What we’re hearing about why this Hurricanes season went so poorly and the fallout

David Santiago/dsantiago@miamiherald.com

Now that this nightmarish first season for Hurricanes coach Mario Cristobal has ended, some things we’re hearing before turning the page to what’s ahead:

By the time this roster-churning is done, the Canes could have more than 35 new players.

Per numerous sources, multiple on-field football coaches/staffers privately blamed the results this season, including a 5-7 record and four blowout losses, mostly on a lack of talent, though Cristobal raised eyebrows by acknowledging publicly Saturday that coaching needs to improve and coaches’ success elsewhere hasn’t translated here.

One of the on-field UM officials described the roster as mostly “devoid of talent.”

Another told a prominent donor that a bunch of Manny Diaz’s recruits were overrated.

Another said the talent on the team — with several exceptions — “stinks” and nobody will be drafted in the first few rounds and that a modest percentage of this team would be good enough to play on the type of team that this regime envisions putting together in a few years.

247 Sports rated UM’s roster 13th best in the country, based on composite recruiting rankings that don’t take into account numerous Canes injuries this season.

Wasn’t there enough talent to beat Duke and Middle Tennessee or be more competitive against FSU? It’s difficult to convince me otherwise, but one on-field UM official insisted that the 2022 UM roster — without several key injured players — wasn’t better than Duke’s, despite what the recruiting rankings say. I found that stunning.

If you read the tea leaves all year, you got the sense that Miami coaches didn’t think this team was any good.

“I [sat] in [Cristobals’s] office before the season,” Jimmy Johnson told WQAM’s Joe Rose. “He said, ‘Coach, you won’t believe we don’t have talent in these areas.’ For the University of Miami not to have talent in certain positions is crazy. I [plead] for people to be patient with him.”

Injuries, of course, were a huge factor, too: UM played most of the season without its best offensive lineman (Zion Nelson) and running back (Don Chaney Jr. and TreVonte’ Citizen) and parts of the season without key players Xavier Restrepo and Jalen Rivers.

One player on the team conveyed to close associates the biggest cultural problem within the team:

There were several players recruited by Diaz who didn’t buy into Cristobal’s approach and “they’re lazy and slacking off and all they do is complain” and bring down the rest of the team.

One UM on-field staffer cited “bad attitudes and parents who think their kids can play but can’t.”

Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis hinted at this recently, saying players need to play with more “selflessness. It takes unselfish players. We’ve got to have a group of men that care more about winning for Miami than they do about their own individual recognition or whatever that may be. Ultimately, when we get to that point, we’ll have the culture of the team that we want.”

And yet Diaz extracted a winning record out of many of the same players.

The Canes not only want more talented players, but ones who practice as hard as they play and are willing to put in extra time in the film room, as safety Kamren Kinchens does.

Per a UM player, there was a fight and lack of focus from some players at practice in the days before the FSU game, and Cristobal went nuts, yelling at his players and telling them they need to stop messing around during a rivalry week practice.

That apparently didn’t do any good; UM was blasted, 45-3.

Beyond a freshman class that could include 25 or so players, the Canes are well on their way to clearing out additional roster space to add at least a dozen transfers.

NCAA rules allow new head coaches 18 months to make unlimited roster changes. Schools can add as many transfers as they wish as long as they don’t exceed the 85-man roster limit.

Thirteen players participated in Senior Day and will move on: defensive end Mitchell Agude, defensive back Al Blades Jr., punter Lou Hedley, cornerback DJ Ivey, long snapper Clay James, linebacker Caleb Johnson, tight end Will Mallory, quarterback Peyton Matocha, defensive tackle Antonio Moultrie, offensive tackle DJ Scaife, linebacker Waynmon Steed, cornerback Tyrique Stevenson and guard Ousman Traore.

Blades, James, Matocha, Stevenson and Traore have eligibility left, but Senior Day participation indicates a player is expected to leave.

Players who already have announced plans to transfer: running back Thad Franklin, defensive backs Jalen Harrell and Keshawn Washington, defensive tackle Allan Haye, safety Gilbert Frierson and defensive lineman Elijah Roberts. Receiver Key’shawn Smith and linebacker Avery Huff also are expected to join that group.

And others assuredly will join that group after exit meetings with Cristobal.

Among Diaz-recruited players who received limited playing time on Saturday against Pittsburgh: safety Avantae Williams (the No. 1 safety in the 2020 class got just two defensive snaps), defensive end Chantz Williams (12 snaps) and tight end Dom Mammarelli (two snaps).

[Update: Avantae Williams announced late Tuesday afternoon that he’s transferring.]

Here’s my Monday piece, with colleague David Wilson, examining the Hurricanes’ 2023 recruiting class, with commitments and targets.