Golden Q&A: On JoePa, sticking with 'Canes, recruiting ... and the tie

by | CBSSports.com
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Al Golden has no plans to leave the Hurricanes any time soon -- or stop wearing his tie. (US Presswire)  
Al Golden has no plans to leave the Hurricanes any time soon -- or stop wearing his tie. (US Presswire)  

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- It's been an eventful 14 months on the job for Miami head football coach Al Golden.

Before he had coached his first game at the university, the Hurricanes program was brought to its knees by scandalous allegations of improper benefits supplied over several years by a former booster, Nevin Shapiro.

Golden and his charges weathered that storm -- which included player suspensions that depleted the team's personnel -- to the tune of a 6-6 record, but opted not to go to a bowl game due to the ongoing NCAA investigation into the program.

Though there was speculation Golden would seek another job in the wake of mounting pressure of the scandal, Golden stuck around, putting together a highly-touted recruiting class to combat any suggestion of a program nosedive. While fighting those recruiting wars, Golden was shaken by the death of his mentor, Joe Paterno.

CBSSports.com caught up with Golden to get his thoughts on the tumultuous year-plus in Coral Gables, and his assessment of how 'The U.' is finding the way forward.

CBSSports.com: You played under Joe Paterno (1987-91), served as an assistant under him, and remained close with him over the years. What went through your mind when he passed away?

Golden: It was tough. It was tough. The night before he passed, I started getting [interview] requests, and I thought that was distasteful. I said I didn't want to talk to anybody. I woke up the next morning and he was gone. It was hard, because he was always there. I don't want to equate it to anything, but if you grew up in New York or New Jersey or on Long Island, the World Trade Center was always there. When you were driving around ... a lot of people can feel the impact of the lost lives, and the tragedy, and the terrorism and everything but it was like you always had that beacon. If you were driving around, you always knew what direction you were going based on those buildings, when you grew up there. For us that played for him, we could always measure ourselves by him, or his affirmation or his approval. It was tough when that was gone. At the same time you feel like there was a lot he left with us. I struggled. I struggled that whole Sunday. I didn't want to talk to anybody. Everyone wanted me to go on TV and I didn't feel comfortable. I didn't feel I could do it.

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CBSSports.com: You had a chance to visit with him on December 29th, just weeks before he died. Did you get a sense that the events of the last few months were taking a drastic toll on him?

Golden: Two things. He was probably grief-stricken, number one. And number two, he always -- and I don't know the psychological aspects of it -- but certainly there was a self-fulfilling prophecy there, and he always said it about Coach [Bear] Bryant, I think he always knew in his mind that when football was over, he wasn't going to make it too long. I think he was afraid of that and I think it motivated him. To see it end that way was horrific. Again it's hard for the players or the Penn Staters, because there's someone in the outside world that as soon as you say something like, "Hey, Joe meant a lot to me and I don't want that legacy to be destroyed" they'll say, "what about the kids [alleged abuse victims]?" Don't think for a second that I'm not saying "what about the kids?" I wanna make sure we get that right. As someone that played there and worked there, and knew Joe well, we're not saying that's excused. It's hard to in one sentence make peace with the whole way that Joe passed. As I said, I'm proud of what he taught me and what he and Sue meant to us and I'm proud of that. That's not something I'm ashamed of.

CBSSports.com: What was your mindset as you attacked recruiting this year, taking into account all of the adversity you guys went through this year, most notably the specter of the Nevin Shapiro scandal and NCAA investigation?

Golden: We were just going to be who we have been and who we are. I can't really speak to the obstacles, as far as what transpired. I know we endured a lot as a football program and as a football team this year, stemming from August 14th [when the story on the scandal broke]. We faced suspensions all year long. We just never seemed to have continuity or consistency. We just never seemed to be the same team, week-in and week-out. That was disappointing because we always try to have a process. From a recruiting standpoint, this is a great place to recruit to. You're selling an opportunity, not only to go to a great school, but to be a part of a program like Miami and make a difference and I think a lot of these kids fashion themselves as guys that can make a difference.

CBSSports.com: With the scandal looming over the program, we heard the rumors about your possible exit for another job like Penn State or UCLA. You had other opportunities, but you chose to stay here. Why?

Golden: I think you can do great things here. I said it on signing day, but this is just the beginning. We don't want it to be like everyone takes a deep breath and we had success with a recruiting class. You have to get to the point where you're consistently expecting that, and not only with recruiting but in every aspect ... we have a long way to go ... We just have to keep moving the program forward and eventually it's going to pay dividends.

CBSSports.com: You spent a lot of time on the road. Did not going to a bowl game help you from the standpoint that you had more time to spend on the road and recruit?

Golden: You can sit around and sulk, or you can take advantage of it. We chose to take advantage of it. Obviously we were behind other schools in this state and in this region, because we were not only new to this region but new to the University of Miami. It really gave us a chance to catch up. I wouldn't say we got ahead, but I would say we're caught up now in terms of knowing who's coming down the pike, with the juniors and sophomores and knowing the high school coaches.

CBSSports.com: You've built a reputation as a great recruiter. How do you attack the process differently than other coaches?

Miramar CB Tracy Howard is one of the local kids Golden signed to play for Miami. (US Presswire)  
Miramar CB Tracy Howard is one of the local kids Golden signed to play for Miami. (US Presswire)  
Golden: I try to be honest and I try to listen. I try to see what the needs are of the family and the young man and obviously try to fulfill those needs. [The praise is] flattering but, I don't know, we just move forward. We have a great staff. Obviously we have a great product here, great tradition, great weather, and obviously from a diversity standpoint and cultural standpoint, we're second to none. We're exposed to a lot of kids in camp, that it didn't matter to us how many stars they had, that if they could do it [we'd recruit them]. We battled down the stretch with some big guys and won, which was good.

CBSSports.com: You did well recruiting South Florida. How important is it to put that "fence" up around this area?

Golden: I don't like the fence phrase, or mantra. I think you can get to a spot as a coach where you can get a) too political, and b) you're just recruiting kids to just make sure other teams don't recruit them. I don't want to do that. This was a unique year where we ended up signing 33 kids, but for the most part you're looking at 18-22 kids a year. We're not going to get every kid from down here. We're not. Let's just make sure the 20 that we do get, are the right 20, that can do the things that we can ask them to do, that want to get a degree, that want to go to a great school, that want to win a championship, that understand our core values. There are some guys that got away this year that a lot of the fans will say 'why did we lose that guy?' At the end of the day, would you have traded these guys we got down the stretch? Would you have traded [Robert] Lockhart, Tracy Howard, Deon Bush, Tyriq McCord, for some of those guys that supposedly got away?

CBSSports.com: You got highly-touted CB Tracy Howard from Miramar. In the past that may not have been a kid that you got, from that high school, but you stayed with him.

Golden: I'm too dumb to know what schools we're supposed to be doing good at or not good at. I'm almost naive to it. We went into [Tampa] Plant High School, and the last time we got a kid from Plant [Robert Marve] it didn't have a good ending, but I was naive to it. To some extent I can't do anything about that, but here's what we are offering, for [DB] Antonio Crawford in that case. Here's why we want him ... Here's the opportunity that he has. From that standpoint we just sold who we are, and what our program is all about.

CBSSports.com: QB was an important position for you in recruiting because of a lack of numbers there. You had Ryan Williams transfer in from Memphis and you recruited three in this class, two of whom are on campus. How important was it to fill out that spot?

Golden: It's going to be great for competition. Just to go out there every day during the spring and see four guys throwing. I'm used to seeing that at every program I've been at, and we haven't had that here. To have four guys throwing, and four guys competing ... to see that dynamic and to know that they're talented and that they'll all get a shot with the first team, or first and second team this spring. I think it's great.

CBSSports.com: So you don't just hand the keys to [returning part-time starter] Stephen Morris and just go with it?

Golden: We don't hand the keys to anybody. I'm not very political. I don't do what's popular. I don't think Jacory [Harris] would have gotten a chance last year if I was. There were a lot of people that were saying this is really easy, you should pick Stephen, you're a new coach, etc. At the end of the day I let them compete and other than the last game, Jacory had a good year.

CBSSports.com: You lost a lot of leadership and talent. Is it possible for the incoming freshmen to replace that?

Golden: They have to. We played the most freshmen in America in 2007 and 2008 at Temple and it ended up being these guys that won the most games in the history of that program. There's going to be a lot of young guys that have to play. We recruited 48 guys in the last 13 months, which was exhausting. I think the stat of the year, that goes unnoticed, is that we signed 33 guys on 48 visits. That's hard to do.

CBSSports.com: Last question: Are we sticking with the tie?

Golden: [Laughs] I'm sticking with the tie. I don't understand why it's such a big deal, but yeah, I believe in it. I'm going to stay with it 'til we get it right.

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