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The Rise & Fall of ‘First Round U’

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In the early 2000s, the influence of the Miami (FL) football program was felt on both the college and NFL gridirons. Under head coaches Butch Davis and Larry Coker, the Hurricanes were as dominant as the “Glory Days” of the late 1980s and early ‘90s. They helped perpetuate a streak of at least one Hurricanes player being selected in the first round league-record 14 straight years between 1994-2008.

That draft dominance is now a thing of the past in Coral Gables. Not surprisingly, so too is the on-field performance.

Davis deserves the credit for returning the Hurricanes to power. His greatest achievement was luring future NFL first-round talent after his first season in 1995, when the team was barred from postseason play due to NCAA rules violations.

From 2000-2003, those players that Davis recruited helped lead “The U” to a 46-4 record as well as four straight BCS bowl berths and a BCS championship. In each of those subsequent four NFL drafts, no fewer than four Hurricanes were selected in the first round.

Miami’s draft influx crested in 2003-2004. The Hurricanes went 11-2, won the 2004 Orange Bowl and had six players selected in the first round (the most ever produced by one program in a single draft). Without coincidence, that crop of first-rounders consisted entirely of players from Miami’s recruiting classes of 2000 and 2001 - the last two that Davis had a major hand in before bolting for a job as head coach of the Cleveland Browns.

Following the ’04 draft, the Hurricanes’ fortunes started declining. After going 35-3 in his first three seasons as head coach with Davis’ players, Coker went just 25-12 in the three after that. And while the Hurricanes continued to produce first-rounders (including three in the 2007 draft), it never approached the levels that it did with Davis’ recruits. When the Hurricanes were shut out of the 2009 NFL Draft first round, it snapped their 14-year streak.

“I said, ‘Way to keep the streak going,’ ” Sapp told The New York Times before the streak ended. “It’s a common bond with someone who is 13 years removed from me.”

“The U” still hasn’t had a first round pick since 2008. The 2014 NFL Draft not only left Miami players out of the first round for the sixth year in a row, only three Hurricanes players total were selected in seven rounds (OG Brandon Liner, P Pat O’Donnell, OT Seantrel Henderson) - and one of them was a punter. Unsurprisingly, the Hurricanes are just 45-31 over the last six seasons combined.

The downward trend started in 2008, when Shannon secured the nation’s top recruiting class - one that consisted of two five-star Rivals prospects and 15 four-star prospects. But rather than returning Miami to the top of the college football heap, that Class of 2008 is viewed as a big disappointment, going just 29-22 in four seasons and failing to yield a single future first round NFL draft pick.

Due to Shannon’s failure to develop that class, big-time recruits largely stopped viewing Miami as a program that could bolster their NFL fortunes. The number of four and five-star recruits who signed with the Hurricanes declined year over year in 2009 and 2010, and Shannon was shown the door following the conclusion of the latter season. (2014 first round pick Teddy Bridgewater originally committed to Miami but went to Louisville instead after Shannon was fired.)

How fully can Golden restore Miami’s once proud reputation? The Hurricanes’ win total has grown year over year in each of his three seasons, and they’re starting to be a national force in recruiting once again. Just as important is that, for the first time in recent memory, “The U” boasts a handful of potential, future first rounders - among them Denzel Perryman (the top ILB prospect in the draft class of 2015 according to CBS Sports) and RB Duke Johnson.

Yet Golden will likely be the first to admit that the Hurricanes program still has a long way to go until it recaptures the success of the Butch Davis and early Larry Coker Eras. A long way to go until “The U” exerts its will on the college gridiron and the first round of the NFL draft like it used to in such dominant fashion.

 
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