2005-11-07

In Coker We Trust


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I must confess, until last Saturday I was a Larry Coker skeptic. For four years and counting I just couldn't convince myself that he was the right fit for Miami.

'Cane coaches of the past all seemed to have a style that matched their team's swashbuckling image. Even Coker's predecessor Butch Davis, who was brought in to crack down on some of the shenanigans, did so with a hard-nosed flair that fit.

Then Davis bolted for the NFL accepting more money and less talent in Cleveland. Enter Larry "Grandpa Walton" Coker. His decades of faithful service as a Miami assistant should have been resume enough. Surely winning a National Championship in his first year was a reassurance.

No. There are some great assistants who will never make it as head coaches, but will remain assistants that you can go to war with until the day they die. And the championship? It was Davis' team. It would have taken a heck of a coaching job to keep Ken Dorsey from the title. And Miami was the first of many teams to win a crown while facing what was clearly not the second best team in the nation despite BCS hype to the contrary.

The seeds of doubt began to blossom the following year when Miami lost in overtime to Ohio State in the BCS Championship. One look at the referee hijinx in the overtime periods and you had to wonder, "Would they have dared to pull that crap on Butch Davis? Jimmy Johnson? And why did it come down to overtime anyway?"

To be fair, you can't fault Coker for the down (by Miami standards) years since. While riding QB Ken Dorsey to all kinds of success, they didn't take opportunities to vet Brock Berlin. At the time I thought it was a good bet - committing to a guy with big time experience at Florida instead of gambling on a freshman seemed like a great way to bridge the post-Dorsey gap. Who knew Berlin would suck!? He was a Spurrier recruit for crying out loud. Of course hindsight reminds us that he was also a Spurrier castoff.

Aside from all that, you can't send a starting lineup's worth of players to the NFL over 2-3 seasons and not expect a letdown. But there were times over the past two years where I wondered if we were re-loading or if someone had taken our ammo.

Saturday night showed me that Coker belongs. Miami thrashed 3rd-ranked and previously unbeaten Va Tech. This was a coaching staff victory. The 'Canes had the perfect game plan. Power offensive line play and a punishing running game anchored Miami's offense never giving green QB Kyle Wright a chance to hurt the team. While Wright threw one inconsequential interception, Miami's blazing defense harrassed Marcus Vick, who had been hyped as the game-breaker, into six turnovers, a great many more poor decisions and nothing to help the Hokies. Just as Wright never had the chance to hurt Miami, neither did Vick.

There were no stupid, heart-breaking penalties, and no stupid, heart-breaking turnovers. Add to that the fact that Miami lost their stud tailback Tyrone Moss, game-turning return man Devon Hester and had an untested second-string QB in for much of the second quarter, and the victory is all the more impressive.

The point is, no one player busted out and lifted the 'Canes. Preparation, game-planning and nearly flawless execution of the plan won this for Miami. These are the things a coach brings out. Game ball-Coker and staff.

Alas, this season probably holds a sorrowful ending for the Hurricane Nation. The Miami team that we saw Saturday night can hang with anyone in the country. I'd love to see Leinart thrown to Miami's defense. Unfortunately, by virtue of their season-opening, narrow loss to Florida State, Miami is not likely to get so much as a sniff of the BCS Championship game. To make matters worse, Miami will likely conclude their regular season by avenging that lone loss in the ACC Championship.

We'll thrash Alabama and wonder what might have been had Ohio State coach Jim Tressell been able to settle on one QB and taken out Texas when he had a chance.

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