Miami has parted ways with athletic director Blake James after eight years, the university announced Monday evening. James led the athletic department at 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 Athletic’s Bruce Feldman, deputy AD Jenn Strawley will serve in the interim role as the Hurricanes conduct the search for a full-time replacement. Miami president Julio Frenk’s chief of staff Rudy Fernandez and senior advisor Joe Echevarria will join Strawley as key officials in the search for the new AD.
“I want to thank Blake for his years of service to the University of Miami,” said Frenk in a statement. “Paired with the U’s storied history in intercollegiate sports, the enhancements Blake championed — in areas ranging from student-athlete support and academic achievement to community outreach and facility upgrades — give us a solid foundation on which to build.”
Despite being one of the most historic programs in college football, Miami has struggled to reach lofty championship standards since joining the ACC in 2004. The Hurricanes have just one division championship — under Richt in 2017 — and have yet to win the conference.
Things have bottomed out under Diaz, as the Hurricanes sit at 5-5 after a frustrating loss to struggling rival Florida State. Miami entered the 2021 season as the No. 14 team in the nation and a favorite to compete with North Carolina for the ACC Coastal crown.
After starting 2-4, Miami won three consecutive games against No. 16 NC State, No. 21 Pitt and Georgia Tech. Freshman quarterback Tyler Van Dyke threw for 1,140 yards, 10 touchdowns and one interception during the winning streak. However, Van Dyke threw two picks in the loss to FSU. Diaz’s signature unit — his defense — ranks No. 87 in total defense and No. 95 in scoring defense.
Diaz has compiled a 19-15 record in three years, including an 8-3 record in 2020. Given the preseason expectations, this year’s .500 record has placed Diaz firmly on the hot seat, and the departure of the man who hired him will only turn up the temperature.
Criticisms of the athletic department recently reached a fever pitch after ESPN personality Kirk Herbstreit criticized James and Frenk on ESPN’s “College GameDay” in September. Herbstreit pointed to a report noting that university administration was taking a hands-off approach with the public-facing athletic department.
“I don’t 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 upper administration. Days later, Frenk penned a letter to the university promising that athletics would be a priority. The Athletic’s Manny Navarro later reported that the public criticism spurred Miami brass to invest further in the university’s most public-facing program. However, James will not be the one making the 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 that we have done together, though I know there is still more yet to be achieved.”
Should Miami make a change at head coach, the Hurricanes enter 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 jobs with vacancies. Things could get even crazier if any of those schools hire sitting head coaches, creating new openings before the Early Signing Period.