Miami has parted ways with sports director Blake James after eight years, the university announced Monday night. James has led the athletics department in Miami since 2013, spearheading searches that brought the Hurricanes football program to hire coaches Mark Richt in 2016 and Manny Diaz in 2019.
According to The Athletics Bruce Feldman, Deputy AD Jenn Strawley will serve in the temporary role as the Hurricanes are looking for a full-time replacement. Miami President Julio Frank’s chief of staff Rudy Fernandez and senior adviser Joe Echevarria join Strawley as key officials in the hunt for the new AD.
“I would like to thank Blake for his many years of service at the University of Miami,” Frenk said in a statement. “Paired with America’s history in intercollegiate sports, the improvements Blake fought for – in areas ranging from student-athlete support and academic achievement to community outreach and facility upgrades – give us a solid foundation to build on.”
Despite being one of the most historic programs in college football, Miami has struggled to reach high championship standards since joining the ACC in 2004. The Hurricanes have only one division championship – under Richt in 2017 – and have yet to won the conference.
Things have bottomed out under Diaz as the Hurricanes sit at 5-5 after a frustrating loss to battling rival Florida State. Miami entered the 2021 season as number 14 in the nation and a favorite to compete with North Carolina for the ACC Coastal crown.
After starting 2-4, Miami won three games in a row against No. 16 NC State, No. 21 Pitt and Georgia Tech. Freshman quarterback Tyler Van Dyke threw in 1,140 yards, 10 touchdowns and an interception during the winning streak. However, Van Dyke threw two choices in the loss to FSU. Diaz’s signature unit – his defense – ranks as No. 87 in total defense and No. 95 in scoring defense.
Diaz has amassed a record of 19-15 in three years, including a record of 8-3 in 2020. Given the expectations ahead of the season, this year’s record of 0.500 has placed Diaz firmly on the hot seat, and the departure of the man , who hired him, will only screw up the temperature.
Criticism of the athletic department recently reached a fever level after ESPN personality Kirk Herbstreit criticized James and Frenk on ESPN’s “College GameDay” in September. Herbstreit pointed to a report noting that the university administration took a hands-off approach with the public-facing athletics department.
“I do not think it matters who the head coach is,” Herbstreit said. “Until you get a president, an AD and a head coach on the same page, football doesn’t matter.”
The message was received by Miami’s top administration. Days later, Frenk wrote a letter to the university promising that athletics would be a priority. The Athletics’ Manny Navarro later reported that public criticism encouraged Miami brass to invest further in the university’s most publicly-turned program. However, James will not be the one to call.
“It has been an honor to lead Miami Athletics and to be part of such a world-class institution,” James said in a statement. “I am proud of the work we have done together, even though I know there is still more to be achieved.”
Should Miami make a change as head coach, the Hurricanes are entering what has quickly become a crowded market. LSU and USC fired their head coaches early in the season. TCU and Washington also appear among the 11 vacancies. Things could get even crazier if any of these schools hire seated head coaches and create new openings before the early signing period.