SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
11/24/2006 03:55:00 PM
Coker's Firing: Inevitable, But Sad
Larry Coker has posted a 59-15 record during his tenure as Miami's head man.
LOS ANGELES – Larry Coker’s firing Friday morning was the furthest thing from surprising news (it was so inevitable, in fact, I told my editor before getting on a 9 a.m. cross-country flight to leave me a message confirming it happened), but that doesn’t make it any less sad.
I don’t have a single bad thing to say about Larry Coker, the person. He was without question the most cordial and friendly coach I’ve covered, and he remained that way right up to the very bitter end of a nightmarish season. Even when the hammer finally fell Friday, he declined to take even the slightest parting shot at the many detractors that helped turn the end of his tenure into an almost thankless ordeal. Even Coker’s harshest critics couldn’t help but admire the way his team kept fighting even when its season was clearly lost and after enduring both the backlash from the Orange Bowl brawl with Florida International and the tragic loss of teammate Bryan Pata. I covered countless dramatic Miami comebacks at the Orange Bowl under Coker, so it’s only fitting his last game there involved backup QB Kirby Freeman rallying his team to an upset win over Boston College.
But Miami administrators had no choice but to make a change. The program had been in steady decline for the past four years; it went from being the most dominant team in the country from 2000-02, to mortal but still BCS-level in ’03 to increasingly ordinary in ’04 and ’05 to flat-out mediocre in ’06. It’s no coincidence the ‘Canes decline began right around the same time they lost a rash of underclassmen to the NFL, but still, it’s the head coach’s responsibility to plan for such contingencies and restock the talent, and there’s no question Miami’s recruiting tailed off considerably under Coker. A team whose offense used to be littered with future pros now has barely enough skill players to be competitive in the ACC.
Normally, a coach who won a national title and nearly 80 percent of his games, including his first 24 straight, might be given the benefit of the doubt and a chance to right the ship, but Coker never came close to earning the traction of a Phillip Fulmer or Lloyd Carr. In fact, to listen to some Miami backers, you’d think the ‘Canes won those first 24 in spite of Coker. With Butch Davis’ recruits and Ken Dorsey under center, Coker just had to tell the guys when to show up for the games, right? And that had a lot to do with Coker’s undoing -- he never established any discernible identity for his program like Pete Carroll has at USC or Bob Stoops has at Oklahoma. Players came to Coral Gables to play for “The U,” not for Coker, who was viewed more as a steward than a leader. Ironically, it wasn’t until the FIU fight and Pata’s death that we really saw Coker step forward and become the face of the program, but by then, he’d lost too many games to save himself.
With that in mind, Miami will now look to hire someone with a more majestic presence, someone who will command instant respect from both the Miami community and prospective players. The question is, does such a coach want to be at Miami? As prestigious as the program is, there are many reasons the job will not automatically be compelling to high-profile candidates, not the least of which are the insane expectations (national championship or bust) that helped do in Coker. In addition, the facilities aren’t great and you have to fight for attention in your own city (did you notice Thursday night’s game drew a MAC-like 23,308 spectators?).
Most of all, however, it’s questionable whether Miami will be able to pay the type of dollars ($2-2.5 million annually) it takes to lure a top-dollar coach. Not exactly a rich athletic department to begin with (as happens when you draw about 80,000 less to a home game than does Ohio State), Miami already had to pay several million dollars over the past few years both to leave the Big East and join the ACC as well as pay off former basketball coach Perry Clark. Now it has to pay nearly $3 million to buy out Coker. How much will be left for the next football coach and his staff?
The school figures to go after Rutgers coach Greg Schiano first, but I personally doubt he’ll leave the Scarlet Knights. As strange as it may sound, he’s got a better job where he is, having built a top-20 program in his own home state that will have its own opportunity to go to BCS bowls in the next few years. Many figure Miami president Donna Shalala will once again pursue close friend Barry Alvarez, now the athletic director at Wisconsin, but it seems like a strange career move for a guy who’s already considered a living legend.
Miami’s best bet is to pursue a hot mid-major head coach (Tulsa’s Steve Kragthorpe, TCU’s Gary Patterson) or an NFL coordinator/former head coach. Remember, Jimmy Johnson came from Oklahoma State, Dennis Erickson came from Washington State and Butch Davis came from the Cowboys. The one potential wild-card: West Virginia’s Rich Rodriguez. Yes, he’s a West Virginia guy who’s got a pretty good thing going, but he’s also severely underpaid (about $1 million a year, less than half that of Big East counterpart Bobby Petrino) and was curiously evasive when asked about the North Carolina job a few weeks back. I think he may be more open to other opportunities than many believe, and Miami would be a pretty darn good opportunity.
Rodriguez would be a mistake, mostly for him. He's at a major program now, with the opportunity to win national championships (granted, he has to go undefeated, whereas at Miami he could lose one), better facilities, fans who give a crap. yeah, he's underpaid but if I were him, I'd use the Miami threat to increase my pay at WV, not to leave.
Admittedly, I probably overvalue the "fans who give a crap" part of the equation.
How about Norm Chow? He hasn't been a head coach, but he's a big name with substantial offensive credentials. Exactly what Miami needs, someone to wake up the O(especially the QBs) and the recruiting. Anyone with good reasons why he wouldn't come to Miami? And no, I don't think coaching Vince Young in the pros outweighs the chance to be a head coach.
People need to wake up and realize that Miami has become a who cares program, just like FSU. The lure of playing for "The U" or for Bobby Bowden is gone, mostly due to off the field issues and lack of consistency in the last couple of years.
Florida got it right by luring Urban Myer, and Miami needs to overpay (grossly if it needs to) a "savior" type coach who will bring exctement back to Coral Gables. There is no time to rebuild the program; Miami needs a Charlie Weis like resurgence.
I like Chow as a choice. His offensive philosophy could really work well for Miami.
Hey Stewart, thank you for this insightful blog on Coker. I think in the midst of keeping up with wins and losses, we lose sight of the person behind the coach. I don't think Coker is right for Miami and I think they need a change, but the truth is, a man lost his job today and that no matter who you are, is a difficult ending. Best wishes Coach Coker. Thanks for everything. GO CANES
Miami has to have someone who can recruit the state of Florida and along the east coast. Thats why guys such as Schiano, Rodriguez, and Spurrier are rumored, they all have the necessary recruiting base. While I don't doubt the coaching abilities of Kragelthorpe or Gary Patterson, I don't beleive they can recruit ACC areas. Miami needs a young coach, one who can become the face of the program that Coker sadly never became. Schiano would be perfect but I don't see it happening. Rodriguez would be insane to leave Slaton and White next year. Who this person is I do not know. But hopefully for all fans of the U, it will be the right choice.
It's almost funny to hear people line up, to bash Miami. 5 national titles (robbed of a 6th in 2002) since 1982. My math tells me that UM wins the title about 20 percent of the time. Which coach in his right mind wouldn't want a success rate like that. Look at the NFL now. Want to play on Sunday? go to UM. Notre Dame may be the university of football in america, but i'd challenge anyone to name a 5 more prestigious jobs in college football than Miami (exceptions i can think of are Ohio State, Michigan, and Alabama). Yes, expectations are high. After the 2002 game when UM was robbed by the refs, and missed the national title, coker was asked how he would "recover from a failed season". As for the fans who give a crap statement: find me a better stadium in the country than a packed orange bowl and night, when Miami a national power.
future coaches: Schiano, Rodriguez, Petrinio, Jim Hasslet, Jim Fossel, Stoops.
Miami returns 19 starters next year. We'll see you in the big easy for the national title
How about someone already in the program and should be ready to step. That would be Randy Shannon. Randy not only has been a player for the "U" but has the talent to be the head coach. All of the coaches but one in the last 15 years that have built great teams at UM were defensive coaches (Johnson and Davis).
Bo Pelini-LSU DC Bret Venebles (sp) - OU DC Current HC at Cincinati Gray - Washington Redskin DB coach David Cutcliffe - UT OC Jimmy Johnson - TV analyst Jim Fassell - out of work Gary Crowton - Oregon OC Current head coach at Vandy Ty Wilingham - HC UW
Norm Chow definitely deserves a head coaching job somewhere, his age notwithstanding. He would definitely be attractive to HS recruits for his knowledge and expertise in developing offensive playmakers.
I hope Larry Coker comes back to Oklahoma, preferably as defensive coordinator at Ok. State. He *is* indeed an incredibly nice gentleman and a good coach!
Rich Rodriguez is waiting for Bobby to retire in a couple of years so he can lead the Seminoles back to dominance. Why would he want to go to Miami? Florida State has great facilities and stadium, great state to recruit from, the best fans and deep pockets that can make him one of the highest paid coaches when the time comes.
Miami's screwed.....Hopefully they will mess up their next hire
The problem is that the talent is going elsewhere. When you have the type of recruits that have gun battles in their front yard and then having another player killed, it just tells me that you have to get recruits that can actually spell "U-M"!! Its not the coaches its the University and their win at any cost philosophy. Plus hurricane fans are already buying their gator orange and blue.
Miami's best bet is to hire a high-intensity, defensive minded coach who commands respect and demands effort from his players. Once a coach like that gets his feet on the ground, the skill players will once again flock to Miami.
The perfect coach would be Ron English, who in addition to his defensive prowess is also a master recruiter. What Miami does NOT need is a Rich Rodriguez or Steve Spurrier, someone with a fun-to-watch offense and no defensive indentity.
Kudos on a great post...I'm a 'cuse alumni and hate everything Miami stands for, thats a pretty obvious statement but Coker got a raw deal. I understand the fact that he had to go since they were in a decline due to all the players leaving early, but I don't think that Coker ever cost the 'Canes a game like a lot of other coaches, he just got caught in a turn in talent that Im sure will pick up in the next year or two to lead his replacer, into "genius" status
Great call with Norm Chow. He has proven to be a genius with QB's and offenses in general. Watch out for some of the other hot coaches out there. Barry Alvarez wold be an incredibly good choice for the "U". He was won (big) with far less talent (no offense to the Wisconsin fans but the talent is better is southern Florida.) If Miami wants a great coach they are going to have to update their facilities to match the other "power schools" of this era. 5 national championships since 1981 speaks for itself. No program has been better, however, the majority of college football has upgraded their speed to compete with the Florida schools, especially Miami. They taught everyone a lesson in the 80's about the new state of college football. Miami can't "out-fast" teams anymore. They need a new leader. Coach Coker was a great coach but Miami needs someone who can properly harness the tremendous talent that is alive and well in Miami. I am not a Miami fan but they do have more talent than anywhere in the nation. GO NAVY, BEAT ARMY.
I agree wholeheartedly w/ phillymac. Norm Chow would be my choice as well. The only reason he went to Tenneessee was b/c he could not get a college head coaching job. Miami would be foolish not to consider him. What ace quarterback recruit would not want to play for the mentor of the last 2 Heisman trophy quarterbacks? in Miami?
coach rod. also just paid out a considerable sum of money from his own pocket in order to help with upgrades at wvu. he isn't going anywhere and i love how the national media talking head pundits can't quite grasp that concept. his agent puts out feelers in order to do his job and that is make money for both himself and his client. rich rod isn't leaving wvu.
Rob Chudzinski? The "U" needs to make either he or Randy Shannon the new head coach. It wouldn't cost a fortune and these guys know what is expected. Recruits used to come to a Miami practice, see the ferocious hitting and either go somewhere else or be eager to jump into it. That's how you recruit a Miami player, not wine and dine. The facilities are mediocre, the fans are fickle and Coral Gables isn't a college town, but if you want to be prepped for a football career after college, Miami is the place.
First off, I'd like to thank Larry Coker for his time at Miami. I agree with Mandel that Larry was one of the classiest and nicest college coaches out there. Unfortunately, it just hasn't worked out the past couple seasons and as much as I hate to see him go, it was time for a change. Regarding the potential replacements, as a life long Miami fan, and Rutgers alum I am torn with Schiano leaving Rutgers for Miami. I love the idea of him coming to Miami, back to where he started his coaching foothold and resurrecting the program as Butch Davis once did. But I just love what he's done at Rutgers so much. I've never cared about nor enjoyed Rutgers football as I did this past year. I wear my Rutgers sweatshirt now with pride (but still have my Miami t-shirt underneath.) Schiano has made me into not only a Rutgers supporter, but he's made me into a fan. That being said, he is revered at Rutgers right now for what he's done. He'd be crazy to leave RU right now. The closest comparison I can think of would be when Butch Davis was loved at UM and left to go to the NFL (I found it funny how everyone wanted Davis to come back and how easily everyone forgot how pissed they were after he bailed on UM.) As good of a choice Schiano would be at UM, I think he belongs at Rutgers for the time being. I feel that he's enjoying himself too much there to want to walk into a high-pressure situation at UM. Norm Chow would be a very attractive prospect as well, but as someone pointed out, being a devout Mormon would be a major problem coaching in Miami. I love the idea of Randy Shannon being promoted, but unfortunately, that's how Coker came to power and right now UM's administration has too much of a bad taste in their mouth to promoting within again. The four prior coaches at UM (Schnellenberger through Davis) all were unknowns, and as long as the administration follows the same recruiting philosophy they employed hiring those coaches, UM will rise from the ashes once again. In closing, UM needs to go with an unknown with potential as they have successfully done before.
miami needs offense. the defense has played great through wins and losses during cokers tenure and still has the talent to do the same.randy shannon is a big part of that consistency, and i think he should sick around because the U still needs him. 19 returning starters, top 10 potential 2008 NFL draft pick greg olsen and first round talent(not guaranteed, just his skills) at Quarterback kyle wright lead an explosive group who need an offensive dictator, not just a coach. they need a guy who will command his offense, like urban meyer does. with those 2 i mentioned and that James kid(cousin's name is like edgerrin or something) a man that demands focus and perfection with lead this offense into the top 10 in the nation. i see 2 guys who stand out, Norm chow(tennessee titans) and david cutcliffe(U of texas) both genius offensive coordinators. Norm chow has 3 heisman winning quarterbacks to his credit, and cutcliffe has managed to replace the most unreplaceable quarterback in the nation(replaced vince young with colt mccoy)both have aggresive schemes that require athletes and players that can take over a game, which miami still has. im not sure how demanding cutcliffe is with his players, but turning a freshmen quarterback into the 5th alltime UT touchdown passer in 3 months is pretty impressive. the only limiting factor miami has is money and current state the miami nation is feeling with a 6 and 6 season and the death of brian pata(RIP 95). Coaches would feel intimidated by this, however with miami almost hitting rock bottom(a bowl bid prevents the rock bottom, and yes the lowest expectations at miami are a bowl bid)the program can only go up.
it's a shame...not the firing of coach Coker, because he has served his role and fulfilled his responsibility with admiration and respect. What exactly is the shame, you ask then? the answer is simply this: people like yourself, Stewart, who are nothing more than parasites. Why? because during this, apparently, horrible season for the hurricanes, which by any measure is not, everyone is screaming for the throat of coach Coker, including yourself....which is fine if you have the conviction of anything more than a jellyfish. but, now that coach Coker is fired, you say that, oh, it's so tragic, blah blah blah....what the **&! is that!? SERIOUSLY?!