The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The Blog Goes Big Time - Threats of Violence

Well, yesterday was most definitely an interesting day in the history of this blog. It was the first day that we ever got real traffic from a non-baseball related story. And this happened just as I was preparing to go into a baseball offseason related hibernation. But that just doesn’t seem like the thing to do today.

Actually, today I wanted to encourage everyone to go out and vote. But after some of the responses I got yesterday, I don’t think that everyone really should go out and vote. If you’re the type of person who takes college football so seriously that you can’t refer to a school other than the one you cheer for by its own name (i.e. you refer to every other school by some derogatory term), you’re probably better off not voting. Well, at least that’s what I’d like to think because I’d hate to think that your vote counts as much as mine.

Anyways, back to the football post from yesterday. No, I don’t think Larry Coker should be fired. Yes, Saturday’s loss was disappointing. Sure, Coker has amassed a record of 41 – 4 with “Butch’s boys” in large part, but it’s not like Coker wasn’t involved in the recruiting back then too.

I’m not sure what people expect. Butch Davis was at the helm for plenty of games that the Canes should have won, but didn’t. If you think back about it - and I won't get into the details here today - but that was the knock on Davis when he was here - great recruiter, poor executer of X's and O's, or at least not that great at getting guys motivated for Saturdays. Saturday night’s UNC game was the first that Coker lost, which by all accounts going in the Canes should have won. Sure, you can argue about last year’s losses to Virginia Tech and Tennessee and even the Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State, but those were all losses to ranked teams and only one of them was a home game. Saturday night’s loss was clearly the worst of Coker’s tenure. But are you really ready to fire a coach after one bad loss?

If you are, my biggest question for you is: who are you going to hire? There isn’t a potential candidate out there – employed or unemployed currently – who excites me. Plus there are the financials of the situation to consider. Firing Coach Coker, who has a few years left on his contract, would require Miami to pay him for the duration of his contract – or at least to come up with some sort of a buyout. I’m also guessing that this new coach, who’s going to do better than win 41 of his first 45 games, will have the team constantly motivated, and playing at the level of the 2001 team at all times, etc, etc will probably not come cheaply. Where exactly is that kind of money going to come from?

For those of you who don’t follow such things, even in recent years, when times have been pretty good on the financial end for the University of Miami’s Athletic Department, money isn’t just flowing in. Sure, the football team reaches BCS bowl games regularly and the payoffs there are rich, but those sums get divvied up amongst the other teams in the conference and Miami is left with less than you might think. And yes, being in the ACC will help things immensely as the television contract is better and there should actually be some financial incentives for having a basketball program from now on. But the baseball program now has to travel and there are a multitude of other “non-revenue”/Olympic sports that are played at the U. Those all cost money and digging up an extra two million dollars per year for a new football coach is a big expense, particularly when the results you can expect from that coach on the field cannot be much better than what you are getting from the current coach.

Another aspect of the coaching situation is that Larry Coker represents what a segment of the University community wants the football team to represent. He is calm, mild mannered, well spoken, and seems like someone (at least to those of us – like me – who don’t know him well, or even at all) that we would want our son or grandson to play football for. He runs a clean program, seems to genuinely care about the young men who are part of his program, and about the university as a whole. (Butch Davis was just about all of that too).

Coker helps represent a clear departure from the Miami teams of the eighties and early nineties. I know that isn’t every Hurricane fan’s favorite thing, because many people favor the style from back in the day, which included military fatigues, trash talking, lopsided wins, and running up the score. Those things are all well and good and plenty of fun, but they also brought along plenty of NCAA inquiries and infractions, and that’s just something that the leadership of the University (notably, in my opinion, Paul Dee and Donna Shalala) have decided that they do not want to be any part of. I’m on board with that way of thinking and will continue to support the University (by showing up at games and donating dollars) as long as we stay on this course.

Sure, this means that we will have some 10 – 2, 9 – 3 football seasons – maybe even some 8 – 4’s, and that the team won’t be 12 – 0 every year. But that’s going to happen with whoever you put on the sidelines. And if you look back at it though, Miami wasn’t undefeated every year and didn’t play for the national championship game every year – although it may have seemed like it.

Addressing some of the criticism
For whatever reason, unlike many other blogs, my blog seems to be allergic to comments in the comments section. See the end of this post for the comments link, where you are invited to leave your thoughts about this article or really anything. I do, however, receive plenty of emails from readers all over the world, which I really quite enjoy. Yesterday, through the miracle of being able to track where the hits to this site come from, I found out that the text of this article had been picked up by a Miami football message board. You can find the thread here which quotes this article and links to this site. Many of the posters agreed with me – at least in part, and many disagreed with me – some somewhat strongly. I wanted to address some of the issues that folks raised in that thread here.

First of all, I was totally unfamiliar with this website and message board before last night. That said, I’m amazed that my little post generated a thread which has been viewed more than one thousand times and was commented on about fifty times (as of this writing). It’s also interesting to me that my post was taken as an “article” or as something with some sort of credibility. In the year plus that I’ve been blogging, I’ve been quoted and referenced many times, but I don’t think I’ve ever been involved – at least indirectly – in something that generated as much emotion as this one innocent post that I put up yesterday. The most interesting part about it to me is that I didn’t expect anyone to read it. I didn’t think that anyone read my football posts. Actually, until yesterday the only communication I’d received from my readers about my football writing was that they wished I would stop doing it and that I would focus more on baseball instead. Well, for my loyal readers, I’m sorry to say that if people keep reading it, I’ll probably keep writing it, because it’s kind of interesting to have some dialog (as opposed to talking about who the White Sox catcher will be next season or in 2008 – topics which I’m hoping to get to later this offseason).

That said, I hope that the folks who are reading this realize that I am just an individual citizen/writer and not some paid authority or author. I can’t go to closed practices. I don’t have access to inside information. I just have my own opinions. That’s all. I’m a football fan and a University of Miami fan, just like most of you. I think the only difference is that I seem to be more verbose than the typical poster on a message board. That’s probably just due to the nature of a blog (like this site) and a message board. Here I post whatever I want to talk about for the day, whereas on a message board, it’s more like a real conversation between people and the snippets are much shorter. My point is, please don’t take what I’m saying as any more authoritative than anyone else, it’s just my opinion.

I was also surprised to see how seriously people take this. I give a fair amount of money to the school (at least based on how much money I have), and I go to a lot of games (home and away), and follow things pretty closely. Still, I don’t feel like I take things as seriously as a lot of fans on this message board – particularly those who have such strong and harsh feelings about Coach Coker, the coaching staff, the team’s recent performances, and college football in general.

Up until a year or two ago, I probably did. I “lived” and “died” with every loss. I did that with the Hurricanes and the White Sox and even the lowly Cardinals of the NFL. It was painful. Two of those teams lose more often than they win. Eventually I just realized that I couldn’t do it any longer – at least not the way that I was.

In recent years I’ve come to enjoy college football on a different level. I have a team that I love and support whole-heartedly. I’m a Hurricane through and through. There are other teams that I’ll root for when Miami isn’t playing, but I’m a Hurricane. If they win, I’m happy that they did. If they lose, I’m happy that I got to see the game, that I got to spend some time with some friends and family and some other Hurricanes, and that I probably got to enjoy an adult beverage or two. For me, it’s not the be all and end all. I suppose for the folks that would like to “take a pipe” to my head, it is.

For those of you that feel that way, I hope you can find some other outlets for your frustration other than my head. Maybe a good book, or a glass of merlot, or spending some time coaching youth football. Like Bobby Bowden said earlier this year, it’s easy to be a PlayStation All-American. Maybe you don’t think Larry Coker would be one this year. It’s your right to think that I suppose, but Larry Coker isn’t coming to your job or your house to tell you that you’re not good at your job or that you don’t raise your kids right.

Some folks took issue with me saying that Coker should get credit for starting Brock Berlin and Roscoe Parrish. I cited those players as examples because they easily came to mind and have been referred to widely in the media lately as choices that were clearly Coker’s own. Most of us – myself included – were ready to give up on Berlin a long time ago, but Coker saw something the rest of us didn’t. Maybe it was that Berlin would break out, like he has in recent weeks. Or maybe it was that Kyle Wright, for all of his physical gifts, looks like the sack inducing machine in practice that he has been so far in his limited game experience.

Those same folks went on to point out defensive and other starters who are also Coker’s picks who haven’t lived up to expectations recently. That’s fair and I suppose they haven’t. Some, like Baraka Atkins today in the Herald, came out and said the issue is that players like him aren’t executing up to their abilities. To me, that seems like a logical explanation, because in the first three games of the year, Atkins looked like an All-American, Coker seemed fine, and most of us were probably worried that Randy Shannon’s defensive wizardry would cause another school to swoop in and hire him as their new head coach. Now that’s not the case and folks want to see Shannon pack up his things along with Coker. I just don’t get it.

The other issue that Canes fans seem to have flip-flopped on is the offense. For the past year or more the cry has been that the offense is too predictable. That without a Willis McGahee type back, who’s going to break a 60-yard run every half-quarter or so, the conservative, run it up the middle offense just doesn’t work. Well, the Canes have been throwing the ball lately and throwing it deep. So what’s the criticism this week? That they throw the ball deep too much and don’t take advantage of the opportunity for steady, short gains. You can’t have it both ways folks. These coaches want to win just as much as the rest of us do. Obviously – through all the film they’ve watched and what they know about their players and the opponents, they think that the best opportunity to score and to win is to go deep.

Lost in much of the arguing about the problems with the team has been the outstanding performance of Devin Hester. Hester was seemingly everywhere on the field on Saturday – offensively, defensively, and on special teams. He caught a pass, ran for a touchdown, returned punts and kickoffs, made some tackles, and even came close to blocking the last second field goal. Had the Canes won the game, I’m sure that the media would be talking about how Hester carried the team through the game and he might even be getting more talk as a Heisman candidate. Ironically, if I was to take issue with the coaches, this is where I would take issue.

Hester didn’t get fast overnight. His natural ability on the field didn’t just come to him mid-way through this season. Why wasn’t Hester used like this earlier in the year? Why wasn’t Hester used like this last year? The young man is obviously a playmaker and is able to do special things with the ball. His punt and kick-off returns prove this, and he proved this at the college level (in a game situation) as early as last year’s opening kick off against Florida. Still, it took until Saturday for us to see Hester used all over the field. Hopefully we’ll see more of this in the games to come. However, this is where I lay some blame with the Miami coaches for not having involved Hester more from the beginning of the year and throughout the season last year. A play or two from Devin in last year’s Tennessee game could have made the difference. A play or two from Devin in any number of other games that the Canes won by a close margin could have turned the games into blowouts. Had that happened, we’d all likely have a different opinion about this Miami club – or at least about Devin Hester.

In closing, some folks took issue with my statement at the end of yesterday’s article where I said that I thought we should all enjoy this run that Miami is on while it lasts. By that I did not mean that I think Coker is incapable of leading this team to championships and great heights in the future. What I meant is that no team, no program, no coach is capable of winning at a 91% rate for the long haul. The competition in college football is too great and too many teams gear their seasons around playing the likes of Miami to expect to win at that level forever. Think about it – how many times this year have we heard something like “a win against Miami this week would be the biggest win in the school’s history”? Granted, I do not recall hearing that going into the North Carolina game, but it was said repeatedly before the Louisville and Georgia Tech games. For Florida State too, winning the season opener would have been a turning point for their program, solidifying that they were back amongst the elite.

These programs – the North Carolina’s and Louisiana Tech’s of the world included – are not coached by inept people and comprised of unskilled athletes. More likely than not they’re made up of people who wish that they were at the University of Miami and the fact that they’re not motivates them to gear up extra hard, to lift more weights, to try new formations and plays, and to do everything possible to prove that they belong on the level that the University of Miami is at. If there’s a coach out there who can out-coach that kind of motivation and determination every game, every year, for the long haul, I agree – the school should go out and hire that person. I don’t think that person exists though.

I don’t know of a coach in any sport, at any competitive level, who coached for an extended period of time that won 91% of his games. In basketball Red Auerbach, Pat Riley, and Phil Jackson didn’t win that many games and didn’t win championships every year. In pro football Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, Joe Gibbs, and Bill Belichick haven’t either. In college football Bear Bryant, Bo Schembechler, and Steve Spurrier didn’t either. Forget about it in baseball – no one wins seventy percent of their games over a career. And unless you manage for the Yankees, it’s tough to win too many titles. You can even look at college baseball, where Miami’s own Jim Morris and Ron Fraser haven’t won at those levels and there about as good as it gets. I suppose you could say that John Wooden got it done at UCLA and that Miami should hire his equivalent to replace Coker (and maybe John’s son or grandson to lead the basketball team!). But if you think that, you probably haven’t been too tuned in to how competitive balance and the nature of sports has changed over the past few decades.

Yes, I’d like to see Miami come out every week fired up like it was a national championship game or a Florida State game and put thirty-five points on the board in the first quarter. But that isn’t realistic. Sometimes the team will be flat, or young, or hobbled by injuries. Sometimes they’ll be out-coached, or out-played, or out-lucked. That’s part of the beauty of sports. And that’s why we should all show up on Saturday night and cheer our hearts out against Clemson. Maybe this Hurricanes team will do something special and finish the year 11 – 1 and as Sugar Bowl champions. Maybe they won’t too. We’ll see.

And I think Larry Coker is as good of a match for this school as there is. Maybe that will change one day, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon. Go Canes!


Post a Comment

<< Home