Years from now, history books will define Al Golden’s tenure at Miami with one word: Underachievement.
Golden, the Hurricanes’ fifth-year head coach, was fired Sunday just one day removed from the worst loss in program history (58-0) against Clemson. Those who watched Miami lay an egg on Saturday knew the Golden Era was anything but golden. After four seasons in town, the coach needed to show “The U” was back in 2015. Instead, the Hurricanes are 4-3, and Golden failed to prove he had what it took to rebuild an historical power.
Golden’s dismissal is perhaps the darkest chapter of an otherwise bright coaching career. Prior landing at Miami before the 2011 season, Golden worked wonders in turning around a terrible Temple program. The Owls were so bad– they went 3-31 in the three years prior to his arrival–that they were kicked out of the then-Big East. But Golden won 17 games in his final two years in Philadelphia. In 2009 he claimed a division title with Temple’s first winning season (9-4) since 1990.
Unfortunately for Miami fans, Golden’s penchant for program-building didn’t translate to the ACC. He compiled a pedestrian 32-25 record with the Hurricanes, a mark that includes a losing record (17-18) against ACC competition. Moreover, much of that conference record came in the weaker Coastal Division.
Golden drastically underachieved at Miami, but his tenure does deserve some context. He inherited a program plagued by NCAA troubles from the Nevin Shapiro scandal, which resulted in probation and a loss of scholarships. Despite walking into an unenviable situation, Golden managed to tie for the Coastal Division title in 2012, his second season in town. Miami withdrew from bowl consideration that year due to the ongoing NCAA inquiry. The next season, the Hurricanes shot out of the gate with a 7–0 record. Finally, Miami started to look like the program that had won five national titles since 1983.
But Golden failed to deliver on that momentum. Since beginning its 2013 season with a perfect record, Miami is 12–14 with two straight bowl losses.
Golden deserves credit for leading Miami out of troubled NCAA waters. But much more was expected from this program in the coach’s fifth season. This is a Miami team simply vying for bowl eligibility, and yet it houses so much more untapped potential. Perhaps most frustrating for Hurricanes fans, the program didn’t exactly recruit poorly under Golden: After the 2014 season it sent seven players to the NFL draft, but the team still finished with a 6-7 record. When a school posts more NFL-bound players in a season (seven) than wins (six), that’s usually not a good recipe.
Golden’s failure at Miami might not mean he’s a bad coach. After all, he still engineered magic at Temple. But it’s hard to argue that Golden didn’t drastically underachieve at Miami. South Florida remains one of the most fertile recruiting regions in America, and the Hurricanes’ program still boasts a rich tradition and history. “The U” once meant something in college football, a unique brand of swagger that worked wonders on the recruiting trail. It just didn’t work well enough under Golden.
That’s why Miami needs a coach who can take advantage of its brand. Luckily for the Hurricanes, a number of names could deliver on that potential. Justin Fuente has turned Memphis from a tire fire into a legitimate contender for a New Year’s Six bowl. Bowling Green’s Dino Babers is an Art Briles disciple who could make Miami’s offense very dangerous with the right in-state talent. Perhaps even Charlie Strong would leave a difficult period at Texas for a swing at Miami, where he could recruit the South Florida region he knew so well as an assistant at Florida.
Even more intriguing: Imagine the swagger Lane Kiffin would bring to Miami if the school overlooked his past NCAA troubles.
Miami Hurricanes football is a sleeping giant, and the right hire could galvanize the program and put pressure on Florida and Florida State in recruits’ living rooms. In fact, those two schools are probably more upset than anybody at Golden’s dismissal. The coach did less with more for nearly five seasons at Miami. Now the school has a chance to give someone else a shot at turning it back into “The U.”