.

If that’s the guy we just hired, and he brings in the type of staff he’s shown himself capable of, and his message continues to resonate with recruits, and he hits the ground running with a Top 5 quarterback and a ton of talent returning off an 8/9 win team, then maybe he is the grand slam we were looking for after all.

Maybe he’s Butch Davis, but better on the X’s and O’s side. I guess we won’t know until we see the product on the field, and that is a long off-season away.

But I do know this. Positive Dan is back, after a 2 year hiatus.

I won’t miss the constant grumbling during games, or being afraid of blowing a 21 point lead in the 4th quarter against Virginia or Pitt.

I won’t miss National Signing Day being a massive disappointment every year.

I won’t miss getting embarrassed 5 times a season.

I CERTAINLY won’t miss watching us get beat the same way week after week after week.

Our new floor is Dabo Swinney’s Clemson or Mack Brown’s Texas…a team loaded with pros that wins between 9-11 games per year and, every few years with the right QB, makes a run at a title.
That’s a hell of a floor, and the ceiling is much higher.

Mark Richt, with something left to prove?

Sign me up.

Monday, October 26, 2015

End of A....Golden....Era

“The football program, it’s time we put it all together. We’ve had great success in the community, great success academically the past couple of years…there’s a tremendous tradition here. A tradition of winning championships. There is no other standard.”

Those were the words of Al Golden during his introductory press conference in December of 2010.

If Al needs any proof of exactly why he was fired, he needs merely to look at the quotation above as justification.

Let’s start from the beginning. For those, like me, who were skeptical of hiring the head coach of Temple for one of the most potentially lucrative jobs in college football and yet so desperate for hope following the Larry Coker and Randy Shannon regimes, Al Golden’s introductory press conference was one for the ages.

Here was a young guy, a well spoken guy, who just GOT IT.

He talked of players, not plays. He talked of inviting the alumni back to be a larger presence within the program. He talked about re-invigorating the strength and conditioning program. He talked about the end of entitlement. He had 200 pages of blueprint and “pillars”.

Jesus, I would make that guy the GOP nominee for president.

He won the hell out of press conferences.

He opened the program back up to the fans through the Raising Canes video series, which was a breath of fresh air after the media-averse Shannon.

This was the beginning of a Golden Era.

Sure, there was the fact that he never beat anyone good at Temple. And the fact that he came from the boring coaching tradition of Penn State and Joe Paterno…the type of program that Miami OPENLY rejected during the glory days. Listening to that press conference was enough to make us all forget that.

We wanted him to win.

Golden was barely on campus for half a year when the program got slammed with an NCAA Investigation he had nothing to do with---a scandal the university knew was coming before they hired him and did not disclose.

And while I am past the point of this being used as an excuse for poor on-field performance, it is easy to forget the uncertainty of those two years. After all, this was the NCAA, and we are Miami, and in a world that has no real rules one has to assume the worst.

If nothing else, Al deserves credit for weathering a storm that he stumbled into with class and dignity.

Al did indeed revamp the strength program...there is no doubt our guys look the part. Al re-strengthened a lot of ties in the local community that Shannon messed up.

He recruited pretty well; sure, he missed on a lot of guys, but he also re-stocked the roster to the point that it is now a turnkey operation for the right coach. We are one of 15 programs that has finished with a Top 25 recruiting class in each of the past 4 years. Most coaches spend years trying to find a QB and defensive line; whoever takes this team over next has an NFL level QB and a young and talented stable of defensive linemen from the very beginning.

But here’s the thing…after a while, it comes back to the winning.

Al was ultimately undone by an inability to adapt. He stubbornly hung on to his system which did not fit the players he had on the roster, nor the local recruiting base.

His system required too much thinking, even for advanced South Florida kids. It is frustrating as a fan; I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be to be a player struggling to pick up a system in your third year running it, while watching your buddies from high school dominate elsewhere.

In the end, he was more beholden to his pillars and his plays than to the players; the words of his press conference rang hollow. And so it became time to move on. In fact, the university gave him a bonus 10 months out of loyalty or guilt over the NCAA mess.

And those are the types of things that get you fired.

If Al Golden has followed through on the promises he made during that inspiring first press conference, we might not be here today. We might not have gone 0-5 against FSU, or failed to beat a Top 25 team---we certainly would not have lost 58-0 to Clemson on Saturday.

But you can’t hide from results, and eventually everyone gets judged on their resume.

When I remember the Al Golden Error, I will not remember the early days of hope.

I will remember him consistently putting a slow, boring, horrible product on the field. They call this a 2-gap defense, similar to what the Cowboys run, except even the shitty Cowboys make plays every now and then. Our guys just stand around confused and then get too caught up in overthinking it to make a play on the ball. How anti-Miami is that?

I will remember him running off legends.

 I will remember him throwing players under the bus and calling them “me guys” like a coward trying to cover his own ass.

 I will remember his unintentionally hilarious catch phrases, like “be a McDonald’s hamburger” and “don’t rise to the occasion”.

I will remember him going dark for a week as he tried to bail on us for the open Penn State job, and then how distraught he was when he realized he was stuck at Miami, the best recruiting ground in the country.

Most of all I will remember the losing. So. Much. Losing. For scale, our basketball team has more wins against Duke than our football team since Al took over. Excuse me while I wade into traffic.

Later Al. Hope you catch on somewhere. And I hope we schedule whatever team you catch on with, because guaranteed wins are hard to come by.


And now, since everyone is making their coaching candidate list, here’s the dozen candidates I want to see interviewed to be the next Miami Hurricanes head coach, in no particular order.

Note: This list assumes that pie-in-the-sky candidates like Jim Harbaugh, Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, Mark Danotnio, David Shaw and Gary Patterson say no.

1.       Steve Spurrier – Spurrier is like Ahab if Ahab had not only caught Moby Dick but beat the ever loving piss out of him repeatedly, and then made a mockery of him in the national media.

2.       Butch Davis – Dude is literally in the parking lot waiting on a phone call; he might work for Keystone Light and grilled cheese.

3.       Mark Richt – What can I say, the man rocks a nice pair of church Dockers.

4.       Justin Fuente – Most accomplished thing out of Memphis since 36 Mafia.

5.       Tom Herman – Won a national championship with a 3rd string QB.

6.       Rob Chudzinski – I imagine he would tell at least one local reporter to “fuck off” during a press conference.

7.       Uncle Luke – Trick Daddy as defensive coordinator, Pitbull as offensive coordinator, Ricky Rozay coaching O-Line---we need Miami Guys, right? DALE!

8.       Dana Hologram – Miami needs---nay, DEMANDS--- a 4Loko bootlegger.

9.       Winston Moss – “I ain’t scared of you, bitch”.

10.   Mike Gundy – He’s a MAN!

11.   Dan Campbell – “Listen men, you want to win? Look at the guy next to you and RIP HIS HEART OUT OF HIS CHEST!!!! Losses are punishable by water boarding.”


Daddy's gotta go to work.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

FSU Hate Week

What can I say about Tallahassee that hasn’t already been said about Downtown Baghdad?

Look, we get to a certain point with these things where all the hatred starts to blur together. I get it.

I could keep going on and on about how FSU players beat the hell out of women and get caught on videotape, or beat the hell out of women and don’t get caught on videotape, or shoot up apartment complexes with BB guns, or flee the scene of a car accident, or steal crab legs from a Publix, or sexually assault a woman and then get covering fire from the university and the local police department, or….ya know what, like I said, you guys get it.

We’ve done that.

To get mad about FSU players getting away with crimes is like getting mad at Donald Trump for making finger guns when talking about a school shooting. Sure, it is THE WORST, but who can we really blame except for ourselves? Stuff happens, ya know?

(Sidenote: you know who probably loves Donald Trump? #FSUTwitter)

I really hate that Al Golden is such a dipshit, and our team is so constantly mediocre, that FSU…the Fox News of fan-bases (humorless, self-important, delusional, artificially enhanced)…actually has out-funnied us with this in their on-campus bookstore:

 Gotta hand it to them. Never let a good crisis go to waste.

Anytime college football’s equivalent of Larry the Cable Guy makes an objectively funny joke at your expense, it might be time to reconsider your program’s future.

But not Al Golden.

At this point, this dude seemingly wants to get fired.

Per the Miami Herald’s Manny Navarro, the players have been flat at practice this week and seem “unbothered” by last week’s loss to Cincy. Effing Cincy. The team that was being quarterbacked by a freshman making his first career start, coming off a loss to Memphis.
Then, per Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post, came news that the staff isn’t playing the War Chant at practice this week.
In years past, coaches would play FSU’s horrific fight song all week long. It got the players ready for the noise that 50,000 mouth-breathers can create when the team that represents everything they hate ---urban intelligence, people that aren’t white, etc.---comes to town.

It ALSO got them pissed off, because anyone forced to listen to that crap for 7 days would be ready to gnaw their own leg off to make it stop. Honestly I think this was on the Gitmo playlist.
But, not Al Golden! Not this year!

This year is about everyone being, and I quote, a “McDonald’s Hamburger”.

Consistent. Predictable. Filled with poisonous preservatives that will kill you over time.

You can almost hear Al’s excuse cannon getting fired up now: “Well, it was a hostile environment on the road, really louder than any place we’ve played this year Joe. Had a lot of adversity and we just couldn’t overcome all of it.”

Someone posted a video on my message board this week of our old strength coach from the 90s, Tommy Moffitt (currently at LSU), putting the players through a summer workout.

A few things stood out to me.

One, Tommy was a crazy person. Like, actually crazy.

Two, our players were really big and really fast. No wonder Leonard Fournette is the second coming of Herschel Walker.

Three, at one point he said “the pride and tradition of the University of Miami Hurricanes will not be entrusted to the timid or weak.”

Now, aside from the fact that this is Meathead 101 and sounds like the type of thing that the douchebag on your high school’s football team--the one that shouldered people into lockers and made gay jokes-- would have said, it is pretty interesting to contrast it with Al Golden’s pre-game speech from last week against Cincy, which essentially consisted of “don’t rise to the occasion”.

Al Golden thinks you win big games by telling players NOT to rise to the occasion.

The last time we played a team with Everett Golson at quarterback was in 2012 against Notre Dame, and we lost that game 41-3 and gave up 561 yards of offense. Last thing we would want is someone stepping up on defense.

You can tell this team has already effectively given up hope.

Safety Rayshawn Jenkins is lashing out at high school sophomores on Instagram.

Linebacker Tyriq McCord is threatening fans in Facebook comments. Knowing Facebook it was probably someone’s uncle that has some * interesting* views on gun control, but still, that isn’t what you want during rivalry week.

Cornerback Tracy Howard, the first big recruiting win of Al Golden’s tenure, actually was quoted in a newspaper this week with the following:

“At the end of the day, it is what it is. That’s life. People are going to criticize you. When you’re doing good, people are going to love you. When you’re doing bad, people are going to be down on you. At the end of the day, you have to stay levelheaded, be the same person. It is what it is. It’s life,” corner Tracy Howard said. “I’m sure my coaches, I’m sure they’re tough. They can handle it. And we can handle it. I know everybody doesn’t like our coaches, but at the end of the day, it is what it is. We still have to go out there and perform and they still have to go out there and call plays. We still have to play for them, so, I mean…we can’t do much about it.

That reads like a ransom note sent by the hostage.

At the beginning of the season, players talked about the FSU game playing too central a role in the team’s psyche and thus creating the post-loss collapses we witnessed the past 2 years.

They said that they were intent on net letting the game define their season this year.

The thing is, absent of larger goals, all your fans can hope for is a win against the rival.

And for a guy like Al Golden, whose response to that is to try to eliminate the idea of a rivalry at all, that win is just never going to happen.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Cincy Hate Week

Note from the editor: I am only going to refer to Cincinnati as “Cincy” from this point forward in this post, because truth be told I have never really figured out how to spell Cincinnati and I get sick of having to right click on the word every time Word tells me I screwed up again. As if anyone ever needed MORE reason to hate this Meth den.

Let’s start off with a quick recap of things I hated 2 weekends ago  (and that you should hate too!).
I hated, of course, that we blew a 23 point lead with 8 minutes left…but more than that I hated how PREDICTABLE it was.

‘How predictable was it, Dan?’

So predictable that in the 3rdQuarter I turned to my girlfriend and said “this is going to overtime”.

Guys, I am NOT that smart and even I saw this trainwreck coming.

I hate that Al Golden has turned this into such a crap program that in any game I am unable to celebrate the good stuff that happens because I KNOW the other shoe will inevitably fall.

Dominating FSU through 3 quarters? 

Doesn’t matter, as soon as we go 3 and out one time the panic sets in.

Put up 17 in the first quarter against Nebraska?

Doesn’t matter, we all know we are going to go soft and surrender the lead.

I hate it. It has literally sucked the joy out of this team. We could be up by 70 against FSU in the 4th Quarter and I wouldn’t be happy until the game was over. It’s gotten to the point that I’d be happy going up 10-0 and then fast forwarding through the rest of the game. Thanks, Al.

I also hate that Deon Bush is going to be out the first half of this game because of a bad targeting call. Know what I hate even worse? A.) He is so important to the defense that as soon as he was ejected against Nebraska we gave up 23 points in 8 minutes and B.) That he is CLEARLY our best player on defense and Al Golden insists on rotating him with this year’s SOTS whipping boy, Dallas Crawford, AKA the worst safety to play here since, like, Willie Cooper.

I also hate that afterward the team celebrated like they just won the Super Bowl, because as Al Golden said, Nebraska had won 9 games every year for the past decade.

First of all that was false.

Second of all, you know who 9 wins isn't good enough for? NEBRASKA. They just fired their coach despite winning 9 games 5 years in a row.

So, to sum up, at Nebraska 9 wins gets you fired.

At Al Golden's Miami, 9 wins gets you a dance party.

Awesome stuff.

Now that we’ve got that off our chest…

Why should you hate the Cincy Bearcats?

Good question.

On the surface, the football program seems to have everything I would like.

Cool all black uniforms.

A weird nickname; no one knows what a Bearcat is but it sounds badass. Kind of like a Jackelope. Or one of those crazy whales with the big unicorn horn. 

Spread offense. History of upsets. Tommy Tuberville.

Check, check, check.
I felt bad last week when Gunner Kiel almost died on the field against Memphis.

Truth be told…and this might be me going soft with age… I can’t muster up any hate for this team.
This is a team playing three straight non-Saturday games. That’s literally the most interesting thing I could find about them.

They’re co-favorites, along with Memphis, in something called the AAC, which is what I think you get relegated to if you finish last in the ACC.

(Just kidding, we know that doesn’t happen, because Miami is still in the ACC after last season)
The Bearcats are essentially the college football knockoff of the Cincy Bengals, the NFL team that shares both a color scheme and an overall sense of “who gives a shit?”

They both fall in to the realm of “good enough for me” which is fitting in this city.

Also, I can never say this enough, but Skyline Chili sucks. A lot.

The reason I think everything has settled in at “mediocre” in this hellscape is that the city has a huge sense of identity crisis. You see, most of the residents feel a sense of commonality with all the worst parts of the Deep South and yet geographically this place features all the worst parts of the north.
It’s not often that you find this combo, but when you do, boy is it nasty. And that is how you get a place like Cincinnati, full of awful people but an admittedly awesome airport (which is technically across the river in Kentucky).

Now, all of this doesn’t take away from the fact that this perfectly mediocre team from this crap town is going to drive us all crazy on Thursday night.

For starters, winning on the road against a home underdog on Thursday night is never easy.  Thursday night football was designed specifically to create chaos, and often succeeds.
Second of all, Mark D’Onofrio and Al Golden will be facing their worst nightmare now the Gunner Kiel, potential NFL draft pick, is out: a second string, mobile QB.

Get ready for a lot of cursing on converted 3rd and Longs. Heaven only help us if they have a tight end on the roster. Not a “good” tight end even…just someone that plays the position. That’s just too many wrinkles for the former Temple staff to handle.

I honestly don’t think we win this one. Everyone is talking about an undefeated matchup in primetime against FSU in two weekends…and I just can’t help but remind everyone that this NEVER works out for us. This is a total trap, similar to the trip to UNC a couple of years ago, and you can bet these acne-ridden, Keystone swilling, couch burning, intelligence-hating hillbillies will be out in full force.

The best case scenario is that D’Onofrio manages to take away something that this backup QB likes to do, force him to be one dimensional, and that our offense actually has some form of consistency and indentity for the entire game.

While you wipe the tears of laughter out of your eyes, I will wrap this up.

Cincy is an awful city with an awful name filled with a lot of awful people.

Let the hate coarse through your veins. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Nebraska Hate Week

This week the ‘Canes play their first real opponent of the season as the Nebraska Cornhuskers come to town.

Like  I said last year, this is the Green Bay of college football. Small town, big crowds, the beauty of rural America, “doing things the right way”, etc.

All of which is really just code for “this place is a frozen shithole, no one lives here unless they are trapped by circumstances or Warren Buffett, might as well go to the football game”.

Much like Miami, this program is coasting on accomplishments from over a decade ago and being a name brand.

If Miami wins this game, which it should, a bunch of people are going to call it a signature win for Al Golden. Which actually makes me angrier than anything about Nebraska itself.

Let’s get one thing straight: Nebraska sucks. They lost their 2 best players to the draft in Ameer Abdullah and Randy Gregory. They lost their most explosive player to a season ending injury in August. Their QB, Tommy Armstrong, is a runner that the Huskers coaching staff is trying to make into a pocket passer, because that always works.

Speaking of the coaching staff…Nebraska has a new coach this season. Despite going 9-4 pretty every year for like 157 straight years, Nebraska fired Bo Pelini.

One of Pelini’s 9 wins last season was an absolute demolition of the ‘Canes in which Nebraska ran on 33 of their final 36 plays, finishing with 343 yards on the ground for the evening (averaging 6.5 yards per carry, no less).

Nebraska essentially too out a megaphone and announced to the world before every play “we’re running it up the middle”….and you know what Miami did? This is probably shocking, but Al Golden didn’t adapt. He kept playing his defense deep because he was, and I’m paraphrasing here, “afraid of getting beat deep”. By the team that ran the ball on 90+% of its plays.

Can’t make this stuff up.

After the season, Nebraska fired the Real Bo Pelini (not to be confused with @FauxBoPelini, who has also taken his legendary performance to Youngstown State) and hired Mike Riley, the Webster definition of a generic football coach.

That’s right, Nebraska finished 9-4 but determined that they weren’t happy with the forward progress being shown, so they shitcanned the coach. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Nebraska enters the game 1-1, with a loss on a Hail Mary to BYU and a win against some crappy team whose name I forget and I’m too lazy to look up right now.

I can already see how this game is going to play out.

Nebraska WILL run the ball a gazillion times, while Miami stays in its shell.

Miami WILL blow this game in the second half.

Al Golden WILL say that it’s early, and we are still recovering from the guys we lost to the NFL last year--which will be ironic given the game in question—and that the injuries to Darrion Owens and Braxton Berrios have really made an impact.

If this post feels “blah”, it’s because that’s how I feel about this game. I don’t hate Nebraska, but I do hate what they represent: a paper tiger, a straw man, a windmill that Al Golden will tilt at and lose.

They are a smoldering mediocrity, and yet they are a smoldering mediocrity that still expects greatness, unlike our administration.

I was talking to my brother earlier and asked him "why should I hate Nebraska?"

His answer: "the self loathing stemming from the inevitability of them winning."

Nailed it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Hate Week - FAU

This week the ‘Canes take their show on the road to face the FAU Owls.

FAU is a commuter school a short drive from the University of Miami. Their head coach is Ron Turner, the younger, dumber brother of professional tomato can Norv Turner, good for your Fantasy Team but poison for an actual NFL team. Last week they kicked off their season by taking out UCF, a victory which was significant but also lead to quotes like this from Turner:
"I literally pulled out my contract and looked to see if I had an out clause with all the off-the-field issues, and I didn't," recalled Turner, a former Bears offensive coordinator and Illinois coach. "I'd come home and vent, and my wife (Wendy) would be like, 'Stay the course, you're here for a reason, just keep going.' I knew that, but she kept saying it so I did. And I'm glad I did because right now I love this team."
Good stuff right there. Uplifting.  

The most famous game between Miami and FAU was in 2006, a 35-0 Miami win that was marred by an ugly benches-clearing brawl.

Other than that, FAU does not matter. They really, really don’t matter.

Know how I know they don’t matter?

Because all that stuff I just wrote was actually true of FIU, not FAU. Took you a second, didn’t it?

Boom…John Oliver’d.

FAU is actually in Boca Raton, a lovely place if you happen to be an 85 year old Jewish man from Massapequa.

If you are anything less, Boca Raton is a hellscape of old people who stopped being able to see 10 years ago and yet are still allowed to drive 60 miles an hour down Military Trail. 

It’s like a f*cking demolition derby filled with late model Lincoln Town Cars – only you have no idea you’re competing until it is too late.

FAU had no football program until Howard Schnellenberger, the man famous for turning the University of Miami into the most dominant program in college football history, decided he would like to build something from scratch. He made the Owls competitive in the Sun Belt Conference and got an on-campus stadium built, which is both impressive and at the same time the most Boca thing that could possibly happen.

Schnells essentially retired to a town filled with people who made him feel young, tried to recreate a piece of “home”…in this case a football program instead of a TooJay’s Deli…and then threw it in cruise control after creating something 40% as good.

 I can just see Schnells sitting in a rocker at his McMansion in Bocaire Country Club, puffing on his pipe, listening to the TV turned up to volume 80, pretending not to hear his pain in the ass daughter-in-law hassling him about the mustard in the fridge being expired.

On the field, FAU is pretty much as non-descript as they are off of it. They have an energetic young coach named Charlie Partridge, who was hired to replace Carl Pelini (of the Flying Pelini Brothers).
Carl was shit canned at mid-season a couple of years ago because of “admitted illegal drug use, the drugs in question being cocaine and marijuana”.

See? This is what being a young-ish man living in Boca does to people! You get so bored that you end up trying to recreate the final scene from Scarface at a split-level with a screened in pool off of Glades Road!

(Realistically, FAU’s brass is lucky that’s all that happened. This is the same Carl Pelini that apparently got run out of Nebraska because of rumors that he was sleeping with the daughter of a prominent booster.)

Anyway, FAU was the only team in Week 1 to score 40+ points and still lose. That’s a special kind of suck right there.

This should be a blowout for the ‘Canes, but similar to Bethune Cookman, if the expectation is blowout and we actually do it, does that tell us anything about the team?

Probably not. We will have to wait until Nebraska for that.

Monday, August 31, 2015

2015 Miami Hurricanes Season Preview

Aristotle said that “happiness depends upon ourselves.”

The end of the last Miami Hurricanes football season ended as a disaster somewhere between Donald Trump’s hair choice and a Donald Trump political rally filled with people who actually think Donald Trump has something intelligent to say.

Since then, I have tried to take Aristotle’s words to heart.

Here is a list of activities I have filled the past 9 months with:

I have thrown myself into the world of soccer, as a Liverpool supporter. Which is to say that I have begun rooting for the soccer equivalent of the Miami Dolphins or Baltimore Orioles --- glory days long since past, still an “historic power” whose ceiling at this point is probably 4th place. I am nothing if not consistent.

I have read SO many books, ranging from historical mysticism, to “Guns, Germs and Steel”, to the poetry of Charles Bukowski.

I travelled to London, Paris and Barcelona, as well as to Austin, Charleston and Baltimore.
I took up a consistent Yoga practice as part of a fairly OCD recovery from shoulder surgery (left labial tear, I think they said it was).

I began to journal every night.

As part of this whole campaign for happiness, you know what I DIDN’T do?

I haven’t spent one red second looking forward to the upcoming college football season. I didn’t really talk to my Dad about the ‘Canes. I didn’t get in any message board dust-ups with “mopes”. Nothing. I haven’t even posted on this blog since before the freakin’ bowl game.

I essentially developed my own f*cking Eat-Pray-Love routine as a way to cope with the psychological trauma caused by the past decade of utter, total crap.

Earlier today, my friend Trent and I were texting about the possibility of the Miami Hurricanes partnering with David Beckham on his new stadium.

We concluded the conversation, as we are wont to do, with the following: “Is this situation good for us? Yes? Then it will not happen”.

Ladies and gents, THE MIAMI HURRICANES!

So here I am today, a week from kickoff, writing a season preview for a team that I know will underachieve and waste yet another fall of my life.

This is my Sisyphean burden. I have to keep following the team, because the only thing that makes me less happy than following them is NOT following them. Call it Stockholm Syndrome, call it sad and lonely…call it whatever you want, but I have come to realize that this is my lot in life, for better or worse.

The great David Simon wrote perfectly last summer in Sports Illustrated about the Baltimore Orioles. I have included it below (with slight tweaks) because I think it captures why we follow sports, even when we know we are doomed to fail, on a higher level than I am capable of articulating myself. And why I am back for, as Simon would put it,  yet another season of being the beaten dog, to whom at this point even the slightest motion induces a “simpering cower”.

Anything that can happen, will. And in an infinite universe, it will happen repeatedly. The full implications of the second law of thermodynamics apply to the American League East (ACC Coastal) just as soundly as to a million monkeys at a million typewriters. Eventually, and regardless of all prior history, the Baltimore Orioles (Miami Hurricanes) are going to type the complete works of Shakespeare.

How do we know this?

Well, for one thing, there is no God. There is only science. If there were a God, he would be—as evidenced by all of modern baseball history—a devoted fan of the Yankees (Florida State). And God, at least the Judeo-Christian version of Him rather than the Aristotelian unmoved mover, is said to be good. Ergo, there is no God.
So, alone in this cold and expanding universe, we are left to consider the random motion of atoms, of protons and electrons and quarks, as these elemental essences dance and glance their way through the hollow space of, say, a Camden Yards (Joe Robbie), a Fenway(Lane Stadium), a Yankee Stadium (Doak Campbell). There is no romance to the matter, no theology, no purposed narrative even—if by narrative you mean a tale with a moral, with cause and effect, fate or redemption, hubris or vindication. No one is making a point here; the monkeys just keep typing.
In other words, Chaos Theory states that at some point the Miami Hurricanes have to win, if for no other reason than sheer, cold science dictating it. And maybe, just maybe, this will be the year. After all, Jameis Winston is gone, Clemson is Clemson, and Virginia Tech is still quarterbacked by Michael Brewer.

Essentially the same cast of dipshits as last season, with only a few tweaks. Because hey, 6-7 was an upward trend! They made changes you can’t see on the field! We were a better team at the end of the season than at the beginning, it just wasn’t reflected in the W-L columns! We have faith in the scheme! EVERYONE GETS AN ORANGE SLICE!

But, hey, at least they made an attempt to fix some stuff. They spent part of the off-season embedded with the Dallas Cowboys! And, I mean, what could be more fitting? The Cowboys used to be awesome when they had Jimmy Johnson, won one more championship with a baby sitter head coach, and have since faded in to a nice, comfortable mediocrity. This, by the way, happened when Brennan Carroll….son of Pete Carroll, head coach of the Seattle Seahawks… was still on the staff. 

Can’t make it up!

What happened last season: Well, we lost the last 4 games by double digits with a roster that had 7 NFL draft picks, including 5 in the first 3 rounds. These are the “me” guys that Al Golden has thrown under the bus as the reason we sucked last year, by the way. They dominated too much, you know? Too concerned with their own personal excellence to be a good team player. Can’t display that sort of talent, not on this team. That isn’t one of the pillars.

Never forget the genius that was this playcall:

What will probably happen this season: Knowing what I know, 8 wins, a claim of incremental improvement, and a contract extension for everyone involved.

Brad Kaaya is a stud, no doubt about it. It has been a long time since our best player was at the most important position on the field. Malik Rosier is his athletic backup who also plays on the baseball team…he is apparently being used in some Read-Option packages. Which would be great news if it didn’t mean that, by definition, our best player is sitting out the play.

What happened last season: Kaaya set all sorts of freshman records on his way to the type of season that made him the frontrunner to be the first overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. And yet, despite this, in big games the coaching staff refused to let him try and win, opting instead for a super conservative, “play not to lose” approach that unsurprisingly backfired EVERY SINGLE TIME.

What will probably happen this season: Like I said, this is the same staff, and they haven’t been too quick on the uptake. Kaaya will probably continue to show streak of brilliance, and then this staff will take him out of his rhythm for seemingly no reason, and then he will find himself down 14 points to a good team, and then he will overthrow to try and make a play and….you can almost smell the Sophomore Slump from here.

Gus Edwards seemed to be the frontrunner for starter duties, right up until he was declared out for the season yesterday. Of course. The talented next-in-line is Joe Yearby, who decided “f*ck this team” during the offseason and spent the summer training on his own. Smart move. Rumor is he will be suspended for the first few games for a dreaded “violation of team rules”. Next in line is Trayone Gray, who has the annoying habit of breaking way too many long runs for Al Golden’s liking. That is the kind of play that gets you benched around here.

You see, long runs have the habit of leading to quick scores, and quick scores mean the shitty defense has to go back on the field and that exposes the head coach’s best friend. Can’t have that.

The wild card is freshman Mark Walton, who everyone has convinced themselves is a can’t miss prospect because he is the one running back we signed last year after 3 high school All Americans at the position decided “on second thought, I’d rather go pretty much anywhere else than Miami”. I’ll believe he’s good when I see it.

The good news here is that we have 3 talented running backs on the roster. The bad news is that we ONLY have 3 talented running backs on the roster, which would be concerning even if this university wasn’t located in South Florida, where high school running backs grow on trees. But, as they say, running back is a low churn position so depth is really more of a luxury than anything.

What happened last season: Duke Johnson set pretty much every school record imaginable. Selfish, right?

What will happen this season: Literally nobody knows. Gus Edwards has apparently looked good all offseason, but I’m not falling for that particular banana in the tailpipe again. The reality is the team lost one of the best players in program history, and replacing him with one guy is pretty much impossible. I’d be shocked if the committee replicates his production from last season. Which means even more pressure on Kaaya. Which is concerning because of…

This could get ugly pretty quickly. There is some good topline talent, but it is all young (Trevor Darling, Kc Mcdemott –who might actually suck but he was a highly rated recruit, Nick Linder, Tyree St. Louis). Over the past 2 years this unit has lost the following: Brandon Linder, Seantrel Henderson, Shane McDermott, Jared Wheeler, Jon Feliciano and most importantly, Ereck Flowers. They now play for the Jaguars, Bills, Cowboys, Eagles, Raiders and Giants, respectively, and Flowers was a Top 10 pick in this past draft.

What happened last season: This was the team’s best unit. And yet, again, 3 starters are gone and in their wake are a bunch of unprovens. Art Kehoe is the best coach on this staff --- this will be the ultimate test of how quickly good coaching can bring a unit together, especially when you know Fat Al will insist on running some complex zone blocking scheme instead of adapting and letting the youngsters get comfortable by just lining up and hitting the guy across from them.

What will happen this season: Get used to hearing this phrase often: “It looks like the right tackle Sonny Odogwu jumped early there.” Hey, on a bright note, at least we are putting our big uglies through ball security drills that seem to be made out of sex toys! Never know when you’re going to have to throw a bubble screen to a 6’7”, 300 pound man!

Unsurprisingly, this is a talented group. Stacey Coley has allegedly checked out of witness protection, Rashawn Scott is back from whatever caused him to miss last season (either injury or suspension…you never can quite tell with good ol’ Rashawn!), Braxton Berrios, Herb Waters, Malcolm Lewis and freshman Lawrence Cager are a nice mix of weapons for Kaaya to work with. At tight end, the group of Stan Dobard, Chris Herndon, Jerome Washington and David Njoku will try to replace the production of another record setting player in Clive Walford, now of the Oakland Raiders.

What happened last season: Phillip Dorsett was the key receiver, as his speed and downfield routes forced defenses to leave much of the middle of the field vulnerable, which paved the way for Duke Johnson and Clive Walford to enjoy a ton of success and for Kaaya to develop confidence working this key area early in his career. Dorsett is now gone to the Colts as a first round pick. So is Walford, the safety blanket.

What will happen this season: This could go a million different ways, but it seems inarguable that the key to it all is Coley. If he can fill the Dorsett role, this offense will have a much easier go of it. If he can’t, defenses are going to blitz our inexperienced o-line and make Kaaya’s life hell. So I guess following the theme of the last decade we can expect the latter.

So. Much. Talent. Al-Quaddin Muhammad is back from his bullshit suspension, Chad Thomas is a year stronger and wiser, we actually have 4 defensive tackles with a pulse, Demetrius Jackson might be the next basketball to football player to become a pass rushing nightmare…you know what Fat Al just heard?

“I bet these guys will look great trying to cover 5’8” slot receivers in the Red Zone.”

What happened last season: If every time you saw a defensive end trying to cover the equivalent of Wes Welker during a Miami game you had to drink, I would have actually died last season. I know people say that a lot, and typically it’s just a euphemism for “oh man I’d have had to drink a lot”, but I literally would have died last season.

Oh, and Anthony Chickillo, the guy the coaching staff forced to gain weight like a piece of foie gras so that he could be used out of position in their stupid scheme, lost the weight, publicly called out Fat Al and Mark Doritos, lit up the college all-star game circuit, got drafted as an outside linebacker by the Pittsburgh effing Steelers (they have had a few decent outside linebackers over the years, and they also happen to be the team that made the EXACT SAME 3-4 that Fat Al uses famous) and is apparently on track to start for them as a rookie. 

Let the failure just cascade over you, ‘Canes fans.

What will happen this season: “Back from that commercial break and we’ll see if the Canes defense can come up with a big hold here in the Red Zone on 3rd and 8, late in the game here at Doak Campbell Stadium. Everett Golson takes the snap…has all day in the pocket to throw…lofts one in to the end zone….touchdown Seminoles! Ermon Lane, the sophomore receiver from South Dade, went up and over Chad Thomas. You can just see from the snap that Golson saw the mismatch, and the Noles exploit it for the TD. And just like that, it looks like FSU will extend their winning streak over Miami to 6 years. You’ve got to really question the defensive play call. You come out of the extended timeout and the best you can come up with is a defensive end covering a wide receiver? Going to be a tough flight home for Al Golden, and you’ve got to imagine his seat is starting to get even warmer.”

Has a player ever murdered a coach on the sideline before? Just curious.

Raphael Kirby and Jermaine Grace lead the unit that has to replace Denzel Perryman and Thurston Armbrister. Tyriq McCord, who has been completely wasted at linebacker instead of rush end, and Darrion Owens are both gifted and are competing for another starting spot. After that the depth gets SCARY. Would be nice to have pre-season first team All ACC member / Cane legacy James Burgess, wouldn’t it? Too bad. Al stopped recruiting him because he was too small.

What happened last season: Denzel Perryman finished second in Butkus Award voting and was an absolute stud. Finishing that high in any individual awards voting is very selfish. Addition by subtraction if you ask me.

What will happen this season: We better pray nobody gets hurt, because running a scheme that requires 4 linebackers at a time –and having a coaching staff that refuses to have any less than 4 linebackers on the field, even if the other team were to trot out a lineup for 11 wide receivers—with only 4 decent linebackers on the roster is a bit of a sticky wicket. At least Grace is awesome and essentially told the coaches to f*ck off when they tried to make him gain weight.

Lots of good names: Deon Bush, Corn Elder, Tracy Howard, Artie Burns, Jaquan Johnson, Reyshawn Jenkins, Jamal Carter…all are potential impact guys. This is the position group least effected by NFL departures, losing only the undrafted Ladarius Gunter, who has *SHOCKINGLY* been getting first team reps with the Green Bay Packers despite underperforming in college. The guy across from him? Pro Bowler Sam Shields, an undrafted Miami Hurricane who underperformed in college. Sigh.

What happened last season: The absolute lack of a pass rush left the secondary out to dry. IT also didn’t help that apparently our defensive backs are not taught to, ya know, turn their head around and look for the ball in the air. Which you’d think would be something that they would be taught. But who am I to judge, ya know?

What will happen this season: If all goes well, Bush is an All American, Howard finally lives up to the 5 star status, Burns becomes a first round corner and Jaquan is the Duke Johnson of the defense, as hyped.

I’ll pause while you laugh it out.

And so concludes the preview. I’d like to say that I am going to try and take a step back this season, but we all know that isn’t true. I’ve already informed the girlfriend that our Labor Day weekend trip to San Francisco will be paused for the Canes game vs Bethune Cookman.

I’ll always be there, pushing my particular boulder up the hill, filled with hatred (both internal and external), hoping that this is the year I finally make it to the top.