University of Miami

Manny Navarro: To save job, Al Golden must win Coastal

UM AD Blake James said Hurricanes coach Al Golden, above, will be evaluated at the end of the season.
UM AD Blake James said Hurricanes coach Al Golden, above, will be evaluated at the end of the season. adiaz@miamiherald.com

When the Dolphins fired Joe Philbin this week, desperate-for-change Hurricanes fans began crossing their fingers.

Maybe an ugly loss here against Florida State would help rid Miami of its other disliked football coach — and save the guys who pay to fly those “Fire Al Golden” banners every week some money.

If we learned anything Saturday night at Doak Campbell Stadium, it’s that Al Golden still has a chance to save his job — even if only a very small group of people believe he can.

That small group of course keeps growing smaller, but still includes the only person whose opinion ultimately matters in this, athletic director Blake James. And his players, who fought valiantly in a 29-24 loss to the 12th-ranked Seminoles.

“As I said from the very start,” James told a handful of UM beat writers as he stood and watched the team practice pregame alongside Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez. “We’ll look at everything at the end of the year and make an evaluation.”

The guys who fly the banners would tell you there’s not much else to see. Golden fell to 0-5 against FSU, 4-8 against ranked teams (he’s 0-12 against teams that have finished the season ranked and will be 0-13 if FSU stays in the Top 25) and 11-19 against FBS teams with winning records.

But here’s the reason he will get to keep coaching — the Canes can still very much win the Coastal Division.

Dalvin Cook was the guy who dropped UM to 3-2 Saturday night. He single-handedly scorched Miami in the first half and then carried FSU to a come-from-behind victory in the fourth quarter. He finished with 222 yards rushing, added three catches for 47 yards receiving and scored all three FSU touchdowns.

Nobody in the Coastal has anybody quite like Cook.

On Saturday, we saw the Canes grow in ways we had not before.

It all came in the second half, after they seemed to make all the same mistakes in the first half they had been making before: dumb penalties, failed third-down conversions and missed tackles on defense.

Yearby ran for 33 yards rushing on 15 carries and Coley had a career-high 7 catches for 139 yards and a touchdown in the loss to FSU. Oct. 10, 2015.

They cleaned things up and made corrections — and rallied from a 10-point deficit to take a 24-23 lead with a 29-yard Brad Kaaya-to-Stacy Coley touchdown pass with 10:02 remaining. Very few outside that Canes locker room saw that coming. The Hurricanes, who came in 3-19 when trailing at the half under Golden, don’t usually scratch and claw and take leads against good teams late. They fold.

Not Saturday.

Kaaya threw for a career-high 405 yards on 29-of-49 passing for three touchdowns. FSU’s pass defense came in having allowed only 564 yards and four touchdowns in its first four games.

Kaaya threw for a career-high 405 yards passing and three TDs in the 29-24 loss to the Seminoles. Oct. 11, 2015.

Those third-down conversion woes? UM finished 8 of 16 on Saturday.

Still, they leave here a loser to their biggest rival again.

“We can definitely beat them,” Kaaya said of FSU afterward. “We definitely can. I told a lot of their guys and their defensive coordinator that I'm going to see him again [in the ACC Title Game]. I plan on seeing him again, but we have to handle business in the Coastal first week by week.”

Said receiver Rashawn Scott: “That’s our goal now – to play them [in the ACC title game]. I know we can beat them. So now there’s nothing to be scared of.”

Scott had six catches, 108 yards and a TD. Oct. 10, 2015.

The only way Golden can save his job is by winning the Coastal.

He has more talent than anybody there. He has the best quarterback in the division.

Of course, he’s had more talent before, too.

There are 17 active Miami Hurricanes on NFL rosters who played under Golden at Miami. Seven of those — Duke Johnson, Ladarius Gunter, Phillip Dorsett, Thurston Armbrister, Ereck Flowers, Anthony Chickillo and Denzel Perryman — were recruited and signed by Golden.

Nobody else in the division had that many over the last five years. Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who won the Coastal Division in 2013, has nine active players on NFL rosters. Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, a three-time ACC Coach of the Year and winner of the Coastal Division four times, has 11. Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer has 16.

On Saturday, we saw the Hurricanes get up for a big game against a big team and nearly deliver.

Now, Golden has no choice but to deliver the rest of the way.

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