Greg Cote

Greg Cote: Firing Al Golden was easy; choosing successor is real challenge for UM’s Blake James

UM athletic director Blake James, right, preferred not to make a coaching change during the season. But after an embarrassing 58-0 home loss to Clemson on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, he parted ways with coach Al Golden.
UM athletic director Blake James, right, preferred not to make a coaching change during the season. But after an embarrassing 58-0 home loss to Clemson on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, he parted ways with coach Al Golden. AP

Miami Dolphins interim coach Dan Campbell describes his revitalized team as a “sleeping giant” that has been awakened.

There is another one of those across town — an even bigger one.

The University of Miami’s Hurricanes have won five national championships in football, all much more recent than the Dolphins’ two Super Bowl wins, so the real slumbering mammoth down here is the one based in Coral Gables.

The team that on Sunday evening finally sounded the alarm to wake itself by firing its coach in the middle of his fifth season.

Al Golden was dealt a tough hand here, inheriting the NCAA/Nevin Shapiro mess that handcuffed him early. But ultimately Golden is responsible for a not-good-enough 32-25 UM record marked by bigger losses than wins. Saturday’s outrageous 58-0 home loss to Clemson is what sank him, but the iceberg beneath the surface was his 0-13 record against opponents that finished a season ranked. He was 0-2 in bowl games. He was 0-5 against ACC nemesis Florida State.

Golden failed to lift UM football back up to its former national stature, where the Ohio States and Alabamas now cavort.

The mandate to get back there — underlined by an angry fan base and increasingly vocal former Canes players — desperation and impatience drove athletic director Blake James to make an in-season change.

I say “impatience” with care. I’d have given Golden the balance of this season. But I also think making the move now is not unwarranted. “The U” is supposed to be all about family, and when your fans are renting “Fire Al Golden” banners for pregame flyovers and your alumni (including stars like Warren Sapp) are tweeting anti-Golden venom, well, your family has officially become about as dysfunctional as the Gallaghers on TV’s Shameless.

James seemed to allude to the torches and pitchforks of his fans and alumni in saying, “Now is the time to bring the Hurricane family together.”

It is harsh to call Golden’s UM term an abject failure. He’ll have little trouble attracting other head-coaching work. Sports fans disdain shades of gray, but recall it was just two years ago when Miami was 7-0, ranked No. 7 in the nation and frat boys wore white dress shirts and orange neckties to games in homage to Golden. The trouble is he could not sustain that high. His record since was 12-14.

Golden was a good recruiter but one whose staff never seemed to milk the maximum from that talent. The seven NFL-drafted Canes this past spring are evidence of that recruiting acumen. So is UM’s current 2016 incoming class being rated eighth in the nation by ESPN.com.

Miami’s next coach had better recruit as well as Golden did. That’s a necessary starting point.

UM needs to retake ownership of South Florida in terms of keeping the top kids home. This was the key to success that Howard Schnellenberger first identified and that Jimmy Johnson perfected. Win the backyard first.

The Hurricanes should have no trouble attracting a top coach to replace Golden after this season. Miami remains a major program even as it has lapsed under the radar.

And this area remains attractive to many recruits who don’t care nearly as much as some others that there is no campus stadium.

Recruits see all those ex-Canes in the NFL, including the replenishment of seven rookies, and that matters. Miami as a pipeline to the pros sells this program. Now it just needs the right coach to augment that with winning big.

I would always remind the Golden haters clamoring for a coaching change that UM won’t spend enough to compete for the Nick Saban and Urban Meyer types. Golden’s $2.5 million salary ranked only 42nd among FBS schools.

There are still top candidates, though. For me the top five (alphabetical for now) might be Rob Chudzinski, Mario Cristobal, Butch Davis, Chuck Pagano and Greg Schiano. I’d certainly add Mark Richt if he and the Georgia Bulldogs part ways.

What available coach wouldn’t want to replace someone who had grown immensely unpopular and take over a national championship-pedigreed program? Who wouldn’t want to inherit a sleeping giant?

I don’t see hiring someone who went to UM as being paramount; that’s just a bonus. They should consider everybody qualified, and not be dissuaded from mid-level guys just because plucking Golden from Temple didn’t pan out. Those interesting mid-level possibilities include the improbably named Doc Holliday of Marshall, who is affordable and 30-6 the past three seasons. (Oh, and Holliday happens to have been born in Hurricane, West Virginia. Omen?)

Erasing Golden from the program will placate the masses, for now.

But firing the coach is never the biggest decision in a change like this.

Who’s next is.

Read Greg’s Random Evidence blog daily at MiamiHerald.com and follow on Twitter @gregcote.

Related stories from Miami Herald

  Comments