Saying it’s been a positive week for The U would be an understatement. Last Sunday, a balder, more brolic Dwayne Johnson hoisted the WWE Championship over his shoulders for the first time in a decade. Then, over the weekend Warren Sapp was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, Reggie Johnson’s tip-in kept Miami undefeated in ACC hoops and five Hurricane alums on the Ravens became world champions while Frank Gore rushed for 110 yards in a losing effort.
Berry Gordy wouldn’t offer a music deal to Miami’s Seventh Floor Crew, but at its peak, The U was akin to college football’s Motown Records. Beginning in the ‘60s Motown’s Detroit’s blend of blues, funk and pop-soul ruled the airwaves. Likewise, the Canes brought hip hop culture to college football’s frontlines.
Lewis’ pregame squirrel dance, dubious past, grandiloquent sermons and 13 Pro Bowls are emblematic of the “old Miami Hurricane” swagger. The bravado and resolute stance Saints defensive captain Jonathan Vilma exhibited throughout his legal appeal of Roger Goodell’s Bountygate suspensions was a glimpse into The U's influence.
For 14 consecutive years, from 1994 to 2008, the Hurricanes signed, sealed and delivered at least one first round pick to the NFL and over an unprecedented eight year period or 149 straight weeks, a Cane has reached the end zone. Even the most boisterous and notorious NFL super-agent of the last two decades, Drew Rosenhaus, was a product of The U.
The late Cardinal of College Football, Beano Cook, once called The U, ‘the greatest dynasty since Caesar’. Like ancient Rome, The U thrived through sideline instability due to the constant coaching turnover caused by Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Erickson and Butch Davis using Coral Gables as pit stops to blazing their own paths to the NFL or USFL.
Sunday's U-per Bowl illuminated a troubling trend. Like a tide sweeping away sand castles on South Beach, a flurry of negative pub, recruiting blunders and rotten luck has swept away three decades of The U dynasty. Since 2004, The U has won nine games just thrice, but most disconcerting is that their influx of impact players into the NFL has slowed to an ephemeral drip.
Lewis, Vilma, Gore, Ed Reed, Bryant McKinnie, Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Vince Wilfork, Willis McGahee, Devin Hester, Santana Moss, Chris Myers, Jon Beason and Jimmy Graham compromise an impressive list of active Canes with Pro Bowls on their resume. However, Graham and Beason are the only ones who will be south of 30 in 2013 and The U has been shutout of the first round since 2008.
Furthermore, cornerback Brandon McGee will be lucky if he’s the only Cane drafted in April. Aside from Reggie Bush’s impending release giving Lamar Miller a clear path to the Miami Dolphins' featured back role and Santana Moss getting pushed out by third-year pro Leonard Hankerson, the Cane's talent well has evaporated.
So how did they get here? For starters, following the Willie Williams saga, former coach Randy Shannon began recruiting student-athletes who could reach rising academic standards as University President Donna Shalala shaped Suntan U into the Stanford of the South. For football, the result was as calamitous as Motown Records migrating to Los Angeles.
In addition, the implosion of Shannon’s top ranked 2008 recruiting class dug the Hurricanes deeper into a rut. Marcus Forston, Tommy Streeter, Travis Benjamin, Sean Spence, Arthur Brown, Brandon and Jacory Harris headlined the ‘08 class but none panned out for Shannon or have made an impact in the NFL.
Brown, 2008’s No. 1 recruit at linebacker is projected as a possible first round pick and is drawing Ray Lewis comparisons but transferred to Kansas State after his sophomore campaign. In 2009, Arthur’s younger brother Bryce is Lesean McCoy’s explosive Philly running mate but dropped his soft verbal to Miami after Shannon pressured him to quickly make a decision.
Just as Larry Coker’s ouster cost Shannon Lesean McCoy’s commitment, Shannon’s dismissal resulted in Miami Northwestern prep receiver Eli Rogers and his All-American quarterback Teddy Bridgewater switching to Louisville.
Yahoo Sports’ Matt Hinton highlighted the additional strategic missteps Shannon took in abandoning Schnellenberger’s “state of Miami” strategy encompassing inner cities as well as Broward, Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Recruiting under Shannon veered well off of that [South Florida] map over the last two years. Of 21 four or five-star prospects in the greater Miami area in the 2011 class, Miami signed zero. Of 22 four or five-star locals in the 2010 class, the Hurricanes signed two, running back Eduardo Clements and offensive lineman Brandon Linden. In the same span, Florida has signed nine four or five-star star guys from the 'Canes' backyard, and Florida State has inked eight.
Al Golden has limped to a demoralizing 13-11 start, but has tangibly doubled the grassroots recruiting effort Shannon put forward in South Florida. In junction with Nevin Shapiro narcing on illegal benefits he provided to 72 athletes between 2002 and 2010, the totality of circumstances makes Miami’s quagmire direr than the death row program Butch Davis inherited in the mid ‘90s.
Motown Records is dead and The U is on life support. Ray Lewis will strut into the sunset as an NFL champion. However, barring a radical turnaround he may be dragging his alma mater’s gridiron glory days with him.