The long, national nightmare is over. At least for Miami fans. After five years, a few more wins than losses, and roughly 200 “we had our best week of practice ever, I think we’re ready to turn the corner” speeches to reporters, Al Golden was finally fired on Sunday.
We could spend the next several hundred words discussing the merit of the decision, but what it all boils down to is this: Yes, the guy walked into a less than ideal situation. Yes he dealt with a weird NCAA cloud hovering over the program early on his tenure. But he also simply didn’t win enough. And he certainly didn’t show enough progress. There isn’t a single coach in college football history who was losing games 58-0 in the fifth year of his tenure (like Golden did Saturday), was kept around, and then suddenly, magically turns things around in Year 6. It doesn’t happen.
Instead, the simple truth is that he was the wrong man for the job from the beginning, and Miami made the right decision on Sunday. It was time for Golden to go. It was time for the school to move on.
So with Golden gone, we all know what’s coming: Wild, crazy, speculation on who is next at Miami. The usual names will be bandied about (Justin Fuente, Tom Herman, and in my boss Clay Travis’ wildest dreams, Lane Kiffin), not to mention the prominent ex-Miami players and coaches like Greg Schiano, Rob Chudzinksi, Mario Cristobal, as well. Chuck Pagano — yes, that Chuck Pagano — is a former Miami assistant who could conceivably throw his name into the ring as well if he’s fired in Indy.
But while all those names sound good (especially Kiffin, can you imagine him strutting down South Beach in white linen pants??) there is only one guy that Miami should consider going forward. He’s a guy who has been there before, rebuilt the program through sanctions and turned the ‘Canes into a National Championship contender. A guy who knows the weird bureaucracy of Miami, a small private school, playing football in a world of big-boy public schools, and also knows the local high schools too, something that Fuente and Herman can’t claim. A guy who is a link to all the great alums of the past, but who can also serve as a conduit for the present and future of the program as well.
Basically, to quote Donald Trump, there’s only one guy who can “Make Miami Great Again.” That man is Butch Davis. And frankly, he’s the only guy Miami should consider.
Think I’m crazy? Well maybe. But I’m also a guy who spent roughly six months researching and reporting on an oral history of the 2001 championship team, and feel like I know about as much as Davis, and the last “glory era” of Miami football as anyone.
Therefore, rather than arguing, let me give you some facts on Davis and you can decide for yourself.
For starters, there are the things you probably already know.
Like the fact that while Larry Coker won a National Championship in 2001 with arguably the most loaded team in college football history (a club that produced 17 first round draft selections, and over 40 NFL draft picks overall) it was a team that was built by Butch Davis. The same team — again, led by mostly Davis recruits — went on to start 11-0 the following season before losing to Ohio State in the BCS title game, meaning that a club which was basically being run by an interim head coach for two years (Larry Coker) went two full seasons undefeated after Davis left for the NFL.
Basically, that’s a crap ton of talent that Davis brought to Miami. It’s also a run that I know for a fact Davis believes he could have kept going. In interviewing him for that piece, he told me that he believes that if he had stayed at Miami (he left, in essence because Miami wouldn’t pay him) he could have had a six or seven year run similar to what Nick Saban is doing right now at Alabama, where he had the ‘Canes in the title conversation every year.
But again, you probably knew all that. What you probably don’t know however, is how dire the situation was that he took over.
How bad was it? Well, like Al Golden he walked into an NCAA buzz saw, but the difference was, that unlike Golden, Davis did get crushed by the NCAA sanctions. Yes, Miami imposed a two-year bowl ban under Golden, but ultimately it didn’t matter. He lost just nine scholarships overall, and was still able to put together four Top 25 recruiting classes in his last four seasons at Miami.
In other words, you can’t blame the NCAA because Miami stinks right now. You can only blame Al Golden.
It also makes what Davis did in his first go-around at Miami all the more incredible.
In Davis’ first go-around at Miami, the school was in the midst of an NCAA investigation that ultimately cost them 31 scholarships over three years. Those are USC-like sanctions, and to the credit of Davis, he recruited like USC while dealing with them. Despite having only 12 scholarships in 1996, and a few more in 1997, he put together two of arguably the best recruiting classes in the history of college football during that stretch.
Don’t believe me? Again, here are the facts:
Of the 12 scholarships Miami gave out in 1996, four players went on to be first round picks in the NFL Draft, including Edgerrin James and Bubba Franks. That’s right, you read that correctly: In a world where it’s virtually impossible to produce four first rounders with a full allotment of 25 scholarships… Davis did it with just 12.
What might be even more impressive is that he did the same thing the following year.
In 1997 Davis had around 15 scholarships, but produced four more first rounders, Ed Reed (he was known as “Edward” at the time), Reggie Wayne, Dan Morgan and Santana Moss. And again, that’s just first rounders, and doesn’t include guys like Najeh Davenport, Al Blades, Delvin Brown and others, who ended up playing in the NFL.
And oh by the way, it’s worth nothing that not only did Davis recruit well, but the team won big as well. By the time that 1996 class were fifth-year seniors, Miami was 11-1 and won the Sugar Bowl. By the time the 1997 class was fifth-year seniors, Miami won a National Championship. And again, Davis recruited all those guys while on NCAA sanctions.
Which leads me to this question: If Davis entered Miami now, with no NCAA issues and a full allotment of scholarships, how do you think he’d do? Frankly I think he’d kill it. To be blunt, I think he’d have a National Championship contender within just a few years.
Davis would inherit a team that is already loaded. I know their record doesn’t indicate it, but watching them, it’s hard to imagine that Miami has anything worse than the third best roster in all of the ACC. Remember, this is a team that had seven players selected in the NFL Draft last year, including five in the first three rounds, and again, had four Top 25 recruiting classes in the last four years. It’s also a team that has guys like Brad Kaaya and Joseph Yearby coming back for at least one more year.
Simply put, Miami doesn’t need to rebuild. With the right coach they can win right now. Maybe not a National Championship next year, but a Harbaugh-at-Michigan-like nine win season seems feasible. Then from there, with the way Davis knows Miami and knows the area high school talent around it, there’s no reason to think that the team couldn’t win a title in the near future.
This last part is honestly the most important. Because the simple truth is for everything Golden did right at Miami, recruiting, surprisingly enough was his biggest downfall. Not so much that he recruited poorly — again, he had four Top 25 classes in the last four years — but just that he didn’t recruit the right guys. Specifically, the number of big-time players he missed out on just within Miami is staggering. Over the last couple years, here are the players from in and around the area who didn’t sign with Miami: Amari Cooper (who wanted to go to Miami, by the way), Dalvin Cook, Alex Collins, Sony Michel and Devontae Freeman. Others like Kelvin Benjamin, Dante Fowler Jr. and Bryan Cox Jr. are in traditional Miami recruiting areas as well. Zero went to Miami.
It’s also hard to believe that Davis — a former recruiting coordinator under Jimmy Johnson, and a guy who blanketed the state as the head coach at The U — would miss on all those guys as well.
Especially given that Davis might be one of the single greatest talent evaluators in college football history.
I already discussed those recruiting classes Davis’ put together in 1996 and 1997, which are not only impressive, but also don’t even mention all the great players he recruited during the rest of his time at Miami. Guys like Andre Johnson, Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, Vince Wilfork, Jonathan Vilma, Jeremy Shockey and Bryant McKinnie.
Nor does it factor in the most important part: That a lot of those guys weren’t big-time recruits, but instead diamonds in the rough that Davis and his staff coached up while they were at The U.
Just for fun, here are some of the recruiting backstories on some of Miami’s best players during Davis’ reign:
– Santana Moss — a guy, who as I mentioned above was a future first round NFL Draft pick — didn’t actually come to Miami on a football scholarship, but instead a track scholarship. Not that it mattered. He finished as a first team All-American, and future Pro Bowler who played in the NFL for 14 seasons.
– Portis came to Miami from Gainesville, after Steve Spurrier and Florida didn’t offer him a scholarship. Why didn’t Spurrier offer a scholarship? Only he knows, but ultimately it didn’t matter. Portis went on to rush for 1,200 yards during his junior year at Miami, played nine years in the NFL, and could damn well be voted into the Hall of Fame this summer.
-Ed Reed and Reggie Wayne came to Miami from Louisiana, after LSU showed little interest in either… Bryant McKinnie and Jeremy Shockey were little known junior college players who became first rounders after a few years at Miami… Dan Morgan came to Miami as a running back, and left as a Butkus Award winner and first rounder at linebacker.
The point being that Davis knows talent. And as mentioned above, that doesn’t even include the legitimate big-time high school prospects he recruited (Andre Johnson), the fact that he had commitments from two more first rounders in his final recruiting class before he left Miami (Antrel Rolle and Sean Taylor), or the fact that he basically did the same once he got to North Carolina where he took a bunch of unknown recruits (Bruce Carter, Jonathan Cooper, Quinton Coples) and turned them into first round draft picks as well.
Now, are there holes in Davis’ resume? Of course. He was involved with that ugly NCAA academic scandal at North Carolina but was cleared of wrongdoing, and at 63-years-old (going on 64), he isn’t a long-term fit there either.
But at Miami, it isn’t about the long-term, but finding a guy who can turn things around quickly. As noted ‘Canes fan and the filmmaker behind ‘The U’ Billy Corben tweeted Sunday, the best move for Miami might be to hire Davis for four or five years and groom an assistant for the long-term. Davis makes them good now and builds an infrastructure for the future.
Is it a perfect plan? No, but Miami doesn’t need perfect. Miami needs the right coach.
And that man is Butch Davis.
Simply put, it’s time to make Miami great again.
And Butch Davis is the man for the job.