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Notre Dame DC Candidate Profile: Al Golden

A look at Notre Dame defensive coordinator candidate Al Golden

Notre Dame is still in search for a defensive coordinator on Marcus Freeman's first coaching staff. We continue our analysis of the top candidates with a look at Al Golden, the current linebackers coach for the Cincinnati Bengals.

AL GOLDEN PROFILE

Current Position: Linebackers Coach - Cincinnati Bengals

Golden is a native of Colts Neck, N.J. and a graduate of Penn State. He played tight end for the Nittany Lions from 1988-1991. He caught 17 passes for 231 yards and two scores during his career.  

GOLDEN RESUME

2020-Present - Cincinnati Bengals - Linebackers
2018-19 - Detroit Lions - Linebackers
2016-17 - Detroit Lions - Tight Ends
2011-15 - Miami - Head Coach
2006-10 - Temple - Head Coach
2001-05 - Virginia - Defensive Coordinator
2000 - Penn State - Linebackers Coach, Recruiting Coordinator
1997-99 - Boston College - Linebackers
1994-96 - Virginia - Graduate Assistant

The Bengals beat the Tennessee Titans yesterday to advance to the AFC Championship game for the first time since 1988. Cincinnati ranked dead last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed in the year prior to Golden's arrival. Two years later, with Golden as the linebackers coach, Cincinnati ranked 5th in the NFL in rushing defense, dropping from 148.9 in 2019 to 102.5 in 2021.

Golden went 32-25 in five seasons as the head coach at Miami.

Golden went 27-34 as the head coach at Temple, but the Owls went 17-8 in his last two seasons. Temple went 15-42 in the five years before Golden arrived and had not been to a bowl game since 1979. Golden led the Owls to a bowl game in 2009 and an 8-4 record in his final season.

Virginia went 37-26 during his first years as its defensive coordinator but went just 22-27 in the four years after he left for Temple. During his time in Charlottesville, Golden developed a reputation for being an outstanding recruiter. 

In the 2002 class, Golden was the primary recruiter for five-star linebackers Ahmad Brooks and Kai Parham, who both signed with Virginia. The Cavaliers ranked 12th, 19th, 20th and 40th in recruiting in the four full classes that Golden helped recruit.

DEFENSIVE OVERVIEW

Golden has been part of different defenses during his career, and that is something I would imagine is attractive about him as a coordinator.

Diving into film of the 2021 Cincinnati Bengals and you'll see depending on the emphasis of the opponent, the Bengal defense varied from a 3-4 look to a 4-2-5 look.

When looking at the Bengals against the San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans, two run dominant teams, the Bengals showed a lot of three-down looks with a more traditional 3-4 alignment.

Here's an example:

3-4

Against offenses that were more open, spread out, or pass oriented the Bengals could easily go with a 4-2-5 look that put five defensive backs on the field.

Here's an example of that look against the Kansas City Chiefs:

4-2-5

Cincinnati had a disruptive defense this season, one that was quite effective at stopping the run. The Bengals were 7th in the NFL in forced fumbles (17) and 11th in sacks (42).

Temple ran a 3-4 defense during Golden's tenure, but at Miami the Hurricanes were mostly a four-down defense, although they were a bit of an old-school 4-3 defense that could easily get into five-man fronts that looked like the 3-4 defense he ran at Virginia.

Golden was not, however, the play designer or play caller for the Miami defense.

The last time Golden was a play-caller was with Virginia from 2001-05. During that stretch he ran a 3-4 defense, which was the preferred defense by then head coach Al Groh.

Penn State and Boston College were both traditional 4-3 defenses when Golden was an assistant coach at those schools.

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REASONS FOR GOLDEN

There are a number of reasons why Golden would be considered a quality hire for Freeman and Notre Dame.

1. Experience - Right now Notre Dame is going to head into the 2022 season with a very, very young coaching staff. Al Washington, at 37 years old, is the oldest member of the defensive staff, and he's older than head coach Marcus Freeman (36). In fact, seven members of Notre Dame's current coaching staff are in their 20's (Tommy Rees, Chris O'Leary) or 30's (Freeman, Washington, Mike Mickens, Brian Mason, Chansi Stuckey).

Freeman enters his first season as a head coach, and right now none of his assistant coaches have ever been head coaches. Golden was a head coach at the FBS level for 10 years, which means he can provide assistance to Freeman beyond just running the defense.

2. Recruiting - Golden was at Virginia during a stretch of my own coaching career that I was either coaching in Virginia as well, or I was recruiting the state. He had an excellent reputation as a recruiter back then, and I was impressed with his ability to build strong bonds with recruits and high school coaches.

If Golden lives up to his reputation as a recruiter he would combine with Freeman, Washington and Mickens to give Notre Dame a very dynamic defensive recruiting staff.

3. Scheme Diversity - Having coached in so many different defenses gives Golden plenty of experience with different types of looks, both the positives and negatives. Coaching at the professional level means he has faced far more complex pass concepts than he will face in college.

Golden knows how to attack teams with a three-down and four-down look, and with the Bengals they showed they could attack with both. Being in the NFL is also going to mean Golden has been exposed to more complexity from a coverage and pressure standpoint.

Freeman wants a coach who can adapt to personnel and to Notre Dame's unique scheduling, and Golden's experience with multiple fronts and experience in the NFL should give him that ability.

QUESTIONS

There aren't a lot of concerns or drawbacks for Golden. He's a veteran coach with a reputation for being a good teacher and a great recruiter. There is one major question however, and that is the fact he actually hasn't called a defense or coordinated a defense since 2005. 

Golden hired a defensive coordinator (Mark D'Onofrio) to run his defenses at Temple and Miami. Obviously as the head coach he was involved, but Miami wasn't very good on defense during his tenure.

Having Freeman and Washington staff would help Golden with the transition back to the college game, but the fact he hasn't actually served in this role is almost two decades has to be viewed as a legitimate concern.

That will be what Freeman will have to determine during the interview process.

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