University of Miami

Miami Hurricanes coach Mark Richt retires from coaching as program sinks into tailspin

Mark Richt retired as University of Miami’s football coach on Sunday, ending a three-year tenure that included an Orange Bowl appearance and last year’s No. 2 ranking, but ultimately a disappointing third and final season punctuated by an embarrassing loss to Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Richt, 58, had a contract that extended through 2023 but informed athletic director Blake James on Sunday morning that he is “stepping down as the Head Coach of UM Football.”

He said in a prepared written statement that “the decision came after a great deal of thought, discussions with my family, and prayer. This was my decision. The University of Miami has been a part of my life for more than three decades. It shaped me as a young man and provided me with the coaching opportunity of a lifetime. My love for The U is simply great. My true desire is for our football program to return to greatness, and while terribly difficult, I feel that stepping down is in the best interests of the program.

“I want to express my sincere appreciation to the entire Hurricane Family for welcoming me back home and for supporting the outstanding young men in our program. I only wish that we could have achieved greater things in return. I also want to thank President [Julio] Frenk and [athletic director] Blake [James] for their incredible support, as well as the outstanding men and women in UM Athletics. Most importantly, I want to thank the incredible coaches, staff, and their families who gave their all to The U each and every day, and our student-athletes, who wore The U jersey with pride and who worked hard towards their degree. Katharyn and I will be cheering on the Canes in the years to come and The U will never leave our hearts.”

Richt was 26-13 in his three seasons at UM, including 7-6 this season.

In the wake of UM’s 35-3 loss to Wisconsin in Thursday’s Pinstripe Bowl, Richt understood that he had to make changes to UM’s staff, according to someone in direct contact with him, and that his offensive numbers were among the worst in the country. Richt ultimately decided he would rather retire than make changes and embark on rebuilding the program. Because of heavy pressure by fans, the UM Board of Trustees and likely some administrators, that might have meant replacing his son Jon as the quarterbacks coach, among other changes.

“I’m not going to get into specifics, as I said in my opening statement,’’ Miami athletic director Blake James said Sunday during a press conference in which he noted UM has begun an immediate search for Richt’s replacement. “Primarily, the specifics of Mark and my conversation will remain between us. I guess what I would say in this room, again, it’s no secret, we had to figure out how to get better on offense and I think there’s some obvious things that we need to do on that front, and Mark and I spoke in great detail about what we could do to better our position offensively in the future.”

James, who admitted he was surprised at Richt’s departure, said he never suggested that Richt “step down’’ and that “he truly made the decision based on his love of the U, his family and his desire to move forward with the next chaper of his life in retirement...The U has been a part of Mark’s family for many years as a player, fan and coach and I know that he and Katharyn gave their all when they returned to Coral Gables three years ago. We are proud of the many accomplishments of his team, their top 10 rankings, their graduates and restoring excitement in Canes football.’’

The Hurricanes players, scattered around the country because of winter break, learned through text messages and emails of Richt’s retirement.

Running back DeeJay Dallas posted a new Twitter profile picture of him shaking hands with his coach during a game.

“In order to rise From its own ashes A phoenix First Must Burn,” Dallas posted.

National Signing Day, when high school and other recruits sign their letters of intent to play for various programs, is Dec. 6, so a head coach should be solidified as quickly as possible to secure potential signees.

Soon after the Richt news, Miami star running back Travis Homer, a junior, announced on social media that he has hired an agent and will enter the 2019 NFL Draft instead of returning to the Hurricanes. There are three other Hurricanes who could turn pro early but have not made public announcements: defensive end Joe Jackson and linebackers Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney.

Former Hurricanes defensive coordinator and fan favorite Manny Diaz would have been one possibility to replace Richt as head coach, but Diaz coached his final game with UM at the Pinstripe to become the new head coach at Temple University. It was unknown as of Sunday afternoon if Diaz would be open to return to Miami.

Diaz was seen by the Herald walking away from UM’s Hecht Athletic Center about 2:30 p.m Sunday.

“Manny Diaz? I don’t have any comment on Manny,’’ UM athletic director Blake James sad during the news conference when asked if he were aware Diaz was on campus. “I guess Manny is on his own schedule.’’

Also seen walking into the Hecht: current UM offensive coordinator and running backs coach Thomas Brown, with his family. He had no comment.

Richt, a former Hurricanes backup quarterback to the legendary Jim Kelly, came to Miami in December 2015 after compiling a 145-51 record in 15 years at Georgia. In 2016 his Canes were 9-4. They began 2017 10-0 and reached a No. 2 ranking before dropping the last three games, including the Atlantic Coast Conference championship against Clemson. Though UM’s defense mostly proved stellar this season under Diaz, a preseason No. 8 ranking quickly dissolved into an offensive mess marred by poor quarterback play and continual quarterback controversies.

Richt, the object of intense criticism and scorn on social media by season’s end, clearly did not want to relinquish play-calling duties, though he said on Thursday after the loss to Wisconsin, “Things got to get fixed. That will be the number one priority.’’

Richt made more than $4 million annually, possibly closer to $5 million at this point, and gave $1 million of his and his wife’s money toward the construction of an impressive indoor practice facility that opened this season.

Finalists for the job when Richt was hired include former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach (and former UM defensive coordinator) Greg Schiano, Dan Mullen (who was subsequently hired by Florida) and former UM coach Butch Davis (who was subsequently hired by FIU).

Former Hurricanes football player Mario Cristobal, a native Miamian, rising star and the current head coach at Oregon, is another possible candidate who could return to his roots if he were offered the job.

Another possibility: current South Florida and former Louisville coach Charlie Strong.

Another possible candidate could be the offensive-minded Lane Kiffin, who is the head coach now at FAU in Boca Raton.

A source told the Herald that a couple of former UM stars are pushing behind the scenes for former Jets coach Rex Ryan to replace Richt. Ryan is believed to have interest if he’s contacted officially.

Mike Leach, the Washington State head coach who is known as a great offensive mind, is another name who has been a serious candidate before for the UM job.

The Hurricanes could find other bright offensive coaches appealing such as Dino Babers of Syracuse, UCF’s Josh Heupel, Memphis’ Mike Norvell and Neal Brown of Troy.

Miami Herald sportswriter Jordan McPherson contributed to this report.

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