Signing day brings 'relief' for Miami coach Golden
With a massive cup of iced coffee at his side, Al Golden leaned back in a leather chair early Wednesday morning and relaxed.
His first signing day as coach at Miami brought excitement - and relief.
Golden's first phase of bringing the Hurricanes back to national prominence was completed Wednesday, with 14 players sending their letters of intent to the school. More may be added in the coming days, most notably quarterback Jacoby Brissett of Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) Dwyer, who doesn't plan on revealing his choice until Friday.
''We're still recruiting,'' Golden said. ''This class is not complete. We know with one or two more of the right guys here, it could finish off on an incredibly high note.''
In all, there's 17 new faces so far at Miami, including two early enrollees and one transfer student. Of those, four are listed primarily as offensive players.
''If anything, that should give you an indication of my evaluation of our offense relative to our defense right now,'' Golden said.
Still, quarterback remains a top priority. Brissett, who is also being recruited by North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams, would like to be a two-sport college athlete - and Golden, without speaking specifically about any player, said he has no problem with that notion.
Some could not wait to sign.
At precisely 7:01 a.m., the earliest allowable moment under NCAA rules, wide receiver Rashawn Scott of Melbourne (Fla.) Central Catholic High sent in his letter of intent to join the Hurricanes, making him the first formal signing-day arrival of Golden's era at Miami.
Others quickly followed, and in all, the class included eight players who ''flipped'' - meaning they committed to one school, then got lured to Miami by Golden and his staff.
''There is a sense of accomplishment because we only had about 15 actual days on the road,'' Golden told The Associated Press as he waited for faxes to arrive shortly after 7 a.m. ''This class is a testament to a lot of hard work by the coaches and a lot of kids that wanted to be Miami Hurricanes.''
Signing day for Miami started long before sunrise in South Florida.
One of the earliest faxes came from defensive end Anthony Chickillo of Tampa (Fla.) Alonso High - Miami's first three-generation Hurricane - at about 7:45 a.m. His grandfather Nick was an All-American in the early 1950s, and his father Tony played three decades ago on his way to the NFL.
''Let's not downplay this guy's talent,'' defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio said. ''First and foremost, he's a great football player.''
Chickillo had considered himself a lifelong 'Cane anyway, given his family history at the school. Signing day was merely a formality.
''This just makes it official,'' Chickillo said.
There were other stories as well, including that of linebacker Gionni Paul of Lakeland, Fla., who originally refused to even speak with Miami. Things changed quickly: He got a Miami tattoo Monday night.
''The kid wanted to be a Hurricane,'' Golden said.
There were few surprises on signing day - which is still a revered tradition for any coaching staff.
A car pulled into the coaches' lot at 5:27 a.m., and within a half-hour, the football offices were brimming with anticipation. Some coaches and staff chomped on bagels or doughnuts, others guzzled coffee, and just about everyone lamented their recent lack of sleep.
Miami's staff was at a distinct disadvantage this year, considering every coach except Micheal Barrow - the lone holdover from the 2010 staff - was hired very late in the recruiting process, after the Hurricanes fired Randy Shannon at the end of a 7-5 regular season.
''It may not seem that significant today, but going forward, through his era, this will always be remembered,'' said Brennan Carroll, the Hurricanes' tight ends coach and national recruiting coordinator. ''There will always be nostalgia about this first class.''
Carroll was loaded with nervous energy as the clock slowly ticked toward 7:01 a.m. He looked at his cell phone often, trying to speed up time.
''It's 6:54,'' he said. ''Time to send a test fax.''
The letters started arriving seven minutes later.
''Relief,'' Carroll said.
Scott said he wanted his letter to be the first to reach Golden's desk.
''I'm going to be on time for everything,'' Scott said in a telephone interview. ''It's great because I know Coach Golden is going to be a great coach, and I wanted to be part of the Miami family. I didn't want anything else.''
Chickillo originally committed to Miami when Shannon's staff was in place. He wavered a bit, but ultimately was impressed with the recruiting pitch that Golden presented as well.
''They'll do whatever it takes to turn Miami's program around,'' Tony Chickillo, the signee's father, said. ''Al's a real bright guy. He seems to be real sharp. He's a real handsome guy, got a really beautiful wife, they make a great couple. He has a lot of the values that I played under at Miami under Howard Schnellenberger. He's a real strict disciplinarian who wants to win.''
Three other players joined the team prior to signing day: Defensive lineman Olsen Pierre and cornerback Thomas Finnie enrolled last month, and tight end Blake Ayles transferred from USC.
''Our message is very clear,'' D'Onofrio said. ''Why are you here? You're here to win a national championship.''
Even while Wednesday's focus was on 2011, Golden is already looking at who'll sign next year. He was pleased with what he and the staff did in a relatively short time - though hardly satisfied, and vowed more work would be done in the coming months.
''All said and done, I'm excited about this group,'' Golden said. ''There's something to be said for guys that want to be Miami Hurricanes.''