Attitude Adjustment

The aftermath is still not settled. The Hurricane community is in shock, and quite frankly, there is so much to be said, yet there are truly no words to explain the feeling that circulates the core of 'Cane faithful. Is this feeling a direct reaction to an appalling loss?

Yes and no. Yes, the upset loss naturally creates a hysteria that quickly transforms into panicked thoughts for some. More disturbing, however, this is simply not a reaction to a singular "L" on the schedule. The loss uncovers whispered thoughts and fears about expanding cracks that lie at the very core of a program lauded as one of sports' true powerhouses.

Foreshadowing Ignored

Last year, after a loss to Tennessee in the Orange Bowl, effectively putting a 26-game home winning streak at a halt, I wrote an article dubbed "Regression to the Hurricane Mean," which looked deeply at how a 3-year run created an atmosphere of unreachable expectations. I still believe the University of Miami football has expectations that are unnecessary, and a loss should not send the entire Hurricane nation up in arms. Nevertheless, it is much deeper than this one game, which is simply the culmination of what was a long time coming.

The Hurricanes were on borrowed time. There were signs earlier this season as Miami escaped the proverbial street fight with a scrappy and determined Louisville squad, and followed that victory with less than stellar defensive showings on consecutive occasions. However, these are just recent examples of what could have been seen even in the midst of the "3-year domination spree."

Over the past few seasons, Miami has had a depth chart stocked with future first-rounders, yet consistently played down to opponents. Many questioned why the ‘Canes got themselves into these types of situations (i.e. keeping a team like Rutgers close before pulling away a couple seasons ago, et al), as opposed to consistently intense outings. Understandably, teams have letdowns and phases where concentration lapses are visible. Regardless, most of these worries were quickly quelled by swarms of "we're cool, calm and collected, and can turn it up when we want" statements. While this is a recipe for future disaster, questions were swept under the rug as the Hurricanes piled on the victories: after all, that's all that matters, right?

The Core

A look at the core of what has made the Miami Hurricanes one of the few dynasties in sports brings about common themes: confidence, insatiable hunger, competitiveness, visible spirit, and the mystique many call "swagger." All of these traits are what brought a program from almost being dropped to a level where domination was expected. These traits, embedded deep into the heart of the program by past ‘Cane players, are what allowed a program deeply wounded by probation to quickly and valiantly resurrect itself not only as a powerful force, but propelled it into the greatest 3-year run in modern College Football history.

Players come to the University thinking they have many of these traits. They leave the university with a galvanized resolve. It is no wonder that the NFL looks toward the lush Coral Gables campus for many of its top players, and trusts that they will be ready for the harsh environment dominated by unforgiving men.

Care for an example? Many believe the greatest single season for a Hurricane Running Back belongs to Willis McGahee. It's almost unbelievable that just a short time before that season, the future star Running Back was questioning himself in light of a teammates' [Clinton Portis] overwhelming confidence. The "U" simply transforms the raw seeds of confidence and hunger into blossomed, unshakeable, roots.

The most important aspect for this "blossoming" effect, like all environments for growth, is proper maintenance. Here is where the whispers begin. Some have called into question the seeming "over-correction" of displayed spirit by players, claiming that the handcuffs' effect not only limits the presumed penalties and negative perception, but actually transforms the aforementioned environment, thereby effecting how the seeds blossom. Hence, what is seen on the football field is potential-unfulfilled, or simply not properly groomed.

Combined Effects

When you combine the trend of the lackadaisical playing down to opponents with a limiting environment, what is the result? An attitude change. The bottom line is that when the culture changes, for whatever reason, a corresponding attitude is not far behind. The reason for this culture change must be looked at, as it is one of the most significant pieces of the equation for a changing environment.

Where does the buck stop? Players make the catches, run, and tackle, but the buck inevitably stops at the desk of the Head Coach and his staff. Larry Coker is clearly a likable human being and carries the reputation of a well-respected, nice man. His cool demeanor carries over to the sideline where players have openly stated how their "coach never worries." This is an admirable trait, and one that exudes an inner confidence that players can look to in times of crisis. It is not a surprise that over the last few seasons, Miami teams, working with the confidence that they can overcome anything, and likely looking toward their Head Coach for inner calm, have come back to win games in even the most unlikely circumstances.

So what's the problem? As has been mentioned, teams usually reflect the personality of their leaders. The cool and calm persona works a large portion of the time in crisis, but it also conveys a lack of urgency. This is not to say that Coach Coker or his staff want this to occur, as they probably work for the opposite effect, but it raises the reluctant question:

Why do Miami teams, often noticeably more talented than their opponent, play to their level?

In an article to kick off the season ("Downhill Hurricanes"), I openly wished for a more "downhill" mentality. The Miami Hurricanes need to be the aggressors, not the reactors. Many will bring about the valid counter-argument as to why did we not see this during the 2001 Championship season, even with much of the same staff we see now. The fact is, that team was "led" from the inside. Players seemingly took their cues from leaders such as Joaquin Gonzalez and the legendary Ed Reed. These were players that had experienced the probation years, and endured through an uphill battle to the top. Clearly, this created an environment for these leaders to want nothing more than to dominate at all times. Complacency and distraction were not options here. What can be seen now are young players looking around, seemingly lost, some distracted, most with talent that is currently not being utilized in its optimal form (attacking).

A Return to the Fundamentals

Ironically, in light of a defensive collapse where the fundamentals of the football game were absent (tackling, keeping lanes and gaps, etc), a call to the "fundamentals of Hurricane attitude" must be made. Miami Hurricane teams do not experience transition periods, but rather reinvent themselves. What may seem like a downward swing on the pendulum can be quickly reverted with an adjustment at the foundation.

Larry Coker and his staff are not to be fully blamed here, nor are the players, and neither is an Admission department that shows its rigid nature at times. This is a collective issue that will take a collective commitment. However, there must be a sense of accountability at the top. Teams make mistakes. Teams have letdowns. However, these cannot occur in a manner in which the basic core---that led to the growth of a program into a dynasty---is forgotten.

The Miami Hurricanes lost to the University of North Carolina in one of the more disturbing losses in their programs history. This is not a knee-jerk label or a panicked response to a singular loss. It is also not a shot at the UNC team that deserved to win. One player mentioned he did not know "what to feel" after the game. The reason that the feeling was so inexplicable is that not playing Hurricane football finally caught up to this program. This is correctable, and it is an instance that forces everyone to look deeper into themselves and the issue, but a commitment to consistent Hurricane intensity, from the players and the coaches, is the very first step toward reversing the trend. The Miami Hurricanes have to set their own bar; they cannot play to their opponents' level any longer.

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