Despite the uncertainty still lingering over Miami’s program because of a lengthy NCAA investigation, the Miami Hurricanes are off to their best start since 2004.
As Miami prepares to face North Carolina in a Thursday night matchup of ACC Coastal Division foes, the Hurricanes are unbeaten and ranked in the top 10 for the first time since 2009.
Here, in his own words, Al Golden—the man who’s helped Miami turn a corner—shares some of his thoughts on coaching, motivation and what makes the Hurricanes program unique.
On what he enjoys most about coaching:
“When you see a guy you’ve been working with for two years to get his footwork or run a specific route and he finally gets it, you feel a sense of empowerment. You empowered a young man. You taught him how to do it. That’s gratifying. But it’s equally gratifying to see kids that come in here with no process… maybe they don’t have the life skills to be successful on and off the field, or to handle the challenges of this, because this is really hard. Being a college student-athlete is hard, the media pressure, the academic pressure, the pressure to perform, to reach goal weights, to [make] certain strength gains, to learn the game plans, all of those things require a certain respect and as Ray Lewis said, an obedience to the process. That’s what we’re trying to teach the guys. At the core of what we teach is the eight pillars of performance. That’s what we teach, we teach eight pillars and ultimately, we believe if you follow a specific model, then you deserve victory.”
On why he’s not afraid to show emotion on the sideline:
“My mom’s Italian, maybe it has something to do with that. Maybe I’ve always been like that, I don’t know. But maybe it’s more so with this group because they’ve been through so much and they’ve never retreated. I’ve seen the tough days in their eyes or in their body language. They’ve had to endure a lot. To see them having success now and enjoying the journey, that’s the biggest thing. We didn’t really enjoy the journey [before]. I used to say to them, asking them to work hard, get conditioned, or do the little things was like giving my 4-year-old Vick’s Formula 44. They wanted to spit it out. Now they’re enjoying the journey, they’re embracing hard work and they’re competing every day against each other. It’s fun to see them grow and develop.”
On the challenge of coaching his players through NCAA uncertainty:
“How do you quantify what everybody here has been through and continues to go through as we sit here today? We’re 26 months…even our judicial system recognizes cruel and unusual punishment. That’s kind of where we’re at right now. It’s been very difficult. It’s been toxic at times. It’s been painful to see them go through it, or have their bowl game wiped away, or have their chance at playing for an ACC championship wiped away. I think everybody here is better people for the way we’ve operated through this stage, through this crisis, and hopefully we’ll continue to be a better team because of it.”
On why he felt committed to staying at Miami, despite the NCAA investigation:
“A lot of these kids chose us in a time of turmoil. That says a lot about them and their families. For all of the recruiting services out there and all the different ways to evaluate talent, I think if everyone can put a filter on their program like the one we’ve had, really, how would you say it, thrust upon us, you’ll find out a lot about who you recruit and what kind of people you’re bringing in. The guys that chose the University of Miami at this time chose it for all the right reasons. Many more chose it because they want to be the group that delivers Miami through this. And they want to bring Miami back. It’s important to them. It means something to them. They grew up with it, they grew up around it. They identify with it. They want to be part of that brother hood and that legacy. From that standpoint, we know the kids that have come here the last two years want to be here. It’s not about just being a part of something and being recruited. When they chose us, I really believe in my heart they chose us for the right reasons. And that’s a powerful thing.
On what keeps him going in such a tough profession:
“Being part of something special. When you come to the University of Miami and become a part of this, it’s unique. You’re part of one of the greatest traditions in college football. You are part of the greatest brotherhood in college football. That’s something we all take very seriously and it’s something we’re all grateful for. We’re stewards of that now and I’m the head coach of that. We have a long way to go to get it back. That’s what drives me every day and I always tell the kids, you can’t just be one way…it can’t be coach to player. There’s got to be symbiosis. When you see Randy Johnson coming back from a fumble and then he has two great blocks, and then a bunch of carries, you know, that motivates coaches. When a guy fights through when it’s tough, or like the team did the other day when we were down 17-7 and it’s not looking good. [Georgia Tech] was in position to go 24-7 and they fought back…that motivates coaches. It does.”
On one of the most iconic moments of his career, when cameras caught him embracing an injured Malcolm Lewis on the field in Miami’s win at Georgia Tech last year:
“I think I beat everybody out there. It wasn’t like I was joining the party. I know from experience that the body doesn’t go that way. I knew it was awful and I don’t know…at the end of the day, all of these young people, their parents are entrusting you with their child, their most prized possession period. So as horrific as that was, there is a paternal sense in you that this is not good. I don’t know…to me, a lot of people made a big deal about nothing. At the end of the day, it was one of your guys that does everything right, that works his tail off every day incurring a very difficult injury. At that moment, I know [his] season is over. I also know from being a player all the things that are going through his mind.”
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