5 seasons Miami -- 1984 thru 1988
The Canes were a sporadically talented but vulnerable team when Johnson took over. That's why they were 12 point home underdogs in Schnellenberger's final game, and 7 point underdogs on a neutral site to Auburn in Johnson's first game as coach. There was absolutely no guarantee the program would continue on the same path, and not be a one-and-done. As much as I like Schnellenberger, why are we supposed to ignore the -- in retrospect -- incomparably inept handicapping he displayed by bolting the Canes program in the mid '80s? I always have to laugh when he bemoans how many titles he might have won if he'd remained. That's like my buddies in Las Vegas who have all the winners on the 7 PM games at 11 PM. Johnson wisely accepted the Miami job after Sam Jankovich was even more astute in pursuing Johnson, who was hardly a household name or hot commodity. That chain of genius equates to Hall of Fame. Schnellenberger can accept the ever popular might-have-been praise, the Spectacular Bid Award.
Besides, Jimmy Johnson inherited great quarterbacks like Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde from Schnellenberger, but he also found Steve Walsh, and left the likes of Craig Erickson and Gino Torretta for Erickson. Once Erickson had to rely on his own quarterback recruiting it was disasters like Frank Costa, Ryan Collins, Alan Hall and Chris Walsh.
The Miami program was a fortified dynasty when Erickson was summoned from Washington State. Johnson had built a talent base throughout the roster and the defense, in particular, was dominant, far more dependable than Schnellenberger's version. During Johnson's final three seasons and spilling over into Erickson's reign it was almost unheard of for the Canes to be an underdog. When Erickson left the program it was leaking all over the place, with three consecutive bowl defeats including two embarrassing routs and a loss in the Orange Bowl, blowing a 4th quarter lead. The Pell Grant scandal was under Erickson's watch.
The guy I wish had stayed in Coral Gables was Johnson, not Schnellenberger or Erickson. Spin doesn't work with me. I have dozens of those games on tape. Johnson's multiple offense suffered when he had an error prone dunce like Testaverde at quarterback against smart defenses, throwing away a national title against Penn State when all he had to do was hand off to Alonso Highsmith. Once Erickson's vulnerable one-back was installed, there was nonsense like tiny Leonard Conley asked to dive toward the goal line in vital situations with three receivers standing out there, accomplishing absolutely nothing. Conley was abused in those spots during key road games at Florida State in 1989 and Notre Dame in 1990. It was beyond ridiculous that the 1990 team was out of title contention during bowl season, with two losses despite preseason #1 ranking and 14 point favoritism in the opener at BYU.
Besides, it was simply more fun as a fan under Johnson, including the wonderful, "Run it up, Jimmy...Run it up," chant, during his final game as Canes coach, the Orange Bowl win over Nebraska after the 1988 season. With Erickson you mostly looked for him in local bars.