Hot Reads: What a Strange 395 Days for Football in Florida
Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan - USA TODAY Sports

Hot Reads: What a Strange 395 Days for Football in Florida

December 31, 2018

What a day for Miami Hurricanes football. Over the span of one Sunday the Hurricanes lost head coach Mark Richt, who announced his retirement around noon, and got former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz back to be the new head coach that evening. Diaz accepted the Temple job on Dec. 13, but stayed with the Canes to coach them in the Dec. 27 Pinstripe Bowl, a 35-3 loss to Wisconsin. The Owls will reportedly receive a $4 million buyout for the approximately 48 hours Diaz was fully their coach.

The Richt part of this story strikes me as strange. He signed a contract extension in May,  and one has to assume that his resignation on Sunday was not in the works for long. (If it was, don't you tell Diaz, someone Richt has known since Diaz’s first foray into coaching 20 years ago, to hold off on taking the Temple job?) Miami took a step back in 2018, a season with legitimate expectations and a preseason top-10 ranking, but it probably wasn't quite as bad as it looked. The bowl game blowout certainly didn't help anything, but the world would be a better place if we all stopped overreacting to bowl games. Whatever happened in the aftermath of that loss to Wisconsin, however, it was enough for Richt to pull the plug and Miami to summon Diaz home.

Literally home. Diaz was born in Miami, his father was the city's mayor from 2001 to 2009 and he created the turnover chain. (The latter might seem like an entertaining-but-trivial detail, but I'd argue it was a genius bit of branding born of his intimate knowledge of the city and Miami football.) If not for the fact that he went to Florida State, where he was not a defensive back for the Seminoles but the sports editor of the school paper, he's about as Hurricane-y as one can get. Diaz is also an analytics guy, which isn't an easy thing to admit as a college football coach, but as all of the preceding should've indicated Diaz is far from your typical coach, much less the typical guy to make his debut at a college football blue blood.

That all makes Diaz easy to like, at least to me, but can he be a head coach? We'll find out, but the bizarre way this one happened was really the perfect capper to a bizarre year for football in the state of Florida.

Let's rewind 395 days to Dec. 1, 2017. Scott Frost wins the AAC title with UCF that day and then takes the Nebraska job. At that exact moment, the Knights are the best team in Florida based on the polls thanks to a late-season fade at Miami (which we now must assume indirectly led to the Hurricanes having a new coach in 2019). Still, "The U is back," more or less, at that point, climbing as high as No. 2 in the AP poll in 2017 and starting 2018 at No. 8.

UCF hires former Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Heupel and still hasn't lost a game as of this writing.

Florida, which had reportedly coveted Frost, had Dan Mullen in place as of Dec. 1 last year. It's a strong hire that perhaps lacks a little sizzle due to its connect-the-dots nature, but the Gators go from 4-7 in 2017 to 10-3 in 2018 and cap off the year by destroying Michigan in the Peach Bowl.

On Dec. 1, 2017, Jimbo Fisher resigns at Florida State to take the Texas A&M job. That leads the Seminoles to pry Willie Taggart away from Oregon after a year, though pry probably isn't the best verb there as Taggart had always dreamed of coaching in Tallahassee. His dream job, however, is a nightmare in Year 1, perhaps even worse than the 5-7 record suggests. The Seminoles' offense averaged just 21.9 points per game, prompting Taggart to take on the Kendall Briles baggage in hopes of resuscitating the FSU attack. This is not a move made from a position of strength (though it will probably work).

The most interesting ramification, for now, of all this upheaval is probably recruiting. As of today, Florida State, Florida and Miami are all outside of the top 10 in 247's composite rankings. Should things remain that way after the February signing period it would be the first time at least one of the big three in Florida didn't finish in the top 10 in the modern era of recruiting rankings (i.e. this century, basically).

Given the role those three teams play in the college football establishment, it's possible that the past 395 days might have a longterm impact on the sport as a whole. It's also possible that Taggart will get things turned around, Mullen will be Mullen, Diaz will be great, Frost will be, too, at Nebraska and everything starts to feel like the 1990s again. 

If the latter comes to pass, just remember it took an almost complete upheaval of the sport in the state of Florida.

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