blake james miami hurricanesThe 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.

11 thoughts on “Blake James; An AD Hiding In Plain Sight

  1. Give Mr. James his shot he of here right pin front of your eyes and he’s publicly accessible i have meet him and he seems like the man for the job

  2. i hope james gets it. like you said, he deserves it. he’s been in a non-miami environment(maine is about as non-miami as it gets, trust me, my better half is from maine and i’ve been many times). and came back. really hope shallala does the right thing, but i won’t be surprised if she doesnt.

  3. Unfortunately, the POWERS THAT BE on the Coral Gables campus will surely make another BLUNDER of a hire, concerning the A.D. position. SEE the example above, i.e, resume and what not. Eh. What say.

    Bottom line is the University of Miami, Florida President and Board of Trustees have bloody well become COMPLACENT and probably don’t give a U KNOW WHAT about Hurricane athletics in general. dUh

    In other words, both the baseball and football programs haven’t been at the same Top 15 competitive level the past four/six seasons. Let alone legitimate Top 10 college sports enterprises lately.

    Heck, even Goldie was a FOURTH/FIFTH choice hire. Yeah, yeah it’s ALL ABOUT THE MONEY FACTOR. Yet, take the University of Arizona athletic program.

    For instance, ANY astute college sports fandom abso-LUTE-ly knows that mens college basketball is KING in the Grand Canyon state. However, the Wildcat A.D. hired Rodriquez and amazingly Pablo’s team, in his FIRST SEASON mind U, recently UPSET a legitimate Top 15 squad in U.S.C., and the University of Arizona baseball team won ANOTHER NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP last season

    In other words, both the current Wildcat A.D., President and Board of Trustee’s absolutely want NATIONAL, WINNING programs in all the major sports, i.e., mens basketball, baseball and football. And they are COMMITTED to completing that goal!

    By the way, Coach Rodiquez would’ve been a great hire for the Hurricanes. Yeah, yeah I know. IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS and what not.

    And finally, PLEASE don’t give that lame arse EXCUSE about Miami, Florida being a private institution of higher learning. Enter STANFORD, for example.

    Bon jour

  4. 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.
    Chris, this sentence summarizes it all. There is no other option. Finally an article on Blake. He definitely is the right man for the job. I too have met him and he is a true gentleman. In fact I hope to play some golf this off season with him. He still exchanges emails with me from time to time….Huge game Thursday, must stop the bleeding. Need a win bad. VTech is down this year, we have had time off, guys are heeled. Must win situation. I am actually not too worried about the defense. Our offense has regressed the last few weeks. Granted against good defenses but hopefully the O can come back. Have to see improvement!! GO CANES!

  5. Unless the AD has a strong local connection, like paul dee from palm beach cane country, the position will continue to be a jumping off situation.

    I would recommend Jimmy Johnson or some other ex-miami guy. Jimmy is not going to leave iIslamorada any time soon. Purchase a slip for his boat down in the harbour area – job done!!!

    • Jimmy wants no part of that job. He has a great NFL analyst gig and loves his down time. UM needs a young, hungry up and comer who is ready to bust ass, work hard, raise money and glad-hand. Last thing JJ wants to do.

      Not opposed to an ex-player, if there really was one who wanted the job — a Torretta-type — but honestly, no one out there.

      Blake James is making it clear he wants the job. Give the man his shot. The U is his dream gig.

  6. Soemone needs to get in Shalala’s ear, since she’s made the last two hires. Long is about to get the boot from Arkansas. We need someone who is invested and cares about Miami.

  7. Donna Shalala’s hires are once again coming back to bite her in the ass. She’s 0-2 in hiring athletic directors and we haven’t been competitive for a long time bc of it. The success of an athletic (primarily football) program is directly dependent on its athletic director. She’s showing that she either (A) does not care much about the football program (just stay out of trouble and maintain 8/9 win seasons) or (B) doesn’t know much about football in particular to remain relevant. I fear that as long as she is president the Canes will continue to be mediocre in football. Of course I hope I’m wrong.

  8. Well-written…you should send a copy of this piece to the U administration. The U needs someone with trUe desire to be here.

  9. Chris – great suggestion on James. I seem to recall that Coach Golden had a 300 page notebook ready when he interviewed at Miami, outlining his “process” to build the program. I’d be very interested to see if Mr. James has something similar. He is probably a great guy, big fan and loves the U – all very important. However, so was Randy Shannon – and Larry Coker for that matter. (I am NOT suggesting by any stretch a James’ tenure would be the same as Shannon’s or Coker’s!)

    The new AD is going to have to address facilities, endowments, media relations, scheduling, conference affiliation (yes, that issue will rear its ugly head every so often), branding, athletic department reorganization and impending NCAA sanction … probably in the next 6-12 months from assuming the position. What is James’ take on where Miami is currently positioned and how we he move forward? What is his strategy for addressing and overcoming these hurdles? What is his track record? If it is light due to his experience, then how would he mitigate that? Who are his mentors? Who would he call and talk to for advice? What type of individual would he hire? No doubt the department would become a reflection of him, so I’d love to learn his take on how he evaluates potential employees?

    These are questions that you and I can probably never answer, since we’re not involved in the job search. I’ve got a feeling, though, that President Shalala (and hopefully Coach Golden) are asking! They’ve got a huge position to fill!

    Go Canes!

    Jake in Yokosuka, Japan