CORAL GABLES — It was one of the worst days in Hurricanes history.
It was also, in a way, one of the best.
On Oct. 24, 2015, Clemson beat Miami 58-0 at Hard Rock Stadium. The previous meeting of the two teams in the ACC Championship game (8 p.m., ABC) happened to be the most lopsided loss in the 92-year history of Miami football. That fateful game led to Golden’s dismissal, which preceded the arrival of Mark Richt, who has guided the Hurricanes to a rematch with Swinney and the Tigers. A spot in the College Football Playoff semifinal is on the line.
The teams are unquestionably different today, especially Miami (10-1, 7-1 ACC). That game is proof of how far UM has come.
“It’s put us to where we are now,” said UM quarterback Malik Rosier.
That was the day Rosier had his first taste of college ball. He was a redshirt freshman standing on the sidelines when Clemson steamrolled Brad Kaaya on a two-man rush, leaving him with a concussion. Rosier, ill-prepared and down 28-0, missed his first three attempts before Cordrea Tankersley returned the fourth 36 yards for a touchdown.
“It was just a bad day,” junior cornerback Michael Jackson said.
UM moved the ball 61 yards on its final nine drives, as Clemson more than doubled its lead.
“It was embarrassing to say the least,” senior receiver Braxton Berrios said.
The Tigers, on their way to the national title game against Alabama, thoroughly outclassed the five-time national champs.
“I don’t even think about that game no more,” senior defensive end Chad Thomas said. “We took an ‘L.’ We’ll never feel like that again.”
“We’re holding ourselves to a higher standard,” said junior safety Jaquan Johnson, who forced his first career fumble that day in one of UM’s precious few defensive highlights. “We’re playing the ‘Miami’ way.”
Two years later, that day still tastes sour.
“I don’t want to say it’s payback,” junior defensive tackle RJ McIntosh said, “but we’ve got to have that in our minds coming into this game.”
“We definitely owe them one,” senior left tackle Kc McDermott said.
Several other Hurricanes of the past declined or ignored requests to discuss it.
Hurricanes fans who responded to a social media request flooded The Post’s inbox with memories. Many saw it as a moment of rebirth, where UM’s athletic department was forced to make a change they had long wanted.
“I remember shaking Clemson fans’ hands thanking them,” Twitter user @JLD_954 wrote, “because I had a feeling we were finally about to be free.”
In his fifth season, Golden’s fan approval was scarce. Banners calling for his job, towed behind hired planes, were a regular occurrence before games. The voicemail and email inboxes of UM Athletics Director Blake James were stuffed, but he maintained he wouldn’t make a decision on Golden’s future until the end of the year. What happened on the field that day forced his hand.
It was best captured in a Getty Images photo of the ritual handshake between the coaches.
The seats behind them were barren, the sky above gray. Swinney stood straight, eyes and jaw and wrist fixed like steel. Golden, sweating in his white dress shirt and orange tie, looked down and away, defeated. Golden is moving through the scene, off to stand silently for the playing of the UM alma mater. He would spend most of the one-minute song looking at the turf in front of his feet.
Golden, who has declined several interview requests since leaving UM, now coaches the Detroit Lions’ tight ends.
When he was hired on Dec. 4, Richt brought on an entirely new staff. It remains intact. The Hurricanes are 19-5 under Richt, after going 71-56 in the previous decade. UM was flat in last week’s loss at Pittsburgh, which spoiled their perfect season. The fact they’ve got Clemson — in an ACC title game, no less — adds fuel to the fire.
“I imagine the guys that were here during that time frame haven’t forgotten how that felt,” Richt said. “Obviously it wasn’t a good moment for our program.”
He didn’t watch the game that day. He had other issues to handle.
In his 15th season at Georgia, Richt was a little weary. Fans had long gotten over the buzz of two SEC titles (2002, ’05) and were thankful, but frustrated over a host of very-good-but-not-great seasons. UGA was on a bye that week after losing two of its previous two games, to Alabama and Tennessee. A loss to Florida the following week all but sealed Richt’s fate.
On Nov. 29, the day after UGA ended a 9-3 regular season, he sat at a table with athletics director Greg McGarity, publicly discussing what was officially termed a “mutual separation.” One reporter asked him, on behalf of Bulldog fans, whether he would be OK.
“You could tell everybody that I’m going to be fine,” Richt said. “My wife and I will be fine. … We’re very excited about our future.”
Down in Coral Gables, UM had formed a search committee that included former players Jonathan Vilma and Vinny Testaverde, and were discussing a group of names that included Charlie Strong, Greg Schiano, Dan Mullen, Butch Davis and others.
Richt checked every box. Highly respected? Yes. Strongest resume on the market? Yep. Former Hurricane? Oh yeah. Affordable? Not at first, but they wanted him bad enough.
They brought him home for more than $4 million a year, making him the highest-paid coach in school history. On Dec. 11, 2015, a week after he was introduced, he stood on UM’s practice field and watched players he had never met.
Under Richt, who was named ACC coach of the year this week, the Hurricanes are back to national prominence.
“Night and day, truly,” Berrios said. “We’ve grown so much as a team and a program. Everything we do now is different than we did two years ago.”
Swinney, whose Tigers (11-1, 7-1) are defending national champions, didn’t think the disparity between the teams that day was great.
“They had a lot of talent, but they just for whatever reason that day, it just was — just everything kind of went our way,” Swinney said. “But they’ve never been lacking for talent.”
Because of that, he’s not surprised to see Richt has Miami challenging for the ACC crown.
“It’s been fun to watch him pull it together,” Swinney said. “I knew it wouldn’t take him long.”
Vince Wilfork, finishing his career that year with the Houston Texans, played the Dolphins at Hard Rock the day after Miami-Clemson. “We’re frustrated,” the former Santaluces High standout said that week. “For me, I haven’t been happy for 11 years now.”
Wilfork, now retired, was at Miami practice Wednesday, watching the defensive linemen and clapping his hands.
That has been a trend, with Miami fans returning in droves for games, and not a banner plane in sight. But fans, the passionate ones, don’t forget. When Miami hosted ESPN’s College GameDay for the first time, before beating third-ranked Notre Dame on Nov. 11, it had the attention of the college football world. One of the signs in the crowd featured the infamous handshake photo.
The caption: Thank You Dabo.
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