Miami Football History
(Jim Martz contributed much of the following material from his book, “Hurricane Watch”)
Miami Hurricanes football has flourished through five national championships, two Heisman Trophy winners and a period spanning more than seven decades, which began with a freshman squad in 1926. Through the years, events surrounding the University, the city and the area have had a tremendous impact on the program.
THE BEGINNING (1926-36)
Before competition even took place on a freshman level, plans for a 50,000-seat on-campus stadium were proposed in 1926 by the school’s first president, Dr. Bowman Ashe. Work began on a temporary, 8,000-seat structure on campus, but one day later, on September 17, 1926, a hurricane leveled much of South Florida, killing more than 130 people, damaging over 10,000 homes and shelving plans for the stadium.
Due to the storm, classes started late and it wasn’t until October 23 that UM played its first game: a 7-0 win over Rollins in front of 304 spectators. The season included two wins over the University of Havana, with a Thanksgiving Day game in Miami and a Christmas Day meeting in Cuba.
The first varsity competition came in 1927 and coach Howard Buck guided the Hurricanes to a 3-6-1 record with a 39-3 win over Rollins in the first game.
But a 4-4-1 record the next year and lopsided losses prompted a group of local businessmen to offer financial backing to bring in a well-known coach.
J. Burton Rix, who had coached at Texas and SMU, arrived in time for the 1929 season and Miami’s first varsity road games. The team traveled via the city’s private car, The Spirit of Miami on the Eastern Seaboard Railroad. But the stock market crash doomed the off-campus financing and extended the financial woes of the area caused by the hurricane. Rix quit after one season and was replaced by Ernie Brett, who inherited an ambitious schedule in 1930.
Included in the season was a hectic road trip with three games in eight days, beginning with an indoor contest against Temple University in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It was Miami’s first intersectional game and the UM players presented their opponents with coconuts prior to the contest; in return Temple handed Miami a 34-0 defeat. The following Tuesday, UM lost to Howard in Dothan, Alabama, then salvaged a 6-0 win over Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette on Saturday.
Also that season, the Hurricanes played one of the nation’s first night games. The October 31 game vs. Bowden College in Miami took place under high watt, unprotected bulbs that could be heard exploding when it rained, causing the field to grow darker as the game progressed.
Several seasons later UM entered the bowl business, upsetting Manhattan in the Palm Festival on January 1, 1933, at Moore Park in Miami. The next year UM went 5-0-2 but lost in the Palm Festival to a Duquesne team coached by Frank Layden (one of the four Horsemen of Notre Dame).
UM played Bucknell on New Year’s Day following the `34 season in the Wooden Bowl, which seated 4,000. The stadium was built by the American Legion in conjunction with the post-depression WPA and was purchased by Earnest Seiler recreation director for the city of Miami. A halftime parade that included an orange-colored bowl was the humble beginning of the famed Orange Bowl extravaganzas produced by Seiler.
The following two years under Irl Tubbs (1935-36), UM posted winning records but bowed out as hosts of the New Year’s Day games in Miami.
THE JACK HARDING ERA (1937-42; 1945-47)
When Tubbs resigned to take the job at Iowa, Jack Harding came in to serve as both head coach and athletic director.
In nine seasons as head coach (with a two-year break for service in World War II), Harding moved the Hurricanes from the ranks of the small time into major college status. In 1937 they moved into the Roddy Burdine Municipal Stadium (later known as the Orange Bowl). In 1938, they won the first meeting against Florida and that same year captured the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship for the first time.
Eddie Dunn, a fabulous running back out of Pittsburgh, starred for the Hurricanes in the late `30s and took over as head coach for two years (1943-44) during the war. When Harding returned just prior to the `45 season, it appeared that UM would suffer through another miserable season after going 1-7-1 in 1944.
But enrollment began after going to swell as hundreds returned from the service, and although Harding did not even know the names of all of his players prior to the first game, by mid-season many were household names in South Florida. The `Canes forged a 9-1-1 record that included one of the most memorable Orange Bowl games in history.
On January 1, 1946, UM and Holy Cross had battled to a 6-6 tie with just a few seconds remaining. Crusader quarterback Gene DeFilippo threw a desperation pass that went in and out of the arms of an open receiver and wound up in the hands of the Hurricanes’ Al Hudson. A former Miami Edison High track star, Hudson juggled the ball and sprinted 89 yards for the winning score as time ran out.
Harding resigned as coach in 1948 and brought in his running mate from Pitt, Andy Gustafson, who led the Hurricanes into the glory years of UM football.
THE ANDY GUSTAFSON ERA (1948-63)
In 16 seasons, Gustafson’s teams went to four bowls and appeared on national television nine times. He developed the “Miami Drive Series”, a form of the belly option generally considered the forerunner of the wishbone, and coached Al Carapella as UM’s first major college All-American (1950). His 1950 squad went 9-1-1, defeated Purdue one week after the Boilermakers had broken Notre Dame’s unbeaten streak at 39 games, and earned an Orange Bowl bid against Clemson.
While NCAA probation kept UM out of possible bowls for three years (1954-56), it did not diminish interest in the program. A No. 9 ranking by both UP and INS in 1954 marked UM’s first Top 10 ranking at the end of the season. In 1956, on the strength of an 8-1-1 mark, the Hurricanes finished sixth in all three wire service polls. Continued good attendance and a pair of 6-4 records ushered UM out of the 1950s and into the new decade. But the major concerns facing the University and the community heading into the `60s were the expected arrival of the pros and the integration of college football in the South.
History showed that UM had cancelled a game with UCLA in 1940 because of two African-American Bruin players, Jackie Robinson and Kenny Washington. In 1946, a game with Penn State was cancelled because of African-American players, but in 1950, UM broke a Southern tradition by playing against African-American players in a 14-6 defeat of Iowa in the Orange Bowl.
In the late `50s, UM had won a battle with the city to open seating to African-Americans in the entire Orange Bowl, and on January 31, 1961, the UM trustees voted unanimously to open the door to all students.
It wasn’t until December of 1966 that UM signed an African-American athlete, Ray Bellamy, a 6-5, 210-pound wide receiver from Palmetto, Florida, who chose Miami over Florida State, Florida A&M and a number of major colleges in the Midwest. Miami became the first major college in the Deep South with an African-American football player on scholarship, and Bellamy became a standout both on and off the football field. Tom Sullivan, a tailback from Jacksonville, became the second African-American signee in 1968 and was followed one year later by future pro stars Burgess Owens and Chuck Foreman.
The early `60s at Miami became known as the The Age of MIRAcles as Key West native George Mira led Miami to a pair of bowl games while twice earning All-America status. Nicknamed “The Matador”, he set nearly every passing record in the school’s history, finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting as a senior and tied a national completion record (368) despite UM’s 3-7 record.
THE CHARLIE TATE ERA (1964-69)
The death of Jack Harding in March of 1963 prompted Gustafson to step down as football coach and take over athletic director duties after the 1963 season. After a national search, UM tabbed Georgia Tech assistant and former Miami prep coach Charlie Tate as head man in early 1964. And after two years at .500 under Tate, another star emerged to lead UM to back-to-back bowl games.
Guatemala-born and South Florida raised, Ted Hendricks, nicknamed “The Mad Stork” became one of the most feared pass rushers in college football. He became the school’s first and only three-time All-American (1966-67-68), and the late George Gallet, UM’s sports publicist for more than four decades, rated Hendricks the greatest player in the University’s history.
Following a Liberty Bowl berth in 1966 and a 1967 trip to the Bluebonnet Bowl, Tate’s program fell on hard times. Lackluster seasons in 1968 and 1969 prompted his resignation as coach and athletic director two games into the 1970 season. Tate cited the pressures of winning, harassment of his family and the creeping tide of pro football as major problems.
That year the AFL and NFL merged, Don Shula arrived as head coach of the Dolphins, and Dolphins hysteria gripped South Florida.
Walt Kichefski, a long-time Hurricane football legend as an assistant coach, took over on an interim basis. UM struggled through a 3-8 season. The bad times were eased some when Miami pulled a stunning 14-13 upset of Florida in Gainesville.
UM spent the next two seasons under “The Little General”, former Hurricane All-America quarterback Fran Curci. His teams suffered through a pair of losing campaigns, the second of which was topped off by one of the school’s most infamous gridiron incidents.
After three games in 1972, the Hurricanes were winless and playing at home against Tulane when a fifth down play gave Miami a 24-21 win. The Hurricanes had started with a first and ten from Tulane’s 12-yard line late in the game. After four plays (plus a nullified penalty down), Miami was exiting the field, still trailing 21-17. But the officials called the UM offense back onto the field for another down which resulted in a 32-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ed Carney to split end Witt Beckman.
After that season, Curci left the University and, less than 24 hours later, he was replaced by Pete Elliott, a man who had led both California and Illinois to the Rose Bowl.
But Elliott continued UM’s merry-go-round of coaches, staying two years and compiling a combined mark of 11-11. Both seasons started off with big wins over ranked foes, but each time disaster struck in the form of losses to lesser opponents. Besides declining attendance, another factor haunting the program was the loss of area blue-chip players to recruiters around the country.
When Ernie McCoy retired as athletic director in 1975, Elliott resigned as head coach to replace McCoy. Offensive coordinator Carl Selmer immediately signed a five-year contract, becoming UM’s fifth head coach in six years.
Selmer lasted two seasons, compiling dismal 2-8 and 3-8 records against some of the nation’s stiffest competition. Attendance continued to drop despite a 1975 home schedule that featured Oklahoma, Colorado, Houston, Navy, Notre Dame and Florida. Only 24,944 showed for the Notre Dame game, the smallest crowd to see an Irish contest since World War II.
Near the end of the 1976 season, Dr. John L. Green, UM executive vice president who oversaw athletics, decided to make a coaching change. When the news leaked out to the local media, Green decided to contact Selmer in Houston where UM was preparing for the season finale. Selmer was located at The Summit, where the team was watching a pro hockey game and was told he had been terminated. It marked the only time a UM football coach has been fired.
SABAN LAUNCHES THE TURNAROUND (1977-78)
On December 27, 1976, journeyman Lou Saban began his two-year tenure as head coach, and in that span laid the foundation for the program’s rise to national prominence in the 1980s.
Despite several major setbacks before he even coached his first game (including coronary by-pass surgery), Saban was in Miami for the final week of pre-season practice. His team performed well in the opener, a 10-0 loss at Ohio State. But UM lost the last six games of the year for a 3-8 record.
Realizing that quality players were the key to success at Miami, Saban and his coaching staff went on a recruiting blitz of the East Coast, Midwest and the state of Florida in the winter of 1977-78. UM signed the maximum 30 players that year, including 19 from Florida, in what was perhaps the school’s first great recruiting class. A total of six first-team Class AAAA all-state Floridians were in that group, and 11 players went on to professional football.
In 1978, Miami closed out Saban’s UM career with a win over rival Florida and fashioned a 6-5 record, only the second winning season in over a decade.
Out of the turmoil of the mid-1970s emerged the most prolific running back in the school’s history, Ottis (O.J.) Anderson. The West Palm Beach native led UM in rushing three years (1977-78-79). He still stands as the career rushing leader and was the first back at Miami to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season.
THE HOWARD SCHNELLENBERGER ERA (1979-83)
In January of 1979 Saban left for West Point to take the job as football coach at Army and UM hired Dolphin offensive coordinator Howard Schnellenberger as the eighth head coach since 1963.
He installed the pro-style passing attack and in his first year at the helm UM became known as the “Jet-Lag Kids”. They traveled more than 28,000 miles, an NCAA record, including trips to the Japan Bowl, San Diego State, Penn State and Syracuse, posting a 5-6 record in 1979.
But by Schnellenberger’s fifth and last season of 1983, UM had traveled even further – to the national championship of college football. Behind the passing wizardry of quarterback Bernie Kosar, the Hurricanes upset Nebraska, 31-30, in the 50th Orange Bowl Classic to cap a storybook 11-1 season and a No. 1 spot in both wire-service polls.
THE JIMMY JOHNSON ERA (1984-88)
In May of 1984, Schnellenberger resigned to pursue a position with the USFL’s Miami franchise. UM Athletic Director Sam Jankovich acted quickly and two weeks later plucked Jimmy Johnson away from Oklahoma State.
Johnson’s first campaign resulted in an 8-5 record, including the Hail Flutie loss to Boston College and an appearance in the Fiesta Bowl. The 1985 squad was led by quarterback Vinny Testaverde who led a high-powered offense to a matchup with Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl for a claim of the national championship, but a 35-7 loss dashed title hopes.
In 1986, the 60th year of UM’s varsity football history, the Hurricanes fielded what many consider to be one of the best college football teams ever. Led by Miami’s first Heisman Trophy winner, Testaverde, the Hurricanes swept through the regular season with a perfect 11-0 mark.
Miami held down the No. 1 national ranking for 15 weeks in fall of `86 on the strength of a record-breaking offense and the nation’s No. 5 ranked defense, a unit that featured first-team All-Americans Jerome Brown and Bennie Blades.
The dream of a second national crown in four years ended with a 14-10 loss at the Fiesta Bowl, but the Hurricanes of 1986 will long be remembered as one of the nation’s most talented and televised teams of all time. In all, Miami appeared on network TV in eight of its 12 games and in the spring of 1987, three Hurricanes (Testaverde, Alonzo Highsmith and Eddie Brown) were selected in the first nine picks of the National Football League Draft.
The Hurricanes firmly established themselves as the Team of the 1980’s in 1987 by winning the school’s second national championship in five years. The season was highlighted by “The Game of the Year”, as it was later called, on October 3 in Tallahassee as No. 3 Miami faced No. 4 Florida State on national television (CBS). Miami overcame a 19-3 deficit behind three Steve Walsh touchdown passes and Bubba McDowell knocked down an FSU two-point conversion attempt to preserve a 26-25 Hurricane victory.
The win set up the No. 2 ranked Hurricanes’ showdown against the top-ranked Oklahoma Sooners in the 1988 Orange Bowl. For the third consecutive season, Miami dealt the powerful Sooners their only defeat of the year, 20-14, completing a 12-0 season, the first undefeated record by a UM varsity team.
At season’s end safety Bennie Blades, Miami’s all-time interceptions leader, was named consensus All-American for the second straight year and in January of 1988 he was named co-recipient of the Jim Thorpe Award, which honors the nation’s finest defensive back. Defensive end Daniel Stubbs, Miami’s all-time sack leader, also closed out his memorable career as a consensus All-American, and finished as a finalist for the Outland Trophy.
On January 29, 1988, the Hurricane players and coaches were honored guests of President Ronald Reagan at the White House, a first for any collegiate athletic team in the state of Florida.
The Hurricanes opened the 1988 season with a nationally televised, 31-0 win over preseason No. 1 Florida State. Miami went on to extend its regular season win streak to 36 games before finally falling to eventual champion Notre Dame, 31-30, in South Bend.
First-team All-Americans Bill Hawkins (defensive end) and Steve Walsh (quarterback) led the 1988 Hurricanes to a remarkable season against perhaps the school’s most difficult schedule ever. Miami finished the year with a No. 2 national ranking after playing in its sixth straight New Year’s Day Bowl game.
THE DENNIS ERICKSON ERA (1989-94)
On February 25, 1989, Jimmy Johnson resigned to become the head football coach of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. Following a national search for Johnson’s successor, athletic director Sam Jankovich named 41-year old Dennis Erickson of Washington State as UM’s 18th head coach on Sunday, March 5.
Erickson earned the distinction of being only the second Division I head coach to win a national title in his first season at a school, leading the Hurricanes to an 11-1 record and the school’s third national championship in seven seasons. Truly the “Team of the 80’s”, Miami stormed to the crown with a 33-25 win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Quarterback Craig Erickson won Sugar Bowl MVP honors.
With All-American defensive linemen Greg Mark and Cortez Kennedy, Miami boasted the nation’s No. 1 defense, leading the country in fewest yards permitted per game (216.5) and fewest points allowed per game (9.3). Additionally, UM established an NCAA record for fewest yards allowed on punt returns, surrendering just two yards on 12 returns for the season.
The 1990 edition of the Hurricanes went on to set school records in total offense (482.9 yards per game) and in passing yardage (324.8 ypg). A powerful defensive unit anchored by All-Americans Russell Maryland (who went on to become the Hurricanes’ first Outland Trophy winner and was the first overall pick in the NFL draft) and Maurice Crum (a Butkus Award finalist) allowed just 79.7 yards per game rushing.
Miami finished the season with a 10-2 record and a 46-3 victory over Texas in the Mobil Cotton Bowl (in UM’s eighth straight New Year’s Day Bowl). With its No. 3 final ranking, it became only the second team in college football history to finish either No. 1, 2 or 3 for five straight seasons.
Following the season Miami officially became a charter member of the BIG EAST Football Conference, joining Boston College, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Temple, Virginia Tech and West Virginia.
In 1991, Miami went 12-0 for only the second time in its history, winning the Associated Press (media) National Championship, while Washington, which also finished 12-0, was voted National Champion by CNN/USA Today (coaches). It was the second title in Dennis Erickson’s three years (a feat matched by only one other coach), the third for the school in five years, and fourth in nine.
Kicker Carlos Huerta set an NCAA record with 157 consecutive extra points and set or tied 13 Miami records. He finished with 397 career points, third on the NCAA career list, and was one of five UM first-team All-Americans joining defensive back Darryl Williams, offensive lineman Leon Searcy, linebacker Darrin Smith and receiver/return man Kevin Williams.
The season ended with a third visit to the White House in five years, following a convincing 22-0 win over Nebraska in the Federal Express Orange Bowl.
The 1992 season saw the Hurricanes face a level of adversity previously unimagined. Just prior to the season, on August 24, South Florida was devastated by Hurricane Andrew causing Erickson, five other coaches and several staff and player’s families to move out of their severely damaged homes. The Miami football team was forced to move nearly 200 miles north to Dodgertown in Vero Beach to complete preseason drills before its season opener.
The 24-7 road victory at Iowa was the first positive symbol for a ravaged Miami community. However, the reality of the rebuilding effort which was needed in South Florida vastly overshadowed the difficulty of the opponents which awaited the UM football team.
There was no fairness in the second toughest schedule in the nation that produced what may be the three most rigorous weeks a college football team has ever faced. Just one month after Hurricane Andrew struck, Miami triumphed through a three-week blitz of two home games and a treacherous road contest: against Arizona, 8-7, which would later defeat top-ranked Washington, third-ranked Florida State (Wide Right II), 19-16, and at seventh-ranked Penn State, 17-14. Three victories by a total of just seven points left the Hurricanes battling Washington in the polls for the No. 1 spot in the nation.
The hardship of what could easily be considered the most arduous campaign in the history of collegiate sports finally caught up to the Hurricanes in the Sugar Bowl as an undefeated Alabama squad upset Miami’s hopes of a second straight national title, 34-13.
Head Coach Dennis Erickson was named the BIG EAST Coach of the Year, while quarterback Gino Torretta earned college football’s highest individual honor becoming Miami’s second Heisman Trophy winner. Torretta became the most honored college player in history and was joined by linebackers Michael Barrow and Darrin Smith and cornerback Ryan McNeil as first-team All-Americans.
A 41-17 defeat of Memphis State in the 1993 season finale gave the `Canes their 57th consecutive home victory, tying the NCAA record set by Alabama, and sent a senior class to graduation without a loss in the Orange Bowl during their careers. Miami’s new year opened on a down note as the Arizona Wildcats handed the Hurricanes a 29-0 defeat in the Fiesta Bowl to leave UM with a 9-3 final record.
Miami dropped to No. 15 in the polls, ending an amazing streak of 137 consecutive polls in the Top 10. Defensive lineman Kevin Patrick was named BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-American.
Miami opened the 1994 campaign by etching its name atop an NCAA record that may never fall. With a 56-0 victory over Georgia Southern, the Hurricanes recorded their 58th consecutive victory in the Orange Bowl, a streak that began in 1985. After posting a road victory at Arizona State, the `Canes returned home to face another Pac-10 foe, Washington. The Huskies capitalized on a series of UM miscues early in the third quarter to produce 22 points and the Miami home win streak ended with a 38-20 defeat.
Miami earned a trip to its 12th straight New Year’s Day Bowl by staying home to host No. 1-ranked Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. The `Canes led Nebraska 10-0 in the first quarter and 17-9 in the final stanza before eventually falling, 24-17. The Cornhuskers’ win gave them their first national title since 1971 and dropped Miami to a final ranking of sixth in both polls.
Defensive tackle Warren Sapp etched his name among the great defensive linemen in UM history as he was named a consensus All-American and Miami’s first Lombardi Award winner while safety C.J. Richardson was named to the Associated Press (AP) All-America Team.
THE BUTCH DAVIS ERA (1995-2000)
January of 1995 began a busy off-season for the Hurricane football program as head coach Dennis Erickson departed for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and former UM assistant Butch Davis returned to Coral Gables following six seasons as an assistant with the Dallas Cowboys.
By mid-October, Miami found itself with a 1-3 record, including an 0-1 mark in conference play, and seven consecutive weeks of games remaining in the regular season, six of which were BIG EAST contests. Undaunted, the Hurricanes regrouped and reeled off seven straight wins to finish the season with an 8-3 record.
Junior middle linebacker Ray Lewis finished second in the balloting for the 1995 Butkus Award and was honored as a first-team All-American by the Associated Press.
The 1996 season began with four consecutive wins and a return to the AP top 10 rankings. The Hurricanes became the first team in BIG EAST history to record back-to-back shutouts with wins over Rutgers (33-0) and Pitt (45-0). UM put an exclamation point on its season with its first bowl win in five seasons, a 31-21 Carquest Bowl triumph over Virginia. Center K.C. Jones proved to be among the best players in the country by garnering AP All-American honors. Tremain Mack was a unanimous choice as the BIG EAST Special Teams Player of the Year.
The 1997 Hurricanes became the first team in the history of the program to put together three consecutive games of rushing for over 300 yards. Miami accomplished the feat in wins over Boston College, Temple and Arkansas State. In the thrilling, double overtime victory over BC, running back Edgerrin James set what was then a BIG EAST and University of Miami single-game rushing record with 271 yards in the 45-44 win.
A young Hurricane squad also received individual recognition as wide receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Daniel Franks were named Freshman All-Americans, while linebacker Dan Morgan received second-team honors. Wayne established a UM freshman receiving record with 48 catches and was also named BIG EAST Rookie of the Year.
In 1998 the Hurricanes began their ascent back to the top of college football. A team that featured 71 sophomores and freshmen battled to a BIG EAST Conference title showdown with Syracuse in the conference finale. Miami rebounded from a bitter defeat at Syracuse to ruin UCLA’s national title hopes in the regular-season finale.
In a game that was originally scheduled to be played in the Orange Bowl on September 26, but was rescheduled for December 5 as Hurricane Georges set it’s sights on South Florida, Miami hosted the third-ranked Bruins and their 20-game winning streak. When Cade McNown’s “Hail Mary” pass fell through the back of the end zone as time expired, fans stormed the Orange Bowl field to celebrate UM’s dramatic 49-45 victory. The Hurricanes had sent notice to the college football world that the program was headed in the right direction.
Miami finished 1998 with a 9-3 mark and a No. 20 final ranking following a 46-23 dismantling of North Carolina State in the Micron PC Bowl at nearby Pro Player Stadium. Offensive lineman Joaquin Gonzalez became the first lineman in BIG EAST history to be named conference Rookie of the Year, as Miami placed eight players on the All-BIG EAST squad and three earned Freshman All-American honors.
The 1999 season marked another major step forward for Miami. The Hurricanes opened with a 23-12 win over Ohio State in the Kickoff Classic. Two games later, Miami lost to then-No. 2 Penn State, 27-23, as the Hurricanes pushed the Nittany Lions to the threshold in the game’s waning minutes. Then, Miami traveled to No. 1 Florida State and played FSU even for a half before falling, 31-21.
The Hurricanes produced the largest comeback in UM history at Boston College, erasing a 28-0 third quarter deficit to win, 31-28. That win provided UM with momentum as the `Canes would win seven of their final eight games, the only loss coming to No. 2 Virginia Tech. The successful season was capped by a 28-13 win over Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl, providing a springboard toward 2000.
The 2000 Hurricanes set their sights on returning Miami football to the national elite. For 17 seniors who had weathered the tough times, nothing short of a run for the national title would suffice. Despite an early loss road loss to eventual Rose Bowl champion Washington (29-34), the Hurricanes met their main goal and many others in a memorable season that was both exhilarating and excruciating.
Exhilarating because of Miami’s big victories over top-ranked Florida State and No. 2-ranked Virginia Tech. Excruciating because the Hurricanes, acknowledged nationally as college football’s hottest team at season’s end, were not given a chance to play for the national championship. Still, Miami ripped through its schedule and laid an impressive 37-20 win on Florida in the Nokia Sugar Bowl to make a case for a fifth championship and setting the stage for another title run in 2001.
The architect of Miami’s turnaround, Davis wasn’t around to see the program regain its place atop college football. He resigned on Jan. 29, 2001, to accept the head coaching job with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. Just nine days away from recruiting’s signing day, UM athletic director Paul Dee was faced with a monumental decision that would directly affect the future of the program. Should he look for a “name” coach from around the nation, or hire from within the current staff?
THE Larry Coker ERA (2001-PRESENT)
Dee chose to break with Miami’s recent history, naming long-time assistant Larry Coker as UM’s 19th head football coach on Feb. 3, 2001. The impact of that hire was immediate. Miami’s top-notch recruiting class held together, as did much of the coaching staff. And Coker’s ascension kept the returning players focused on the stated goal of winning Miami’s fifth national title.
The 2001 season started with Coker facing coaching legend Joe Paterno and the Penn State Nittany Lions. A crowd of 109,313 – the largest ever for a Miami game – watched the Hurricanes open the season with a resounding statement. Miami raced to a 30-0 halftime lead on the way to a 33-7 victory before a national television audience. Quarterback Ken Dorsey orchestrated a 344-yard passing performance and the Hurricanes were stifling on defense in the victory.
Victories over Rutgers (61-0), Pittsburgh (43-21) and Troy State (38-7) followed before the annual clash with Florida State. The Seminoles were riding a 54-game home unbeaten streak (37 straight wins), having not lost on their home turf since a UM victory in 1991.
Miami’s mission to “Break History and Make History” was accomplished in spectacular fashion with a 49-27 defeat of the Seminoles. Another national television audience watched the Hurricanes’ defense cause six FSU turnovers. Miami scored via offense, defense and special teams en route to its largest points total ever against the Seminoles, a victory that returned UM to the top of the rankings.
Resounding wins over West Virginia (45-3) and Temple (38-0) followed before a heart-stopping finish at Boston College. Miami weathered five turnovers and was clinging to a 12-7 lead late in the game on the strength of four Todd Sievers field goals when BC marched to the shadow of the UM end zone. With less than 20 seconds remaining, cornerback Mike Rumph deflected a BC pass into the arms of defensive tackle Matt Walters at the UM nine-yard line. Walters cradled the ball tightly as he returned it to the 20-yard line before All-America free safety Edward Reed took the ball from Walters and set sail on an 80-yard interception for a touchdown to clinch an 18-7 victory.
The Hurricanes were hitting on all cylinders in their next two home games, laying shocking defeats on nationally-ranked Syracuse (59-0) and Washington (65-7). Those victories were the largest consecutive blowouts over ranked opponents in modern NCAA history. But just when it seemed this Miami team was invincible, and a lock for a Rose Bowl berth, a final test remained.
Miami already had clinched the BIG EAST title and was looking to reserved its place in the national championship game in Pasadena, but the Virginia Tech Hokies would not go down quietly as UM’s 11th victim. Miami built a 24-7 lead in the fourth quarter as tailback Clinton Portis, who rushed for 1,200 yards in the regular season, scored one touchdown and Dorsey connected with tight end Jeremy Shockey for another score. Three Todd Sievers field goals also contributed to the lead and, when he added a fourth midway through the period to give UM a 26-14 lead, it appeared only a miracle finish could deprive the Hurricanes of their goal. Tech’s miracle would have been Miami’s nightmare – and it almost happened. A blocked punt was returned for a touchdown, drawing Tech to within two points at 26-24. Tech then went for two points on a pass play, but the pass fell incomplete. The UM defense held off Tech on two late possessions and Miami survived its closest call of the season, setting up Miami’s Rose Bowl berth for the right to play Nebraska for the national championship.
The Rose Bowl game hosted the Bowl Championship Series title game for the first time, the first time in 56 years that teams from conferences other than the Pacific Ten Conference and the Big Ten Conference were competing in the game. Miami left little doubt about which team was college football’s best, racing to a 34-0 halftime lead behind a huge first half performance by game co-MVPs Dorsey and Andre Johnson. Dorsey and Johnson connected for two touchdowns and 199 yards in the game with Dorsey throwing for a career-best 362 yards. Portis added another score on a brilliant 39-yard touchdown run and the Hurricanes were able to enjoy the second half of their national title victory.
Miami’s fifth national title team in 19 years ranked among its most dominating, setting a school and BIG EAST record with 475 points in the regular season. Miami’s 37-point outburst in the Rose Bowl gave the team 512 points overall. In BIG EAST games, the 2001 Hurricanes scored 290 points, second to 2000’s 310. During the 2001 regular season, UM outscored its opponents by an average margin of 43.2 to 9.4. The total included a 239-33 (21.7-3.0) advantage in the first half and 236-70 (21.5-6.36) mark in the second half.
That consistent domination not only solidified the team’s place among the best in recent college history, but made history for Coker who became the first rookie head coach to lead his team to a national title since 1948. Coker earned two national Coach of the Year honors, winning the “Bear” Bryant Award from the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association, and sharing the American Football Coaches’ Association honor with Maryland’s Ralph Friedgen.
With a large nucleus of players returning from the 2001 national champs, the Hurricanes embarked on a quest for another national title in 2002 as Miami attempted to win titles in successive seasons for the first time in the program’s storied history. A daunting schedule loomed, including road games at traditional national powers Florida and Tennessee and games with seven 2001 bowl teams overall.
Many predicted Miami would struggle against the harsh schedule, but the Hurricanes came incredibly close to another unbeaten national title season while running their winning streak to a school-record 34 games (the longest in college football in 32 years). The season opening 63-17 spanking of Florida A&M in the Orange Bowl served as a precursor to one of Miami’s most anticipated regular season games in recent history, a road trip to Gainesville to take on the Florida Gators.
The first regular season meeting between UM and UF in 16 years was a matchup of a pair of teams ranked in the nation’s top 10. The top-ranked Hurricanes, slight underdogs entering the game, dominated the sixth-ranked Gators with an impressive show of offensive versatility and defensive force in a stunningly east 41-16 victory. The outcome was the most lopsided UF home loss in more than 20 years.
Quarterback Ken Dorsey threw for four touchdowns, tailback Willis McGahee rushed for 204 yards, the Miami defense created three turnovers and harried UF quarterback Rex Grossman into the worst passing day of his career. Miami’s dominant victory solidified the Hurricanes as college football’s best team as the meat of the 2002 season began.
McGahee and Dorsey emerged as a duo of leading Heisman Trophy candidates as the Hurricanes raced to easy wins over Temple (44-21), Boston College (38-6) and Connecticut (48-14). But the Hurricanes were put to their greatest test on October 12 when the Florida State Seminoles shut down Miami’s running game and built a 27-14 lead in the fourth period of this annual showdown. Dorsey rallied the offense late in the game, leading a lightning fast touchdown march to pull Miami within 27-21 on a two-yard pass to Kevin Beard with 8:10 remaining.
Miami forced an FSU punt and raced to another touchdown as Dorsey passed to McGahee, who took a screen pass 68 yards to the FSU 11. Jason Geathers took a delayed handoff the distance on the next play to put Miami up by a point, 28-27, with 5:17 left. FSU took the ensuing possession to within field goal range, but Xavier Beitia’s 43-yard attempt was wide left as time expired to preserve another dramatic Miami victory over the Seminoles.
Road victories at West Virginia (40-23 as Dorsey passed for 422 yards), Rutgers (42-17) and Tennessee (26-3 before 107,745 fans) followed before another close call in a 28-21 win over Pittsburgh at home. After a 49-7 rout at Syracuse and a wild 56-45 home win over Virginia Tech, the Hurricanes had earned a shot at their sixth national title with a berth in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
The Hurricanes took on the Ohio State Buckeyes in Tempe and the matchup provided one of college football’s most dramatic games. Miami overcame a 17-7 second half deficit to tie the game when Todd Sievers nailed a 40-yard field goal as time expired. Miami took the lead, 24-17, in the first overtime when Dorsey connected with tight end Kellen Winslow for a score. Ohio State responded with a touchdown to send it to a second overtime, a score made possible by a controversial pass interference call in the end zone on a fourth down play that kept the Buckeyes’ drive alive. OSU took a 31-24 lead, a lead they held when Miami’s final possession ended on an incompletion from the two-yard line on fourth down. Miami’s 34-game winning streak had ended.