The past few years have been tumultuous on many levels for the Miami Hurricanes. On the field losses. Coaching turnover. Scandal. Player suspensions. A far cry from the early 2000s, when it seemed nothing could go wrong for ‘The U’.
Off the field and behind the scenes, athletic director turnover, as well – and while it’s not as ‘sexy’ a topic, discussing the suits who pull all the strings, it’s the foundation for this program and remains a big reason things have been off the mark the past several years.
The late Paul Dee held the position from 1993 to 2008 and upon stepping down, was replaced by Kirby Hocutt in February 2008.
Hocutt looked the part. A young up-and-comer who showed up in Miami in his late-thirties, he spent four years as athletic director at Ohio. Prior to that, he was an associate AD at Oklahoma. Hocutt is from Sherman, Texas. He played his college ball at Kansas State.
The guy was – and is – Big XII through and through, which is why Hocutt left Coral Gables for Lubbock when Texas Tech came calling in early 2011. Like so many others in his position, Hocutt is a climber – hopping from one university to another when a better opportunity presents itself.
Hocutt was replaced by Shawn Eichorst, who wound up lasting a year and a half at Miami, taking the Nebraska gig weeks back when the legendary Tom Osborne announced he would be stepping down at season’s end.
Eichorst last served as Deputy Athletic Director at Wisconsin, under AD Barry Alvarez – who has a long-time friendship with Miami president Donna Shalala. Shalala hired Eichorst on Alvarez’s recommendation, as did Nebraska, when their search began weeks back.
Upon Eichorst stepping down, a cry of “we hardly knew ye” from Miami folk – be it alumni, media, fans or anyone associated with the program. Eichorst was seen as a ghost and in his time at UM, never sunk his teeth in to make a difference.
No, like Hocutt he proved to be another climber. Someone who simply did his time in Coral Gables, counting the moments until his phone rang with a more desirable offer.
Stories have circulated that neither Hocutt, Eichorst or their families were comfortable in South Florida, which makes sense as both were Midwestern guys with traditional Midwestern values, marrying typical Midwestern girls and raising Midwestern kids.
The hires of both Hocutt and Eichorst were wrong from the get-go based on that alone. UM tried to fit a square peg into a round hole and as a result, was burned by both guys — guys who never saw South Florida as a final destination or home for their families.
No, this large metropolitan city with international flair was nothing more than a layover or rest stop en route to somewhere they really wanted to be. For Hocutt, it proved to be his home state of Texas while Eichorst will pack up his clan, relocating to Lincoln, Nebraska.
Where Hocutt is a Texas product who spent most of his time in Big XII country, Eichorst is a native of Lone Rock, Wisconsin. He earned a law degree from Marquette and practiced law in Milwaukee for years, before taking over as the UW-Whitewater Director of Athletics.
From there he served as Senior Associate Athletic Director for Administration at South Carolina before making his way to Wisconsin and now, after a quick stint at Miami, a dream-type job at Nebraska for a ‘climber’.
The purpose of this journey down this recent Athletic Director Walk Of Shame; to show that Miami didn’t learn from a past mistake when hiring Eichorst to replace Hocutt – and based on the latest scoop via the rumor mill, might be headed down the same road for a third straight time.
FootballRumorMill.com is reporting that Miami is targeting Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long as Eichorst’s replacement, which is a mistake for some very obvious reasons – most notably, because it appears on the surface to be more of the same.
Prior to his four-year stint at Arkansas, Long held the same position at Pittsburgh and he spent time climbing the ranks at Oklahoma, Michigan, Virginia Tech and Eastern Kentucky. On paper he may be a stellar hire – but ‘on paper’ doesn’t work at UM and never has.
This is a special university, a unique city and most important, a crucial time for an athletic department that cannot afford to make another bad decision.
Blake James has earned the title of interim athletic director and for any UM folks too distracted to see what’s right in front of them – the temporary choice should be the obvious permanent one.
What Miami cannot afford here is another one-and-done type of hire and based on Long’s resume, he could easily be another Hocutt or Eichorst; the type of guy waiting by the phone for the next ‘better’ opportunity.
Miami needs a ‘Miami’ guy. Neither Hocutt or Eichorst proved the had ‘it’ – but James does. He’s in his third year with the athletic department, but this is his second stint at UM – having cut his teeth in Coral Gables, working in ticket sales, corporate sales and athletic development during the early 00s when UM was on a roll.
James left Miami for Maine, following then Senior Associate Athletic Director Patrick Nero north, when Nero was named Maine’s AD. When Nero was hired as Commissioner of the America East conference, James succeeded him as athletic director at Maine.
James’ first run at UM came in 1995, when the Canes were dealing with NCAA sanctions, lost scholarships and the task of rebuilding with one arm tied behind its back. What a bonus for Miami to actually be afforded the opportunity of being guided by someone that’s not only been there before – but someone who actually went through it in Coral Gables a few decades back.
James’ strengths are in marketing, ticketing, retail operations and athletic development, all part of his job description while at Maine, and let’s be honest, UM needs help in all areas.
Beyond that, he knows how to fundraise and is willing to put in the face time with donors, boosters and supporters of this program – two areas where Eichorst failed miserably.
Glad-handing is the name of the game and it’s time this program has an athletic director who actually enjoys that aspect of the job description.
The fact that James left Maine to return to Miami for a “lesser” position should show UM brass that this guy wants to be here. He sees Coral Gables at home and if you read between the lines, James obviously came back south with the goal of someday earning the athletic director title.
James didn’t return to UM to go somewhere else; he came back because to he and his family, Miami is home. ‘The U’ is a final destination job.
With so much talk about the U Family and this special bond that Hurricane folk have, here is a chance to truly live it out and make it a reality. This is someone that lived through the glory years – which is a rare thing these days, with so much athletic department turnover.
James is ready to go all-in at ‘The U’ – and with sanctions looming and some rough seas ahead, this is precisely the guy you want captaining the ship; someone with no desire to bail, someone who will see things through and a guy who wants to be part of the rebuilding process.
Honestly, if comparing it to football and the type of guys that Al Golden recruits, James would be a solid three-star local prospect with great intangibles, a solid head on his shoulder and a guy who is a Hurricane fan, that would take pride in helping the program return to glory.
In a word, he’d be a dream recruit. An overachiever with tremendous upside and a guy who will play himself into being a first-round draft pick four years from now. Coachable, a team player and someone with that ‘it’ factor – Miami simply cannot afford to lose James.
Trying to predict the way Miami will go with this hire, it’s an enigma and the fact that someone like Long is said to be on the radar, if that’s indeed true – it’s tragic as the ending will be similar to the last two hires, which isn’t an option based on the current state of the program.
This is a time to band together. UM can absolutely weather this pending storm. The program has seen worse and has come back, but in the current landscape of the college game, the margin for error is less for error. Big money rules and for a small private school with the uphill battles that UM faces, it’s all about calculated moves where a precedence is put on the intangible.
Golden has that intangible. An up and comer who set his sights on something special, as opposed to the rah-rah school with the huge athletic budget and built-in rabid fan base.
Golden saw the fixer-upper that Miami was. He also saw the surrounding local talent, strength of the brand and tremendous upside should he turn this thing around – and he too went all-in.
The risk versus reward proved worth it for Golden, so he’ll dig into his ‘process’ and a few years from taking over, he’ll have his Canes properly relevant again, in due time. He was the right guy at the right time in the right place and UM is fortunate it played out as it did.
Regarding James, it’s another one of those situations starting Miami in the face. A rarity that isn’t normally the case in a career full of job-hoppers, climbers and folks lacking the vision and loyalty to see the job to fruition.
James is at Miami and is hiding in plain sight. The higher ups and board of trustees appear to be looking elsewhere, focused on resumes, age and other on-paper dynamics that play into a decision like this, but honestly – this the time to throw all of that out the window.
This is one of those moments you go with your gut and trust your heart. It’s a moment where you remember how unique and special the University of Miami is – and a time you get protective of those traits.
This isn’t the time to welcome in an outsider. If anything, it’s the ideal time to huddle with family and ride this thing out, in the true fashion of the natural disaster this program was named after.
James is the guy. Whether he proves to be a long-term answer or not, doesn’t matter. Here, in the moment and with what’s on the horizon, he’s Miami’s only hope.
Lift this ‘interim’ title, stop the search, back the guy who will back the program and roll up the collective sleeves for some rough seas – but do so knowing that better days are ahead and trusting that the infrastructure will be in place to weather this storm.
Christian Bello has been covering Miami Hurricanes athletics since the mid-1990s. After spending almost a decade as a columnist for CanesTime, he launched allCanesBlog.com. – the official blog for allCanes.com : The #1 Canes Shop Since 1959. Bello has joined up with XOFan.com and will be a guest columnist at CaneInsider.com this fall. Follow him on Twitter @ChristianRBello.