What we have here with Miami football in 2019 is not unprecedented, but very rare. I wondered when was the last time the Miami Dolphins and Miami Hurricanes had simultaneously stumbled into their seasons like this — the Fins 0-3 and UM 2-2. Turns out this is only the fourth such occurrence in 54 combined years.
It happened in 2011, the season that got Tony Sparano fired and welcomed Al Golden to town.
Other than that it only happened in 1966 and ‘69, when the pre-Don Shula Dolphins of George Wilson had the excuse of being an expansion team and the Canes were spinning wheels with Charlie Tate.
A half century later, welcome to your dream jobs, rookie coaches Brian Flores and Manny Diaz! No honeymoons for you. Just hard times, fast.
The Dolphins in three games have been outscored by a combined 133-16, the minus-117 so astounding that Miami has had only three worse negative differentials in franchise history for an entire season.
But we knew the Fins would be bad (though maybe not epic bad), and we know why. The team’s talent selloff aimed at accruing high draft picks in 2020 and ‘21 has been the most blatant fire sale South Florida sports has seen since the 1997 World Series champion Marlins turned into a 108-loss laughingstock in ‘98.
That, however, was a bald-faced salary dump by outgoing owner Wayne Huizenga.
What the Fins are doing is far less about cost cutting than it is about a ground-floor buildup designed first and foremost to finally secure the franchise quarterback (Alabama’s Tua Tagovailao, please) that Miami has not had since Dan Marino.
There is a method to the madness, a reason for the sadness. I have called this overt tanking the best, smartest, most foresightful thing this franchise has done in 20 years, and do not waver on that.
As quarterback Josh Rosen said of his team’s emotional state after Sunday’s 31-6 loss in Dallas: “I think given the set of circumstances [read: tanking], I think it’s really good.”
Flores admits, “As a staff we’ve got to do a lot better job with second-half adjustments.”
The Dolphins’ woe is not a coaching thing, though. It’s a lack of talent thing of the franchise’s own blueprint — an all-in gamble that bounteous high picks and great drafts in 2020-21 will majorly turn this franchise around.
What’s going on with the Hurricanes is less obvious, more a mystery.
After UM’s first 0-2 start since 1978 — Diaz was then a 4-year-old toddling around Miami — the Canes have won two in a row. But it hardly feels like it. Naming your score against Bethune-Cookman is no great feat. Then came a tougher but still smaller-school foe in Central Michigan, and UM escaped with a 17-12 home win that felt more like it merited an apology.
No. 17-ranked Wisconsin had just beaten Central Michigan 61-0. That’s what big teams do. And Miami, which fancies itself top 25-caliber, barely gets by? If a win can be embarrassing, this was.
Miami had five fewer first downs, ran 20 fewer offensive plays, had an undisciplined 13 penalties, couldn’t convert third downs (1 for 10) — had all it could handle against a team it should have handled with ease.
Diaz called it the worst of Miami’s four performances so far, stating the obvious.
“We had a hard time blocking those guys, getting our running game going,” he said. “The most disconcerting thing was all the penalties. Absurd and unacceptable. And physically we did not dominate this opponent. There are a hundred things that we have to fix.”
On Monday Diaz described a “tough truth meeting” held with players on Sunday. He said, “Let’s look in the mirror and and find out who we really are.”
UM would seem to have plenty on defense led by linebacker Shaquille Quarterman. In redshirt freshman quarterback Jarren Williams they have a guy who has not thrown a single interception in 120 career college passes.
And yet this did not look like on Saturday, or seem like right now, a team ready for its full ACC schedule commencing Oct. 5 vs. Virginia Tech. The Hokies are not very good this year. The question: Is Miami?
UM’s ACC schedule also includes No. 18 Virginia, a Pitt team that just upset No. 15 UCF, and a game at Florida State.
If this is a Canes team capable of running the table to get back to the ACC championship game, it must climb over significant doubts.
Because right now, at 2-2, it feels like sort of like an 8-4 season headed for some Consolation Bowl. (And that’s lending benefit of doubt). The gulf between UM and the Clemsons and Alabamas remains enormous.
By the way, the showy sideline bling of UM’s Turnover Chain and Touchdown Ring works just fine as an accoutrement to or reward for dominance. In a game you are losing or barely beating Central Michigan, maybe you keep those things in the jewelry box? I’m just sayin’.
Diaz describes his 2019 Canes thus far as “a team that is learning how to win as we try to rebrand.” Yes, but, just as swagger must be earned — not inherited from past UM generations — rebranding cannot be manufactured or built on tweets. It begins with winning. With beating the North Carolinas. With not struggling against the Central Michigans.
(I might have included FIU disappointing at 1-3 thus far under this umbrella of Miami football woes. But Butch Davis scrambling for relevance in this market will never be as compelling as The U trying to reprise its glory days nationally).
The Dolphins at least have a path to a dynamic, difference-making quarterback and a return to relevance and winning. Not one guaranteed. But a path.
UM’s plan and progress must show itself. The season before last ended with three straight defeats. Last season a 35-3 bowl loss to Wisconsin ended a 7-6 year. Now, 2-2.
If the Hurricanes are closer right now to winning another national championship than the Dolphins are to reaching another Super Bowl, well, that’s a dubious assumption open to rigorous debate.