Ok, so the headline may be going a bit far. I mean, if we are lining up individuals to blame for the last two decades worth of bad to mediocre Miami Hurricanes football, Connor Barth probably doesn’t top the list. Some would point to Terry Porter, or Donna Shalala, or Larry Coker, or Joe Zagacki, or Paul Dee, or Kirby Hocutt, or Shawn Eichorst, or Blake James, or Nevin Shapiro, or…. you get the point. There’s a lot of people we can point the finger at. But, if you ask me, when it all changed, when Miami went from being The U, to just being Miami (FL), it was on chamber-of-commerce day in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, back on October 30, 2004.
Miami flew up to North Carolina, ranked number three in the nation. The Canes were coming off a six-game win streak, including a Friday-night win again Florida State to start the season, their first as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, and had beaten North Carolina State, 45-31, down the road in Raleigh the week before. Fall was showing itself in Chapel Hill that day. Yours truly was there as the sideline reporter on the Hurricanes Radio Network broadcast. I remember the leaves being all shades of yellow, red and orange as we pulled up to Kenan Memorial Stadium. The temps were in the mid-60’s, not too bad for a late October afternoon.
I remember heading down to the sideline after producing the pre-game show in the press box. There was a lot of confidence on that Canes sideline. Yes, Miami had lost two regular season games the year before, to Virginia Tech, and Tennessee (the famous “I’m a Soldier” game), but had finished the year with four straight wins, including the win in the Orange Bowl Game against Florida State (amazing call for a fake punt on 4th Down, by Larry Coker and DJ Williams bursting up the middle to seal the win). The seniors on the team had only lost three games their entire career. There’s no way that John Bunting and North Carolina was going to beat Miami. It wasn’t even a possibility in anyone’s mind.
Remember the house-hold name Chad Scott? No? Me Neither! I used the Google machine and found out he’s the RB Coach at West Virginia now. He’s one of those guys that didn’t do much on the playing field but has had a long coaching career. Well, on that Saturday evening in Chapel Hill, Scott, a transfer from Kentucky, could not be stopped by Miami, as he rushed for 175 yards on 25 carries. The Heels QB, Darian Durant, rushed for another 64 yards. UNC had 279 rushing yards. Against the Miami defense. AGAINST THE MIAMI DEFENSE! And, to make matters worse, the quartet of Frank Gore, Tyrone Moss, Devin Hester, and Quadtrine Hill could only muster 77 yards on the ground for Miami. That was the first time the Canes had under 100 yards rushing the entire season.
I remember watching Brock Berlin (one of my favorite Canes of all time, because anyone that leaves Gainesville to join the good side of the force in the Gables, is on my faves list), sling the ball all over the field. But this was before the spread and the idea of winning Power 5 games passing the ball was en vogue. Berlin was 20 of 35 for 338 yards, with 2 TDs and no interceptions. It was a fine game. Lance Leggett, Roscoe Parrish, Sinorice Moss and Greg Olsen led the receiving attack. Again, not too shabby. But it wasn’t enough to beat Chad freaking Scott.
Now maybe I should blame Chad Scott for killing Miami Football, but I had to Google him. I couldn’t tell you who else played for North Carolina that day without looking it up. I could tell you the UNC Hoops Team was there, with the likes of Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants standing on a balcony in the endzone watching the game, entertaining a mass of suck ups and co-eds, and surely getting away with several NCAA rules violations. At halftime, after I asked Coach Coker my one question I got on the air before he ran to the locker room, the basketball team were partying like rock stars. I remember thinking, they look like a real team. They won the championship that year. They beat Frank Haith’s squad, with the likes of Guillermo Diaz and Robert Hite by 20 at the Dean Dome. Welcome to the ACC!
This football game went back and forth. 7-0 Carolina. Then Miami went up 14-7. Carolina took the lead 21-14 before the half. Tyrone Moss ran it in to tie it up 21 all in the third quarter. The aforementioned Chad Scott puts UNC up 28-21 in the fourth, before Devin Hester, who Miami’s coaching staff had no idea how to use on offense, runs it in to tie it up at 28. There’s 2:25 second s left in the game. Miami needs one stop to either have a chance to win it in regulation or take it to overtime. There could be no way that the North Carolina Tar Heels would drive down and score on The U in two minutes and 25 seconds. Not possible.
Carolina started out with the ball on their own 20. There’s a holding call, and they get backed up to the 10. At this point, I’m almost certain there will be a pick 6 and Miami will win. But, nope, here come Chad freaking Scott. He gets 4 yards on first down. Durant with 12 yards on second down. Then it’s Durant again for four yards. Then a pass for 14 yards. There’s a minute twenty left in the game. Now Durant passes it up the middle for 22 yards. UNC is at the Miami 34. With 50 seconds left. I’m now having palpitations on the sideline. What the heck was happening?
Miami gets a sack on the next play. Good. Push them back. UNC at the Miami 36. Durant completes a 4-yard pass time is rolling. With 17 seconds left UNC calls time out. It’s third and eight and UNC is at the Miami 32. It’s close to a 50-yard field goal from here. I’m sweating profusely at this point. What the hell was happening? I could see the worry on Larry Coker’s face. Heck, I could see the worry on everyone’s face. Miami was not supposed to lose to North Carolina. This could not be a thing. Lose to Virginia Tech, our former Big East rivals? Sure. Lose to Tennessee? SEC team. Anything is possible. But John Bunting, Chad Scott, and NORTH CAROLINA? Not going to happen. Where were we?
On third and eight, Durant scattered up the middle again for seven yards. It wasn’t a first down, but it got the ball to the 25. Now the field goal would be 42 yards. There’s four seconds left and North Carolina calls time out. I could barely stand, meanwhile walk, but I knew I did not want to be anywhere near the field if this kick went through. This was before Kenan Stadium was remodeled, so the endzone was open. I gathered the strength and walked behind the goal post. This would give me the best view of the kick and also put me much closer to the Miami locker room.
With four ticks left on the clock, John Bunting sent his freshman kicker out to try a 42-yard game-winning field goal. I stood behind the goal posts, still believing that whatever deity was in charge of football would surely make sure that the University of Miami would not lose to North Carolina. The kick went up. The kick was good. Pandemonium ensued. I felt all of the warmth leave my body. This wasn’t happening. I wasn’t witnessing a field being rushed as UNC beat Number 3 Miami. It was all a dream, right? Wrong. It happened. Connor Barth hit that field goal, and the program we knew as The U, fell to its knees that night in Chapel Hill. Miami lost to Clemson the next week, and to Virginia Tech in the first week of December, both home games, I might add. The Canes did beat the Gators in the Peach Bowl, so there was that.
The next year, Miami lost to FSU in a terrible Labor Day game 10-7. Then they went on a winning streak, including taking down Marcus Vick and Number 3 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. I have a funny story about that game. We’ll save that for another time. There was a loss to Georgia Tech in November, and we all remember what happened in the Peach Bowl to LSU, aside from me almost getting arrested after the game, again a story for another time. Miami football has not been the same since. There have been good years, and bad years, and average years, but ever since Connor Barth split the uprights with that 42-yard kick, Miami has not had a great season in football. There have been bad regular season loses, and bad bowl loses, and bad hires, and bad broadcasts, and bad everything.
The real moral of this story is this……Miami didn’t know how to continue its success once it got into a real conference where money was spent. The University of Miami has been great at football in spite of itself. We had always been the little engine that could. We had the shitty facilities, and the lack of a donor base, and didn’t play at our own stadium and on and on and on. But still, for the better part of 25 years, we were one of the best there ever was at football. But all it took was for a 6-6 North Carolina team to beat Miami on a last second kick for reality to set in.
What was deemed impossible a few hours before, was now the possible. Superman had met his kryptonite. Miami was no longer impervious to losing to mere mortals. That meant that Miami was now a mere mortal, just like the North Carolina team that just kicked the excellence right out of them. Blame who you want for Miami’s woes. I choose to blame Connor Barth. Who knows what would have happened had that kick not gone through. Maybe I wouldn’t have needed a new pair of underwear that night.