MIAMI ISN'T the national power in college football that it once was, but coach Larry Coker's program did seem to be shedding the reputation for lawlessness that prompted a 1995 SI cover story headlined why the university of miami should drop football. Lately, however, the Hurricanes have returned to their old, thuggish ways, and they reached a new low with an ugly brawl during their 35--0 victory over Florida International last Saturday at the Orange Bowl.
The melee, which led to suspensions for 13 Hurricanes and 18 Golden Panthers--two of whom were kicked off the team--was vicious and widespread, escalating quickly after Miami holder Matt Perrelli was body-slammed by FIU's Chris Smith following a third-quarter extra point. After several Golden Panthers piled on Perrelli, both teams poured onto the field, and Miami safety Anthony Reddick was seen swinging his helmet at FIU players. Defensive back Brandon Meriweather and tight end DajLeon Farr kicked Panthers who were lying on the ground. (All three Miami players were suspended.)
Both teams shared the blame--school presidents Donna Shalala of Miami and Mitch Maidique of FIU apologized to each other--but it is Coker who may feel the most heat. The Hurricanes got into a postgame fracas with LSU at the Peach Bowl last December, and before their Sept. 16 game at Louisville they stomped on the Cardinals' logo at midfield, setting off pregame pushing and shoving between the teams. Miami fans and officials might excuse Coker for his lack of control if the Hurricanes were among the elite, but they're not. This year they tumbled out of the AP Top 25 for the first time since 1999.
Coker's job was in jeopardy before his players' embarrassing behavior on Saturday, but the brawl may hasten his exit. His case won't be helped by an inexplicable postgame comment. "I think this will affect the image of our program but in a very positive way," he said. "This won't be a negative for the University of Miami."
At least one former Hurricane agrees. Ex-receiver Lamar Thomas, 36, was almost gleeful in describing the scene as a TV analyst for Miami. "Why don't they just meet outside in the tunnel after the ball game and get it on some more?" said Thomas, who was fired on Monday. "You come into our house, you should get your behind kicked.... You don't come into the OB ... talking smack, not in our house."
In their misguided way, the Hurricanes protected their house. Now Coker must wait while the Miami administration decides if it wants to clean it.