Al Golden has brought a new culture and a new energy to Miami.
by Jorge Milian
Fans of the Miami Hurricanes are a notoriously difficult bunch to please. But they’re pushovers compared to Toni Golden, the mother of new Canes coach Al Golden.
After working one of his first games as Temple’s coach in 2006, Golden called his parents to get their opinion. Toni, who watched the game on television at home in Colt’s Neck, N.J., didn’t criticize Al’s play-calling or decisions.
It was Al’s fashion-challenged sideline attire — a baggy sweatshirt matched with drab Dockers pants — that caught her attention.
“Al, don’t wear a sweatshirt,” she casually mentioned to her son. “Wear some nice pants and shirt.”
Next game, Golden was decked out in gabardine pants and a tie.
“He surprised me with the tie,” Toni says. “I loved it.”
That attention to detail is typical of Golden, who turned out be far more than just a sharp-dressed man in five seasons at Temple, a program with one of the sorriest histories in all of college football. When Golden arrived at the Philadelphia school, the Owls had enjoyed three winning seasons in 30 years. By 2009, Temple was 9–4 and had played in its first bowl game since 1979.
The 41-year-old Golden now faces a rebuilding job nearly as monumental as the one he undertook at Temple.
While the Hurricanes ruled college football just a decade ago, the heavyweights have turned into palookas. Miami hasn’t won more than nine games since 2003, which also marks the last time it appeared in a BCS game. It’s finished in the top 25 only once in the past five seasons.
In many respects, Miami reached bottom in 2010 when it stumbled and bumbled — 119th nationally in turnovers lost and 117th in penalties — to a 7–6 record that cost Randy Shannon his job as coach hours after a home loss to USF in the regular-season finale.
Golden was hired in mid-December and was watching from the press box in El Paso, Texas, as the Hurricanes completed a forgettable season with a lopsided 33–17 loss to Notre Dame in the Sun Bowl.
Meeting with reporters a few days after the Sun Bowl, Golden wasn’t guarded in his critique. He questioned everything, from the team’s “football IQ” to its conditioning.
“We’re not very good in any of those areas,” Golden says.
Golden arrived at Miami with the same intensity and commitment that he’s always devoted to football.
At Red Bank (N.J.) Catholic High School, young Golden used to get so wound up before games that coaches walked around with paper bags in anticipation of their star player hyperventilating.
Earlier as a 12-year-old playing Pop Warner football, Golden knocked out an opponent during a game dubbed the Friendship Bowl. Before the game, Golden’s father had pleaded with his son to “take it easy.”
“He stands over this poor kid and says, ‘Get up, get up. My father’s going to kill me,’” Al Sr. says. “That’s Al.”
Golden was no different at Penn State, where he played tight end and captained the Nittany Lions to a Fiesta Bowl victory and No. 3 ranking as a senior in 1991.
“A ball of energy,” says Troy Drayton, Golden’s college teammate and a former NFL player. “He wasn’t one of those guys that would catch the ball and go down.”
Golden played one season with the New England Patriots in 1992 before turning to coaching. He quickly moved up the ranks. At age 27, Golden was named linebackers coach at Boston College by Tom Coughlin. Four years later, Al Groh hired him as defensive coordinator at Virginia.
“To some degree, hiring coaches is like recruiting in that you have a vision to see into the future as far as what the person might become,” says Groh, now the defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech. “Al had all the qualities.”
Kirby Hocutt, then Miami’s athletic director, noticed that immediately after meeting Golden for an interview at New York’s Astoria Hotel in early December. Golden walked into the meeting with a 300-page, four-pound tome titled “Deserve Victory,” detailing his plan to turn the Hurricanes back into national championship contenders.
“I walked out of there thinking, ‘This is the guy. He’s got it,’” says Hocutt, who left Miami to become Texas Tech’s athletic director in February.
Golden beat out a list of finalists that also included former Connecticut coach Randy Edsall and Montreal Alouettes coach Marc Trestman, a former Hurricanes assistant.
To many UM fans, Golden’s hiring lacked buzz. Some former players were also less than thrilled.
On the day Golden accepted the job, ex-Miami and NFL great Warren Sapp wrote on his Twitter account: “Who The Hell is Al Golden. And How U Fix The Greatest Program in America Coming from 1 of the Worst Program ever. Somebody Help Me. I’m On a Bridge. Talk Me Down Please!”
But Golden soon pulled a series of deft public relations moves. At his introductory press conference, he emphasized the program’s history and his desire that Miami’s former players feel a part of it. Golden also scored points by bringing back popular offensive line coach Art Kehoe, the only person to have earned each of Miami’s five national championship rings. Kehoe was unceremoniously fired following the 2005 season by Larry Coker after serving 27 consecutive seasons as a player and coach.
“Hiring Kehoe, that’s like putting a firecracker back into the Canes,” says Joaquin Gonzalez, a starting offensive tackle on Miami’s 2001 national championship team.
To reach a fickle fan base, Golden took the team on the road during spring practice. Miami split up its three spring scrimmages between Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. The spring game in Fort Lauderdale attracted nearly 300 alums, including Michael Irvin, who delivered a pregame speech.
Most important, Golden reached out to South Florida’s high school coaches, several of whom said after Shannon’s firing that their schools had been ignored by Miami’s recruiters. Miami Central High produced 17 FBS prospects after winning Florida’s state 6A championship, but none were headed to the Hurricanes until Golden came on board.
“Next year will be a great indication of how good a recruiter he is,” says longtime recruiting analyst Tom Lemming, who picked Golden as his recruiter of the year in 2009. “I guarantee you he’ll have a top-10 class.”
How long it will take Golden to get the Hurricanes back into the national championship picture is a more difficult question to answer.
Al Golden Sr. says it will happen sooner rather than later. “I can tell you right now, he’s going to bring that Miami program back,” says Golden Sr., who was the national operations director for the investment firm Dean Witter, before retiring. “If anybody can do it, he can.”
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