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Coker canned

Coker out as Miami’s coach, will stay if there’s a bowl game

   CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Larry Coker won nearly 80 percent of his games at Miami, got players to graduate, was revered for his classy manner and led the Hurricanes to a national championship.
    Despite all that, even he acknowledged Miami needed to make a change.
    Coker’s tumultuous and disappointing season got its predictable ending Friday, when he was fired after six years leading the Hurricanes. The move came one day after Miami finished a 6-6 regular season by beating Boston College, snapping a four-game losing streak and becoming bowl-eligible.
    ‘‘There’s such a negative groundswell around the program,’’ Coker said. ‘‘If I’m here, unless we just win all the games, I don’t see that changing in the next few months. I really don’t.’’
    He may coach one more game: If Miami goes to a bowl, Coker will be on the sideline.
    ‘‘He deserved it,’’ said athletic director Paul Dee, who told Coker of his dismissal Friday morning — saying it pained him to do so. ‘‘He earned it. ... If we are invited, we will play, and Larry Coker will be our head coach.’’
    Coker is 59-15 at Miami, but was doomed by 12 losses in the last three seasons and no conference crowns or Bowl Championship Series bids since 2003. He had three seasons left on a contract that paid him about $2 million annually. There is a buyout provision in his deal, believed to be worth about $3 million.
    ‘‘It has been evident this season that we have not progressed,’’ university president Donna Shalala wrote in a statement. ‘‘It is time for us to reclaim our national championship tradition. ... I want to make it clear that no celebration is in order today. This was not an easy decision.’’
    Meanwhile, more changes could be coming to Miami. Shalala announced ‘‘a six-month fundraising sprint to secure commitments from our supporters/donors to finance competitive coaching contracts and build and renovate first-class facilities and programs.’’
    ‘‘We need a new start,’’ Shalala said.
    There are plenty of potential candidates to replace Coker; two marquee names are former Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez, who is close with Shalala, and Rutgers coach and former Miami assistant Greg Schiano.
    Former Florida coach and current South Carolina boss Steve Spurrier said this week that he expects to be back with the Gamecocks next fall for his third season — trying to rebuke a story that identified him as Miami’s top choice for Coker’s job.
    The school will hire a consultant — Chuck Neinas, a Colorado-based headhunter and former commissioner of the Big Eight Conference — and begin a search immediately, Dee said.
    ‘‘This program is a special place and it takes a unique individual,’’ Dee said. ‘‘This is not a job for somebody that’s a builder. This is a job for somebody that’s out front and wants to be at the top and isn’t frightened away by the expectations.’’
    Many of Miami’s players said in recent days that they wanted Coker to keep his job, and his firing was not received well by former Hurricanes standout Sinorice Moss, now a rookie receiver with the New York Giants.
    ‘‘I don’t understand it. I understand some changes had to be made, but I don’t think that’s the particular change they had to make,’’ Moss said. ‘‘He was a great coach. He’s been a great coach since he’s been there. I don’t feel they had to get rid of him.’’
    Miami entered this season as the favorite to win the Atlantic Coast Conference championship, and was mentioned by some as a contender for the national title — even after a 40-3 loss to LSU in the Peach Bowl last season. Shortly after that game, Coker fired four assistant coaches, saying the program needed new ideas.
    But things began spiraling out of control quickly this season.
    The Hurricanes lost 31-7 at Louisville on Sept. 16, falling to 1-2 and out of the national-title mix, needed a last-second interception just to beat winless Duke, and then matched the school’s longest losing streak in nine years.
    Plus, senior defensive lineman Bryan Pata was shot and killed outside his apartment complex on Nov. 7, adding more torment to a team already reeling from its on-field issues.
    Miami was also involved in a brawl with Florida International on Oct. 14, a sideline-clearing melee that led to the suspension of 18 FIU players and 13 Hurricanes players.
    ‘‘We have suffered disappointments and tragedy off and on the field,’’ Shalala said in a statement. ‘‘We can and will do better.’’

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