Photo: Josh Baumgard
How did everything go so wrong so quickly? And how much does perception of reality impact the way we view this football program?
To think, we are only a few weeks removed from heading into a bowl game, thinking about creating momentum, getting to 10 wins for the first time in a decade, and closing with a top recruiting class to send the program into next season with designs on championships. And in that time span, the following happened:
- The team was thoroughly outclassed and embarrassed by Louisville.
- The coach flirted with another team (and that is being kind), then gave evasive answers about his behavior.
- The coach announced no staff changes, using logic-defying arguments to justify, raising questions as to whether he puts a friendship ahead of the football program.
- Commits have started abandoning ship (Three decommits and counting as of this writing).
Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised by any of this. Yet the mountain of negative news keeps snowballing, and leaves the impression of a program in disarray, headed nowhere.
The Bowl Game & Aftermath
I wrote a much longer piece on the bowl game and what happened that night, so there is no point in rehashing it. But ask yourself one question: Did we see anything in that game we haven’t seen countless times? The answer is unequivocally “no.”
For three years, the offense has struggled against good defenses, and for three years, the defense has struggled against anyone with scholarships. That this happened once again should not have surprised us, and yet it did, including yours truly.
That game did not change our reality. What it did was knock over the fabricated version of reality we had constructed in our minds. We all told ourselves the same myths. “With a month to prepare, the team will look different.” It did not. This was the fourth time this year, and seventh time in two years that Miami has looked like they don’t belong on the field against a good opponent.
The truth is this has been a bad football team playing bad football for three years. We can say that it goes without saying, D’Onofrio needs to be fired. We can say that while acknowledging the scandal. But we must say it, because denial helps no one.
Even in an ugly defeat, there is always a silver lining. While the offense had issues this year, particularly against good teams, there were some positives. With a healthy Duke Johnson and Phillip Dorsett, as well as James Coley entering his second year of play calling, it is certainly reasonable to see a path to greatness offensively next year.
On the other hand, the defense was so bad that even Golden could not ignore it. Surely, after three years of watching a defense play poorly, we would finally get a much needed change. Things were still sort of looking up. A week or two of solid pressure on Golden would have potentially been enough to force a change. And then, the Penn State Circus came marauding through Coral Gables and changed the subject.
Not A Candidate
The next blow to strike the program was Al Golden’s flirtation with Penn State. Again, this was not surprising. I venture to guess that most people would listen to and even actively pursue their Alma Mater if they came calling. That Golden was a threat to leave for Penn State came as no surprise to anyone. But the manner in which it was handled, by the school and its head coach, could have occurred with the theme song to Benny Hill playing in the background.
On Friday and Saturday, you simultaneously had the athletic director saying he and the head coach were in “regular communication” and how he “believes he will be the head coach going forward,” the president saying “we don’t know anything yet,” and an assistant athletic director openly mocking “sources” on Twitter. Is anyone in charge of message control over there? This set a pretty low standard for handling things in a professional manner. How about a coordinated, released statement and then instructions to not talk about it, other than to refer back to the statement, like any normal organization would?
Something as simple as: “We are very happy to have Al Golden as our head coach. We are aware of rumors of interest in him from other schools. When you have a great coach, this is a situation that will present itself, and does not come unexpected. We will release further updates in the future as they become available.”
That’s it. And then tell everyone not to say anything else. It wasn’t a secret that Golden was interested in Penn State, so just acknowledge it and be consistent. By having multiple people acting independently, it exudes disorganization. Then Golden mangled things further.
He released a statement that was as noncommittal as humanly possibly. Look, we aren’t stupid. This is a business, and we have on our big boy pants. It would have been okay. We get it. He flirted with his first girlfriend, wanted to run off with her, but she didn’t want him, so now he is coming back to the old battle axe with hat in hand. Fine. But by not admitting that, by pretending it didn’t happen, it left open endless possibilities. It was such a flimsy denial, especially in contrast to previous years, and so directly contradicted what everyone knew (that he interviewed) that it left open the possibility that he actually still wanted to leave and would do so if offered. Sure enough, for another week, this speculation would go on until James Franklin finally got the job.
If there was any doubt about Al Golden’s feelings towards being in Coral Gables instead of State College, they were erased during the media rounds he made to start the week off. We “know” Al Golden. He is always energetic in his press conferences. What we saw last week was the opposite. He played the part of someone that got within touching distance of his dream job, came up short, and was now stuck in Miami. Not only did he give non-answers to the Penn State questions, but he gave off the distinct impression that he wanted to be elsewhere. It was uncomfortable.
Another interesting thing happened as a result of this whole episode. Golden’s job is obviously safe (and should be). But now we are forced to take stock of Al Golden, the head coach. For many fans enraptured with his press conferences and using the scandal as a catch-all excuse, this was new territory. We’ve measured Al Golden, captain of a ship through troubled waters, and applauded. But Al Golden, football coach? The results are meh, and that is WITH contextualizing them against the backdrop of the scandal. To put things in perspective, he is basically running even with Randy Shannon’s first three years as a head coach, while inheriting a stronger team AND playing softer schedules. Losing Golden didn’t feel like a bad thing. Some people openly hoped for it. Many deduced how Golden was inextricably linked to Defensive Coordinator Mark D’Onofrio, and that the only way for the latter to go was for the former to go. In totality, as much of the fan base was rooting for him to leave as was rooting for him to stay.
Travonte Valentine, a must-have recruit at defensive tackle, dropped his commitment. In doing so, he accurately described the state of the Miami football program:
“Since Miami ain’t looking so good now, until further notice, I’m decommitting from Miami University because I’m not sure about Al Golden so far.”
And that’s where it is right now, in general. Miami ain’t looking so good, and we’re not sure about Al Golden so far.
An Uncomfortable Marriage
Nothing is the same, but does it matter? The answer is no, provided the results change. If he wins next year, no one will remember this nor care about it. If he doesn’t, this entire episode will come back up, and be used as points against him.
Al Golden is the Head Coach at the University of Miami, and it is in everyone’s best interest that he succeed here. But his honeymoon is over, and it is time to stop coddling him.
We should ABSOLUTELY take him to task for the pile of crap he dumped on the fan base as justification for retaining D’Onofrio. This analysis, courtesy of JT Thomson on the Canes blog I edit and write for, completely refutes what Golden said about an upward trend of the defense.
But let’s step back further and fully understand what happened. Al Golden did not lie. Those cherry picked and misleading statistics that he referenced are actually true. The defense did improve on a number of grass stains in the red zone against top-40 teams that don’t wear blue. The issue is not the specific statistics.
The issue is this: The Head Coach of the University of Miami did NOT do his job. Instead of evaluating the defense as a whole and determining whether a radical course correction was necessary (and by ANY standard, it is), he decided he didn’t want to fire his best friend, and worked backwards from there to justify the decision he had made. The conclusion lead to the evidence chosen, rather than the evidence leading to the conclusion.
This is outrageous and we should all be irate. The head coach of the Canes is choosing to use school funds to keep his friend in a top paying position even though he continually underperforms. He does not owe us an explanation, but his explanation was so tortured, so full of holes, and so contrary to reality, it can only lead to the conclusion that under no circumstances would he fire his friend. No honest evaluation took place. Instead, he simply looked for reasons to not change.
This is not a prediction of future results. A prognosticator I am not. Hell, I picked Miami to win the bowl game. This is pointing out the defense that was Top 25 when he got here (it was ranked 22nd), has become the worst defense in the ACC and one of the worst in the country. He is choosing not to hold the person in charge of it responsible. Oh, and that person just happens to be his best friend from college. Ask yourself if you find that to be appropriate behavior. If the President did this, Congress would open an investigation.
What now? We always have hope. But it is time for some REAL accountability. Al Golden appears to be unable to differentiate between saying he takes responsibility for something and actually taking responsibility. He stuck us with the old PR trick of saying, “I am in charge and responsible for everything, good or bad. Now let me tell you why all the stuff that went wrong here isn’t my fault.” We’ve had enough of that, and enough of intangible goals of building, trending up, and progress (which is mostly malarkey anyway). It’s time to put the cards on the table. Here are things Al Golden needs to do in the 2014 season:
- Win the ACC Coastal.
- Win more than nine games.
- Not get blown out, ever.
- Beat teams with less than five losses. A lot of them. Now, this might seem like a stupid goal, but Golden has a problem with this that followed him over from Temple. His career record against teams with less than five losses is 1-22. In 2009, his Temple team beat a 10-4 Navy team. I know, he was at Temple, but even against his peers, he couldn’t beat the good MAC teams. He has never won a conference game against a team that finished with less than five losses. So yeah, he needs to correct that.
- Fix the defense. No more baby steps, they need to dominate people. Just because he chose to break it to the point where it’s this bad does not mean he should now get by with moderate improvement. He had a Top 25 defense when he got here, and four years later, that’s where it needs to be.
The building is over. After four seasons, we need built. He can keep his coordinator. We can hope a flawed decision making process yields correct results, much like punting on 4th and 1 from the opponents 30 can yield the right result if the defense jumps offsides. Mark D’Onofrio deserves to be fired. For three years, he has been the worst defensive coordinator in the ACC. He did not deserve a 4th year. That does not mean that the Year 4 defense must struggle, and we must hope it does not.
Whatever happens, Golden is accountable.
He is out of time, and out of excuses. If the first class he recruited in 2011 leaves with nothing to show for their efforts, then he can leave with them, much like Randy Shannon left with the 2007 class.
Golden wanted the big job. He talked openly about how it’s a great job because you can win championships here. Well, when you coach the big program, you get the big expectations.
This program is not about nameless jerseys, blank helmets, and fans filling the stadium. It’s about greatness, and it’s time to stop embarrassing the legacy of those players who worked so hard to put this program on top of college football. The time has come to live up to Edward Reed’s standard:
“Joaquin said, ‘Dominate,’ and we’re not doing it. I’m putting my heart in this [expletive]. Let’s go, man.”
Vishnu Parasuraman (@vrp2003) is a consultant in the Washington, D.C., Metro Area and an editor of the Sebastian’s Pub blog. His work has also been seen on Grantland. He is a graduate of the University of Miami with an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University.