Phil Goldsmith: Golden seems to have calmed seas at stormy Miami

Miami coach Al Golden, who was instrumental in turning around Temple's doormat of a football program in five seasons with the Owls.JOEL AUERBACH / GETTY IMAGES
Miami coach Al Golden, who was instrumental in turning around Temple's doormat of a football program in five seasons with the Owls.JOEL AUERBACH / GETTY IMAGES
Posted: December 02, 2012

CORAL GABLES, Fla. - Even in South Florida's suffocating heat, Al Golden's trademark at Temple remains the stylish staple of his sideline attire.

Not only that, legions of University of Miami fans, led by a foursome self-dubbed the "Fear The Tie Guys," show up at games dressed as clones of the Hurricanes' second-year coach - solid orange or orange-and-green striped necktie with a white, button-down shirt.

Others sport a white T-shirt with an orange tie screen-printed on the front, as the most prized recruit of Golden's career, running back Duke Johnson, did at his National Signing Day ceremony in February.

It's fitting then, perhaps, that one of the Golden's keepsakes today from five seasons as Temple's coach is a necktie that John Chaney wore in an NCAA Tournament win. Even more meaningful to him, he says, is a signed copy of a basketball philosophy booklet that Chaney would give to Owls players.

"That means a lot to me because he was such a special part of Temple," Golden, 43, said last week after Miami's next-to-last practice of the season. "He taught me more about the mission of Temple, what the university stood for, than anybody.

"I think we all bought into that. That's how we recruited. We didn't recruit four-, five-stars [high-rated prospects]. We recruited kids that either needed a second chance or were below the radar or came from a low socioeconomic background."

Two years after leaving Temple to take over at Miami, Golden continues to draw from experiences in his first head-coaching job, finding similarities in the difficult circumstances encountered at each school.

"It's more similar than not in terms of the adversity we've been incurring," Golden said. "The difference there was we knew going in what the obstacles were. From Day 1 there, it was just a straight linear uptick."

At Miami, it has been constant up-and-down.

The Hurricanes are 13-11 under Golden, although Saturday's 52-45 win at Duke in the season finale was significant for a team that played 21 freshmen this season, nine as starters. This year's 7-5 record (5-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) marked an improvement on last season's 6-6 - only the school's third nonwinning season since 1980 - and also clinched a share of the ACC's Coastal Division title.

Miami would be playing in this week's ACC championship game for the first time if the school's administration hadn't self-imposed a postseason ban last week for an unprecedented second consecutive year due to looming NCAA sanctions.

In addition to the ongoing NCAA investigation, which began in March 2011, Golden has had to deal with repeated disciplinary issues with some players, resulting in suspensions.

"It's been TMZ since I've been here," Golden told reporters earlier this month. "Let's be honest, right? It's been tough on the coaches. It's been tough on me."

That noted, "If anybody had the experience to handle something like this and the situation we've been thrust into, it's certainly him," said defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio, one of three assistants who followed Golden from Temple to Miami.

The Owls had gone 3-31 in the three seasons before Golden and hadn't had a winning season since 1990. In his five seasons on North Broad Street, they went 1-11, 4-8, 5-7, 9-4 and 8-4.

"It takes people with mental toughness and people who are in it for the long term to endure situations like that," Donofrio said. "I think Miami's got the right man for the right job. People have no idea how difficult that was changing that culture [at Temple]. And we're changing the culture here and building something."

The morning after a Yahoo! Sports report in August 2011 revealed major allegations of improper benefits to players from a former booster, Golden vowed "we'll get through this" and added, "I feel like Temple prepared me for this opportunity.

"We had so many issues when we first got there," he continued, noting Temple had the nation's lowest academic-progress rate, players suspended for NCAA violations before his staff's arrival, and just 54 scholarship-athletes his first season.

It all made it easier to handle the circumstances at Miami.

"I don't know if you can take this job if you're not a head coach, if you haven't sat in that chair and learned how to manage a recruiting board and a team forecast, how you want your team to look, a budget, deal with alumni or development or handle the media," Golden said. "It was tough [at Temple]. You had to be mentally tough to block it all out the first 2 1/2, 3 years. There are a lot of things that I learned, like don't make any excuses. Just find a way to get it done."

After Miami's announcement of a second self-imposed bowl ban, Golden maintained, "We'll get it fixed. I still feel the same way. Think about where we were at the beginning of the year and where we are now. We were picked fifth in our division, no one on the preseason all-conference team, and one of the youngest teams in America."

Later, Golden recalled how at Temple, he was "committed to building a house of brick and not of straw," how he didn't "take a job just to get [another] job," but rather to "do something that nobody thought we could do." The program went from having no scouts visit his office the first 2 years to having a representative from every NFL team visit the last 2 years.

"I hope people feel like we dug in, we were part of the community and we built something that could endure," Golden said. "I hope they remember that we did it the right way, that we created a winning culture, which meant winning in the community and winning in the classroom, too."

Golden remains in contact with some of his former Temple players. Defensive tackle Philip Simpson and cornerback Evan Cooper, who are from Miami and live there now, stop by campus on occasion, Golden said.

"We've kept in touch with a lot of guys," Golden said. "Somebody said, 'What's the most rewarding thing about being a college coach?' It's around this time of year . . . when you'll get an email or text or call, not from a Muhammad Wilkerson [the defensive tackle who was the New York Jets' first-round pick in 2011], but other guys that see the big picture now and understand what we were trying to teach. Hopefully, we made a big impact on their life."

He has built similar relationships with players at Miami, including senior running back Mike James, as he has tried to bolster team unity. During preseason camp, he organized a scavenger hunt in nearby Coconut Grove, assembling several "teams" of about seven to nine players, giving them cards with clues and sending them running from one location to another in search of the next clue.

"He's always upbeat, never one of those people to dwell on bad things," James said. "With the things that have weighed on him and the bad situations he's been in, he hasn't altered his personality or the way he's attacked things.

"Coach has attacked things head on and he's stood by what he said since Day 1 and I can't appreciate that enough as a player . . . Something I'll always remember that he always says is, 'If you quit, you die. But if you fight, you live.' "

James says Golden is the right coach to return the Hurricanes to prominence - they haven't won 10 games since the 2003 season - and most Miami fans continue to support him, even as they grow impatient for a signature win by him at Miami.

Players insist they have no plans to transfer despite 2 years without a bowl game, and likely a third in 2013. D'Onofrio says he told Miami players about Golden's last team at Temple, which was eligible for a bowl at 8-4 in 2010 but didn't receive a bowl bid.

Golden left Temple a few weeks later for Miami. Is he ready to move on again?

Just like last November, when Golden received a 4-year contract extension through the 2019 season but was then reported to be a candidate at UCLA and his alma mater Penn State, there is speculation he might leave.

His name was linked to Tennessee after Derek Dooley's firing. Golden insists he has "a great job here" at Miami, where he has signed two stellar recruiting classes, mostly choosing players who attended his camps as he did at Temple.

"I'm ignoring it just like I've ignored everything else," he said of the speculation. "We're not in the business of searching for another job right now. We're really close. And I know it's hard to see, but . . . our kids and our coaches are doing a heck of a job. They just need to stay the course. And I'm here to lead them."

Miami interim athletic director Blake James says Golden is "very committed" to staying.

Noted senior cornerback Brandon McGee: "I just remember last year around this time, when we went through the whole bowl ban, he said, 'I'm not going anywhere. I'm digging in. I'm with you guys.' From that point on, it was, like, 'Wow, this man is really looking forward to building something here. He really believes in us.' "

Added junior quarterback Stephen Morris: "Coach Golden has done a great job of keeping us all together. He's been through so much as the head coach. When adversity strikes, we all look toward him."

McGee still remembers Golden's first team meeting with the Hurricanes.

"He came in, cracked a joke and had everybody rolling," McGee said, declining to reveal the joke. "And from then on, he demanded your respect without even asking for it. He's been that same guy since, supportive, and yet when you need that lashing, he's going to give it to you. He's not going to spare the rod."

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