"Are you going to be there for me when I'm there for you? Are we going to be the team we used to be? Are we going to hang out? Have fun together?' And they said, 'Yeah,' " says Marley. "I had to find out what these people want, because if they don't want what I want, I don't want any part of it." He liked what he heard. He promised he would play.
Yet his return guarantees no quick fix, and no one can sense that better than the opposition. After FSU whipped Miami 28-10 in October, the grapevine rattled: The Canes don't have it anymore. "The Miami teams that played in the past always came out feeling that no matter where they were, they were going to win," says Florida State linebacker Derrick Brooks. "They had that confidence. They didn't have that this year."
To make sure no one in talent-rich Florida missed the point, Florida State went on to win its first national title while Florida routed West Virginia in the Sugar Bowl. You could almost feel the recruiting tide shift right then; still, nobody expected what happened a month later, when FSU coach Bobby Bowden left Dade County with the cream of the area's prep talent, including the nation's top-rated linebacker, Lamont Green. "I can't ever remember doing so well in Miami," Bowden crowed, and it was a Miami coach's worst nightmare. Erickson had lost his own backyard.
"I think the program is slipping somewhat," says Green, who admits that Miami's depth at linebacker, more than anything else, tipped him toward FSU. "I thought it was just Florida State's time."
Is it any wonder that Miami's airwaves burned all winter with calls for Erickson's head? Or that athletic director Paul Dee came home each night knowing his answering machine would spit out at least one caller demanding, "It's time for a change"? It didn't matter that Erickson had won two national titles to Jimmy Johnson's one at Miami, or that he had the best winning percentage among active Division I-A coaches in his five-year tenure there. In any other college town the 1993 season would be cause for gloating. But at Miami, "that's a disgusting year for us," Costa says. "If LSU goes 9-3 and finishes 15th in the country, I'm sure they'd be happy. That's not the way it is here."
South Florida's restless population has never been celebrated for its patience with any coach. This is not a place of deep roots; dig six inches, and you strike a foundation of sand. "Such a transient town," Erickson says. And if you didn't grow up with the team—and don't expect to be here long—what do you care about three-year plans and developing talent? Fans are still wondering what to do with that journeyman whose Dolphins finished with five straight losses. The day after Jimmy Johnson left Dallas, the Miami Herald's front page uncorked what will surely be a protracted specu-fest: JJ WITH DOLPHINS?
"Think about it," Erickson says. "The greatest coach ever in professional football is Don Shula, yet we share one thing in common: If you don't win around here, you're out. Knowing that, knowing how they are, you just can't let it bother you. My problem is, who're the guys you can trust around here? Who're the guys stabbing you in the back?"
That intensity is only multiplied when a team has won four national titles in 11 years, played for the title three other times and flaunts a bad-boy style that perfectly reflects Miami's Vicetown image. "We've created our own monster, no question," Erickson says. And, sure enough, with each back-in-your-face—from the humiliating moment in the 1993 Sugar Bowl when Alabama's George Teague chased down tauntmeister Lamar Thomas and ripped the ball from his hands, to the exorcism of Wide Rights I and II in Tallahassee, to the sight of West Virginia pulling down the goalposts in Morgantown—the grumbling has grown. Dee has found himself buttonholed by many a concerned alum. "No one wants to see you lose the moment," he says.
But Dee stands by his man. Erickson's record, after all, is better than the now-canonized JJ's at the same point, and with luck, the team could bounce back next fall. So despite the Hurricanes' worst season since 1984, Dee extended Erickson's contract through the year 2000, and for now, Erickson seems content to stay.
"I like college football—right now, not that things might not change down the road—and this is the best job in college football," he says. "Why would I want to go any place else? When I leave here, it's going to be on a positive note—either after winning it all or coming close."