Greg Cote

Historic: Manny Diaz’s QB choice for Miami Hurricanes not seen in more than 50 years | Opinion

I sometimes get a little blowback over tending to have a framework of historical perspective in what I write. Some of that is simply age, of having grown up and old in this market. (I figure there has to be an advantage to aging beyond the occasional unwanted discounts on cups of coffee.)

It is jarring to some millennials to be reminded South Florida sports history actually does predate LeBron taking his talents to South Beach in 2010. It even predates those 1972 Perfect Season Dolphins the Generation Y crowd might have Googled once.

This all occurred to me as I tried to find a context for Manny Diaz entering his first season as Miami Hurricanes football head coach with his surprising choice of Jarren Williams as starting quarterback.

I wondered how rare it is for a first-year UM coach to enter the fray with such an inexperienced QB.

Would you take quick trip with me to find the answer? The earliest sports memory in my life was attending a UM game at the Orange Bowl with my dad and older brother. I was in elementary school (had a crewcut back then). I remember the Canes quarterback was George Mira. “The Matador!” That would have made it 1961 to 1963.

It was a night game. The stadium ambiance was full of those red-and-black hurricane warning flags, and sirens, and smoke. (To a kid around 6 or 7, it was a little scary, actually.)

Anywhere, there is your time frame.

The ‘63 season ends, the star QB MIra departs, and legendary coach Andy Gustafson also calls it quits after 16 seasons, by far the longest continuous run of any UM football coach.

The new man in 1964 is Charlie Tate, like Diaz also a rookie head coach. He had only one returning quarterback on his roster — one who had not thrown a single pass as a true freshman — and so that was his guy.

It was Bob Biletnikoff, the younger brother by one year of Fred Biletnikoff, a top receiver at Florida State who would go on to star for the Oakland Raiders and make the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

(The “other” Biletnikoff was UM’s quarterback two seasons, with modest results. He happened to pass away in the Florida Panhandle less than a year ago at age 74, but let’s not get any more tangential than we already have.)

So there is your answer: 1964 — 55 years ago — was the last time a first-year Canes head coach entered a season with a less college-experienced quarterback than Diaz/Williams in 2019.

Williams’ total college resume entering this year’s opener against No. 8 Florida in Orlando: One game and three pass attempts as the fourth QB used against Savannah State early last season in a game UM won 77-0.

Brad Kaaya in 2014 was the last UM true freshman who was a Game 1 starter, and therefore less experienced than Williams this year. But Al Golden was in his third Canes season, not a rookie head coach.

Diaz chose Williams over experienced returning QB N’Kosi Perry and over highly touted Ohio State transfer Tate Martell, also more experienced.

The bold decision stood in contrast to the quarterback situations waiting for Canes first-year coaches preceding him.

Mark Richt in 2016 inherited Kaaya, who had thrown for 3,238 yards, 16 TDs and only five interceptions the season before.

In 2011 there was no doubt the new coach Golden would stick with Jacory Harris, who had thrown for more than 6,300 yards and 50 TDs the previous three years.

Randy Shannon took over in 2007 and stuck with Kyle Wright, who had led Miami in yards and TDs the year before and was the safest, most-experienced choice.

Larry Coker arrived in 2001 to the greatest inheritance of all: Ken Dorsey, UM’s last superstar QB, who had 25 TD passes the year before.

Butch Davis in 1995 — 24 years ago — was the last first-year UM head coach before Diaz to inherit an undecided QB competition, but his choice, Ryan Clement, had six games’ experience under his belt, not one like Williams.

That’s why we must hark back all the way to 1964, to Charlie Tate and Bob Biletnikoff, for the last time Miami had a first-year head coach with a greener QB than the Canes entering 2019.

Charlie Tate didn’t have much of a choice way back when.

Fifty-five years later, Manny Diaz sure did.

Now all he has to be is right.

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