Directed by Billy Corben
The University of Miami, to put it lightly, is a controversial football program. In recent years we have seen its quick demise under the weight of NCAA sanctions following the scandal of improper benefits and booster extraordinaire Nevin Shapiro, who fake-bought his way into the program to gain access to the athletes of the football program in hopes of making even more money, on top of his Ponzi scheme, by representing the players once they entered the NFL. The seedy dealings reflect nothing but the norm for the city of Miami, which seems oddly boastful about this fact per Miami Herald reporter Dan Le Betard, nor is it surprising for the Miami football program, whose rise in the 80s was coupled by enough swagger and controversy to nearly cripple the program and certainly create enough hatred from fans outside of Coral Gables.
Billy Corben’s first The U taught me quite a bit about the University of Miami football program, and while it raised my level of respect for the players and coaches, the way the university has continued to conduct itself is very off-putting. Picking up where Part 1 left off, The U Part 2shows us the wonderful success of coach Butch Davis given the unbearable scholarship restrictions put on the school. I have all the respect in the world for Davis and his ability to rebuild this program from almost nothing. In many ways I would compare him to Howard Schnellenberger in his ability to deliver on the promise of taking horrid circumstances and building a champion. Unfortunately for both David and Miami, he wasn’t there to see that championship win, which came in 2001 under Larry Coker, a year after Davis left for the NFL.
What makes Part 2 far less interesting than its predecessor is simply the teams that persisted in this new era of Miami football. Davis did a tremendous job of getting the kids in the classroom, raising GPA and graduation rates while at the same time building a winning program. However, whenever the film starts to talk about the “bad boy” part of the program, things seem glossed over. Sure, the talking heads tell us how the seniors put dissenters in their place, or how the players ran practices under Coker. But there are no specifics and it becomes maddening to sit through. The same can be said about the summation of their successful seasons. We are told they were the best team, and how they steamrolled through the season. But then Corben hardly gives us much game footage, as we see the “impressive” scores scroll over the screen a two-point victory is shown with no explanation. Hardly dominating.
The worst part is when, in the midst of all this domination on the field, an “upset” loss comes around to ruin everything, yet very little time is spent explaining or defending the loss. There probably wouldn’t have been enough time to, but in the end the film begins to feel like a Cliff Note version of the University of Miami program in the late 90s/early 00s, and it just isn’t quite the same as having been exposed to the full story. Unlike the teams in the 80s, this one feels like it couldn’t ever quite live up to its trash talking. The lack of humility is astounding, and quite frankly, they got exactly what they asked for when they hired Larry Coker after Davis left. I found it fascinating that the team lobbied so hard for him to be hired, wanting someone who would let them do whatever they wanted pretty much, to stay out of their way so they could win. But in the end, his inability to control the team is what brought on the second demise of Miami.
Nevin Shaprio, which is a separate issue altogether which brings with it the vulturing of young athletes who don’t know any better and greedy administrators who should know better aside, there are moments in the film that at least make me smile. As an Ohio State fan I must admit bias, but I totally respect the treatment of the 2002 National Championship game in this film. Corben does not spend too much time on the subject, and the Miami players, while complaining about the call (which is a shame that it helped determine the outcome of the game), manage to respect the talent of that Ohio State team. I relish in the fact that Ohio State shocked everyone in that game. No one gave them a chance to even compete. They proved to everyone they belonged, even had they lost. But it gives me that much more pride to know that Miami’s loss to Ohio State in the title game was the beginning of their downfall. After that game they weren’t invincible. That game knocked them down a peg, and since then they have failed to get back to the prominence they once knew. Once they are able to table their arrogance, and find balance between swagger and discipline, they can rise once more. But it could have been a whole lot easier had Butch Davis just stayed.