Golden, Hurricanes trying to turn the page to 2015 season
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) The day after Miami's bowl loss, Hurricanes coach Al Golden was already speaking in past tense when referring to the 2014 season.
Clearly, Miami can't start a new chapter quickly enough.
Calling the current air around the program negative would be an understatement. There's a constant stream of tweets demanding firings, the mother of NFL-bound running back Duke Johnson caused a stir over a quickly deleted Facebook comment suggesting some current players want to transfer, and that's after Miami finished 6-7 - its third losing record in 35 seasons.
But Golden, in an interview with The Associated Press, insists he sees reason for hope in 2015.
''There's so many different areas that we can improve on,'' Golden said. ''From a leadership standpoint, we need to keep building our unity in all three phases and make sure the team understands how it's all interconnected. We can all improve, don't make any excuses, be accountable, not be afraid to hold each other accountable and keep doing all the little things right.''
If social media is any indication, fans aren't happy and their patience has run out.
The Hurricanes haven't won a national championship in 13 seasons, after winning five in the previous 19. Miami hasn't won a bowl since 2006, while 100 other programs have won at least one. And while the Hurricanes could have gone to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game in 2012 but declined because of self-imposed sanctions, the fact remains that Miami has never won a title since moving to the ACC.
''Al knows we have to get better,'' Miami athletic director Blake James said last month. ''That's the expectation of the University of Miami football program.''
The school is standing by Golden, even after this season ended with a four-game losing streak - starting when the Hurricanes blew a late lead against Florida State. Losses to Virginia and Pittsburgh followed, as did a three-point defeat to South Carolina in the Independence Bowl.
Johnson then went pro, as did left tackle Ereck Flowers. Neither move was unexpected, but those departures combined with the graduation of standouts like Denzel Perryman, Phillip Dorsett, Shane McDermott, Jon Feliciano, Anthony Chickillo and Clive Walford make it reasonable to ask one question:
How Miami can lose players like that from a disappointing 2014 team and improve in 2015?
''We had so many guys during the bowl season improve,'' Golden said. ''Because we came up three points short it's easy to dismiss that. I don't think this team is going to do that. ... This team, these guys that are coming back, they're seeing results in so many different areas. Now we have to see them collectively. I'm confident we will do that.''
Some stats show signs of progress; others show signs of trouble.
In the end, it all added up to 6-7, and Golden knows this year's recruiting class is critical.
''There's so many indicators of what we're becoming and where we're going,'' Golden said. ''The message to recruits is, `We've done this without you. Imagine what we can be with you.' We need this next group to continue to come in and compete and raise the level of play.''
Golden's tenure at Miami has never gone as planned.
He took the job without knowing that an NCAA investigation was looming, and that probe continued for his first 2 1/2 seasons at Miami. The class of signees he landed in 2011 was put together in a hurry, with plenty of players that didn't pan out. The 2012 and 2013 classes were adversely affected by the NCAA cloud, since no one knew what would happen.
Then came 2014, when Johnson set a slew of rushing records and freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya became a star. But all the stories weren't good; two linebackers were kicked out of school in July after facing sexual battery charges, a defensive lineman missed the season because of an off-campus fight with a student in April, and injuries decimated the offensive line.
Golden is aware that 2015 must be better.
''We have to make up the differences,'' Golden said. ''Make up the difference in the ACC, make up the difference in the bowl game, make up the difference with Tallahassee obviously. That's what this next nine months has to be about.''