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NewsUSA: Are Hurricanes on their last leg as football powerhouse?

11:57 AM, Feb 8, 2013   |    comments
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(Sports Network) - Saying it's been a positive run for the University of Miami football program would be an understatement.

A balder, more brolic Dwayne Johnson recently hoisted the WWE Championship over his shoulders for the first time in a decade. Then Warren Sapp was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, Reggie Johnson's tip-in kept Miami undefeated in ACC hoops and five former Hurricanes on the Baltimore Ravens became world champions while the San Franciso 49ers' Frank Gore rushed for 110 yards in a losing effort.

Berry Gordy wouldn't offer a music deal to Miami's Seventh Floor Crew, but at its peak, "The U" was akin to college football's Motown Records. Beginning in the 1960s, Motown's Detroit's blend of blues, funk and pop-soul ruled the airwaves.

Lewis' pre-game squirrel dance, dubious past, pompous sermons and 13 Pro Bowls are emblematic of the old Miami Hurricanes swagger. The bravado New Orleans Saints defensive captain Jonathan Vilma exhibited throughout his legal appeal of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's Bountygate suspensions was just a glimpse into the university's influence.

For 14 consecutive years, the Hurricanes signed, sealed and delivered at least one first-round pick to the NFL. Even the most boisterous and notorious NFL super agent of the last two decades, Drew Rosenhaus, was a product of the school.

The late Cardinal of College Football, Beano Cook, once called The University of Miami "the greatest dynasty since Caesar." It thrived through sideline instability due to the constant coaching turnover caused by Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Erickson and Butch Davis using Coral Gables as pit stops to blazing their own paths to the NFL or USFL.

Sunday's U-per Bowl illuminated a troubling trend. Like a tide sweeping away sand castles on South Beach, negative publicity, recruiting blunders and rotten luck has swept away three decades of Miami's football dynasty. Since 2004, the school has won nine games just three times, but most disconcerting is that their influx of impact players into the NFL has slowed to an ephemeral drip.

Lewis, Vilma, Gore, Ed Reed, Bryant McKinnie, Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Vince Wilfork, Willis McGahee, Devin Hester, Santana Moss, Chris Myers, Jon Beason and Jimmy Graham make an impressive list of active Hurricanes with Pro Bowls on their resume. But Graham and Beason are the only ones under 30 in 2013.

Furthermore, cornerback Brandon McGee will be lucky if he's the only Cane drafted in April. Aside from Reggie Bush's impending release, the Cane's talent well has evaporated.

So how did they get here? For starters, former coach Randy Shannon began recruiting student-athletes who could reach rising academic standards as university president Donna Shalala shaped Suntan University into the Stanford of the South. For football, the result was as calamitous as Motown Records migrating to Los Angeles.

The implosion of Shannon's top-ranked 2008 recruiting class dug the Hurricanes deeper into a rut. Marcus Forston, Tommy Streeter, Travis Benjamin, Sean Spence, Arthur Brown, Brandon and Jacory Harris headlined the 2008 class, but none panned out or made an impact in the NFL.

Brown, 2008's No. 1 recruit at linebacker, drew Ray Lewis comparisons and is projected as a possible first-round pick but transferred to Kansas State. In 2009, Arthur's younger brother Bryce dropped his soft verbal to Miami after Shannon pressured him to quickly make a decision.

Just as coach Larry Coker's ouster cost the 'Canes a commitment from LeSean McCoy, Shannon's dismissal caused Miami Northwestern prep receiver Eli Rogers and All-American quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to switch to Louisville.

Recruiting under Shannon veered well off the map over the last two years. Of 21 four- or five-star prospects in the greater Miami area in the 2011 class, the 'Canes signed zero. In the same span, Florida signed nine of the four- or five-star high school prospects from the University of Miami's own backyard, and Florida State inked eight.

Motown Records is dead and The U is on life support. Ray Lewis may strut into the sunset as an NFL champion, but barring a radical turnaround, he may be dragging his alma mater's gridiron glory days with him.

The Sports Network

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