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  • The Hurricanes can stay inside the family in the search for its next head coach, or they can bring a whole new offense to South Florida.
By Andy Staples
December 30, 2018

Mark Richt certainly looked out of answers last week as Miami got shelled by Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl, and the impending departure of his defensive coordinator to be Temple’s head coach seemed to leave Richt even more lost. The future looked dim for Richt and for Miami’s football program. He probably would need to make changes to a staff that included his son Jon, and with no real answer at quarterback, it didn’t seem as if any potential move regarding the offense was destined to pan out.

Miami and Richt felt backed into a corner. So Richt did something that seemed shocking initially but feels more logical with each passing minute. He resigned.

“A few hours ago, I informed UM Director of Athletics Blake James that it is time for me to retire from coaching so I am stepping down as the Head Coach of UM Football,” Richt said in a statement that Miami released late Sunday morning. “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.”

That last line isn’t wrong. After a resurgence that saw Miami win the ACC Coastal Division in 2017, the Hurricanes had taken a steep downward trajectory on the field and in recruiting. When defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, the brightest star on Richt’s staff and the guy whose unit kept the Hurricanes (barely) afloat most of the season, got the top job at Temple, the situation in Coral Gables began to feel hopeless.

So now Miami gets to push the reset button. It may owe some buyout money to assistants, but it will owe nothing to Richt. That will give an athletic department that isn’t exactly flush with cash a chance to compete for a quality replacement. Richt was fired at Georgia after the 2015 season for losing his coaching fastball, and Kirby Smart’s success has shown how much Richt had underachieved in his final years in Athens. Miami immediately picked up Richt, who seemed to enjoy a renaissance as he resumed playcalling—something he was great at during his early years at Georgia. But the renaissance didn’t last, and when Miami AD James had to put out this statement after a 35–3 bowl loss, it started to become clear the situation was untenable.

So where does Miami turn now? That’s where things get interesting. We’ll start with a few names from inside the family, and then we’ll look outside.

In the family

Mario Cristobal, Oregon head coach

Cristobal is a former Hurricanes offensive lineman and assistant coach. He seems perfect for the Hurricanes now, especially given the way he’s produced and recruited in his first season as Oregon’s head coach. But he’s probably not going to be available. Cristobal has a $10 million buyout* that drops to $8 million on Feb. 1, so he’s probably cost-prohibitive anyway. Beyond that, he also has quarterback Justin Herbert coming back and a loaded recruiting class coming in. Cristobal might have Oregon on the verge of becoming the best program in the Pac-12 again. It would be incredibly difficult to leave.

*Oregon AD Rob Mullens did not want to get ditched after a year again after losing Floridian Willie Taggart to Florida State under similar circumstances, and then-interim coach Cristobal was not in a position to negotiate a more favorable buyout. This should keep Florida lightning from striking twice in Eugene.

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Manny Diaz, Temple head coach

Could Diaz get out of his deal with the Owls? That’s a big question that Miami should ask. Diaz was the best part of Richt’s tenure at Miami. He’s a Miami native who knows how to navigate the tricky recruiting ecosystem in South Florida, and with the exception of a weird tenure at Texas, his defenses have been great. But Diaz may want to honor the commitment he made to Temple.

Butch Davis, Florida International head coach

In South Florida, Davis gets most of the credit for Miami’s 2001 national title even though he left after the 2000 season to coach the Cleveland Browns. He absolutely knows how to recruit to Miami, and his performance in two seasons at FIU—he has gone 17–9 after taking over a team that went 13–23 the previous three seasons—has shown he still knows how to select, develop and coach on game day. The only issue might be the NCAA problems his North Carolina teams faced. Davis wasn’t personally hit by any of those, but Miami has been cautious in this area since the Nevin Shapiro scandal.

Outside the family

Let’s agree on one thing first. Miami doesn’t need to run a pro-style offense. The Hurricanes sit in an area that has a surplus of great athletes and a dearth of elite quarterbacks. So why not steer into the surplus and run an offense that can score points with even an average QB and win championships with a great one?

Dino Babers, Syracuse head coach

Babers is great at the brainwashing required to make players believe they’re better than they are. And just imagine the kind of athletes Miami can get running that offense. Syracuse is a private school, and Babers’ most current contract isn’t publicly available. But his buyout may also be cost prohibitive.

Mike Leach, Washington State head coach

Gardner Minshew was a walk-on at Troy and a middling starter at East Carolina who became one of the best QBs in America when he landed in Leach’s offense. Key West High once turned down Leach for a head-coaching job. Will another South Florida institution make the same mistake?

Tony Elliott, Clemson co-offensive coordinator

Some school will eventually be smart enough to hire Elliott to run its program. Georgia Tech probably should have, considering Elliott was an actual engineer before he started on the path that led him to be the playcaller of one of the nation’s best offenses. Elliott can recruit anywhere, and that offense would be thrilling with South Florida athletes.

Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic head coach

Kiffin’s second season at FAU didn’t go nearly as well as his first, but when a local high school assistant coach—who might have recorded a song or two back in the day—endorses Kiffin, Miami AD James has to at least make a phone call, right?

Urban Meyer, soon-to-be Ohio State assistant athletic director

I’m kidding.

(I think.)

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