I was talking to a friend on Sunday before the news of Al Golden’s firing broke. He was telling me how he took his five-year old son to the game on Saturday, and his kid was in tears because the team was playing so poorly. It’s easy for us as adults to lose sight of how important this program is to the community.
The worst thing about this particular tragedy was it was foreseeable and avoidable. And I understand adjectives like “tragedy” shouldn’t be used for sports, so realize I’m using this in a sports context. What happened to Artie Burns’ family is a real tragedy.
Obviously, the state of the Canes isn’t Hurricane Katrina destroying New Orleans, although we basically did have Blake James last year pointing to Golden and saying, “Goldie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”
And so for the rest of this article, I may be using hyperbole, but in a sports context.
While the Board of Trustees eventually stepped in and did what Blake James refused to do, it still does help to examine how everything went so wrong the last five years in order to avoid a repeat in the future. Especially since the main culprit in continuing this nightmare is still ostensibly in charge of the program.
Make no mistake, this was an institution-wide failure of the highest order.
Poor Golden? No.
This narrative of Golden as the aggrieved victim in this soap opera is borderline insane. He took the job without knowing of the Nevin Shapiro scandal, that much we know.
What we won’t know is exactly how much the university knew and when. The stories about Shapiro ratting out the school were there the summer before Randy Shannon’s last season. But the scale of the eventual story? We simply don’t know.
We can, however, infer strongly that Kirby Hocutt, former Athletic Director, knew exactly what was coming. It was always strange that he went from Miami to Texas Tech under the guise of wanting to be closer to his family when his family lives in Sherman and Texas Tech is in Lubbock. They are in the same state but not exactly near each other. From the outside, with 20-20 hindsight, it sure looks like Hocutt — who was also the person in the Athletic Department closest to Nevin Shapiro — saw the train coming down the tracks and got the hell out of the way for it to slam into the unsuspecting Al Golden.
For that, Golden certainly had every right to be upset. But here is where the victim narrative falls apart.
As his first, miserable season wheezed to a 6-6 finish, Golden’s agent started making noise about him leaving. No one would have blamed him, given the scandal. And this is also where the inaccuracy of the Golden “stood by the school” line comes from. Because he did not stand by the school altruistically. He took a financial incentive which we can callously call a bribe.
Let me ask you this question: How many coaches go 6-6 at a school with championship aspirations, then get a five-year contract extension added on to their existing four-year contract?
It’s absurd in retrospect, and a decision the school paid for dearly. If the university’s crime was to not inform him of the scandal, surely the undeserved and ludicrous contract extension made him whole.
The absurdity, though, is that Golden used the scandal, along with a vacuum at the Athletic Director position eventual filled by the deferential Blake James (much more on him later) to garner unprecedented power within the Athletic Department.
What he wanted, he got.
The problem? He is a terrible football coach and Miami paid the price. At no point in the last four and a half years did Miami play good football.
Ironically, it was the scandal that ended up being a nothing story. Nine scholarships lost, easily dealt with by a competent staff. Incidentally, this was the same penalty Ohio State received. They’ve lost three games in three years. Golden lost three games this month.
But what the scandal ended up becoming was a crutch. A catch all for his own failing — “the cloud of uncertainty.”
Except there was no cloud. The news cycle long since moved on. The only person regularly talking about the scandal two and three years later was Golden himself, hilariously bringing it up whenever trouble on the field arose. If there was a cloud, Golden helped contribute to it.
You know what helps move on from a scandal? The head coach not constantly whining about how bad it is.
This delicate dance with the truth that Golden was playing fell over the cliff’s edge when the sanctions were announced, and Miami got the slap on the wrist. This happened when Golden was at his highest point: 6-0 to start the 2013 season (of course, due to a scheduling quirk that saw the Canes avoid any good teams because, as has been well documented, Golden doesn’t beat good teams).
Miami wheezed its way to an unimpressive win over a poor Wake Forest team. After the game, Golden talked about how tough the week was. It didn’t make any sense. Why would finding out you got off with a light penalty be tough? The team played poorly — it happens — but using the scandal as justification when it was in the rear view mirror would be a recurring trend.
Obviously, Miami imploded down the stretch in 2013 and, more importantly from a judgment standpoint, Golden’s record post non-punishment was 13-14. He’s just a bad football coach — it happens.
But where he crossed the line was with Mark D’Onofrio. He put a personal friendship above the good of the program, spending all of his tenure here defending, propping up, and ultimately sinking with him. Golden misappropriated university funds to an incompetent assistant because of a personal friendship.
It was Golden’s own failings as a coach that lead to his downfall. Cronyism, stubbornness, failure to address tangible shortcomings instead choosing to focus intangible issues, inability to do simple math and manage a clock, playing favorites with clearly less talented players…these are not good traits in a football coach.
The irony of the Clemson game is that Golden had pushed Miami so far off the national stage that very few people outside of South Florida ever watched the Canes play. So, on this Saturday, when Miami-Clemson ended up being the only game on national television, many people were exposed to what Canes fans had been seeing for four and a half years. Andy Staples summed it up thusly:
Brad Kaaya getting a concussion did not force Miami defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio to regularly play with a secondary that included only two safeties and two cornerbacks against one of the nation’s best spread offenses. Pop Warner defensive coordinators know to play mostly nickel or dime against teams that use as much field width as the Tigers do.
Think about it this way: Florida State, which has one of the best collections of athletes in the country, uses nickel as its base personnel package against Clemson. The win-loss record the past few years tells us Florida State coaches are better at their jobs than Miami coaches are at theirs. They are also adept at beating Clemson, considering they’ve done it each of the past three meetings. It would seem logical to either follow their lead or at least attempt to swipe some ideas in this department.
This is EXACTLY what Canes fans have been complaining about. Here is a touchdown South Carolina threw in the bowl game last year where Golden/D’Onofrio decided not to shift out of a base formation against USC’s spread, ending up with a linebacker on one of the best wide receivers in the country.
It’s one of many cases of this staff doing something insanely counterintuitive, have it repeatedly blow up in their faces, and not make changes because they think they know better.
Golden got by entirely on beating weak opponents, lucking into a period where Virginia Tech took a downturn, where he happened to hit a 6-7 Ohio State team and 4-8 Florida team at home, allowing him to win just enough games to qualify for bowls (in three of four years). But Clemson was having none of it, and when one of the best teams in the country showed up, they took advantage of Golden’s ineptitude.
At the end of four and a half years, Miami is much poorer for having Al Golden as their head coach. The sum total of Golden’s tenure was to:
- Take advantage of a scandal to gain unprecedented power and job security via an undeserved contract extension.
- Use his enhanced position to ensure gainful employment for his undeserving friend.
- Lose to Florida State FIVE times.
- Never beat a team that finished the year ranked.
- Comprise a multitude of empty slogans in lieu of actually fixing problems with his football team.
- Produce, by far, the worst defenses in school history.
- Go AWOL for a week in attempt to get a job at his Alma Mater.
- Try to destroy everything that made this program special and great — again, he thought he knew better. This was the combination of idiocy and certitude, not maliciousness. He didn’t intend to do it. He thought he was helping.
Golden wasn’t a victim. He was opportunistic, but ultimately incompetent.
He has a “Golden” parachute, and that is his reward for duping the athletic department into signing a stupid contract.
Good Riddance. The only regret is this didn’t happen sooner. The only hope is that it doesn’t take too long to scrub the smell of stupid out of Hecht.
Speaking of which…
Blame To Go Around
The Person who failed the university the most is still employed, and in charge of the Athletic Department. Blake James spent the last few years working for Al Golden, not the University of Miami.
His statements about Golden’s job status were damaging to the fan base, divisive, and did nothing good for the university. They did, however, repeatedly strengthen Al Golden’s position.
I wrote this last week, but Al Golden is not the University of Miami football program. When Blake James started putting Golden’s well being above that of the university, he was derelict in his job responsibility. And make no mistake, that’s what happened.
We saw this first with the Penn State fiasco after the 2013 season. Al Golden heavily pursued that job, and while doing so, played hooky from work. This reached a crescendo when Blake James hilarious claimed he was in “regular communication” with Al Golden only to be immediately contradicted by Donna Shalala saying we don’t know “anything.”
Any coach is free to pursue a job opportunity. And at the time, James being made to look a fool was funny. In retrospect? His statement only helped Al Golden in the event Golden didn’t get the Penn State job.
Why exactly was someone’s boss covering for them sneaking around behind their shared employer’s back?
Because he valued Golden over the program. We saw that relationship repeatedly manifest itself over the last few years. I documented that here last week.
But even after Saturday’s debacle, without consulting with anyone, without even thinking, his instinct was to defend Golden. The program be damned. Despite the worst loss in school history, several prominent alums melting down in public, and a national embarrassment, James did not even think that maybe he shouldn’t comment publicly, instead, deciding to send a text to the press stating, ““We are all disappointed with today’s outcome. Anyone who loves Miami is disappointed. But we have another game next week, and we need to make sure we continue to support our team.”
My brother texted me after the game, and raised this question: “Why is that $#$%#@! idiot even responding to the media with a text message?”
Answer: Because it served Al Golden. Try to quell the uprising before it can start. Gotta protect Al.
In foregoing his duty for years, putting Al Golden above the program, essentially reversing the boss-subordinate relationship, Blake James failed this program. He failed the community of South Florida. He failed our players.
And, this will be roughest on the players. No one is claiming Al Golden didn’t have a close relationship with players. As with any coach, there will be a mixed bag. From this:
Coach Golden saw in me something that I didn't see for myself. Thank you for all you did for me coach
— Ufomba Kamalu (@Nightmare1147) October 25, 2015
Former Cane and recent transfer weighs in pic.twitter.com/EFFO9Fo6hC
— Canes Warning (@CanesWarningFS) October 25, 2015
But so many of them gave so much to this program. Rashawn Scott was injured on Saturday laying out for a pass in the fourth quarter of a game the Canes trailed by 51 points. Scott deserved better.
He deserved an Athletic Director that was an evaluator not a cheerleader. That made sure that his players were getting the best possible instruction. That was more concerned about the players than the coach. He didn’t get that.
There is mixed reporting on what exactly transpired on Sunday. Either the Board of Trustees had several donors threaten to withhold donations, which forced Blake James to fire Golden at gunpoint, or the Board of Trustees themselves fired Golden.
In any event, left to his own devices, James would not have fired Golden last weekend. That was his instinctual reaction, to continue status quo. It’s unclear whether he EVER would have fired Golden.
That 58-0 loss to Clemson is on Blake James more than Al Golden. Any sort of critical employee evaluation would have resulted in Golden’s dismissal after the 2014 season. But James did not do his job. And Saturday was the result, which leaves Miami in a precarious position.
The man who so obviously repeatedly exhibited poor judgment, and who was just neutered by the Board of Trustees, is now at least partially entrusted with making the next hire.
And that is where Blake James really has failed us. He equated poor attendance with lack of import. When he defended Golden over everything else, he let down this community. Miami football serves as a beacon of hope. Of the place where local products can go do big things. It is not Al Golden and Blake James’ play thing. It’s too important to be messed around with in this manner.
We lost the 2015 season, 25 percent of our players’ careers, and suffered through the worst loss in school history all because Blake James put a coach above the program. He has a long penance ahead of him for that.
The same kid crying in the stands is the reason we should always have hope. Why we are only one competent hire away from turning it around.
While ignorant national pundits try to kick dirt on the grave of Miami football, resurrection is always potentially around the corner. It’s cliche to say that many recruits weren’t even born the last time Miami won a championship. It’s en vogue to make attendance jokes.
These things are true, but completely miss the point.
The University of Miami is a great football program because of the local community. Period. It’s the place where the most talented high school players in the country can go to play their home games in front of their friends and families.
Miami cannot mimic the small college feel of most big time football programs. They can’t be the only game in town, where the entire city revolves around the football program.
But that’s okay.
Those schools can’t be Miami either. They can’t build a stacked team without leaving a tri-county area in which the school is situated.
Different is not better or worse, it’s different. But it is those differences that are Miami’s strengths. And it is why, if the next hire is good, that the Canes will be right back on top.
In the face of real tragedy involving Artie Burns, we saw the best of the Canes Family.
UPDATE: You have given more than $40,000 for Artie Burns & Family in about 6 hours. The U Family is truly special. https://t.co/mrVbxOnn4g
— Miami Hurricanes (@MiamiHurricanes) October 28, 2015
That’s what being a Cane is about.
Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “there is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
And that’s precisely what we need from Blake James.
Whether by choice or force, the rehabilitation started with Al Golden’s dismissal. If Miami hits on this hire, whether James is involved or not, he will reap the benefits. This program is not far away from competing for ACC and National Championships. Believe it or not, the aggregate recruiting rankings for the last four years put the Canes on par with Clemson. They were just that badly coached.
The right coach will galvanize this program. He merely needs to organize this talent and let it loose. The community, both locally in South Florida and with alumni spread worldwide, will rally behind these kids.
And if properly utilized, they’ve proven time and again that there is nothing like South Florida talent reaching it’s potential. No one can compete with that.
We finally have a chance to be great again. To be that beacon of hope. To wipe away the tears.
A new dawn has arrived for our Canes.
Follow Vishnu on Twitter @VRP2003