In my opinion

Greg Cote: Al Golden’s decision suggests UM can be a destination for coaches

Miami Hurricanes coach Al Golden runs onto the field by receiver Stacy Coley 3, as they defeat the University of Florida at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, September 7, 2013.
Miami Hurricanes coach Al Golden runs onto the field by receiver Stacy Coley 3, as they defeat the University of Florida at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, September 7, 2013.

Sports’ top-tier college football coaches have earned their collective reputation for never quite being satisfied. How can we trust them when they preach this is where they want to be? They are in general a lying profession. They are what’s-next obsessed. With rare exceptions, wherever they are is a steppingstone. For every Bobby Bowden, the one-team lifer, there are dozens forever looking for greener grass elsewhere.

Maybe it’s time to start believing Al Golden.

Maybe he’s different.

Maybe he proved it late Sunday afternoon by jamming the brakes on a weekend’s firestorm of speculation that he was leaving the University of Miami for Penn State.

And here’s another maybe: Wouldn’t it be great if Golden staying signaled that the UM job at last has become a destination instead of somebody’s bridge outta here?

Because if this coach turned down Penn State, anything is possible. Didn’t his leaving make sense? Wasn’t it beyond plausible?

Penn State is Golden’s alma mater, after all. He played there, as a tight end. He coached there, as an assistant, albeit briefly. He knew and admired the father figure of a pre-tarnished Joe Paterno. He knew a pre-scandalized Happy Valley.

It was so easy to accept that the man with the impossible surname, Golden, would hop a white steed and gallop heroically into State College, Pa., to continue the rescuing of “his” school from the ravages of the Jerry Sandusky pedophile scandal.

When it was reported this weekend Golden was among three preferred candidates for Penn State’s open job, many assumed he was gone, getting the winter clothes out of mothballs. At least one Hurricanes website, presently looking for a hole into which to crawl, even “reported” he had been offered and accepted the job, citing the ubiquitous “sources.”

There are lessons in this.

One lesson is for the media, in an age when we’re not even sure what “media” really means any more. Anyone with a blog or a Twitter site can claim to “break” news, but the mania and technology to “report” news first, instantly, behind a shield of unnamed “sources,” only increases the importance and value in the reporting of news accurately as a bedrock priority.

Another lesson here is to give pause to the easiest assumptions, or conclusions.

One of those was that Golden was hell-bent to coach at Penn State.

We dealt with that two years earlier, when the scandal was happening and Joe Pa got toppled. Rumors about Golden leaving UM swirled then, even as Penn State was hiring Bill O’Brien (who stayed two seasons before leaving for the NFL’s Houston Texans).

This time, by all indications, he had the chance to take the job and said no.

It doesn’t mean he won’t ever.

In a few years, when O’Brien’s eventual replacement is fired or sees greener grass elsewhere, Golden’s name surely will arise again.

That is the unavoidable nature of the business, and, frankly, it is good for business if you are a college coach. Speculation that Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher might leave for Texas was hardly coincidental with his pay rise and contract extension from FSU. Canes fans might now expect UM to lavish Golden with a raise or extension.

On the rise

Al is 44, still on the right side of “rising young coach.”

In time, emotion might lead him back to Penn State.

For now, pragmatics likely kept him here.

Golden just endured two years-plus of an NCAA investigation and cloud, of self-imposed bowl bans, to finally see the light.

Why would he want to walk head-on into waiting NCAA probation at Penn State? He just busted free of the shackles. Why would he want to hold out his wrists and have them handcuffed again?

Canes fans should be grateful and pleased Golden is staying. Coral Gables should be Happy Valley right now. The 22-15 record in Golden’s three years does not speak loudly enough for him. The arc is ascending. The NCAA [bleep]storm he inherited and has endured speaks well of him, for the way he has navigated the program through it.

At the same time, UM fans who think Miami is the greatest college football job imaginable must understand it is not. So must UM administrators understand that.

Miami has made huge facility upgrades but still is not state of the art compared with the top schools. Likewise with the salary it pays its top coach compared with others. And with the spotty attendance at an off-campus stadium.

This is integral with the Hurricanes’ recent history of football coaching changes.

Let’s define the modern era as the dawn of those five national titles.

Howard Schnellenberger stayed five years.

Jimmy Johnson stayed five.

Dennis Erickson stayed six.

Butch Davis stayed six.

Larry Coker stayed six.

Randy Shannon stayed four.

Golden, we now know, will begin his fourth.

This is not transience, but neither is it great stability.

Lack of longevity

Miami hasn’t had a head football coach with any sort of exceptional longevity since Andy Gustafson reigned from 1948 to 1963.

Charlie Tate followed Gustafson, then came Walt Kichefski, Fran Curci, Pete Elliott, Carl Selmer and Lou Saban prior to Schnellenberger. The Canes’ past 13 coaches — post-Gustafson through right now — have served an average of 3.85 seasons.

Maybe Al Golden is finally the coach to break that cycle and treat the Miami Hurricanes as an ultimate destination, not a glorified temp job.

What happened Sunday made you want to believe it could be so.

Read more Greg Cote stories from the Miami Herald

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