Out with the old, in with the new has been a common theme for the Miami Hurricanes this offseason. But after the Mario Cristobal era got off to a rocky start with a 5-7 record and no bowl appearance last season, change might be a good thing for The U’s frustrated football fans.
The hot topic around Coral Gables since Cristobal’s first season ended with a 42-16 loss to Pitt on Nov. 26, was how abysmal the Miami offense was. In fact, Cristobal fired offensive coordinator Josh Gattis earlier last month. The defense struggled as well, but with respected coordinator Kevin Steele at the helm — and appearing like he’d be in Miami for the long haul — it felt like Cristobal’s offensive problems outweighed his defensive ones.
That all changed earlier this month, when Steele left the Hurricanes, and was rehired to Alabama’s staff by Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban.
Miami wasted no time in hiring a new coordinator a day later. Lance Guidry, who had left Marshall for Tulane last month, quickly took Cristobal’s offer to replace Steele. But that didn’t take away the buzz surrounding his predecessor’s sudden departure.
Steele, after all, was a headline-grabbing acquisition for Miami last offseason, a marquee name to help usher in a new era. And his defense appeared to be the strongest side of the ball, despite a lack of depth. Steele’s unit struggled with consistency, for sure, but Miami did author three games where it held opponents to 21 points or less.
That said, the Hurricanes also finished with five games in which they allowed 40 points or more. And when you have an offense that struggled to move the ball, it was a recipe for disaster.
Despite the inconsistencies, Cristobal had major plans for Steele, both on the field and on the recruiting trail. So, his departure raised eyebrows considering there weren’t many conversations about him moving on.
In a statement this week, issued by Alabama, Steele mentioned previous ties to Saban among the factors for rejoining the Crimson Tide as defensive coordinator.
“My history with coach Saban goes back a long time and what he has built here at Alabama is truly amazing,” Steele said. “I understand the high expectations of both coach Saban and the program, and I am looking forward to helping continue that success.”
Cristobal reiterated several times throughout the season — and after the loss to the Panthers in the finale — that Steele’s defense remained competitive despite the statistics.
“We put a lot of pressure on the defense,” Cristobal said. “They played their butts off.”
Now, it’s Guidry’s job to improve on that. He built an impressive defense at Marshall — his team held No. 18 Notre Dame to 21 points in a Fighting Irish loss last season — so he has credentials. But Miami and the ACC is a major step up, and spring football is fast approaching.
Miami and Marshall’s defenses last year were far apart. In fact, to say that the Hurricanes paled in comparison to the Thundering Herd, who advanced to and won a bowl game, would be an understatement.
Marshall ranked No. 8 in the country in total defense, while Miami finished 65th. The Hurricanes struggled with pass and rush defense, rounding out as one of the worst Power Five teams in both. Against the run, the Hurricanes landed at No. 54, and in total passing efficiency defense, they were 102nd. In those same categories, the Thundering Herd finished No. 5 and No. 3, respectively.
The Power Five will be a different ballgame for Guidry, clearly. But he’s excited to begin, and to make Hurricanes fans forget about Steele once and for all. Last week, he posted to his Twitter page a photo of his family with a caption that read, “The Guidrys are headed to the U.”
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Cristobal said last month on National Signing Day. “There is nothing but the mentality of moving forward. The pieces are falling into place, and it’s back to work.”
Miami’s annual Spring Game is April 14 at DRV PNK Stadium in Ft. Lauderdale.