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]

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.