1) We’ll delve deeper into reasons later, but what are your overall feelings on the streak coming to an end?
Clarke: It’s ultimately just disappointing. If you go back and look at our season preview, we both expected a step back from the last two years. Yet we were both bullish on Miami’s postseason chances, because for 44 years there has been almost no reason not to be. The streak was one of those great little things to point to every May – something that hasn’t been achieved by any other team in any other sport in the NCAA. To lose that (and to have the threat of FSU taking that mantle in a few years) is rough.
Parasuraman: It was definitely sadness. The entire manner in which it happened was as painful as possible. The team was legitimately playing well down the stretch, and to be the last team left out really just hurts. And the whole thing was stunning just from the standpoint of not just us, but the national consensus being that this was a regional host caliber team prior to the season. But it was like a slow moving train wreck all year, so by the time the failure completed, I had gotten through all the anger, and had made peace with the streak ending. And then the team rallied, exhibited everything we love about this program, and really did do enough to squeak in, until a bunch of bids were stolen on the last day of the season. It was that hope, followed by getting the rug pulled out that really just hurts.
2) I don’t want to get into whether Jim Morris should be forced or not after this debacle because last year is his last year anyway, but what is your feeling on the overall coaching this year and should Jim Morris have been let go prior to this season to prevent this?
Clarke: I’ll start with the second part to this – no. We can be frustrated as Miami fans with the lack of championships (or even deep Omaha runs) since 2008, and that falls at the feet of Jim Morris. But he is a legendary coach, coming off back-to-back trips to Omaha. Despite the vaunted history of Miami baseball, it’s not a major revenue driver like football, or even basketball. Coaching decisions on coaches are not made in the same way as those sports. As for Morris’ actual coaching – I won’t pretend to be knowledgeable enough to judge specific decisions he made throughout the year. But I got the sense that everything was just unsettled throughout the season, and it wasn’t until we reached some stability (in the lineup and rotation) late in the season that things began to turn around. It’s possible that he might have some regrets about shuffling the lineup so much, or waiting too long to move Veliz or McKendry to the roles they settled into by the end of the year.
Parasuraman: If you asked me this question 2 years ago, I would have said yes, the program has underperformed for almost a decade, and that was ignored until the ultimate failure happened. But the team was in Omaha the last 2 years. I know they had an easier road, but they earned that by getting national seeds. The idea that Morris is “passed it” has been floating around for 10 years, and yes, prior to the 2015 season, I would have said he needs to go. But this particular season really was a blindside, and off of consecutive Omaha appearances, I don’t see how there was any reasonable argument that we let Morris stick around too long and this was the end result.
3) Gino DiMare is the coach in waiting. Given his connections to the Miami Athletic Department, there is little to no chance that the plan of succession is altered. How comfortable are you with this?
Clarke: I think it is perfectly acceptable to say that there should be some unease. I think even the most objective observer would say that the three biggest issues Miami had this season were (in no specific order): injuries, poor hitting, and lack of quality replacements from last year’s team. Now these are all confounded to some extent, but injuries are random and could happen to any team. It turns out that the latter two are DiMare’s chief responsibilities on the team as hitting coach and recruiting coordinator. We have seen him put together an impressive roster of talent in the previous few seasons (which resulted in an excellent offensive output), so it is possible that this season was an aberration. But after this year’s struggles, it’s also reasonable to have some doubts.
Parasuraman: Not at all comfortable. First, the overall idea of having continuity…I’m actually okay with that. It kind of dovetails with my defense of Morris in the previous question, but this was a blip, as of now, after 2 trips to the College World Series. If it continues next year, I’d say then you hit the panic button. But where my comfort level falls apart is with the performance of the part of the team that DiMare is in charge of. Most years over the last decade, the pitching has completely carried the hitting. Regardless of talent disparity. And this year, that really went to another level as the Canes fielded one of the worst hitting teams in the country. I can’t really make a reasonable argument why, even if you argue for continuity, that JD Arteaga shouldn’t get the bump up instead of DiMare, other than for non-baseball reasons. And anytime you make a decision for the wrong reason, that should make everyone uncomfortable.
4) I’ll steal a good question from Twitter…
Clarke: In the immediate term? Honestly, probably nothing. As mentioned above, from and AD perspective, you already have your coach-in-waiting set up, and because of the politics of it, that is not going to change. Morris will have his final year next season, which gives Blake James a chance to see whether this year was an aberration or indicative of a trend. The key thing is that Gino should not be assessed independent of this season and next. He does not need a few years to “make his mark” on the program – he is already extremely interwoven into how everything will operate. If there is no immediate success, then you move on. Additionally, while I will vehemently dispute any attempt to use the scholarship/tuition issue as an excuse for this season’s misfortune, it would still be in Miami’s interest to advocate for reform at the NCAA to make that playing field more even among the Florida schools.
Parasuraman: Well, this is the conundrum that again dovetails with the previous question. I can’t imagine Blake James has the ability to actually undo the “coach-in-waiting” status of Gino DiMare. Morris should obviously just coach out his last year as we planned, and so this year, there is nothing to be done there on the AD level. I’d argue that a national search for a replacement should occur, but again, the AD likely has no choice. So, what can he do here? Not much, to be honest. But outside of the AD’s office, there definitely needs to be better scouting. The Canes will always sign a bunch of guys that go pro. That’s just the nature of the business. But the number of JUCO flops this year lead to this situation. The team would have been dead without Jeb Bargfeldt, but can you imagine if there were a few of the JUCO hitters that performed as well as Bargfeldt did on the mound? All teams plug gaps with JUCO kids, and the scouting/development/integration of these JUCO players flatly stunk. I would point the finger more at the hitting coach for that, because there was enough of a flash of talent to do more with and develop consistency.
5) There is some history for great programs falling on their faces suddenly. UNC recently went through this, last year somehow missed the NCAA Tournament with a 19 RPI, and this year exploded back onto the scene as probably the best team in the country. Do you think there can be a similar resurgence from the Canes next year?
Clarke: A turnaround of that significance would surprise me. Notably, UNC has a roster with plenty of high-level MLB draft prospects, something that Miami currently lacks. That said, one way Miami could get a quick turnaround would be getting lucky with the MLB draft/incoming recruiting class. On paper, the Canes are bringing in a class stocked with talent. The question is, as always, how many actually make it to campus. If a few guys don’t like their draft position, or negotiations fall through, Miami might get a very quick infusion of talent that helps them bounce back fast.
Parasuraman: Miami is definitely more machine like than UNC. What I mean by that is they are likely to demonstrate more consistency, so frankly they shouldn’t need multiple years to reorganize like the Tar Heels just went through. With that said, you also don’t see the Canes reaching those heights in the next year or 2. So, unlike UNC, I don’t expect multiple years in a row of missing the NCAA Tournament, but I also don’t see the Canes being the best team in the country in the next year or 2.
6) Several players underperformed from their prior year’s performances. How do we get some of these players back on track?
Clarke: Despite the offense getting (justifiably) the bulk of the blame for this season’s struggles, I think the biggest question about underperformance might actually fall on the pitching staff. Yes, the offense struggled, but there were a lot of question marks there before the season. However, we expected more from Jesse Lepore moving to the weekend rotation. Michael Mediavilla wasn’t at his best, especially when compared to his previous two seasons. And Frankie Bartow also had his fair share of struggles in his new role as closer. Admittedly, I don’t know exactly how you solve this. But I have noticed a trend whereby the players that have struggled are those who have been asked to transition to a new role, replacing someone who was drafted/graduated. For the most part, our best players of late have come in as true freshman, started in a position and stayed there throughout their career. Bryan Garcia was never asked to transition to a starter. Zack Collins wasn’t asked to move to 1B or DH. Willie Abreu on day 1. It might be wise for us to stop assuming that someone will develop into the next Bryan Garcia, and just go out and get the next Bryan Garcia on campus.
Parasuraman: There is plenty of blame to go around. And I agree with Adam that the drop-off with several pitchers was astonishing, in particular with Michael Mediavilla. He also looked a bit heavy, as did Frankie Bartow. But this is why I have confidence in JD Arteaga. He ended up reshuffling the rotation, use a combination of blood, sweat, and Cabezas, and ended up in a situation where Bargfeldt was a clear ace, but he was getting work from Veliz, McKendry, managed to rehabilitate Lepore to at least buy innings, and re-incorporated Cooper Hammond into the rotation. This all occurred during a tumultuous season. So the drop-off hurt on the mound, but it’s at the plate where there was a shocking collapse across the board. And the Canes seemed to be flailing around for solutions all year. I know there is a natural drop-off and difficulty when you are forced to replace stars like Zach Collins in the lineup, but I think as a team, both on the mound and at the plate, a lot of the struggles were due to a lackadaisical attitude coming into the year. There are some definite weight issues, and I think when the team finally (too late) recognized the threat of what might happen, we saw improvement into the acceptable range. I think the entire team needs to refocus and make sure they are doing everything correct in the offseason to avoid a repeat of this.
7) Do you think the streak ultimately hurt us with the committee? The resume was tournament worthy on paper, with the committee admitting that Miami was the last team left out. Do you think that a less ballyhooed school would have been let in, whereas instead this was an opportunity to punish a clearly underachieving Miami team?
Clarke: I don’t buy that, personally. The Canes were unlucky that so many teams that would have otherwise fell short snuck in on the last day by winning a conference tournament. But a team like Miami cannot rely on the relative size of the bubble or deliberations about RPI and non-conference strength of schedule.
Parasuraman: I don’t think the streak hurt us from the standpoint of the committee saying, “this is our chance to get Miami out.” But I do think that the baseball committee is weird. Why is UCLA in, with almost an identical resume? Because the committee is a balancing act due to how location effects RPI. Miami’s SOS and RPI are higher because on a week-in, week-out basis, they not only get ACC caliber opponents, but top midweek opponents. So the committee looks at 2 resumes, and essentially says, “yes but Miami should do better.” In that sense it’s not the streak, but the location. It’s baked into the cake that the Canes can assemble a great schedule and have good numbers, so it does not necessarily help them as much as other schools. The overall record killed the Canes, in particular the out of conference schedule, but their out of conference schedule was significantly stronger than their competition, and some teams like St. John’s were rewarded for going 16-2 against teams that were outside the RPI 200. Miami didn’t even play a game outside the RPI 200. But St. John’s also can’t really help it with where they are located. And that’s why the committee’s job is basically impossible. My main issue, though, is for them to come out later and say, “well, Miami didn’t win enough.” Okay, sure, but if you see a team with the #5 schedule and #19 out of conference schedule, then say they didn’t win enough, and instead let in teams with out of conference schedules of 255 and 167 (St. John’s and Michigan), how is that fair? It’s not, but it is a product of when the season is. It’s cold up north for most of the season, and teams just can’t schedule the same as we can. Bottom line is it was a combination of bid stealing and the benefit of the doubt being given to other teams over us. I don’t think the streak really played into it.
8) Do you think the streak ending will be good or bad long-term? It could refocus the entire program and raise it to new heights (haven’t won a championship in 16 years), or it could perpetuate years of continuing to fail.
Clarke: My first inclination is to say that it could have a positive effect, provided that it results in some fundamental changes to approach, recruiting, etc. The biggest fear for Miami’s future can be found on the country’s other coast. The USC Trojans have the most baseball national championships in the country, but none since 1998, and no CWS appearances since 2001. They are on their third coach since Mike Gillespie left in 2006, and just finished 21-34 in coach Dan Hubbs’ 5th season in charge. Resting on your laurels is no recipe for continued success. Just ask the Hurricanes football program.
Parasuraman: It could go either way. Adam raised the football program, and that is definitely a concern. After the Fiesta Bowl in 2003 (2002 season), I remember all the players saying things like “time to start another streak” or ” remember this pain, we don’t want to feel it again.” We’ve not sniffed those heights since, and it is easy to both under or overreact. I think you have to thread the needle. You overreact, and I think you can get into a huge mess where you do things like go 13 games under .500 (as USC did this year). But you underreact, assume this was a fluke cause we’re Miami, and this can lead to perpetual mediocrity. If this motivates the Canes to look at everything, not rest on their laurels and really specifically address what is wrong, while also leading to a renewed attitude of commitment, it can be a good thing. But it needs to be addressed correctly. Because there were several things that lead to this season going sideways, and a hammer where a scalpel will do can make things even worse.
9) It’s really hard to predict who actually signs or who goes pro with recruiting, so let’s focus on returning talent and try to be optimistic. Describe a scenario where the Canes are in Omaha next year.
Clarke: It might be just the immediate end-of-year negativity, but I can’t see one right now. Assuming Michael Amditis recovers from his leg injury, he and Romy Gonzalez could be reliable bats in the middle of the order. Perhaps one or more of the JUCO outfielders takes a big step forward (let’s assume Tackett, as he showed the most prowess this year). Despite never quite becoming the player we all hoped, it’s possible Carl Chester elects to return, rather than sign a professional contract. From there, you can only hope someone develops after not doing much this season, an expectation I just finished slandering in question 6. A rotation including Bargfeldt (unless he gets a good draft position), Veliz, and McKendry has potential, but where the hits will come from remains a mystery.
Parasuraman: It will take a LOT. First, we need a lot of players to stay. Bargfeldt and Chester in particular. To that, you get Amditis back, and then Romy continues to improve, and you have a solid base at the plate. James Davison can be taught to be more patient at the plate and really be a strong leadoff hitter. I think Nico Baldor showed promise as a freshman. And maybe some of the other JUCO guys have some improvement. But where there can really be a leap forward is on the mound. Mediavilla was great for 2 years. This has to be fixable. And if you get him, Bargfeldt, Veliz, McKendry, Cooper Hammond, and Andrew Cabezas…that is the staff that can carry this team far and lessen the need for run production. If this team goes anywhere next year, it’ll be on the back of the staff.
10) As we wrap up what was the worst season the Canes have had in 45 years, what are your parting thoughts? Was this foreseeable or preventable, or is this just a situation where all streaks are meant to be broken at some point?
Clarke: With the losses the teams that made it to Omaha in back-to-back seasons, a step-back was inevitable. But no, I don’t think anyone foresaw it end this way. Maybe if the Canes don’t see the same level of success the previous two years, Morris would have accelerated his plans to step down and things might be different. That said, I don’t think any AD in America does anything differently with his contract (already handing the reigns to DiMare is a different issue). The streak would have ended eventually, of course, but there was no reason for it to end this season. Everyone involved should feel some level of embarrassment and shame. The most important thing is deciding where to go from here. As far as I’m concerned, it’s time to start a new streak.
Parasuraman: No one saw this coming. A dropoff was expected, but not a complete collapse. We’ve gone through all the emotions, but that is not the point. I guess they had to miss the tournament eventually, but it didn’t have to be this team. There was enough talent to host a regional, and instead, they ended up on the wrong side of the bubble. That’s the disappointing part to me. That it didn’t have to end this way, and it shouldn’t have ended this way. There is nothing to do now but move forward and try to improve the program. I’m not sure what else can be done. But this was a shocking collapse on the back of what had been a program resurgence, and the whole thing feels self inflicted. This team will go down in the history books for all the wrong reasons. I think there was a failure to recognize this as a possibility within the program, and that lead to complacency, and a lot of mind blowing and ridiculous losses. In any event, the season itself was an embarrassing series of screw-ups that resulted in ultimate failure.