Will hyped recruits translate into more Canes' wins?
Miami linebacker Tavares Gooden is evidence coach Randy Shannon can recruit -- the regular season has ended and Gooden still has football to play.
The problem? Gooden, who was chosen for the Senior Bowl, is about the only one on Miami's roster with any postseason to prepare for.
For the first time since 1997, Miami will not play in a bowl game. Shannon entered his inaugural season with the hopes of winning eight games. Instead, he nearly lost that many, as the Hurricanes finished 5-7 -- the program's worst overall record since 1977.Restocking the roster with ready-made talent is the best solution to keeping Miami's entire program from tumbling into an afterthought -- a precipice it's come dangerously close to in the past two mediocre seasons that both included four-game losing streaks.[+] EnlargeMarc Serota/Getty ImagesThe Hurricanes slipped to 5-7 in Randy Shannon's first season.
The question is not whether Shannon can recruit. It's how quickly he can turn the high school hype into wins.
"There's no choice but to be patient," said Gooden, who led Miami with 100 tackles and three fumble recoveries. "You can't rush things. You've got to give a person time to mold a team. I think we had better coaching it just didn't turn out. We didn't have all the talent Miami should have. Coach Shannon is going to bring it back. He's going to get Miami rolling again."
It's not going to be easy.
Miami went through the entire season unranked for the first time since 1979. Until last year, Miami hadn't lost four games in the same season since 1977. Now they've done it twice.
"I don't really know what happened there, but I know that the class Randy is recruiting right now, if they come in, that's going be I've seen all those kids on evaluation tapes," said former Miami assistant Art Kehoe, who, after 27 seasons and five national championships with the Hurricanes spent the past two as an associate head coach at Ole Miss. "I've watched them practice. Every kid he's talking about, they're all excellent players. Certainly there was a bit of a downward spiral there, but you don't want to give him the leadership role and just flush him that fast."
Don Bailey Jr., a center for the Hurricanes' from 1979-82 who is now the team's radio analyst for the Hurricanes Radio Network, attributed the slide to two factors -- a recruiting class that fizzled instead of sizzled, and too many players opting to leave early for the NFL (like safety Kenny Phillips and defensive end Calais Campbell, both of whom are expected to be first-round picks in 2008).
"They had hit on some guys that at least on paper were four- and five-star recruits that never met their expectations from what they had done in high school," Bailey said, "and then you throw in the fact that year after year Miami constantly loses underclassman to the NFL. You say, 'That sounds like an excuse and you reload,' but take last year, Wake Forest. They had as many fifth year players as anybody in the country. They win the ACC championship."
His seniors aren't the only ones Shannon has to replace.
He recently fired defensive coordinator Tim Walton -- a move that was made after he told the media he wouldn't make any staff changes because he wanted "stability."
Try finding it first at quarterback.
Miami's offense sputtered under the combo of Kyle Wright, a senior, and Kirby Freeman, a junior. The consistency the staff is craving might come from redshirt freshman Robert Marve, a Tampa native who is already known throughout the state for breaking Tim Tebow's single season state records for passing yards (4,380) and touchdowns (48) as a high school senior in 2006.
With 26 promises already delivered and as many as seven more commitments possible, there's little doubt one of the top recruiting classes in the country will wind up in Coral Gables.
"They come off a 5-7 season and it's not that Randy Shannon is just cleaning up in Dade County or Broward County," Bailey said. "They get a commitment from one of the best kids in the country sitting in the middle of Kansas. His recruiting is not just in his backyard. For the second year in a row, or his first full year, he's proven he can go out and secure national recruits as well."
It doesn't matter what Miami's class of 2008 is ranked, though, if at the end of the year, the Hurricanes are not.
"I think without a shadow of a doubt he's the answer," Bailey said of Shannon. "There's nothing in my mind that makes me believe he's not the answer."
Heather Dinich is a college football writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Heather at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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