I wanted Chuck Martin to be fired.
For too long, I watched talented Miami football teams lose close games. And, in my mind, that came down to the culture set by the head coach.
But now, with Miami set to take on Central Michigan this Saturday with the Mid-American Conference title on the line, I can conclusively say Martin has turned this program around. And as long as the whistle hangs around his neck, the RedHawks are here to stay.
Starting with the Cincinnati game in 2017, Martin’s teams lost nine consecutive games decided by one score or less. These were games the RedHawks should have won, but they handed to opponents in creatively heart-breaking ways.
I had never experienced a team better at clutching defeat from the jaws of certain victory than Miami during this stretch. And that’s coming from a Bengals fan.
Miami found innovative ways to lose, ranging all the way from an excruciating interception for a touchdown against Cincinnati, fumbling a shotgun snap off a fullback in the red zone against Bowling Green to earning an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty late at Army.
When games got close, Martin’s players failed to rise to the occasion nine times in a row. This signified more than bad luck — it revealed a lack of mental toughness to put away tight contests.
And that was Martin’s fault.
The head coach of a football team is responsible for creating a culture of grit that produces players who know how to successfully fight through adversity. I saw little evidence of that, so I concluded that a change was necessary.
I was wrong.
When the Ohio Bobcats came to Oxford in early November last season, the RedHawks showed me something I hadn’t seen since I began covering them: resolve.
After Miami led by 21 at the half, the Bobcats made a mad scramble back, attempting to claim the “Battle of the Bricks” for the sixth straight time.
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“Here we go again,” I thought, as I seemingly watched yet another game slip away from the RedHawks.
But following a Doug Costin safety and a late stop by the Miami defense, the RedHawks claimed their first one-score victory since Nov. 22, 2016 — nearly two years earlier.
The blue-collar RedHawks had finally arrived, and they haven’t left since.
Following an offseason which saw the departure of 15 starters, the RedHawks were outscored 149-32 by non-conference FBS opponents, including a humiliating 76-5 defeat at Ohio State.
Standing at 1-3 heading into conference play, the RedHawks rattled off six victories in seven games, though they were favored just once during that stretch.
But this wasn’t because the RedHawks finally saw breaks going their way. They created their own luck.
Miami put together a 31-0 run to pull away from Buffalo after being down, 14-3, in Week Five, coming off humiliation in Columbus against the Buckeyes. Two weeks later, the ’Hawks overcame a 10-0 deficit to beat Northern Illinois, 27-24, before going on the road to tough out a rainy road victory at Kent State, 23-16.
Eleven days later, the RedHawks made a midweek trip to Athens to renew their rivalry versus Ohio.
For all intents and purposes, Miami should have lost this game. They lined up against Nathan Rourke, a senior quarterback widely regarded as the MAC’s best offensive player, in by far the loudest and most hostile environment I have seen Miami play in during my time with The Student, excluding Ohio State and Notre Dame.
On the field, Miami hardly deserved to win. The Bobcats outgained Miami by nearly 100 yards while consistently driving the football deep into RedHawk territory. But the ‘Hawks’ defense produced timely stops and escaped with a 24-21 win.
The common theme throughout the past 13 or so months? Martin’s program defying the odds.
This doesn’t just happen — it comes from a program-wide mental fortitude established by the head coach.
Monday, Martin recalled telling former Miami President David Hodge in his interview for the head coaching position that he was going to build a “blue collar” football program in Oxford.
Two years ago, there’s no way you could watch Martin’s team choke away close games and describe them as a working-class team.
But now, with the RedHawks set to go to Detroit for the first time since 2010 after battling through the 2019 gauntlet, Martin has a roster of industrial football players.
You did it, Chuck. Miami football is back. And it has a blue-collar mindset.