The white flag is creeping up the pole in Coral Gables. Membership in the state's big three for the Miami Hurricanes is dangerously close to being revoked. It may just be time to permanently downgrade expectations in Coral Gables. Or should it be Opa Locka, since the 'Canes no longer have a stadium. Little has changed for the program since I wrote about the organizational troubles back over the summer, or even as recently as November.
Miami wanted John Gruden, Bo Pelini, and Tommy Tubberville. None of them would give Miami the time of day.
The Canes landed Al Golden, a name unlikely to excite any Miami fans, because "the u" couldn't afford anyone better. Still, Golden was by far the best candidate with head coaching experience that Miami could afford. He's definitely better than the 55-year old CFL they were considering in Marc Trestman.
The bottom line here is that it isn't about the coach. It's about the program. Miami could hire Nick Saban and still not get to the national championship game because it doesn't have the resources to compete with the elite of the elite in college football.
So yes, Miami made the best hire it could afford to make. But that's a bit like saying "you throw pretty well... for a girl."
[We continue our series in looking at what the new hires by Florida State's rivals mean to the 'Noles.]
Golden As A Coach
Jason Whitlock follows MAC football quite closely and he had some interesting comments: 1, 2, 3, and 4. The most shocking thing to come out of that? Temple has the biggest football budget in the MAC. At Miami, Golden will have at best the fourth highest budget in the ACC. He also says that Temple takes a lot of kids with questionable academics. It it thought that Miami doesn't allow that to happen with the frequency it once did.
While questions about his game management abound, Golden is considered a good schematic coach, a developer of players, a good motivator, and a quality recruiter.
Faces Same Problems As Shannon
Al Golden is new, but the problems for Miami's program are not. Golden will face many of the same challenges faced by Shannon, and there is little reason to expect he will have answers for problems beyond his control.
Randy Shannon graduated his players at an amazing rate and in his last two seasons put a football team on the field that was always in the top quarter of college programs. And Miami fans just didn't care to come watch, drawing less than 30,000 fans in his final game. Miami expects Golden to continue to graduate his players at Shannon's rate and put a better product on the field. Good luck.
Right Place, Wrong Time
But with a new coach comes new excitement, or so they say. Every program has a set of die-hard fans and relies on filling the rest of the stadium with bandwagonners. For FSU, that group was about 60,000 in the lost decade. For Miami, that group is about 30,000, as we saw in the loss to USF. While I think it is unreasonable to believe Golden will excite the fan base, assume for a minute that he will, and that Miami will sell 10,000 more season tickets to reach 50% capacity at Land Shark Stadium. I think that assumption is preposterous, but arguendo, let's go with it.
Now look at the schedule and the home schedule in particular. Miami hosts Ohio State, Boston College, UVA, Georgia Tech, and Duke. Ouch. On the road Miami is at Marshall, at USF, at MD, at FSU, at UNC, and at VT.
In all likelihood, Golden is going to waste the first-year excitement on an 8-4 (maybe 9-3) campaign, including a really boring home schedule, with the exception of hosting Ohio State-- a game in which the Canes will be sure home underdogs.
Given defending champion Virginia Tech's preposterously easy ACC schedule next season, it is quite difficult to imagine Miami making the ACC championship game for the first time in its history.
No national title. No 10-2 type season. At best finishing with the ACC's 3rd bowl. Those 10,000 potential new fans we assumed above? Gone.
Golden says he is the luckiest coach in America. He's wrong. As shown by all the better candidates who turned it down, the situation he is stepping into is not one to be envied.
So Golden isn't likely to light the world on fire in his first year. What about 2012?
No. That window I mentioned above? 2011 is the last year it will be open for a few years. After 2011 Miami loses a ton of talent (21 seniors, including 13 starters and many other important reserves). And while many teams lose talent and replace it with more veteran talent, the Canes simply don't have the young players on their roster to do that. Why? Shannon's recruiting steadily declined after 2008, including a really poor effort in 2010 when he took an amazing number of scrubs after Miami wouldn't let him take the higher-rated players with lesser academic qualifications. It was a well-chronicled desperation move by Shannon to grab more players and improve the rating of his class on the recruiting sites. But Golden is stuck with those players nobody else wanted.
And what of the 2011 class that will sign in less than 50 days? Shannon left Golden with three commitments, one of which is not expected to qualify. Per Golden, zero of the commits are currently in the top 30 in the state. There is zero chance of Golden bringing in a class that is in the same stratosphere as those of FSU or UF, who already has an excellent class for Will Muschamp to maintain. The 2012 team won't have much if any help from talented sophomores, because the talent won't be coming this year.
While most teams do improve in the second year under a new head coach, Miami will be experiencing a talent drain in Golden's second year. That's a pretty unusual circumstance for a new head coach.
Perhaps Golden can remedy the problem via the JUCO circuit? Unlikely. Miami doesn't let in too many JUCO players under the current administration.
And Miami's 2012 schedule is killer. No game is a 100% loss, but Miami will likely be an underdog of 2 TDs against Notre Dame and FSU. They'll be smaller underdogs @ K-State to open the year, @ Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, NC State and UNC. Probably a tossup @ BC, @ Duke, @ UVA, USF, and Bethune Cookman. That's staring 6-6 in the face. Miami had less than 30K in the seats for USF when Miami was 7-4. How bad will attendance be if Miami is 5-6 and needing a win to make a bowl in the final game? Good luck with that.
A chance for success in the long term
There's little reason for Miami fans to be excited about the next two or three seasons. In a strange way, maybe it is a good thing that Miami can't afford to fire Golden.
If Golden is to succeed at Miami he needs a lot of breaks.
First, he will need minimum expectations no greater than 6-6 in 2012 and 8-4 in 2013. Miami just doesn't have the talent to expect more against its schedule. Plus, if Golden did pull a miracle and win quickly, he might take off for his Alma Mater, Penn State.
Second, he will need there to be no restrictions from the administration on JUCO players and high school recruits with questionable academics and character. The Canes do have the potential to be quite good again in 2014, but only if Golden nails the 2012 and 2013 recruiting classes. He won't be able to do that if he can't take advantage of the local talent. And he can't take advantage of the local talent if he isn't allowed to take kids with bare-bones academics and behavioral issues. It is the nature of South Florida recruiting.
Third, he's going to need to somehow get 2012 kids excited about Miami football. This is going to be extremely tough because cashing in on the "new coach" excitement bonus usually must happen in the first class. That won't happen for Golden because the vast majority of elite recruits this time are spoken for. So he'll have to try to raise the excitement level for the next class, which seems unlikely unless Miami can turn in a 10-win season or a division championship in 2011.
Fourth, he will need to convince the administration not to stupid stuff like schedule road games at Toledo, Kansas State, and Memphis.
Fifth, Miami's athletic director did not hire Golden. If Golden is 22-14 after three years, ticket sales are predictably awful, and Miami's program is even more distant from its great past, think the AD will stick his neck out for Golden, who he did not hire?
Finally, he's going to need a booster miracle. Miami hasn't shown the ability to spend for the support staff, coaching staff, facilities, etc. that it takes to be an elite program. Yes, the Canes will have a new athletic facility (not a stadium), but even Cane football people admit that upon completion, it still won't be the quality of a Florida or even Florida State. Miami is going to need money to pay for a quality staff. Yes, Golden may be able to bring some quality coaches with him from Temple, but the reality is that most of them are not likely to be stars. And what happens when star coaches come to Miami? They leave to make some real money. The only way Miami can prevent that is if it somehow gets some boosters to shell out the big bucks.
So if Miami is really, really patient with Golden, stops expecting quality attendance numbers, and drops this academic charade, this hire has a chance to pay off.