If the Miami Hurricanes’ football coaching search is down to its final four, then it splits pretty starkly into twos.
Hire Mark Richt or Dan Mullen — in that order — and UM and its fans may celebrate and feel as if the Canes have hit big, scored and won.
Settle for either other reported finalist, Butch Davis or Greg Schiano, and feel an overriding disappointment that Miami got who it could, not who it wanted or needed.
This is the pending decision that will define athletic director Blake James and shape whether UM football gets back to what it used to be. James has a pedigreed five-time national championship program to sell. He has $4 million to spend. What will he get for that? How much proof and hope will arrive with the new man?
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Richt should be the clear No. 1 candidate. He has won consistently on the sport’s biggest stage, the Southeastern Conference. He is what Al Golden was not: A tested, experienced, proven winner at the top level.
Does it help that Richt is a UM alum who played quarterback behind Jim Kelly some 35 years ago? Sure. But it helps more that he has recruited South Florida throughout his 15-year run with the Georgia Bulldogs. It helps more that his 145-51 Georgia record with two SEC titles, 15 consecutive bowl appearances and seven Top 10 finishes paints a big resume and offers proof this guy can win up here.
(And it sure doesn’t hurt that no scandal, NCAA or otherwise, blemishes this man’s career).
Is Richt, at 55, the perfect candidate? No. Short of Nick Saban or Urban Meyer flying into Coral Gables begging for the job, there isn’t one. Richt never reached a national-championship game with Georgia, so, yes, Miami would be hiring a coach to accomplish here what he failed to elsewhere.
He would be inheriting the same expectations that ultimately drove him out of Athens despite a 9-3 record this year.
“I think expectations have been built to the point where, if you don’t win a championship, it’s kind of miserable around here,” he said.
But UM would still be getting a coach who averaged 9.6 wins in the SEC. In the less talent-dense Atlantic Coast Conference there would be every expectation that Richt would soon have Miami on the Clemson and Florida State level, competing annually for an ACC title on the road back to national relevance.
Richt’s wife reportedly is coaxing him to take a year off from coaching. James must counter and convince him that joining his alma mater UM and returning it to greatness is once-in-a-lifetime stuff. Money should not be an issue. He made $4.1 million at Georgia. UM should spend over its $4 million budget if that’s what it takes.
Mullen, 43, would be a credible second choice. Also from the tough SEC, he made a nothing Mississippi State program matter, fashioning a 54-35 record there in a division with Alabama, LSU and Auburn. Before that he was twice a national-champion offensive coordinator for the Florida Gators under Meyer.
It’s also worth noting Mullen was runner up to Al Golden for the job five years ago, and worth wondering where the Canes would be now had he been the choice. Mullen’s brash personality fills a room and rubs some wrong. So what. So did Jimmy Johnson’s.
For me, from Richt and Mullen, there is a huge dropoff to Davis and Schiano.
Many UM fans are enamored of Davis because of what he did here in the (now distant) past, but one Canes source told me this week he is the “break glass in case of emergency” guy – the hire only if absolutely necessary.
Davis is 64, burned a bridge or two with the way he left Miami, and hasn’t coached since 2010, when North Carolina fired him amid an academic scandal. He was not directly implicated, but ultimately responsible. With all due respect to Davis – and much respect is due – Miami in 2015 can do better than to plumb its past and recycle.
Schiano, 49, a UM assistant in 1999-2000, has been out of coaching since 2013 after a mostly successful run at Rutgers and then a failed stint with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
I am told Schiano covets the job and impressed in his interview, but a run at Rutgers does not offer the heft of resume’ that UM should demand of its next coach. Miami tried that with Golden, out of Temple. That’s also mostly why Mario Cristobal, a head coach only at FIU, wasn’t seriously considered by the Canes this time.
It is for that same reason the Canes are rightly looking beyond interim coach Larry Scott despite his 4-1 record since replacing Golden – just as the Dolphins should do in looking for more experience and proof than interim guy Dan Campbell can offer.
Beyond Schiano’s resume, though, he has proved to be an oft-unlikable figure in his career, with an abrasive personality that would make his hiring instantly polarizing.
The Hurricanes can do better, must do better.
Richt or Mullen – again, in that order – are better.
I would leave you with a quick aside that I found amusing as a bit of serendipity, perhaps an omen as Miami moves in on its choice:
When you text the word “Richt,” it auto-corrects to “Right.”
I’m just sayin’.