Miami's Golden: Player suspensions were 'first obstacle'
NCAA ruled 12 Hurricanes must pay restitution, eight must miss opener
Coach Al Golden: 'We're fighting through. This was the first obstacle.'
Golden said he "felt helpless to defend" the players under NCAA scrutiny
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) -- On the day he was hired as Miami's football coach, Al Golden said his experience at Temple prepared him for just about anything.
He's about to put that notion to the test.
Golden caught Miami's attention by overcoming countless obstacles at Temple, such as massive reductions in scholarships along with a lack of any real tradition, and turning the Owls into a winner. And now his career at Miami will begin facing a new batch of challenges, mostly brought on by an extra-benefits scandal that might hang over the Hurricanes for years.
"All the reasons that you come to the University of Miami as the head football coach or as an assistant coach or as a student-athlete remain," Golden said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press. "Clearly, they remain."
The task of rebuilding the Hurricanes was daunting enough before the NCAA scandal - remember, Miami still has not won a conference title since leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference, and last hoisted a national championship trophy a decade ago. With the scandal, it's a far bigger challenge now, but one that Golden welcomes.
"I really believe in my heart and I know the staff does too, that if we didn't have a foundation and a culture that was built on core values and built on principles obviously to teach life skills and to create self-reliant and independent young people, I think we would be struggling right now," Golden said, sitting at his desk with game plans strewn about. "We would be sitting here and there would be a lot of things collapsing."
The NCAA said Tuesday that 12 Miami players must pay restitution and eight will not be allowed to play in the season-opener at Maryland because of things they accepted from former booster Nevin Shapiro, a convicted Ponzi scheme architect serving a 20-year prison sentence.
Of the eight suspended players, five will return after a one-game absence. Two others will miss four games, and one will be sidelined for six contests.
"We're fighting through," Golden said. "This was the first obstacle and I think we're moving past that now and we'll deal with everything else that presents itself in the future."
The penalties, while certainly serious, were far less than some predicted the Hurricanes would receive. Golden said he heard a radio commentator say one morning that all 12 Miami players would miss the entire season. Because the school and the NCAA were jointly investigating Shapiro's claims - and promised each other to remain quiet about specifics - Golden had to restrain himself from shooting down the report.
"From that standpoint, I felt helpless to defend these young people," Golden said.
Still, the decisions unveiled Tuesday are only the first step in what promises to be a long process. The NCAA is still looking into Miami's compliance practices, and further sanctions when the investigation is complete seem quite likely. The fact-finding process will continue, even while Golden tries to turn Miami back into a title-contending program.
"If this can be done," said Penn State's Joe Paterno, Golden's college coach and longtime mentor, "Al will get it done."
Funny, just about everyone says that now.
Few people thought that to be the case five years ago.
Golden interviewed for the Temple job in 2006, one day after Virginia - he was the Cavaliers' defensive coordinator - beat the Owls 51-3. Golden met with Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw, who had already talked to some candidates and was on his way to talk to more, even though he quickly realized any further interviews were pretty much a waste of time.
"About 15 minutes into our initial interview with him, at a cramped hotel room in Charlottesville, I wrote on a legal pad: This is our guy," Bradshaw said in a telephone interview. "That impressive he was. That precise he was."
Temple had been forced out of the Big East and then went 0-11 in 2005. Players didn't want to lift weights or watch film, figuring - well, knowing - that they had no chance to win anyway. The school's Academic Progress Rate scores were awful and as a result the Owls could only offer 54 scholarships, 31 less than most schools.
Golden decided to seize the opportunity, when others winced at the notion.
"What he did was monumental," said former New York Jets standout Joe Klecko, a Temple alum. "Whether anybody else could have done that, I don't know. I know there's a lot of great coaches out there. But when Al Golden was there, I have to admit, I've never seen more efficiently run practices in my life. And I've been around football a few years. He had everything. I've never seen anybody so well organized."
Temple won 17 games over the past two seasons under Golden. The program has never been stronger. Even now, months after Golden left Philadelphia for Miami, Bradshaw insists that his former coach has built the Owls "to last."
"In the end, that's what leadership is, right? Setting a standard," Golden said. "You can't be a leader unless you have a moment of crisis, to be quite honest. You haven't been proven."
He stopped himself for a moment Wednesday and pointed out the window, the one that overlooks Miami's practice fields, gesturing to the school's future. The school is in the middle of some major development, including a totally refurbished athletic complex.
"You're really in the middle of an incredible triangle that's going to occur here of development in the next 18 months to two years," he said, arm outstretched. "You're talking about a medical center that's going to be right over across the canal there."
He turned to his right.
"Our facility that's going to be here," he continued.
And then he turned a bit more.
"And the student center. You're talking $50 million-plus of development," Golden said. "So there's a lot of people in America who would argue I'm in the right chair at the right time, given what our development is and my experiences with turning a program around and rebuilding and obviously the plan that we have."
Many people at Miami want him in that chair for a long time to come. Still, given the fact that Golden did not know the Shapiro mess was going to explode like this - "I had no warning. Clearly, there were entities involved that did," he said Wednesday - there are many around the Hurricanes who fear that Golden may decide to leave quickly.
On that point, the coach is defiant.
"I don't fear anything," Golden said.
"There's nothing that can happen that we won't be prepared for," he added. "But we won't be starting out in the situation that we started out at Temple."
On Wednesday, there was a return to some sort of normalcy. The team practiced for the first time since the NCAA penalties were announced. Starters worked in new roles. Things moved briskly, the only pace Golden will tolerate.
The reminders of what's happened remain, and what will happen next remains unknown. The line of television satellite trucks, a daily fixture outside the football offices since the story broke, were still there Wednesday when Golden made his customary before-sunrise arrival at the office - a stark reminder that, for now, Miami is making the sort of headlines he never envisioned eight months ago.
"I just started laughing," Golden said. "Anyway, that's why you want to come to the University of Miami. Hopefully all the stories won't be this sensationalized or this negative. You come to Miami because it's the University of Miami. And when it's good at the University of Miami, it's better than anywhere in the country. And we've got to get back to getting it good."
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