In my opinion | Greg Cote

Greg Cote: Miami Hurricanes haven’t proved themselves — yet

 
 
Miami coach Al Golden huddles with players on the sidelines during a game against South Florida at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Saturday, September 28, 2013.
Miami coach Al Golden huddles with players on the sidelines during a game against South Florida at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Saturday, September 28, 2013.
Al Diaz / Miami Herald Staff

gcote@MiamiHerald.com

Stevie Wonder sang it in 1974. “You haven’t done nothin.’” The song was a funky shout against Richard Nixon.

Al Golden said it in 2013, just last week.

“I don’t think we’ve accomplished anything yet.” It was as if he borrowed Stevie’s message and sent it through a sanitizing ringer of grammar teachers before aiming it squarely at his own team.

(What were the odds I’d find a way to link a legendary singer and a college football coach, by the way? Further, what were the odds those men would happen to bear the fabulous surnames Wonder and Golden?)

I loved one man’s song because it was direct and lyrically angry, uncommonly so for top-40 radio.

I love the other man’s message because it also hits a point hard, and uncommonly so for a top-10 coach.

Wonder is blind but sees very well.

Golden sees very well, too. He sees Miami Hurricanes football history with unusual context and a clarity.

Thursday night in Chapel Hill, N.C., the 10th-ranked Canes play football as a top-10 team for the first time in four years, and Golden as a top-10 coach for the first time in his career.

And it means so little to him he hasn’t mentioned polls or rankings to his team a single time.

It isn’t that he doesn’t care, or isn’t proud of his guys for their climb.

It’s that he understands the work has just started. He knows that playing in prime time before ESPN’s national cameras isn’t a coronation for a UM team that has arrived — because that team in some ways is just about to take its first step.

They haven’t done nothin’.

But they’ve finally put themselves in a position to.

In the buildup to his 5-0 Canes visiting 1-4 North Carolina on Thursday, Golden was invited repeatedly this week to wax pleased on his top 10, but would say only: “At the end of the season we’ll count them up and see where we are.”

Understand, UM football lived in the national top 10 once upon a wonderful time, and Golden knows it because he studied it before leaving Temple to take this job.

He was drawn to the attitude that — around here — you don’t celebrate merely getting to the top 10 because that is your home. You own it. You belong there.

Miami has had two remarkable top-10 streaks in its football history.

The first lasted from November 1985 into September 1994. Across 10 straight seasons, Miami would play 103 consecutive games as a top-10 team — 86 of those ranked in the top five, and 26 as No. 1.

I lived the first chunk of that amazing run, having covered UM full-time during the Jimmy Johnson years of 1984-88. That’s when Hurricanes swagger took seed, and bloomed fast and outrageously colorful, and big.

The second great run was from September 2000 into November 2003. Touching four straight seasons, UM would play 43 consecutive games as a top-10 team — 40 of those in the top five, and 22 at No. 1.

Those were the two great, defining eras that produced five national championships.

In Golden, and this team, there is fresh hope for the next great era, but getting to No. 10 simply means you have arrived at the starting line.

The top 10 mustn’t be someplace you visit occasionally; you must take up permanent residence.

The last time UM was ranked this high it didn’t work out so well. In 2009 Randy Shannon’s Canes played three games as a top-10 team and went 1-2 in them. They weren’t meant to live that high. They were visitors overstaying their welcome.

Let’s see if it’s different this time.

“Maybe a couple of years ago the stage might have been big for a couple people, myself included,” quarterback Stephen Morris said this week.

After North Carolina and Wake Forest the Canes face No. 5 Florida State in Tallahassee, in what could present itself as the program’s biggest game since playing Ohio State for the 2002 season national championship.

UM must win its next three, beating the Seminoles to go to 8-0, and then keep on winning.

If that sounds unfair, like it is too much to ask, then the Hurricanes aren’t back yet in the way UM history defines it.

But if that is not too much to ask and expect?

Then the Canes will have done something.

They will have found their way back home.

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