Opinion: The future of Miami football becomes about business – Rivals.com – Miami

Increased budgets.

The most expensive coaching contracts the University of Miami has ever seen.

High level negotiations to make everything happen.

The financing of buyouts and escalated operations.

Winning in a future landscape in college sports where the most successful athletic departments will be the ones where its athletes are the greatest beneficiaries of Name, Image, Likeness deals.

Through the crisis that UM football has become the past few seasons due to some very serious mistakes that were made after Mark Richt retired as coach in late 2018, the University of Miami might just now be finding its way back toward a future with enormous athletic department potential.

That future is more likely to come together in a board room in the coming days as it is on the football field where the Hurricanes are really struggling.

As the Canes Nation frets over if and when Football Coach Manny Diaz will be fired, and whether Athletic Director Blake James will remain in charge of the department moving forward, the University is very quietly working behind the scenes to transform the way it will conduct business in athletics.

That move is so long overdue.

The institution that has spent its modern day existence being reactive as the college athletics world evolved around it and left it in the dust is being proactive now, working to carve out the structure of an athletic department built for the future.

The initiative is being spearheaded by the University President’s office.

President Julio Frenk dropped a hint of where things were headed at the end of September when he issued a letter to the University community.

“I have decided to increase the involvement from my senior leadership team to chart a way forward,” Frenk said. “Rudy Fernandez, in his capacity as my chief of staff, and Joe Echevarria, in his capacity as my senior advisor, will augment my own direct engagement with the athletics director by facilitating seamless alignment between the Board of Trustees, my entire administration, and the athletics department.”

Things have moved fast since then. Some of the most successful business executives in South Florida have also been recruited to advise the University on the path forward.

CaneSport has learned that one of the most influential members of this group is Mastec CEO Jose Mas, who happens to also be a trustee of the University. But several other local business leaders have also been contacted about participating.

The Miami athletics budget is believed to be comfortably over $100 million right now.

That’s a major business by any measure. And that number would significantly grow as a result of an increased university commitment that would be needed to allow the program to be competitive again on the national landscape.

Miami has the money to do what it needs to do.

It must simply find the will to spend it and feel comfortable doing so.

The U is not a poor University anymore. The hospital investment that was the brainchild of former President Donna Shalala is said to be doing very well along with general University operations.

That doesn’t mean anybody wants to throw stupid money around. You won’t likely see anything as ridiculous, for example, as the $17 million buyout being sent Ed Orgeron’s way to depart as coach.

But there is an understanding that a greater investment in things such as quality and more seasoned coaches and personnel in general within the athletic department must be made and that those individuals then must be given the resources to succeed in their jobs.

Diaz is a three-season experiment that not surprisingly has gone astray from the second Athletic Director Blake James went rogue and hired him as coach without a proper coaching search on the day Richt retired.

It was Athletic Director malpractice and there was nobody there in fairness to provide a check and balance for James. David Epstein, the liaison to athletics from the Board of Trustees, was traveling at the time. Frenk rubber stamped what his Athletic Director told him that he wanted to do.

But Diaz had never won anything as a coach. He had been fired from the biggest job he ever had by Mack Brown at Texas. He wasn’t known as a great recruiter. And he was on his way to Temple to cut his teeth as a head coach which was a major breakthrough for him and would have been a job with much fewer demands and much less pressure.

Throwing Diaz instead into one of the toughest head coaching jobs in America was incredibly flawed for both he and the University. And it has not gone well from the 6-7 record and losses to FIU and Louisiana Tech in year one, to a record 778-yard offensive day by North Carolina in a blowout home loss and then a season-ending loss to Oklahoma State in year 2, to the 2-4 start this season which has taken him to six straight losses against Power 5 competition now. Miami was not competitive at all against Alabama, almost lost to Appalachian State, was beaten at home by Michigan State and has lost tight games to Virginia and North Carolina at the start of its ACC schedule.

The conventional belief is that James will resist replacing Diaz as long as he can because that will be an indictment on the decision that he made that day when he gave Diaz the job in the first place. James said back then that he saw the Diaz hire as a four-to-five year project that now is only in year three.

But that is what the fan base fears most right now – another year or two of THIS – and there is so much anger and angst that it is making things very uncomfortable for Diaz and James and the University Administration. Booing has been prevalent at home games. Boosters have stopped traveling to road contests and in some cases even attending those games at home. Miami has been ridiculed on social media and on national television. The Canes are not at all relevant in yet another season.

Nobody really knows right now what the next six weeks will look like. In the near-term, Miami will be an underdog to North Carolina State and Pittsburgh and the plan is for Diaz to remain as head coach. But that is believed to also remain a fluid situation.

Regardless of all that though, the University had to first will itself to think bigger, spend bigger and conduct overall bigger business and it looks like that will happen in time for 2022.

Miami Athletics must emerge from this rough patch as a modern-day empire that operates like the mega-million-dollar business that it already is, but hasn’t always acted like or functioned like.

— Gary Ferman

Miami Athletics must emerge from this rough patch as a modern-day empire that operates like the mega-million-dollar business that it already is, but hasn’t always acted like or functioned like.

And that seismic change had to happen anyway before the pursuit of a new coach with impactful potential could be hired because those guys aren’t accepting a position that offers anything less.

That move would also be a complex business deal when you factor in buyouts and the costs of a transition.

To sum it all up, Miami football can absolutely be Miami football again, a national power regularly competing for championships.

But that can’t happen without a commitment to do everything the football coach reasonably needs to have, giving him a chance to make that happen.

The University might want to move fast though in securing those NetJet hours for recruiting trips and using back channels to gauge the interest of top candidates.

LSU and USC before it upped the ante a bit with early dismissals of their coaches and the start of searches that likely would include the same candidates that Miami might take a look at.

That obviously includes scorching hot Oregon Coach Mario Cristobal, a Miami alum who is playing for his third straight Pac 12 championship this year and who took his Ducks into Ohio State earlier this season and pulled off the biggest upset of the season so far. He is believed to be at the top of the search at both USC and LSU.

On one hand, worrying about something as trivial as an interim coach right now and putting the players through all that turmoil could be one big distraction. The team continues to play very hard under Diaz’s guidance as it tries to overcome early deficits due to the coaching shortfalls that exist. LSU allowed Orgeron to finish this season while beginning a search, a small consolation for its $17 million outlay to Orgeron’s bank account.

On the other hand, if these other schools beat Miami to the punch for Cristobal, for example, because it would not make a decision now, that would not be real good either.

The stakes are very high here. Miami can’t afford another mistake. It must think big and dream big and act big-time.

Now is the time to make this leap into the upper tiers of business, but time is also an important variable here as well.

Why did Frenk turn to Fernandez to run point for him on something this important to the University?

As Senior Vice President for Public Affairs and Communications and Chief of Staff, Fernandez has been Frenk’s most-trusted aide in his time as President. His primary role has been nurturing relationships with federal, state and local government entities and serving as the chief legislative strategist.

Fernandez oversees the Division of University Communications, which stewards the brand and shares stories of the university’s impact. He created the Public Affairs division at the University to better coordinate all communication and external relations efforts. As Chief of Staff, Fernandez works with other campus leaders in developing and implementing long-range strategy on behalf of the institution.

So the guy does it all and then some and has vast experience.

Prior to joining the university in 2007 as vice president for government and community relations, Fernandez spent over a decade in Washington, DC. He was Special Assistant to the President in the George W. Bush White House. He also held senior positions in the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Bush-Cheney 2004 Campaign and the Republican National Committee.

There was a reason why Jose Mas and as an extension his brother Jorge, was one of the first calls Fernandez made in this role. The Mas brothers are one of Miami’s greatest business success stories. Jose is the CEO of MasTec, Inc., one of the largest and most diversified U.S. infrastructure services providers in the country. With over 18,000 employees in more than 400 locations across the United States, MasTec generates billions of dollars of business.

The growth has been orchestrated by Mas, who has increased earnings exponentially by diversifying the company into the growing fields of oil and gas pipeline construction, electric transmission line construction, renewable energy, and wireless infrastructure construction while expanding its traditional communications business, which includes both broad-band infrastructure and installation to the home satellite services. He also by the way is a product of a undergraduate and graduate education at the University of Miami and is wired throughout South Florida business circles.

The transition into big business at The U might ultimately also involve the recruitment of a top level CEO talent, no different than a Fortune 500 company like MasTec might seek for itself. Or what Jose Mas and so many of his business associates already are.

It makes total and complete sense for the University to be advised by the best business leaders it can recruit for the task and the University has incredible resources in that regard through its Board of Trustees and their associates. The bottom line: The University is going to have to start conducting its athletics affairs at a level never before demanded of the University. The failures of football and the national fallout from that has created a heightened level of urgency at The U to make things right.

Yes, Miami is on the clock.

And it is trying to get it all right this time.