Miami coach Al Golden’s second season at the school is beginning much like his first one, with new accusations of rule breaking, the looming threat of serious NCAA sanctions and no apparent end in sight for the long probe into the Hurricanes’ compliance practices.
Citing unidentified sources, Yahoo Sports reported Friday that former Miami football employee Sean Allen — who has been linked to one-time booster and now convicted Ponzi scheme architect Nevin Shapiro through the improper-benefits scandal that broke last year — assisted members of Golden’s coaching staff with recruiting.
If true, that could be a major NCAA violation by the troubled program, despite Golden’s repeated insistence that he wants to "get it fixed."
"The inferences and suggestions in the Yahoo Sports story that my conduct was anything but ethical are simply false," Golden said in a statement released Friday night.
Golden also said that he has been a college football coach for more than 18 years and stands by his record of compliance.
"I, like all of us at UM, have cooperated fully with the joint NCAA-UM inquiry and will continue to do so, so that our program and our university can move forward," Golden said.
Earlier Friday, two people with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press that NCAA investigators visited Miami for several days earlier this month, just the latest round of the lengthy inquiry into the Hurricanes’ athletic department. The people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because information about the probe has not been publicly released. Shapiro’s claims that he provided dozens of Miami athletes and recruits with extra benefits over an eight-year span were published by Yahoo Sports last August.
Golden is scheduled to discuss the coming season at the Atlantic Coast Conference media days in North Carolina early next week.
A significant portion of Shapiro’s allegations from last year revolved around Allen, who was an assistant football equipment manager until leaving the program last year. Shapiro said he gave Allen more than $200,000, most allegedly spent on players and recruits, as well as a luxury car. Allen denied those claims to Yahoo Sports in 2011, and has not responded to interview requests from the AP.
Shapiro’s attorney, Maria Elena Perez, did not respond to requests for comment Friday. She deposed Allen late last year, shortly before court records showed Miami entered into an agreement with a bankruptcy trustee to return $83,000 it said it received "directly and indirectly" from Shapiro.
Miami has been bracing for additional allegations, and was aware earlier this week that they were coming. In an email obtained by the AP, university President Donna Shalala told trustees Thursday that "someone who had a low level position at one time" was expected to allege that Miami assistant coach and former NFL player Micheal Barrow committed recruiting violations. Shalala said it has already been investigated.
Yahoo Sports reported Friday that Allen tried to aid both Barrow and former assistant Aubrey Hill, who left the Hurricanes less than a month after Golden was hired and is now the wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator at Florida. It cited Allen’s phone records, detailing calls he made to recruits — often moments before or after calling Barrow or Hill. It also listed other alleged violations, such as Allen giving recruits rides to the Miami football offices or to restaurants for meetings with coaches.
Some current players were listed as having contact with Allen during their recruiting process, including standout defensive lineman Anthony Chickillo, cornerback Thomas Finnie and incoming freshmen Randy "Duke" Johnson and Herb Waters.
Chickillo, according to the new Yahoo Sports report, was taken to a strip club on his recruiting visit, and that the trip for him and former Miami defensive end Olivier Vernon was arranged by Allen. Vernon decided after last season to skip his final season with the Hurricanes and make himself eligible for the NFL Draft. Vernon was one of the players sanctioned by the NCAA last season for accepting money from Shapiro.
It’s unknown when the joint NCAA-university investigation will end, said the people who spoke to the AP on Friday. When the probe is over, Miami would first receive a notice of allegations, then have the chance to appear before the NCAA’s infractions committee.
Typically, when investigators visit a campus, they are either conducting interviews with athletic department personnel, reviewing documents, or both. The NCAA generally does not provide status updates during their investigations, and university officials only have said they are continuing to cooperate with the terms of the inquiry.
Earlier this week, safety Ray-Ray Armstrong was dismissed for undisclosed rules violations. Armstrong was suspended for four games last year after acknowledging he took money from Shapiro and then missed another game while the school checked to see if he broke other rules after he interacted with a person who works with professional athletes.
Miami is also dealing with the sudden departure of former director of football operations Tom Deahn.
So nearly a year after the Hurricanes became wrapped up in an extra-benefits scandal — and with training camp fast approaching, along with ACC media days starting this weekend — Miami still has plenty of questions and very few answers.
"Who doesn’t want a clean slate? We get a fresh opportunity to do something new," running back Mike James said earlier this summer when asked if the Hurricanes were eager to put the troubles of 2011 behind them. "Hey, I’m happy to see last year go. It’s gone. Let it go."
Miami could still face heavy sanctions from the NCAA over the scandal sparked by the allegations Shapiro in last year’s Yahoo Sports story. Eight Miami players missed at least one game as part of sanctions the NCAA imposed over Shapiro’s claims, and four others had to make small restitution payments.
It was the first blow in an academic year filled with compliance-related issues.
Men’s basketball was hit multiple times, first with the suspension of DeQuan Jones after he was linked to Shapiro — Jones was ultimately allowed to return to the team — and then suspensions of two other players. Reggie Johnson missed a game after the joint compliance investigation showed members of his family accepted "impermissible travel benefits" from a member of the school’s former coaching staff. And guard Durand Scott, the Hurricanes’ leading scorer, was suspended just before Miami’s ACC tournament game with Florida State after he was also found to have gotten unspecified extra benefits.
Even Miami’s nationally ranked women’s basketball team had problems, with star guard Riquna Williams suspended for violating team — not NCAA — rules just before the Hurricanes went to the NCAA tournament. Without Williams, Miami was ousted in the second round.
But those matters pale to the ongoing inquiry into football, Miami’s centerpiece program with five national championships since 1983. And it’s long been clear that the uncertainty — what rules were broken and how tough will the penalties be — will linger into this coming season, just as it overshadowed every step of the 2011 campaign.
"You’ve just got to go forward and put the past in the past," Miami quarterback Stephen Morris said earlier this offseason. "Last year was rough for everybody, for every sport here. I’m sure everybody is just excited to move on."