In one game on Saturday, the Miami Hurricanes showed exactly why the program is down right now and why it is back up. The two halves were as different as Larry Coker and Randy Shannon, and each represents one of the men very well.
The first half was typical of the ‘Canes when Coker was at the helm. They got down early, and seemingly quit. The play calling was vanilla. The defense was on the field for far too long, and it manifested itself in the big plays that North Carolina kept executing. The same North Carolina that was 1-4 coming in, winless against 1-A opponents and occupying the cellar of the Coastal Division led 27-0 at the half, knocking down the mighty Hurricanes and running right by them.
The second half was almost the complete opposite.
The Hurricanes scored three touchdowns in about eight minutes. Kyle Wright missed on a deep route down the sideline. The ‘Canes were backed up to their own three yard line, facing second and long with the Hurricane Nation prepared for the inevitable Kyle Wright two yard run up the gut, followed by an unsuccessful sweep to the halfback and punt.
Instead, offensive coordinator Patrick Nix and Head Coach Randy Shannon showed exactly how they plan on turning this team around. Nix realized that the Hurricanes had a speed mismatch on the outside. He called the exact same play, and 97 yards later Darnell Jenkins had a touchdown and the ‘Canes were only seven points down.
Though the ‘Canes eventually lost, this play summed up everything that this year’s team represents. It showed a willingness to pull the trigger, to go for the throat. It showed the killer instinct that Shannon is trying to put into his players and coaches. Maybe it took the entire first half to figure out that the power run game was not going to work. Maybe it took a halftime pep talk to get the players going. But the fact is that the players responded to the adjustments that Shannon and his coaches made at the half and came roaring back to life.
In years past, former head coach Larry Coker probably would have played to protect the ball near the goal line and get out of dodge by punting. The players would have given up on the game, as they perceived their coach was giving up on them. Not this year. Not this team. This team knows that their coach believes in them until the very end. He expects to win. One half does not make a game in his mind. He will put his players in a position to succeed. While they might not make the play every time, they will at least have the chance.
This is not my way of kicking someone once they are down. I appreciate everything Coker did for the program. Two national titles (yes I said two, anyone with a brain in their head knows that we won that game in the desert) is nothing to look down at. However, his lasting legacy will be seen in the struggles with intensity from half to half that the Hurricanes have encountered recently. He merely did not know how to relate to or motivate Miami football players. And in the end that is what Shannon does best.
Dan Stein may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.