“The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations,” a term originally coined by former President George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, is one of my pet phrases (I’m sure you’ve seen me use it multiple times) because it so succinctly and accurately sums up just how repeated failures can cause people to lower the bar for what they define as successful, allowing someone to be deemed a “success” where others before them would be called a failure.
And that is the biggest threat facing the University of Miami football program going forward. To not allow continued mediocrity and defense of said mediocrity to become “baked into the cake” and redefine what is success at the University of Miami.
So it must be said, unequivocally, that the first two years and 10 games of Al Golden’s tenure on the field have been completely unacceptable. He is 20-14. But further dissecting that reveals a more troubling trend. Three of those wins came against FCS teams, but taking the games against FBS teams, we find that Golden has really struggled against anyone decent:
That is shockingly mediocre, and below what anyone would expect at the University of Miami. Now, there are all sorts of asterisks that can apply to individual games. For example, the loss to a 2-10 team was the 2011 opening game loss at Maryland, with several players suspended, so we can ignore that. One of the losses was to Boston College the week that a bowl ban was announced in 2011.
But even with those games counted as “wins” it does not buck the overall trend. And that’s why to truly deduce program direction, we must look at the overall picture. This is not an isolated incident, it is a conclusive three-year look at what has happened. In general, Al Golden’s Miami Hurricanes beat the bad teams and lose to the good teams (with a few outliers). The best win is over an 8-5 Georgia Tech team in 2011.
The danger to the Hurricanes football program is not the past, but the future. One of the more troubling trends is the attempt to excuse this performance. Last week, after the Virginia Tech loss, I quoted Al Golden as saying, “I know no one wanted to listen to me five, six, seven weeks ago. We’re not back. We’re building.”
The problem with that is not that he is building or whether or not that building is working, but that he is excusing playing horribly and getting blown out by a team that is playing terribly. These are games that the Hurricanes should be winning in 2013, in the third year of his regime, and are not. He has taken responsibility and is telling fans to blame him, I am simply agreeing with him. It is his fault. But apologizing for one shocking loss after another does not make anything better. At some point, you have to actually stop losing these games, and that time is now.
Talent IS an Issue
There is no doubt that talent is not on “Miami level” if we define “Miami level” as being the 2000-2002 teams. But no one will ever reach that level of talent again. More importantly, if we are discussing the level of talent, it must be contextualized. Manny Navarro did a good job of breaking down where Miami’s talent stands in comparison to both the nation and to the two most recent victors over Miami.
But I want to pick up where that article leaves off, quoting one important point:
The Hurricanes have had higher-ranked recruiting classes (15th in 2009; 16th in 2010; 36th in 2011; 9th in 2012; 20th in 2013) than Virginia Tech (23rd in 2009; 23rd in 2010; 33rd in 2011; 22nd in 2012; 23rd in 2013) and Duke (51st in 2009; 71st in 2010; 76th in 2011; 52nd in 2012; 67th in 2013) over the last five years according to Rivals.com.
Now, Navarro goes on to further explain how much attrition Miami has had (true), how the scandal has impacted the recruiting (true) and how Miami is probably a year or so away from being “back” (true), which at Miami means Top 5 and competing for championships.
Everything is true there, but here is why I don’t think that particular information is important for the discussion that needs to be had. There are questions that must be asked:
- Do Virginia Tech and Duke actually have more talent than Miami?
The answer to that question is no. There are many steps on the ladder between Miami being “back” and being on Duke’s level in terms of talent. Miami is in between the two now, meaning with coaching neutral, they should beat those teams.
- How much more talent does this coaching staff need than Virginia Tech and Duke so that they don’t lose to teams of that ilk by 18 points?
Because that is what happened. This wasn’t Miami playing the odd bad game, or having a bad day. This was them getting blown out by inferior talent. Yes, it’s not as inferior as the name would imply, but it is inferior nonetheless, and Miami being “back” is not at issue.
What is at issue is Golden’s ability to extract the maximum out of the talent that he does have. As Navarro’s analysis showed, Miami, on paper, was more talented than those opponents and managed to be played off the field. The concern isn’t missing out on the opportunity to get killed by FSU in the ACC Championship Game, the concern is if/when the talent level increases, will the Canes still be operating at the same coaching deficiency that cost them the last two games, even though they had superior talent?
Will they ever get to the 12-0, national championship level?
How Bare was the Cupboard?
I actually think it was quite bare. Randy Shannon’s last two recruiting classes were his weakest. But this raises more questions than answers. If Shannon left the empty cupboard, why then were 12 of the 22 players that started on offense or defense against Duke from the 2010 class, Shannon’s last, or before (Shannon’s signees in bold):
Pos ## OFFENSE
QB 17 Stephen Morris
RB 25 Dallas Crawford
FB 33 Maurice Hagens
WR 1 Allen Hurns
WR 6 Herb Waters
TE 46 Clive Walford
LT 74 Ereck Flowers
LG 70 Jon Feliciano
C 62 Shane McDermott
RG 65 Brandon Linder
RT 77 Seantrel Henderson
Pos ## DEFENSE
DE 71 Anthony Chickillo
DT 96 Curtis Porter
DT 91 Olsen Pierre
DE 51 Shayon Green
OLB 31 Tyrone Cornileus
MLB 59 Jimmy Gaines
OLB 52 Denzel Perryman
CB 3 Tracy Howard
S 2 Deon Bush
S 26 Rayshawn Jenkins
CB 37 Ladarius Gunter
If Shannon left such bad talent, why hasn’t Golden replaced the underperformers?
Are the most talented players playing meaning that Golden is actually recruiting worse players than the ones starting?
If they aren’t, then why is the defense so difficult to learn that they would rather give up 500 yards the last three games than put in the younger, more talented, but less seasoned players?
These are difficult questions that I don’t have the answers to. They are not straightforward. But something is horribly rotten with the way this team is playing.
Someone like Raphael Kirby, who was coveted by Alabama and Florida State, was rated by Rivals as the fifth best player at his position in the country in the class of 2012. Someone who also enrolled early and therefore has gone through two full offseasons cannot supplant some of Randy Shannon’s recruits (that were not nearly as coveted). We end up discussing whether Miami is “back.”
Here is a hint: they just lost to Duke by 18! I will go ahead and confirm that Miami is not back so we can move on to actual relevant discussion. Just because they aren’t back doesn’t mean these performances are acceptable. There is a vast middle ground.
You want to know who just put up over 500 yards on Miami? Let me introduce you to Duke’s Juwan Thompson. He is the epitome of a team player and a star running back. But when Duke literally ran out of linebackers, he agreed to move to linebacker. He is now playing both positions (and by playing I mean he is getting carries and registering tackles). That is great testament to his character, and also takes a sledgehammer to the theory that Golden does not have the tools to compete. Duke is literally playing a player both ways, and the Canes need exactly how many top-level recruits to not give up 500 yards?
The Bottom Line
One of my favorite lines from The Sopranos was from the episode “A Hit Is a Hit” in Season 1. Christopher Moltisanti is beginning to recognize that his girlfriend is managing a band that might not be successful, and he tells her “you need to mentally [expletive] prepare yourself for the possibility that Visiting Day sucks.” Well, Canes fans need to mentally prepare themselves for the possibility that Al Golden might not be a great football coach.
Just to clarify, he has done many good things off the field. And I actually like him. Under no circumstances should his job be in question. He deserves more time. That is not a debate worth having at this juncture.
But we also should not ignore all the warning signs. What do you call a team that misses tackles, drops passes, makes stupid penalties, and mismanages the clock? Well coached?
There are examples of all of this against Duke, over and over again, but a few instances were particularly glaring:
- To start the 2nd quarter, the Canes were up 17-7 with the ball on their own 14. They completed a six-yard pass, but a holding penalty made it 1st and 14. Then, a 33-yard completion was blunted with a downfield holding penalty. Another 10-yard holding penalty further backed them up. Morris ended up throwing an interception on 3rd and 4 from the Miami 49. But the important point is on this drive where Miami could have gone up 17 and possibly killed off the game, the Canes gained 65 yards, but backed up 30 yards on penalties and only netted 35 in total. It’s this sort of slop that is holding back the offense and preventing them from being an elite scoring unit. Is this not coaching?
- With the Canes down 15 with 6:50 left, the Canes exhibited no urgency whatsoever. They called a running play, completed a one-yard pass, and let the clock run while huddling. 1:34 gone with only four plays run. Does that not reflect on the coaching?
I ask this simple question: When was the last time you went into a game and actually thought, “the Canes’ coaches are going to out coach the opponent this week?”
Nothing can be accomplished against Virginia or Pittsburgh that will erase these doubts. They are the two worst teams in the ACC Coastal. Beating them won’t mean much in terms of reversing the trend of beating bad teams, and losing to them would be disaster. These are — to steal a soccer term — “dead rubbers.”
We must recalibrate our expectations and evaluate this staff in the same manner with which every other staff was evaluated. Larry Coker was fired three years after winning the Orange Bowl, four years after playing in the National Championship, and five years after winning it. This was based on one seven-win season. Randy Shannon was afforded time to grow, and went 5-7, 7-6, and 9-4. But one downturn (to 7-5, with the starting QB getting injured, mind you) was enough to get him fired.
Al Golden should be judged by the same standard.
Next year is his fourth year, and the team has performed poorly, below par, in his first three years. When the calendar turns to 2014, the expectation should be that the team dominates. That bend-but-don’t-break turns into break the opponent. That the Canes look like a Miami Hurricanes team. That 1-5 against Virginia Tech and Florida State is a thing of the past. Building should turn into built.
There should not be a lowering of expectations because the Canes blew an opportunity to win the Coastal this year. One year’s underperformance leading to the lowering of expectations of the next year is how mediocrity sets in. This year was the year to win the Coastal, as a stepping stone to win the ACC in 2014. Now, 2014 should still be the year that the Canes are players at the top of the ACC, not a step (or several steps) down from FSU and Clemson.
Golden has asked to be held responsible for the performance of the team. Next year, I suggest we take him up on his offer, and give him all the plaudits he deserves if he delivers, but also hold his feet to the fire if the Canes continue to fail. And make no mistake, losing three consecutive games by a total of 63 points in a coach’s third year is unacceptable. But no one will care if next year the Canes get back on schedule. Absent that, we should not even entertain excuses, but expect accountability, all the way to the top.
This is something that must happen now. It must happen within the coaching staff, the administration and the fan base, lest we allow the soft bigotry of low expectations to sink the University of Miami football program.
Vishnu Parasuraman (@vrp2003) is a consultant in the Washington, D.C., Metro Area and an editor of the Sebastian’s Pub blog. His work has also been seen on Grantland. He is a graduate of the University of Miami with an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University.