For University of Miami coach Al Golden, the massive undertaking of correcting the myriad problems that surfaced during the 6-7 debacle of 2014 couldn’t start quickly enough. So as his players dispersed following the late-night flight home after the Dec. 27 Duck Commander Bowl loss to South Carolina in Shreveport, Louisiana, Golden instead drove straight to the office.
He worked that day, and the next one and 55 in a row overall.
“Being down and feeling sorry [for yourself] — none of that can help you a bit,” Golden said Tuesday at the annual Atlantic Coast Conference media session. “We went right to work. Our coaches went to work. I met with every player more than once.”
Golden also traveled to Dallas to meet with Cowboys coaches and study their system, challenged each of his assistant coaches to propose new wrinkles, consulted with athletic director Blake James and met with every person at UM who is involved in some way with his program.
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“I talked to every department, wanted to make sure all of our values and standards are the same,” Golden said. “If you’re expecting a different response but not changing the behavior, it doesn’t work. Everyone has to self-examine.”
What emerged, Golden said, was a plan that featured substantive changes, many of which he cannot specify for competitive reasons.
But when asked whether fans would see clear differences in play-calling and schemes, he said yes.
He said that’s partly because quarterback Brad Kaaya is capable of doing more, as a sophomore, than he was a year ago and partly because his defense is more experienced.
“We’ve changed a lot of different things,” Golden said. “Operations, recruiting, different approach with a lot of different facets of the program internally. There are a lot of subtle changes that aren’t as easily [noticed].”
The objective, Golden said, was to make “sure we have one scoreboard and not a bunch of different scorecards. This isn’t golf. If you’re content because your area is good and we lost, it’s not good. We have one heartbeat right now.”
Golden said it does him no good to discuss anything that happened with his program before Jan. 1 but summarized last season thusly: “It wasn’t good enough. You can’t escape the scoreboard. It’s not, ‘My department did well.’ We’re all responsible for results.”
He declined to comment about several remarks that players have made in recent days, including former UM center Shane McDermott citing selfishness on last year’s team and cornerback Tracy Howard saying leadership was lacking last year.
“For me to go back to last year, it doesn’t help anything,” Golden said. “Ultimately, I’m responsible. We all have to be better, starting with me.”
Despite relatively low national expectations and the swirl of negativity around the program in recent months, two developments delight Golden: how his players have stayed out of trouble and are holding each other accountable for missteps, and how the distractions of the NCAA investigation have finally dissipated, though Golden pointed out that UM is still on probation, with modest scholarship reductions.
“I came here to coach football, man,” Golden said. “I didn’t come to be the dean of discipline. … We’re not dealing with a lot of external stuff.”
In previous years, “I’ve talked about a lot of things that have nothing to do with our football program,” Golden said. “Last year, we had to answer questions that were awful. It was about four years before I could get my message out. When you see players buying in and being excited about who they are and what they want to be, it becomes fun.
“There’s a lot of trust right now. There’s a bond in the room that we haven’t seen in a while. That’s been exhilarating to be around a team like that. When everybody comes on time or is early and has suggestions to make things better, that’s awesome. That’s what we need to keep doing. Get the distractions out of here. Hold each other accountable. I’m excited about the direction of our team.”
He said the fact players are spending so much time together, using the chess boards and card tables that Golden’s wife purchased for them, pleases him greatly.
“There’s a calmness and a poise about our team,” Golden said. “There’s a focus. We’re getting very good leadership.”
Golden insisted “I don’t feel pressure” to turn the program around and he’s “grateful” to be at UM.
Regarding fan and media criticism directed toward him, Golden said: “Nothing I can do about it. … When I got here, we were blindsided” by the NCAA investigation.
“It’s incumbent on us to get [the program] back to where we want it to be and have a model that’s sustainable,” he said.
▪ In an ACC media poll released Tuesday, UM was picked to finish third in the Coastal Division behind Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.
Clemson was selected on 84 ballots to be the overall ACC champion; FSU was second with 41 votes. UM garnered two first-place votes among 158 ballots.