Neither president Donna Shalala or director of athletics Shawn Eichorst are going to fire the two-time national champion skipper after a putrid weekend of baseball at the Coral Gables Regional, despite the frustration of a fan base that expected more from this recently-ended baseball season.
Scream it until you’re blue in the face. State for your audience that a performance of this nature is unacceptable at ‘The U’. Kick your dog. Punch a Gator. Slap a Nole. Do what you must to get out your frustration and then re-join the rest of us in what is reality.
Morris has spent the past nineteen seasons at the University of Miami. He’s compiled an 850-344-3 record, won two national titles, has had several deep runs at the College World Series, brought eleven teams to Omaha and has coached-up a ton of talent, getting it big league-ready.
In other words, it’s going to take more than a down cycle to bring the Morris era to an end; even if that decline started in top of the ninth against Georgia in the opening game of the 2008 College World Series.
While 2012 proved to be another up-and-down season – sweeping second-ranked North Carolina months back, while getting outscored 22-4 by visiting Stony Brook and Missouri State this past weekend, hosting a home regional – in relative terms, it’s a success when you reach your conference title game and head to the post-season for the fortieth year in a row and host a regional.
In other words, not too many coaches will lose their job for a 36-23 run in the ACC and a home regional, despite how it played out, and when you couple that with a legend like Morris, fans are flat-out dreaming if they think any president or athletic director in the nation would show a coach of this caliber the door.
After almost four decades of the ultimate success and being deemed one of the premier programs in the nation, it’s understandable that Miami fans expect more – but news flash, so do coaches and players. They fell short, didn’t play Cane-caliber baseball and between now and first pitch next February, that is the one thing that does have to change.
Brian London talked about the state of Miami baseball in his allCanes Radio Daily CanesFix this Monday morning – some of which resonated, other points not as much.
Still, ‘The Beast’ stays consistent with his stance and there is some truth that college baseball in 2012 is not the same as twenty years ago, and most of his opinions hold water.
UM is no longer an Independent. That hurts. More road trips and tougher competition takes its toll, costs you a handful of games a year and impacts your post-season seeding.
Furthermore, tuition is way up, while the economy remains down. There’s also much more competition regarding in-state big time programs in this day and age. Beast has reminded listeners and blog readers of those points all season and again, none can be disagreed with.
On some level, fans simply have to accept that UM will never again see the success of the 80s or 90s again. College athletics has changed drastically and as a small private school, baseball is going to take a hit that football and basketball don’t deal with.
All that being said, the story doesn’t end there. Fans shouldn’t have to just accept this breakdown and move on. Harder to recruit. Too many kids going pro. Scholarships too hard to divvy up. So many other in-state schools competing. Blah, blah, blah.
Where are the answers regarding righting the ship? Should Morris be around another few years, what changes?
Losing to Stony Brook and Missouri State wasn’t a crime. It happens. This is baseball. Anyone can beat anyone on any given day and average teams can get hot while once hot teams can ice up as the year rolls on.
Look at Georgia Tech weeks back. The Yellow Jackets needed to win the regular season finale just to earn the eight-seed in the ACC Tournament. From there, a 4-0 run, beating Florida State, Virginia, Clemson and Miami en route to the conference title.
No, where Miami fans are livid the Monday after is how the Canes lost. Sloppy baseball. Bone-headed mistakes. Mental errors. A lack of heart. To see this program plagued with brain farts in late May, same as they were in February – that’s what drives you nuts. The lack of growth. The inability to correct fundamental mistakes that seemed to be the case all year.
Go back and check the box score from those twenty-three losses this spring and there are too many common mistakes. A slew of fielding errors. Pitching breaking down late in the game. Bats going cold.
You can forgive a team that loses ball games, but the struggle comes in accepting mediocrity. Make the same mistakes over and over and the offenses becomes criminal.
So to that point, how does Miami ensure the mistakes of 2012 don’t plague this team in 2013?
For the record, neither firing Morris or keeping him will immediately change anything. The Beast made his point about the grass not always being greener when hiring / firing coaches and there is some truth in that, though it’s not as much the firing as who a university chooses to hire.
When it comes to UM, there have been a few wins and a handful of losses on the hiring process over the past two decades, which again, is something the anti-Morris camp must take into consideration. All of that, “Fire Morris” stuff is pointless if the next guy hired isn’t a proven gem, or an up and comer that is all-in regarding what it will take to turn the Canes around.
Look at the gridiron since Butch Davis left in early 2001. While Larry Coker was the player favorite to take over a championship-ready program, he was a terrible long-term solution from day one.
Coker was a perennial assistant and nothing about him said number one guy, leader or top dog, but when a program is full of seniors who stuck around to win a ring, per being sold by their former coach, there can be some pressure to hire from within and keep some continuity.
Prior to taking over as Miami’s head coach in 2001, Coker’s last head coaching gig was in 1978 … at Claremore High School in Oklahoma.
From there, a journeyman assistant. Tulsa running backs and quarterbacks coach before eventually being named offensive coordinator. Next up, a seven-year stint running the offense at Oklahoma State, followed by four years doing the same at rival Oklahoma.
Coker then spent three years coaching defensive backs – and then quarterbacks – at Ohio State, before heading south to run Miami’s offense for six seasons under Davis.
Where Miami failed in the hiring of Coker was the lack of a long-term vision. What if he rattled off a twenty-four game win-streak, back-to-back title games and won a ring? How would you be able to get rid of a guy who won with a previous coach’s players if he wasn’t able to recruit, develop and teach his own to perform?
Coker went 12-0, 12-1 and 11-2 before stringing together seasons of 9-3, 9-3 and 7-6, which got him fired.
His swan song in 2006 also sported a pre-game logo stomp at Louisville, an on-the-field brawl with Florida International, a four-game losing streak to close the regular season – on the heels of the murder of beloved player Bryan Pata – and a bowl game, against Nevada, on the blue turf in Boise. The 7-6 run was Miami’s worst since 5-6 in 1997, when knee-deep in the probation era.
Without all that, Coker might’ve seen another year, too. Dig up some press from that era and many in the media were toting his nice-guy persona, his 35-3 start, his national title – and one bad call from being the lone team in the BCS era to win two straight championships.
Beast posed a question regarding the Randy Shannon years, asking if Coker could’ve fared the same, as Shannon went a paltry 28-22 over his four seasons heading up UM’s program, and if so, then was it worth letting Larry go?
Coker could’ve easily have put up a similar record. Maybe a little better, maybe a little worse, but nothing that would’ve made much of a difference, either way.
Still, the real issue in both cases was who was hired after the previous guy was fired.
Same can be said when talking about Perry Clark replacing Leonard Hamilton on the hardwood or Frank Haith being hired in Clark’s wake.
Where Miami seems to have finally turned things around is with it’s two newest coaches - Al Golden replacing Shannon and Jim Larranaga stepping in for the disgraced Haith – as both took less-than-desirable opportunities based on the state of both programs.
When Miami searched for a football coach in December 2006, there weren’t many options. UM quickly pursued Rutgers head coach, and former Canes defensive coordinator, Greg Schiano, but he turned down the opportunity that was rumored to be $2M a year.
From there, a slew of lesser names were paraded out. That, or pipe dream coaches that fans clamored for, rooting their opinion in emotion and frustration, but zero logic, assuming that a Chris Petersen would leave Boise State or Gary Patterson wanted to walk away from the time put in at Texas Christian, building a winner.
That’s the name of the game when things go south in Coral Gables. Fans let frustration turn their thoughts completely delusional regarding the desirability of the program, expecting coaches who have built things up elsewhere to simply walk away, uproot their families and run to Miami programs that have had marginal success as of late, coupled with a fickle fan base and a lack of support.
When Morris was hired by Miami in 1994, the Hurricanes were a powerhouse. Between 1978 and 1992, then-head coach Ron Fraser won two rings and reached Omaha eleven of fourteen seasons. He had built a machine and coupled with Morris, it was business as usual.
Fraser built Miami up from nothing, retired at fifty-eight years old and the keys were turned over to assistant Brad Kelley, who went 36-22 in one season and was replaced by Morris – a very hot commodity at the time, having built a mini-powerhouse of his own over twelve seasons at Georgia Tech, winning forty-plus games his final four seasons in Atlanta.
Sadly, that formula doesn’t exist for this era of Miami baseball. Not four seasons removed from Omaha. Not with so many state schools growing, batting for recruits and winning the way they are.
There’s also the underlying theme of a fan base who wants to run a current legend out of town, without exercising any patience and letting him right the ship. Not exactly a selling point for coaches currently at programs where fans are on board, turn out in droves and live and die with their alma mater.
There the side that wants to run Morris out of town and the other that spouts off his past accolades, in effort to justify his staying on. Both camps have valid points, but again, neither are addressing what needs to be done between now and next February to avoid another run like 2012 provided.
Some Morris and UM’s athletic department might want to think about while preparing for next year:
- With so much talk about Miami’s heralded second-ranked incoming class and the fact that so many prospects could choose MLB over college in today’s draft, something needs to be done on the recruiting front in regards to a different modus operandi.
If too many highly-touted prospect are leaving Miami at the altar prior to Signing Day, then Morris – and assistant coach / recruiting guru Gino DiMare – need to change their approach on the recruiting trail, putting more focus on college-bound kids that might not shine as brightly as next-level talent, but kids that have that intangible.
The same way great Miami football coaches have sniffed out two- or three-star talent that has been coached up to superstar level, the same needs to be done with baseball.
Miami cannot hang its hopes on kids that have a better shot at going pro, versus coming to Coral Gables. Yes, go after some top talent, but spend more energy on Miami-type kids who want to play for ‘The U’. Kids that will put in their four years and are more concerned with team and winning than they are with dollar signs and the MLB lifestyle.
(Note: As this piece is being penned, two of Miami’s top signees, shortstop Carlos Correa and outfielder Albert Almora were taken first and sixth in today’s MLB Draft, putting a huge hole in what looked to be a stellar recruiting class.)
- The re-addition of DiMare to the staff was a good move by Morris and hopefully it pays dividends this recruiting season, but what about assistants like J.D. Arteaga and Lou Palmisano? Arteaga has been on staff since 2003 and just spent his third as assistant coach, while Palmisano just completed year one at Miami, focusing on hitting while working with catchers.
I won’t pretend to know how either graded out this season, but when it comes to pitching and hitting, the Canes were downright awful at times this year. Doesn’t take a guru to see that. The casual fan who watched their share of games is more than informed.
As Morris’ tenure at UM winds down – he’ll be sixty-three soon after the 2013 season begins – one last run at Omaha will be dependent on his coaching staff. Does he have full faith in his guys and is this a crew that can lead Miami back to the top? I can’t answer that, but he needs to – and if there are any questions surrounding Arteaga and Palmisano, this off-season is the time to address them and make moves.
- The pro-Morris camp spends a lot of time talking about getting hurt in the draft, the scholarships woes, the struggles of being a private university and what not — but none of that addresses the current kids on the roster making fundamental errors that were taught proper in little league, as well as the mental errors that have run rampant with this program for way too long.
For the past few seasons Florida has owned Miami mentally. The Canes seemingly pee down their leg whenever things get tight against the Gators. Look at the past few post-seasons, as well as game three of this year’s series. UM dropped the first two games and took a 5-3 lead into the top of the ninth, before losing 8-5.
Again, losing is part of the game, but whether it’s a ninth inning collapse, another error from shortstop Steven Perez or E.J. Encinosa walking / plunking batters or giving up key hits instead of closing out the ninth, there was little growth this season regarding such meltdowns. As a fan, you could literally feel that dark cloud rolling in during those final innings as Miami gave away too many games by playing stupid baseball.
If Morris and staff couldn’t correct this during the season, what will be done this off-season? Honestly, there’s no room for the notion that coaches have done all the could and these kids need to perform. That made sense at times during the year, but there needs to be some mental growth with these kids from 2012 to 2013 and the question remains, how will this current staff fix things?
This was a disappointing season that ended with a huge thud and while it won’t cost Morris his job, there will certainly be more pressure entering next season that there was this one. How will he and these kids respond? That in itself may be the answer regarding a coaching search this time next year, or renewed faith in a legend.
There’s no crime in Morris getting one more year to get things right, but if there’s no growth, no game plan and the same type of play this time next year, even the truest Morris apologist will have a hard time building a case entering 2014. – C.B.