It’s been more than a month since Miami both fired head coach Larry Coker and made him continue working for the school through the end of the year, and I disagree with the move more than ever now.
No, not for making him coach the bowl game against Nevada, but for firing him in the first place because of one bad season.While I did chant “Larry” from the Boston College sideline during the Hurricanes’ Thanksgiving night upset of then-#17 Boston College, and while I did poke fun at my dad, an Hurricane die-hard, for the team’s embarrassing season, I never once thought it was the right move for Miami to fire Coker, who at one point was 24-0 in his coaching career and one controversial call from being the only coach to win two BCS national championships.
Over his six years in Miami, Coker lost only 15 times, or the same amount that the University of Florida lost during Ron Zook’s three seasons in Gainesville (he lost 14; Charlie Strong lost the bowl game as the interim head coach).
Over his six years in Miami, Florida State went 2-5 against Miami and not once played for the national title. Florida went 0-3 against the `Canes.
Over his six years in Miami, only four times did Miami lose by more than seven points and only three times by more than 10.
Over his six years in Miami, the `Canes won one national championship, three bowl games, three conference titles, and 59 total games, one of the highest totals in the nation.
And over his six years in Miami, excluding one fight that Coker actually did a good job stopping and handling, even if the school wouldn’t suspend the players long enough, Miami had an almost spotless record, with no major NCAA investigations and little negative publicity.
Yet still a month later, as he enters his last week as an employee of the University, I don’t understand the decision to terminate the employment of Larry Coker as head football coach of the Miami Hurricanes because of one disappointing season.
After the four previous Miami coaches left to become professional head coaches, Miami finally found a man just happy to be there, with no greater aspirations, and only just wanting to return Miami to glory. And he did that. But Miami wouldn’t accept 6-6, even if he had an excuse.
And he did. Actually, he had many.
His team collapsed around the suspected murder of senior Brian Pata; his team collapsed around a slew of new coaches, including only two returning offensive coaches, both in new positions; his team collapsed around an on-field fight that led to the suspension of nearly 30 total players from Miami and Florida-International University, which he handled ably and honorably; his team collapsed around an inept starting quarterback and horrendous offensive play-calling, something he would have addressed during the off-season, and even though the team lost four in a row before winning the regular season finale, he never once gave up, never once showing signs that he was going to be fired, even though he probably knew he was going to be fired.
“The future is very bright at the University of Miami,” Coker said after beating Boston College. “We’ve been a little down. We won’t be down long here, and you can print that.”
He would go on to claim that he planned on being at Miami in 2007.
However, Athletic Director Paul Dee, who many thought would himself be fired, and President Donna Shalala said no, he would not.
`We have suffered disappointments and tragedy off and on the field,” Shalala said in a statement released after Coker was fired. “We can and will do better for our student-athletes and our community.”
And although the first part is true, in no way can a new coach “do better” than Coker did “for our student-athletes and our community.”
There is a reason Coker is coaching the bowl game: his players want him as their coach.
There is a reason that a committed recruit for 2007 called Miami within minutes of the press conference announcing the dismissal of Coker rescinding his commitment: he knows Coker would do the best job for his future as a player and a person.
And there is a reason Miami is now known as a classy program that is under control: Larry Coker.
But Miami fired Coker after one bad season and five good ones, and there really isn’t a solid reason for that. The Hurricanes were just shy of going 11-1 this year, showing just how good they were when they beat BC in the final game of the season, and this was Coker’s team.
I’m not defending 2006; I’m not that stupid. But Miami wasn’t falling apart and had a great chance to be a top team in 2007.
If it does compete for a title next year, `Canes fans will say it was because of the change in coaches, but it won’t be. It will be because Coker has built a program that good kids want to play for.
Yes, 2006 was disappointing, but Miami messed up.
All season Shalala said that Coker would get a full review at the end of the season, and that review lasted all of Thanksgiving night.
Coker was not given his due and should not have been fired, but he was. And a month later, I still don’t understand the decision.
Never before have I felt bad for a coach who was fired; never before did I actually hope that a coach kept his job, at least not enough to write an article in support of him.
On a sports radio broadcast the day before Thanksgiving, the host turned down a caller after he said Coker should return, saying “there’ll be plenty of time to discuss that after the season.”
Now, as Miami prepares for Coker’s final game in Boise, Idaho, it’s time.
Miami messed up and Coker had to pay for it.
But that’s college football. That’s how it works, especially if you’re Miami.
That’s how it works, even if you are Larry Coker.