You finally decided to rejoin the world of big-time college football, with a financial outlay never before seen inside your own athletic department. You brought home native son Mario Cristobal, the coach your entire fan base wanted. You are on the verge of convincing well-respected Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich to leave one of the best situations in the entire Power 5 and come aboard.
You will be celebrated for pulling off what would have been inconceivable even a month ago. The pats on the back will be deserved for going out and showing the commitment this program has desperately needed for the past 15 years.
It is about time. So, bravo.
But it all begs the question: Will throwing close to $100 million to try to catch up to the rest of the power players with a decade-plus head start be enough to fix Miami football?
The easy answer is no. Because Miami has lacked more than just a financial commitment to football, if we are truly being honest. Too many voices chiming in with what they think is best, and too much toxicity have been a feature — and not a bug — at Miami over the years. Simply throwing money at the problem, and making two good hires on paper, is not going to cure a rotten culture that has surrounded the program, seeped into its very foundation, spread its tentacles and suffocated those who have tried to change it.
That rotten culture led Miami officials — desperate to land Cristobal — to abandon decency and class and leave another native son, former coach Manny Diaz, dangling in the wind for nearly two weeks while it cajoled someone else to take his job.
That rotten culture places outsized, unrealistic expectations on everyone who walks in the door, and as soon as the struggles begin, lights fires only to watch them burn. Nobody is given time to get anything done. Look at celebrated coach Mark Richt. It was only five years ago his hire was celebrated and former athletic director Blake James was praised for doing what nobody thought possible. But when things went bad in Year 3, the pitchforks came out and Richt resigned.
Miami is now on its third coach since 2018.
While it is beyond time for Miami to show a greater commitment to football, it would have been nice to see that long before Richt arrived. Even when Richt was there, he had to shell out $1 million of his own money to help the Hurricanes land an indoor practice facility — the last Power 5 school in the state to get one.
But that was not embarrassing enough for Miami officials, who never quite grasped that programs like Alabama, Ohio State and others had lapped them not only financially, but in recruiting, where they snatched away the best talent available. High school players in South Florida do not live in a vacuum. They see the way this program gets called out immediately, and at all times, when the losses and pressure start to mount. They hear the boos. They see the half-empty stadium.
Miami, of course, is not alone in the arrogance it showed in believing it did not have to invest in its program because it had its brand name to sell. Florida State and Florida have suffered for it, too, and that is one reason why the state’s Big Three programs have never been smaller on a national scale.
What truly embarrassed Miami officials enough to enact change, according to multiple sources close to the program, was a public criticism at the hands of Kirk Herbstreit on College GameDay earlier in the season, when he decried the lack of support and alignment from the administration on down. That got the attention not only of university president Julio Frenk, but an entire fan base already in a lather over another poor start to the season. Unlike previous years, when the athletic department was told it had to sustain itself financially, the university had money it was willing to spend to address the situation.
Former university president Donna Shalala helped acquire Cedars Medical Center in 2007 and turn it into the University of Miami Health System, seeing it as an investment that could bring a large profit stream to the university.
Though it was controversial at the time and lost money for many years, the health system generated over $400 million in profit in the recently completed fiscal year.
That explains why Miami shifted its mindset. We can all decry the large salaries and buyouts and what they have done to the sport, or the way that Cristobal and Brian Kelly and Lincoln Riley all left. Unseemliness has ruled the day.
But the truth is, out-of-control spending has steadily escalated as the urgency to win at all costs — and right now — has escalated. University presidents have not tamped that down. They have fanned the flames. Frenk could no longer afford to sit on the sidelines the way he did throughout his tenure. Miami had to participate, and at whatever cost.
So while increasing the financial commitment is welcome, it is not going to be enough. The way Miami supports its team in every other way must change as well. That starts with a fan base that is still living as if Miami just won a national championship, and is not 20 years removed from its last title.
Cristobal will up the ante in recruiting, and he will be given the resources to bring in an elite staff. He also inherits a young team filled with excellent players, including ACC Rookie of the Year Tyler Van Dyke. A group, by the way, that did not quit on Diaz even after a 2-4 start. But what happens when there are on-field struggles, and a difficult adjustment period that follows? Will Cristobal be given the time and patience in a winner-take-all environment?
While Cristobal won at Oregon, he lost games in embarrassing fashion as well, and it doesn’t take long to find them on the schedule, starting with Stanford this year and then two bad losses to Utah, including a no-show in the Pac-12 title game.
Cristobal must set realistic expectations right out of the gate, and the fan base must understand and accept that he is not going to wave a magic wand and get Miami all the way back in a short few months. Anybody who watched the dysfunctional way in which this search proceeded understands fully that Miami is not a place where there is one strong leader that everyone follows. Miami is a place filled with many people who have a voice, some louder than others, and has lacked unity of purpose for many years.
Getting the money might end up being the easy part to all this.