Jumping the Shark

'Happy Days' was one of my favorite shows as a kid. I loved watching the exploits of Richie Cunningham and 'the Fonz' hanging out at Arnolds in the heart of Milwaukee. This legendary sitcom seemed to give a pretty authentic look at life in a much more innocent America.

This ABC staple was a Neilsen's winner in the late 70's. But after reaching it's apex, ratings would eventually decline steadily. In an effort to bolster their sagging numbers, there was a rather infamous episode where Fonzie- still sporting his trademark leather jacket- would water-ski over a shark.

Literally and figuratively, 'Happy Days' had 'jumped the shark'. The program lost any shred of credibility. Soon, the show was no more.

On Saturday afternoon the Miami Hurricanes started their day by stomping on the Louisville Cardinal logo at Papa John Stadium. They ended their day by getting dominated over the last three quarters, losing to the 'Ville, 31-7.

Cardinal players celebrated by stomping on midfield as Miami players walked off the field meekly.

In the midst of another humiliating loss- in which again, no second half points were scored- it's safe to say that head coach Larry Coker and the Miami Hurricanes have not only jumped the shark, they lept over Jaws I, II and III, the Love Boat, the Titanic and the iceberg.

Miami is now 1-4 in it's last five contests versus D1-A programs. And for the first time since 1999, completely out of the top 25.

He's turned Secretariat into Alpo, Ray Robinson into a club fighter. Miami, is now just another college football program.

It's crystal clear, the players have stopped responding to Coker. They may like the guy, but they certainly don't fear or respect him. This much is clear, he may be a nice guy, but more and more he's looking like the substitute teacher that took over a class full of honor roll students, who are now semi-illiterate. He was a short term answer, to a long-term problem. Who was going to lead this team after Butch Davis?

Back when he took over the reigns in 2001, he was given a team that had all the parts in place to win a national title. Led by team leaders, Ed Reed, Joaquin Gonzalez and Ken Dorsey, the players en masse talked athletic director Paul Dee into hiring this career assistant who mysteriously couldn't get a job interview at Tulsa. But say something for continuity, as that group would bring home it's fifth national championship to Coral Gables.

It was also at this same period of time that Pete Carrol and Jim Tressel took over traditional powers, USC and Ohio St, respectively, that had stagnated. Fat and complacent, they had fallen behind the times. Fast forward to 2006 and you see the both the Trojans and Buckeyes not only have titles under their belts with their current CEO's but are strong contenders to bring home the hardware, not only this year, but for years to come.

Miami?

Well, it seems they are now the fat and complacent organization they once used to feast on. There was a tinge of irony in seeing the upstart Louisville program, led by the bright Bobby Petrino, take apart Miami. Because about 25 years ago, it was Miami that was the 'neuveau rich', that had the temerity to upset the balance of college football.

Louisville has become Miami in many respects.

As for 'the U'? It's a program in dissaray, lacking toughness, discipline and focus. Where a culture of softness is accepted and where excuse making is tolerated. A direct reflection of it's leadership. This should be no referendum of Larry Edward Coker as a person, anyone that comes into contact with him will attest to the fact he's a swell fellow. One you'd want as your neighbor, the guy that would make the ideal father-in-law. However, he isn't the guy you want running a program that on a yearly basis has national championship aspirations.

As of now, Miami is nothing more than an NFL internship for it's players. Put in your three, four years and move onto the next level. But stuff like winning national championships? Fughetaboutit. That takes a certain type of leadership the Canes lack right now.

The suspicion that Coker wasn't an elite coach was confirmed a couple of years ago. However, since the cadre of first-round picks have left UM, it's beginning to look like he's below mediocre- just a shade above Gerry Faust, perhaps.(OK, maybe not THAT bad, but still.)

And if he's the person of character his advocates say he is, then he must do the right thing. Resign his post, negotiate a nice package to walk away and let Miami begin the rebuilding process. It may not be 1979, but it's hard to believe that fan and program morale has been this low in the past quarter-century. You think that the Hurricane Club had problems soliciting donations this past year? What they'll be doing will be akin to pan-handling in 2007 if Coker is still at the helm. Season ticket sales? Well, just take a look at our home schedule next year and have a good laugh.

Right now, having Coker as the head coach is a form of probation.

With Coker, Miami is on the road to perdition.

And if it's not Coker who will pull the plug on himself, it'll be up to the higher ups to do it for the sake of the program and university.

But we have a problem, here.

As of now, Dee, who gave Coker an ill-advised contract extension before last season, is still a part of the decision making process. And here's the rub, UM's problems extend beyond an inept head coach, the problem here is systemic. This is about the direction of the entire athletic department- one that is so dependent on the success of the football program.

There's an old saying that,' what comes around, goes around.' On Labor Day night it was widely reported that Dee, upon clearing out the lockerroom, would berate the coaching staff after the opening night loss to FSU. Well, after this latest losing effort, it was Dee who was verbally acosted by an irate booster, who let him know his feelings.

Dee, is what was needed in the mid-90's as UM battled through NCAA sanctions and his hiring of Jim Morris was a home run, as was the building of the Convocation Center. But in recent years his ledger has been marked by the Fern Labati lawsuit and Perry Clark's exorbitant buyout clause. The extending of Coker at $2 million per year- coming off a 9-3 season, no less- should put his job status under review. As of now, the Miami athletic department is operating in the red. Don't expect anything to change anytime soon.

Because as badly as the football team yearns for improved leadership and direction. So to, does the overall athletic department.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

- Say what you will, but Florida is the states best program as of now. Urban Meyer has reinvigorated that program and has things moving in the right direction.

As for FSU, it looks like another four loss season in Tally. But the biggest difference between Coker and Bobby Bowden? Bowden has earned the right to go out any way he wants. He's earned that, seeing that he built the FSU program.

- Well, Miami fans, at least Notre Dame got blitzed.

- Chuck Amato's hot seat got even warmer.

- Yeah, LSU-Auburn wasn't full of offensive fireworks, but that was an old-school SEC defensive slugfest.

Steve Kim can be reached at k9kim@yahoo.com

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