Posted by Chip Patterson
PINEHURST, N.C. - Miami head coach Al Golden is not an unfamiliar character to the college football scene. The former Penn State tight end has surrounded himself with football his entire life, never taking a year off from being a player, graduate assistant, assistant or head coach. But his arrival in Coral Gables to coach the Hurricanes marks his first stop as the head coach of a FBS program, not to mention one with the reputation of Miami.
Golden has no direct ties to the University of Miami, unlike his predecessor Randy Shannon. Shannon played for and coached for the Hurricanes for 21 years, most notably being a starting linebacker on the 1987 championship team. But once promoted to head coach, the Hurricanes began to slide into an uncommon mediocrity. Shannon's recruiting classes were among the best in the country, but his career record was just 28-22. Shannon was a great defensive coordinator for the Hurricanes, and will likely find himself on the sidelines again in the future. But what intangibles will Golden bring to the job to jump-start a sputtering Miami program?
"He's a disciplinarian, but he's a players' coach as well, explained senior center Tyler Horn. "He expects a lot from us, but none of his expectations are out reach. There's no reason we can't do things like go to class, and there is a zero tolerance policy."
Saying things like "going to class" seem foolish is correct, but it's also pretty foolish to be one of the most penalized teams in the nation. Last season, the Hurricanes shot themselves in the foot time and again because of a mental lapse that resulted in a costly flag. Golden is willing to accept a few holding penalties here and there, but the flagrant flags and personal fouls is where the Hurricanes' new coach draws the line. He believes that discipline is a big part of those penalties, and in order to develop proper technique and eliminate those lapses it will take some time and hard effort.
"I'm very process-oriented," Golden said. "I believe in putting my head down and going to work, doing the things that we need to do on a daily basis as an organization to improve."
For the Hurricanes, that process began in spring practice. Former Hurricanes like Michael Irvin traveled down to South Florida to help Golden kick-start the new attitude for Miami football. That hard-nosed attitude continued after spring practice as the Canes went through a rigorous offseason training program. There were horror stories floating around players' circles about guys running and working harder than ever, often pushing themselves to the point of having to stop to vomit. This kind of story happens at football camps everywhere, but it was apparently noteworthy enough to be pointed out by the players. Senior linebacker Sean Spence did not have any puke stories, but he did say on Sunday that he feels the team is in the best shape of their lives right now.
That team, particularly Spence and the senior class, is made up of All-Everything-caliber recruits. It's a class that was heralded upon arrival, but has yet to see a season with double-digit wins. Golden said that he's been through four different regime changes since he started coaching, and more than any other situation, this group of Miami seniors have shown total support for the new staff.
"The seniors are usually the ones that spit you out, who don't buy in, are skeptical and mistrust," said Golden. "This group pretty much has said 'since we got here, here's what we came here to do. We haven't done it, we're running out of time, show us how to get there. We'll do whatever you need us to do.'"
Golden's description of the seniors' attitude echoed the sentiments from Tyler Horn the day before.
"We realized last year 7-6 just wasn't going to cut it," Horn said. "Obviously we were doing something wrong. We realize that now."
So here is their chance. Players like Horn, Spence, Jacory Harris, Travis Benjamin, Harland Gunn, Ramon Buchannan and so many more won't have another chance to accomplish their goals in a Miami uniform. Since 2006, Miami has never even finished higher than 3rd place in the Coastal Division. With Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech looking to break in new quarterbacks and re-stock defenses; Miami could be a dark horse for their first Coastal Division crown in 2011.
Miami has played for, and won, more national championships than any team in the ACC. The only problem is that none of it has happened since joining the ACC. No one expects the Hurricanes to be title contenders in 2011, but competing for a conference crown can certainly be a great start.