A happier time: Was the 2001 Miami Hurricanes team the best ever?
Backup offensive lineman Brad Kunz was already wearing his national championship T-shirt and hat as the final minutes melted off the clock during Miami's 37-14 Rose Bowl win over Nebraska.

The redshirt freshman was celebrating with teammates. The victory capped a perfect 2001-02 season.

Kunz, who grew up in Illinois dreaming of someday playing in the Rose Bowl, got his chance when starting tackle Joaquin Gonzalez told him to put on his helmet.

"You're going in for me," Gonzalez said. "I'm going to carry coach Coker off the field."

As Kunz realized his Rose Bowl dream, Gonzalez and a few other teammates scooped head coach Larry Coker up onto their shoulders. Coker had just become the first rookie coach to win an NCAA title, and it was the players' way of saying thank you for leading them on the championship ride.

For the Hurricanes, it was the pinnacle of a journey in which they climbed out of the depths of probation and reasserted themselves as a national power, winning the school's fifth national crown.

From that high point, the program began a slow descent, beginning with a national championship game loss to Ohio State the next season, Coker's firing after a 7-5 season in 2006, and his predecessor, Randy Shannon's firing after a 7-5 campaign last year.

The Hurricanes took an even more severe hit recently when former booster Nevin Shapiro alleged that he gave dozens of players illegal benefits starting in 2002, shortly after the Rose Bowl victory. Now, the future is uncertain. The Miami football program might be entering the darkest period in its history.

Occasionally throughout this season, with more news about the Nevin Shapiro scandal sure to surface, we're going to give fans a break from the mud and the muck and the cheating with a series of stories about a happier time – the 2001 national championship season.

A Miami Hurricanes team some claim is the greatest in college football history.

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Art Kehoe has seen them all.

The high-energy offensive line coach was an assistant at the University of Miami for all five national championship teams over the past three decades. So when Kehoe throws his weight behind the 2001 edition as the best of all Hurricanes collections, the endorsement carries great significance.

In fact, Kehoe takes it a step further, insisting that team belongs in the discussion of greatest college football teams ever.

Right there with Nebraska's juggernauts from 1971 and 1995 and USC's 1972 behemoth.

Right there with the Bear's best teams at Alabama and anything Oklahoma was able to conjure under Bud Wilkinson in the '50s or Barry Switzer in the '70s and '80s.

Right there with the great post-war teams from Army, Notre Dame and Michigan in the 1940s.

"There's no doubt in my mind," Kehoe says. "I would like to play anybody, any time, anywhere with that team. Just a terrific football team."

While Kehoe is admittedly biased toward his beloved "U," his argument that the '01 squad is one of the greatest in NCAA history gets plenty of support.