Before Mark Richt became available, Miami interviewed Greg Schiano and Dan Mullen, too

Miami Hurricanes administrators can sit back and grin, satisfied that they’ve got the right football coach in Mark Richt.

In just his second season at the school, Richt has Miami in Saturday night’s ACC Championship game against defending national champion Clemson, and a win there should lead to a spot in the College Football Playoff field.

Miami Hurricanes defensive coordinator Greg Schiano (center) with Mike Boireau(left) and Damione Lewis (right) after a 1999 practice. Staff photo by Allen Eyestone, Palm Beach Post.

Could it have gone this well with any other coach available to at the end of the 2015 season? Impossible to know, but Richt was not the only candidate who got serious consideration.

Greg Schiano interviewed with Miami back then. The opportunity came at a time in his life when the former UM defensive coordinator would have given anything to be the boss in Coral Gables. Schiano was between jobs, having been fired as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach. He was volunteering as a high school coach, as a matter of fact, at Tampa Berkeley Prep.

There was reason to believe that something would come of it, too, since former UM star Jonathan Vilma, who played for Schiano, was a member of the six-person advisory staff that athletic Blake James put together to assist in the search process.

It’s a matter of timing in these things, though. Earlier, when Larry Coker got fired at Miami, the Hurricanes were turned away by Schiano. That was in 2006, when he was building something of his own at Rutgers, and formally asked to have his name removed from Miami’s list of candidates.

Lately, Schiano’s name was turned toxic when Tennessee pulled back from a decision to hire him because of an ugly social media reaction, buoyed by campus protests.

The advertised reason for the uproar was an unsubstantiated narrative that the coach somehow ignored or condoned Jerry Sandusky’s child molestation crimes while the two were assistants at Penn State. More likely a ton of Vols fans just thought they could do better than Schiano and coalesced around a convenient rationale to scare Tennessee administrators away from what had seemed a fairly straightforward hire of a well-respected coach.

So who else did Miami interview in November and December of 2015 before Richt got the job?

Dan Mullen, freshly introduced as Florida’s new coach, talked with James and his search staff. At that time he was 54-35 in seven seasons at Mississippi State. Had he gotten the Miami job, he would have been just as enthusiastic about flashing the “U” hand signal as he was about doing the Gator Chomp in Gainesville on Monday.

Butch Davis also interviewed with Miami before the Richt hire. He had been out of coaching for a couple of years and was eager to a second stint as head coach of the Hurricanes. These days Butch is coaching at FIU and waiting to see which minor bowl assignment his 7-4 Golden Panthers will get.

All questions were answered, and quickly, when Georgia fired Richt on Nov. 30, 2015. Four days later he was announced as Miami’s coach.

No need to be smug when one of these frantic coach searches works out. For every athletic director who nails it there are 10 who regret ever being put in the position to choose, and scores who fear the moment when they will be out there scrambling to find the right man again.

[For Gators, Dan Mullen is a good solution who wants to be great]

[Because hiring Chip Kelly wasn’t easy for Florida, nothing else would have been]

[Hurricanes finally bring out the beast in antiseptic Hard Rock Stadium]

How to lavishly spend the 2017 college football season on the road and in the doghouse

 

With unlimited funds and unlimited time, wouldn’t it be fun to attend as many games involving Florida’s college football teams as possible?

Something to think about on a lazy summer day, with a preferred list of 2017 games to follow.

New South Florida head coach Charlie Strong  (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Don’t think about it too long, however. My guess is that merely committing to watch each and every one of these games on the man cave’s big screen would be the end to most marriages.

 

Saturday, Aug. 26 – South Florida at San Jose State (Charlie Strong’s USF debut)

Thursday, Aug. 31 – Florida International at Central Florida (Butch Davis’ FIU debut)

Friday, Sept. 1 – Navy at Florida Atlantic (Lane Kiffin’s FAU debut)

Saturday, Sept. 2 – Florida State vs. Alabama at Atlanta (Why, oh why, does Florida-Michigan have to be on the same day?)

Saturday, Sept. 9 – Miami at Arkansas State (Red Wolves crushed UCF in bowl game last year)

Friday, Sept. 15 – Illinois at USF (Illini went 3-9 last year but beating Big Ten team has certain cachet)

Saturday, Sept. 16 – Miami at FSU (Catch first half of Tennessee at Florida on the way to Tallahassee)

Thursday, Sept. 21 – Temple at USF (Weeknight games good for Bulls’ exposure)

Saturday, Sept. 23 – North Carolina State at FSU (Seminoles needed late rally for 24-20 win last year)

Friday, Sept. 29 – Miami at Duke (Division rival and often a pain in the ACC for Miami)

Saturday, Sept. 30 – Florida State at Wake Forest (End-zone interception secured close win on Seminoles’ last trip there)

Saturday, Oct. 7 – LSU at Florida (Goal-line stand against Tigers clinched SEC East for Gators in 2016)

Thursday, Oct. 12 – Georgia Tech at Miami (2nd straight week on ESPN national telecast for Mark Richt)

Saturday, Oct. 14 – Texas A&M at Florida (First trip to Swamp for Aggies, who joined SEC in 2012)

Saturday, Oct. 21 – Louisville at FSU (Cardinals put 63 points on Seminoles behind Heisman winner Lamar Jackson last year)

Friday, Oct. 27 – FSU at Boston College (Short week after Louisville showdown)

Saturday, Oct. 28 – Florida vs. Georgia at Jacksonville (Sooner or later Bulldogs are going to be good)

Saturday, Nov. 4 – Virginia Tech at Miami (If Miami ever wins the Coastal, it will be a game like this that does it)

Saturday, Nov. 11 – FSU at Clemson (Tigers are defending national champions)

Thursday, Nov. 16 – Tulsa at USF (Will Charlie Strong have the Bulls in the Top Ten by this point?)

Saturday, Nov. 18 – FIU at FAU (Butch vs. Kiffin in battle for major recruiting coup)

Friday, Nov. 24 – Miami at Pittsburgh (Stop grumbling about Thanksgiving travel and get to the airport)

Saturday, Nov. 25 – FSU at Florida (Would be nice to see this game mean a lot to both teams again)

 

That’s all of the schedule we know right now. The conference champions follow in December and then the College Football Playoff and the bowls.

Would you be sick of college football after traveling to all of those games? No problem. Just switch to the NFL in 2018.

 

 

 

The Lane Kiffin revival tent is coming to FAU

Florida Atlantic knows what it is getting in Lane Kiffin, who quit an SEC head coaching job at Tennessee after one season and soon will be telling area recruits that he’s committed to the Owls heart and soul.

Kiffin is the guy who once offended the entire community of Pahokee by portraying their home as a place where people don’t have enough money “to even have shoes or a shirt on,” yet soon he’ll be out in western Palm Beach County trying to scoop up players from the Blue Devils’ 2016 state championship team.

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 31: Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin for the Alabama Crimson Tide looks on during the Goodyear Cotton Bowl against the Michigan State Spartans at AT&T Stadium on December 31, 2015 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Former Alabama offensive coordinator and new Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

He’s a maker of headlines, primarily related to the major coaching jobs that have been given and then taken away from him, and even after having his reputation scrubbed by living and winning under Nick Saban’s strict rule at Alabama, he wasn’t able to convince Houston and South Florida to commit their rising programs to his care.

So FAU knows all of this about Kiffin, and supposedly more after a weekend of negotiations, but the Owls are hiring him anyway. A news conference to announce his hiring is reportedly scheduled for 10 a.m. on Tuesday. The school needs someone who can push them past three wins per season, and honestly if Kiffin can’t do that, they should just drop the sport and convert that beautiful new stadium into a roofed concert venue.

FAU needs a coach who can fight it out with Butch Davis, FIU’s new boss, and Charlie Strong, South Florida’s new coach, for the kids that the heavyweight programs at FSU, Florida and Miami don’t get.

FAU needs, more than anything else, a reason for people to care that they have a football program in the first place.

It’s a shotgun wedding of sorts, with Kiffin falling all the way down to Conference USA in his hunt for head coaching redemption, but they’re hitched, the Owls and the prowler, and here’s hoping this lasts longer than a similar union did between Bobby Petrino and Western Kentucky.

Those two came together in 2013 when Petrino got fired by Arkansas over ethical issues and needed a place to start over. One 8-4 season at Western Kentucky was all he needed, and now Petrino is at Louisville with Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson for his quarterback.

It could happen just as quickly for Kiffin, for the reason that everything happens quickly for him.

[Might as well just let ESPN directly manage College Football Playoff selection]

[Lamar Jackson’s Heisman campaigns draws some comparisons to Tebow]

[FSU keeping Jimbo is program’s most important news since hiring Jimbo]

He was head coach of the Oakland Raiders at 31. A hero at Tennessee for tweaking Urban Meyer but a villain just one year later for taking what he deemed a promotion at USC. Now three seasons into a successful offensive coordinator stint that had Alabama fans loving him, Kiffin is gone again to be a head coach, but only after flirting with as assistant’s job at LSU, the Crimson Tide’s bitter SEC West rival.

Is this good for FAU? Of course.

Even if Kiffin follows form, setting up the old revival tent and then tearing it down in the middle of the night to skip town for somewhere else, there will be a wave of national media visiting Boca Raton next summer to do stand-ups in front of the school’s fine facilities and waving palm trees.

Even if he postpones most of the heavy-lifting on this new job until mid-January, every mention and every image of Kiffin during Alabama’s College Football Playoff run will include the name of FAU.

Even if Kiffin puts his foot in his mouth over something, or gets the NCAA enforcement division riled up, or simply finds that there isn’t enough talent in the program to push Louisiana Tech and Old Dominion out of the way in this league, the Owls still will have taken their biggest home-run swing since agreeing to let Howard Schnellenberger sell his original concept of football in paradise.

And if it turns out that Kiffin has matured to the point that he really can teach FAU players about doing things the right way and earning every success, that would be a fine surprise.

Fun is the operative word at this moment, however. Kiffin makes FAU football fun, in the way that storm chasers have fun. There is danger. There is drama. There is power in all its magnetic glory.

Watch it up close or from a distance but as long as Kiffin is there, you’ll watch it. He’s not the kind of man anyone has ever been able to ignore.

The FAU job was tough enough without Butch Davis moving in next door

(UPDATE – FAU fired Charlie Partridge on Nov. 27. Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell is being mentioned in media reports as a possible replacement based on the fact that he interviewed for the FAU job in 2013. Also, Pat Chun spent 15 years in the Ohio State athletic department before becoming FAU’s athletic director in 2012.)

 

An important window of opportunity may just have closed for Florida Atlantic coach Charlie Partridge.

Already behind schedule with a 9-25 record in three seasons as the Owls football coach, Partridge has picked up a formidable rival right here in the same Conference USA neighborhood.

butchieButch Davis, a terrific recruiter and a known commodity among South Florida high school coaches, will coach Florida International starting in 2017. He will be introduced at the school Tuesday afternoon with a contract expected to stretch five years into an uncertain future.

Uncertain because Butch is a big name with a winning reputation from previous turns as head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Miami Hurricanes and North Carolina Tar Heels. The natural question is how long would a guy like this be satisfied to operate outside the national spotlight in a league where a trip to the Heart of Dallas Bowl or the Independence Bowl is pretty much topping out?

If it’s any time at all, the competition will be hard on FAU and a head coach who believes he is just beginning to turn an important corner.

The Owls are on a rare win streak, with back-to-back wins over Rice and UTEP.

What Partridge also has, unfortunately, is a 3-7 record that includes a 33-31 loss to FIU. To change all of that he needs more kids from Broward and Miami-Dade counties, not less, and he’s got more than 30 from down there as it is.

Butch can flash his championship rings from his days as Jimmy Johnson’s assistant and wow the few South Florida high school coaches he hasn’t already met. For those too young to remember all of that, he can count on being recognized from his analyst job on ESPN2. Finally, he can look into the eyes of potential recruits and their family members and say that he wasn’t charged in the NCAA violations that caused North Carolina to vacate a bunch of wins, because he wasn’t.

Is there a glass-half-full view on this thing for Partridge? Sure.

Because nobody else is going to want to mess with Butch, there will be fewer mid-level assistants eager to replace Partridge at FAU and less reason for the Owls athletic department to go fishing around for anyone who might.

[Rams holding Jared Goff on bench is the mistake that Miami thankfully didn’t make with Tannehill]

[Speaking of Dolphins return touchdowns, remember what Ted Ginn did to Jets?]

[Tough to recognize America when Cubs won World Series in 1908]

Any way you slice it, the FAU job, with the new stadium and the huge enrollment and the fertile South Florida recruiting fields, just got tougher than Partridge or anybody else saw coming.

If Butch is serious about making a run at Conference USA supremacy, all the other coaches in the league are in for a fight. And if he’s not, all the other coaches in the league have just been put on notice anyway.

Whatever FIU makes look easy over the next few years will be interpreted as something those other guys should already have been doing.

If that doesn’t close some windows of opportunity, it surely smudges them up.

SEC Media Days just aren’t the same without Mark Richt, a fixture there since 2000

The SEC Media Days carnival sure has been weird without Mark Richt.

This is the first time since 2000 that he hasn’t been there to represent the Georgia Bulldogs, a team that he led to a .740 winning percentage and an average of 9.6 wins per season.

CORAL GABLES, FL - DECEMBER 04:  New University of Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt makes the 'U' sign after he was introduced at a press conference at the school on December 4, 2015 in Coral Gables, Florida.  (Photo by Joe Skipper/Getty Images)
CORAL GABLES, FL – DECEMBER 04: New University of Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt makes the ‘U’ sign after he was introduced at a press conference at the school on December 4, 2015. (Photo by Joe Skipper/Getty Images)

Would you take nine wins as an acceptable debut for Richt as Miami’s head coach? Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson and Butch Davis didn’t get there in their first years with the Hurricanes. There are no guarantees, no matter the quality of the coaching.

As Richt makes the transition, however, from SEC to ACC competition, he’s getting some nice tributes from his old league.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, for instance, took time during his turn at the SEC Media Days podium to call Richt “one of the better coaches in all of college football, I think.

“He’s one of the true professionals. I think he’s a great example for young guys getting into that profession of how you’re supposed to act, how you’re supposed to go about your business. So I’ll say that first, and it was an honor for me to coach against Coach Richt.”

Malzahn lost two of his three matchups with Richt’s Bulldogs. The lone victory was a 43-38 shootout in 2013, the year that Auburn made it all the way to the BCS Championship game against Jameis Winston and Florida State.

The only Georgia coach to last longer than Richt was Vince Dooley, who ran the show in Athens for 25 seasons and stepped down at the age of 56.

Now, at 56, Richt will attempt to begin another long run as Miami coach.

[Confident Jim McElwain is remaking the Gators again]

[Rate the Adam Gase buzz against other Dolphins coach debuts]

[If renovations miss deadline, it won’t be first rocky debut for Dolphins stadium]

The Hurricanes haven’t had much of that, either because coaches are fired or because they get stolen by the NFL. Beginning with Schnellenberger in 1979, the average tenure of a Miami head coach is 5.2 years.

The only one in Miami history to stretch well beyond that was Andy Gustafson, who lasted 16 seasons beginning in 1948. How different was the job then? Well, Gustafson kept it that long despite a career winning percentage of .587 and one postseason victory, the 1951 Gator Bowl against Clemson.

Larry Coker was fired in 2006 with an overall winning percentage of .800 as Miami’s coach, plus a national championship and three major bowl appearances.

Richt is ready to give it a shot with the Hurricanes and he’ll be talking about it next week at a new venue, the ACC media day event in Charlotte.

 

Better find a coach who majors in defense, because that’s where UM’s title teams shined brightest

Not sure what you want in the next University of Miami head football coach, well, other than national championships and stuff?

I’m pointing to a solid defensive mind, somebody like Greg Schiano (available) or Butch Davis (available) or Chuck Pagano (available if the Indianapolis Colts finally get fed up enough to fire him) and Charlie Strong (available only if oil is discovered on the UM campus as a significant new source of salary-boosting revenue).

082499  Miami Hurricanes defensive coordinator Greg Schiano (center) with Mike Boireau(left) and Damione Lewis (right) after practice. Staff photo by Allen Eyestone
Former Miami Hurricanes defensive coordinator Greg Schiano (center) with Mike Boireau (left) and Damione Lewis (right) after a practice session in 1999. Staff photo by Allen Eyestone

The other guys on the Hurricanes’ supposed wish list might work out, too, if they’re hot recruiters and are able to land a top defensive coordinator on a tight budget, but flavor-of-the-month candidates like Tom Herman of Houston and Justin Fuente of Memphis are all about running up the score on offense.

That won’t cut it all by itself. The primary reason Miami isn’t Miami anymore is a total loss of that old rib-rocking identity on the defensive side of the ball.

The current Canes rank 89th in the nation in scoring defense with an average of 30.1 points allowed per game. It could be worse if Clemson’s Dabo Swinney hadn’t called off the dogs when he guys got to 58 at Sun Life Stadium last month.

This is pitiful, but it’s not new.

In Golden’s first four full seasons at Miami his teams averaged a No. 50 ranking in scoring defense. Now he’s gone but Golden’s defensive coordinator, Mark D’Onofrio, remains. Perhaps you noticed the other day while

101098 ORANGE BOWL FSU vs UM - University of Miami head coach Butch Davis makes a point to offensive tackle Char-ron Dorsey as he comes off the field during the second quarter against FSU in the Orange Bowl Saturday.  PHOTO BY:  RICHARD GRAULICH. 52p x 6.81i color 12c butch11 for dti
Former University of Miami head coach Butch Davis makes a point to offensive tackle Char-ron Dorsey as he comes off the field during the second quarter against FSU in 1998. (Photo by Richard Graulich/Palm Beach Post)

North Carolina was ringing up 59 points on the Canes.

We could look at other defensive statistical categories, like rush defense and pass defense and total defense, but really, what’s more important that keeping the other team off the scoreboard?

You know who used to do that? Miami’s five national championship teams.

Matter of fact, it’s what they did best.

Here’s a chart to show how each Miami title team ranked nationally in scoring defense.

 

Year                 Avg. Pts Allowed       Nat’l Rank

1983                       11.3                           No. 3

1987                       10.4                           No. 2

1989                          9.3                           No. 1

1991                         9.1                           No. 1

2001                         9.4                            No. 1

 

Oh, there’s a definite pattern all right, and we don’t need to run through the list of big-name, NFL-bound defenders who made it happen. Smothering defense was a Miami hallmark in the best of times.

You have to go back to Larry Coker’s teams to find a Miami bunch that ranked in the top five nationally in scoring defense. He had three of them in five years.

Of course, Randy Shannon was Coker’s defensive coordinator, and a darn good one. Some of you are probably shouting right now that my whole premise of looking for a defensive-minded coach in 2015 is flawed because of the way that Shannon failed to ignite the Canes when given the opportunity to run the whole show from 2007-10.

OK, but Shannon had never been a head coach, driving all the different agendas that make or break a program.

Butch has, in college and in the NFL. Same for Schiano. Strong got the Texas job, a monumental accomplishment, based on his success as a head coach at Louisville. Pagano, who recruited and coached four NFL first-rounders at Miami while running Butch’s secondary, has a .673 career winning percentage as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.

[OK, so FSU didn’t win the ACC this year, but do you realize how rare that is?]

[Learning from the Heat’s Big Three and their ugly 9-8 start five years ago]

[Here’s a story about Yogi Berra and D-Day to mark Veterans Day]

Remember, I’m not saying that Miami’s next boss needs to limit opponents to 10 points per game. College football has changed too much for that with all the pinball offensive machines breaking scoreboards all over the country.

Just get back in there punching with the defensive leaders again, that’s all. Ohio State and Alabama are in the top 10 in scoring defense right now, and so is Florida.

Miami’s biggest downfall in recent years has been falling to the bottom of the barrel in that category. It’s what needs fixing first. It’s what no purely offensive-minded head coaching candidate can be trusted to do.

 

 

 

The real heavy lifting has just begun for Miami and AD Blake James

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The worst seemingly is over for University of Miami football, with a 58-0 loss on national television followed by the midseason dismissal of the head coach who couldn’t prevent it from happening.

There are very few quick fixes, however, when it comes to turning a fouled-up college football program into a fired-up success. On top of that, with a new president at Miami and an athletic director who never has had to make so important a hire, there is not a wealth of experience driving the search to replace Al Golden on a permanent basis.

Former Miami Hurricanes defensive coordinator Greg Schiano (center) with Mike Boireau(left) and Damione Lewis (right) after practice in August, 1999. Staff photo by Allen Eyestone
Former Miami Hurricanes defensive coordinator Greg Schiano (center) with Mike Boireau(left) and Damione Lewis (right) after practice in August, 1999. Staff photo by Allen Eyestone

Long ago it was Sam Jankovich who made these calls. The former Miami AD and long-time sports executive bumped into Jimmy Johnson in an elevator at a coaches’ convention and before long they had talked each other into a Hurricanes partnership. In South Florida, Jimmy was just some guy coming off one good season at Oklahoma State at the time.

The same kind of instincts led Jankovich to hire Dennis Erickson from their shared stomping grounds in the Pacific Northwest. Two of Miami’s five national titles resulted from that choice.

Today it’s different. Miami AD Blake James, who was not yet on the job when Golden was hired, is hearing all kinds of things from all kinds of people but the gist of it all is that you’d better get this right.

The biggest name and the best remembered from the early pool of speculation is Butch Davis. He won at a .718 clip as Miami’s coach from 1995-2000 and knows all the particular challenges that come with this school.

In a more recent four-year run at North Carolina, however, Butch went 28-23 overall with a 15-17 record in the ACC. Isn’t that a little too familiar in light of Golden’s 17-18 record against the same league?

[Nobody better than Doug Betters back when a sack was a sack]

[Dan Campbell, quote machine, on what he loves most about football]

[Dolphins’ assistant head coach Darren Rizzi gives his view of Campbell’s debut]

Then there’s the vocal crowd in support of a former Hurricanes player or coach to lead the program. You know, somebody like Mario Cristobal or Rob Chudzinski who really gets the U and is devoted to regaining its glory?

That sounds good, too, but Randy Shannon once fit the same description.

Next comes the list of rising stars at lesser programs, men who likely will be up for openings at USC, South Carolina, Maryland and Illinois. Miami can get the early jump on talking to men like Memphis coach Justin Fuente or Houston coach Tom Herman, who are 14-0 between them this season and ranked in the AP Top 20.

Funny thing is, we could be talking about updated versions of Al Golden, who turned Temple around in the Mid-American Conference and got the Miami job because of it. That’s a scary notion, considering nobody from the outside could ever grasp what it means to be the Hurricanes coach until he’s thrown into the stew.

The expectations are stratospheric. The pressure to wrap up every great South Florida high school prospect is immense. The chatter from former Hurricanes stars is never ending.

That’s where James is now, working back channels to find a new coach while personally living in the brightest spotlight of his life.

My advice would be to go for someone who rings as many bells as possible, Greg Schiano.

He worked at Miami as Butch’s defensive coordinator so that works. He established himself somewhere else as a head coach, winning five bowl games in a long run at Rutgers, of all places, so that works. Even better, he’s still drawing on a $15 million contract from his last job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, so that works in favor of a Miami administration that won’t match the war chests of other schools.

The other cool thing is that Schiano, like Butch, is available right now and actually wants to coach the Hurricanes.

I’d like to think that James could move quickly on an obvious choice like that, but then again I’d like to think he would have fired Miami defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio, Golden’s old sidekick, by now.

Awkward times all around. Even if the Hurricanes come out of this all right, and probably they will, the real heavy lifting has just begun.