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September 5, 2006

Loss brings more heat on Coker, but should it?

Florida State 13, Miami 10
Game Highlights
The College Football Wire

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MIAMI A storm rolled in from the Atlantic and doused the Orange Bowl on Monday night, providing temporary relief from the South Florida heat.

But not even a torrential downpour figures to cool the proverbial hot seat that Miami football coach Larry Coker is on; the one that got even hotter after the Hurricanes went cold in the second half and fell to upstate rival Florida State 13-10.

Leading by a touchdown at halftime, the Hurricanes managed just 17 yards of offense in the second half and gave up several big plays on defense to absorb another close loss to the Seminoles.

Now, that's a tropical depression.

The Hurricanes feel they're legitimate national championship contenders with one of the nation's premier defenses, an experienced quarterback in Kyle Wright, a potential All-America with tight end Greg Olsen and talented running backs. But they've already used their mulligan. One more loss and it's another failure in the eyes of the spoiled Hurricanes fans who advocate Coker's ouster.

"I want to make sure our fans don't give up on this football team," Coker said after the loss. "This is going to be a very good football team."

No argument there. But good isn't good enough in Coral Gables, where championships aren't just expected, they're demanded. The vocal locals appear to have given up on Coker.

Amid the shouts of jubilant cheers and vulgar insults that echoed through the Orange Bowl as time ticked away, one could almost hear the unrest of rumors that Coker's job is in jeopardy. Athletic Director Paul Dee has staunchly refuted those rumors, but the fact that Coker replaced a half dozen assistant coaches in the offseason would seem to give merit to the buzz. Firing assistants is typically the first step in the quest to regain job security.

Still, the most curious aspect of those rumors is that they exist. Even after falling to Florida State again, Miami is 53-10 under Coker - including a national championship won just five years ago. In fact, he would have two national titles under his belt had official Terry Porter not made a late and bogus pass interference call that extended the 2002 championship game in which Ohio State eventually prevailed.

But national championships just don't buy as much security as it once did. Ask Michigan's Lloyd Carr. Ask Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer. Ask Penn State's Joe Paterno.

Coker's last two teams had the audacity to lose three times, and that doesn't sit well with fans that have celebrated five national championships since 1983. But release Coker and see how fast he'll get snatched up by a program eager to hire a proven winner with personal integrity and no track record of NCAA issues.

Miami had thwarted everything Florida State tried on offense until Seminoles quarterback Drew Weatherford completed two passes on third-and-10 on a late third quarter drive. The result was a one-yard touchdown plunge on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Weatherford passed the Seminoles into game-winning field goal range on their next possession.

"In a game like this you have got to make plays and we weren't able to," Miami linebacker Tavares Gooden said. "You should want to make big plays. You should go to bed at night thinking about making big plays."

Critics suggest the Hurricanes don't make plays like they once did because Coker is too nice a guy and Miami has lost its intimidating attitude under his regime. More likely, the Hurricanes have lost their bad reputation. Coker suspended two starters from Monday's game including running back Tyrone Moss - who might be back next week - and receiver Ryan Moore, who might not be back at all.

But in the post-game locker room the Hurricanes were more defiant than defeated.

"This was a tough loss and it isn't going to sit right with us," safety Kenny Phillips said. "We are going to come back, regroup and get better."

Offensive lineman Anthony Wollschlager was even more to the point.

"This loss does not, and will not, define this team," he said.

It shouldn't define its coach either.

Olin Buchanan is the senior national college football writer for Rivals.com. To send him a question or comment for his Friday Mailbag, click here.

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