January 29, 2009
Mark Whipple's not much of a name outside of coaching channels, but Miami's new offensive coordinator is getting rave reviews from the insiders. Bruce Feldman, who literally wrote the book on the heyday of Cane football, is high on the hire, and cites a pair of coaches who "rave" about Whipple -- who comes from a head coaching stint at UMass, by way of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles -- the same way insiders did when Oregon hired little-known coordinator Chip Kelly from New Hampshire two years ago. Kelly, of course, has installed a nightmarish scheme in Eugene and is already calling some of the shots en route to taking over for Mike Bellotti there. Not a bad precedent, although I'm sure Randy Shannon's goals at Miami are more oriented towards keeping the boss' chair, not bequeathing it.
There's also an interview floating around that a Miami blogger landed with Todd Bankhead, who set a slew of school records as Whipple's quarterback on UMass' I-AA national championship team in 1998, and who also gushes about his former coach:
I think what you guys will like is that he is not predictable, and he is kind of fearless when it comes to play calling. ... we went for it on 4th a lot and he was willing to take chances like throwing out of the end zone when most coaches would try to pound it and give themselves some space. One thing is for sure, you wouldn’t classify Whipple as being conservative. Definitely fun to play for and fun to watch.
That sounds like the complete opposite of beleaguered, outgoing OC Patrick Nix, who even comes in for about as fierce a lashing from Feldman -- "The only thing Canes fans should regret about [hiring Whipple] was that UM couldn't have hired him two years ago when it brought in Patrick Nix." -- as you can expect from the mainstream side of the coin. That's to be expected, given the Canes' lackluster production under Nix and his equally sketchy run at Georgia Tech before that, and that Nix's chief strategic innovation seems to be a barrage of fade routes against man-to-man coverage, mixed in with a middle screen or two. No doubt, the Canes -- especially for an outfit that recruits as well as they do -- have been inexcusably bad.
I wonder, though, if some of the excitement in the offensive regime change is overlooking just how much of an utter black hole Miami's offense has been since it joined the ACC, well before Nix took the reigns in 2007:
The real offensive nosedive began with the 2006 team, under coordinator Rich Olson, and Nix inherited an even bigger wreck from that transition than Whipple -- who despite his NFL experience has never played or coached at the I-A level -- inherits from Nix, who at least was decent enough to leave a viable quarterback behind (that is, assuming Jacory Harris' career has more of an upward trajectory than Kyle Wright's after the latter's initial swoon under Olson). The Canes have not been able to run, protect the quarterback or move the ball with any kind of consistency since they joined the ACC, under three different coordinators. They haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher or a 1,000-yard receiver (in the latter case, it's not even close) and have put exactly one skill player (running back Tyrone Moss in 2005) on the All-ACC first team. If you've watched the UM offense since the Dorsey-McGahee-Gore-Winslow-Andre Johnson era in the early years of the decade, you have to conclude it just don't have the players anymore.
The recruiting, however, says it does, especially after the banner haul in 2008, which produced four of last year's top six receivers and the clear starter at quarterback going into this spring. The arrow was pointing up even if Nix returned; if Whipple lives up to the hype, this could be the year Miami finally looks vaguely Miami-ish again on offense.