Fans went along for the ride as Miami went from doormat to dominant
Believe it or not, there actually was a bad time to be a Miami fan before the decline in the last decade. And we’re not talking about the brief time on probation in the mid-90s.
We’re talking about the 1970s. It’s tough to remember a time when Miami was a non-factor in college football, but before the Hurricanes became the dominant program of the 1980s, they were on nobody's radar, let alone anyone's pick to become the first team from the state of Florida to win a national title.
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Enough about that bad times. Being a Miami fan during the Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson days was fun — as long as those fans didn’t mind rooting for college football renegades. And let’s face it, winning five national championships in less than 20 years makes it a little easier to root for any team.
Miami football fandom ebbs and flows just like any program. The Hurricanes may be on the rise under Al Golden right now, but that doesn’t mean it’s been easy to get up for Hurricanes games over the last seven years (and judging by those crowd shots, it’s been quite tough).
Our series looking at the best and worst eras for college football fans continues with Miami. From the lean years of the 1970s to dominance on the field and draft day in the 80s, 90s and 2000s, here are the highs and lows for the faithful in Coral Gables.
Other best times/worst times:
BEST TIMES TO BE A MIAMI FAN
National championships: 3
Coaches: Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Erickson
Notable players: Vinny Testaverde, Bennie Blades, Gino Torretta, Steve Walsh, Russell Maryland, Micheal Barrow, Michael Irvin (right)
This is when Miami became “The U” and one of the transformative programs in college football history. Johnson and Erickson built upon Schnellenberger’s groundwork to establish the preeminent football program of the 80s and early 90s. The Hurricanes earned all the confidence they exuded with three national titles in five seasons (’87, ’89 and ’91). The ’87 team was the first unblemished team in school history, defeating an unbeaten Oklahoma team in the Orange Bowl. Overall, the Hurricanes went 56-4 from 1987-91 and added Heisman winners in 1986 (Testaverde) and ’92 (Torretta). But this was also a time of near misses. In a No. 1 vs. No. 2 game to end the 1986 season, Miami lost 14-10 to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl, a game preceded by Miami players showing up for dinner with the Nittany Lions in fatigues. Then, in the “Catholics vs. Convicts” game in 1988, Miami lost 31-30 to Notre Dame for its only loss of the year. Miami became the villains of college football, but the Hurricanes’ players and fans soaked up the image.
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National championships: 1
Coaches: Butch Davis, Larry Coker
Notable players: Ed Reed, Bryant McKinnie, Willis McGahee, Ken Dorsey, Santana Moss, Clinton Portis, Sean Taylor, Kellen Winslow, Dan Morgan
Miami escaped NCAA probation as dominant as ever, thanks to Butch Davis’ ability to stockpile talent in Coral Gables. Miami lost 34-29 to Washington on Sept. 9, 2000 and wouldn’t lose again until the national title game in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State after the 2002 season (cue the groans about the pass interference call that aided the Buckeyes’ victory). The 2001 team was one of the best teams in college football history, defeating opponents by an average of 33 points per game on the way to a Rose Bowl rout of Nebraska for the national title in Coker’s first season. The program was awash in NFL draft picks during this era, including 19 first-round selections in the 2001-04 drafts.
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National championships: 1
Coach: Howard Schnellenberger
Notable players: Bernie Kosar, Fred Marion, Jim Kelly
Other coaches would have better records and more top-five finishes. Other teams would be more dominant. But no coach and no era meant more to Miami than Schnellenberger in the early 1980s. Miami’s program was hanging by a thread in the 70s when the former Bear Bryant assistant Schnellenberger came up with a recruiting plan to build a wall around South Florida for what he called the “State of Miami.” The ‘Canes went 9-2 in 1981 with Kelly at quarterback for Miami’s first bowl game in 13 years. Then, Miami upset Nebraska in the Orange Bowl in 1983 to become the first of 10 national-title winning teams from the state of Florida.
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WORST TIMES TO BE A MIAMI FAN
Coaches: Larry Coker, Randy Shannon, Al Golden
Miami appears to be on the right track, as Athlon projected the Hurricanes to reach their first ACC title game this season. Still, the last seven seasons have been lackluster by the standards Miami set since 1983. The Hurricanes have been mediocre on the field, finishing only one of the last seven seasons with more than seven wins and a top-25 ranking. Off the field, Miami has been embroiled in scandal with the Nevin Shapiro case -- even if the NCAA comes out of the whole affair looking even worse. In the stands, attendance has sunk to embarrassing levels. And in the NFL Draft, Miami’s presence has faded with no first-round picks since 2008. The biggest indignity was a 48-0 loss to Virginia in the final game at the storied Orange Bowl.
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Coaches: Charlie Tate, Walter Kichefski, Fran Curci, Pete Elliott, Carl Selmer, Lou Saban
Those born after 1980 or so have no recollection of how irrelevant Miami football once was. The Hurricanes went through six coaches over the course of the decade including the Selmer (5-15 overall) and Saban (8-13). The 1970 team under Tate and Kichefski was outscored by a total of 144 points in 11 games while the 1977 team under Saban was outscored by 120 points. Against Florida — Miami’s primary rival at the time — the Hurricanes went 2-9, including the infamous Florida Flop in 1971. Florida quarterback John Reaves was attempting to break Jim Plunkett’s career passing record in that game. With Reaves 10 yards short of the record and Florida up 45-8 late, the Gators’ defense flopped to the ground at the 8-yard line to allow Miami to score. Reaves broke Plunkett’s record as time expired.
IT WASN’T SO BAD WHEN...
Coaches: Andy Gustafson, Charlie Tate
Notable players: Ted Hendricks, George Mira
Miami’s high and low points are so obvious it’s tough to pinpoint an underappreciated time in the Hurricanes’ history. Going 41-30-3 with four bowl games in seven seasons would get a Miami coach fired in 2013, but this was the high point of the pre-Schnellenberger era. The Hurricanes had two star players in quarterback George Mira and defensive end Ted Hendricks, the name of the latter now sits on a trophy presented to the nation’s top defensive end. Miami went 5-2 against Florida in this span, including a pair of wins against 1966 Heisman winner Steve Spurrier. Honorable mention for this category: Miami went 22-5-1 from 1954-56.
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