August 22, 2011
When Al Golden was introduced as Miami's new head coach last winter, he called it "a dream job," and called himself "the luckiest coach in America today." Last week, the dream turned into a pending nightmare, in which an unstoppable meteor is on a collision course with his office for reasons he cannot control or change.
Still, Golden continued to insist over the weekend that he's not looking for a way out of the pending carnage:
Even with potential sanctions looming and an NCAA investigation ongoing, University of Miami coach Al Golden has smiled and reminded reporters on multiple occasions just how happy he and his wife are to be living in South Florida.
On Saturday, Golden did it again, but only after sidestepping a question as to whether there might be a clause in his contract that would allow him to leave UM penalty-free should the NCAA come down hard on the program.
"I'm not going to get into all that," said Golden, who earlier this week told reporters UM officials had a responsibility to inform him and newly hired athletic director Shawn Eichorst if they knew of the allegations made by convicted Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro. "Listen, my family and I are excited about being here, OK? This is a great place, and we're going to get this fixed."
Boilerplate optimism aside, the most honest line in that excerpt is Golden's acknowledgement that, yes, the university did have a responsibility to tell him an ex-booster was threatening to bring the program down from behind the jailhouse walls. And despite the officials pronouncements of surprise and disappointment, officials were at least somewhat aware of Shapiro's malignant designs: He told the Miami Herald in August 2010 he was shopping a tell-all book detailing violations involving "no less than 100 former players," at which point Miami passed along that information to the NCAA and seemed to promptly forget about it. Last week, former Miami athletic director Kirby Hocutt — who hired Golden in December, before taking off for the AD spot at Texas Tech — told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal the university had dismissed Shapiro because he refused to cooperate.
"All it was, was a rumor that a guy in prison had made these allegations, but had refused to give Miami any evidence of any wrongdoing," Hocutt said. "So you don't have anything. So there's really nothing for him to report to us except for a rumor, and God knows there are thousands of those." Golden was hired four months later, and the NCAA began its own investigation roughly three months after that.
Needless to say, Miami is not going to be such a great place for the foreseeable future. That statement is effectively immediately if the ten current starters implicated by Shapiro are stuck in NCAA purgatory for all or part of the upcoming season. Given the glacial pace of NCAA investigations — even in cases that don't require the equivalent of an actual glacier in paperwork — a bowl game and ACC championship are still in play this year, for now. But both goals seem distant and insignificant in the grand scheme, and Miami may elect to sacrifice them itself in a round of preemptive penance to stave off a harsher response down the line. Assuming the program is still standing in December, what's holding Al Golden in place?
He's a native New Jerseyian with no previous ties to Miami, South Florida or the South in general; he played at Penn State, and the farthest south he ever coached as an assistant was at Virginia. He has a legitimate reason to feel betrayed by the university, which he thought was offering him a legitimate chance to win national championships; instead, he's being set up to serve as the placeholder for years of austerity under heavy scholarship restrictions, at minimum. Neither the scandal nor the pending sanctions will follow him to another job; Nevin Shapiro had already been in jail for months when Golden was hired, and he seems to have been genuinely ambushed by last week's bombshell. If his contract offers him any way out without a significant penalty, no one could blame him for taking it, and a lot of people in his position might decide the penalty is worth it to get out of the way of the possible meteor headed for Coral Gables, too.
If he doesn't, then either a) The NCAA has replaced its sanctions policy with a program called "Hugs for Violators," or b) He sincerely believes Miami has a future worth enduring the pain and is committed to seeing it through. As of right now, there may still be a slim chance that a motley band of workaday oilmen come together to deflect the meteor at the last possible second, and the eventual consequences turn out to be much less devastating than everyone assumes they're going to be. (So far, Miami seems willing to cooperate with the NCAA now that the investigation is underway, and as Ohio State has taught us, the right combination of cooperation, contrition and convincing ignorance can get you everywhere.) The tea leaves should be clearer by the end of the season. Then, we'll see where Golden really stands.