A golden choice for Miami

Published Dec. 14, 2010 2:25 p.m. ET

By Andrew Jones
December 14, 2010

No unwritten rule in college football exists enumerating that to compete at the highest level schools must hire head coaches with previous experience running programs.

Oklahoma did just fine bringing in Bob Stoops from Florida's staff a decade ago, and there are enough other similar examples that big-time programs are still taking fliers on assistants from successful programs. Florida's hiring of Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp this past weekend is yet another such example.

But the safer route is bringing in someone who already has demonstrated he can run a program. Thus, he knows how to organize, game-plan, recruit, deal with boosters and the rubber chicken circuit, and the other nuances that consume a college head coach's time. Of course, success at previous stops is a prerequisite.

That is what Miami is getting in Al Golden, who led Temple football to a level of relevance few could have imagined when he was hired in 2005.

Similar to Oklahoma, Miami has expectations that exceed those of most schools. Only a handful of other fan bases are as demanding. And while such programs somewhat sell themselves, history has shown that without the right fit at the top, national championships are futile dreams.

There is a risk in hiring Golden. Coaching Temple isn't exactly the same thing as running the show near South Beach. He must acclimate himself to South Florida and gain the trust of high school coaches. Those coaches previously had a tremendous rapport with recently fired Randy Shannon, who was from that part of the state and also played for the Hurricanes. Shannon had immense credibility.

Miami president Donna Shalala expressed appreciation that Shannon helped clean up the Hurricanes program and that players were graduating. But the 'Canes weren't winning enough (Shannon went 28-22 in four seasons), and there were no indicators suggesting things would improve. Miami is about winning national championships, as it has five since 1983, so the school made a move.

Golden, 41, played for Joe Paterno at Penn State and also coached there for a year. He also served on staffs under Tom O'Brien at Boston College and George Welsh at Virginia. Those men are some of the best thinkers the game has seen in decades, so naturally, Golden is considered a thinker. He carries a similar DNA, and considering whom he's learned from, it's no surprise that Golden led Temple out of a football abyss.

Temple averaged about two-and-a-half victories in the 23 seasons prior to Golden taking over in Philadelphia. Bobby Wallace, who preceded Golden, was a star in the making in guiding North Alabama to the top of Division II. His hiring was considered a great catch by Temple's administration, but in eight seasons, Wallace's teams went just 19-71, which included an 0-11 mark in his final campaign. That team lost its first two games 63-16 at Arizona State and 65-0 at Wisconsin.

Granted, Wallace faced a Big East schedule for most of his seasons, while Golden enjoyed a lighter slate as a member of the Mid-American Conference. But, by Golden's fourth season, the Owls finished 9-4 and lost to UCLA 30-21 in the EagleBank Bowl. He had clearly upgraded every aspect of the program.

This season, Temple finished 8-4 but inexplicably was left out of the bowl picture. The Owls beat Big East champion and Fiesta Bowl-bound Connecticut 30-16 in September.

Some observers have quietly assumed Golden would hold out for the Penn State job once Paterno finally steps aside. Asked why he took the Miami job and didn't hold out, Golden responded on Monday, "Are you kidding me?"

He went on.

"The most recognizable brand in college football," Golden said of The U. "Again, I go back to the former players that are here, the five national championships, 20 national award winners, countless All-Americans, incredible tradition. It's a dream job. It's a tremendous opportunity for my family and I to build championships here."

To do that, Golden must recruit to Miami's championship standards, something Shannon couldn't quite do. Shannon's numbers show he took in fewer four- and five-star recruits than did his predecessor, Larry Coker, who was run out of town because the administration believed the program was quickly headed in the wrong direction under his watch.

Golden must put a fence around South Florida and nab every last kid he believes can handle the entire package at Miami. He was a key recruiter during Virginia's successful stretch in the 1990s and managed to get kids interested in playing football at Temple, so Miami shouldn't be a hugely difficult sell.

Golden also must understand his players. That was one of Shannon's greatest attributes and one of Coker's worst. Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Erickson and Butch Davis all connected with the players. Golden must follow in their paths.

If he does, one of the few coaches remaining who still wears a tie on the sidelines every Saturday has a chance to succeed Miami style.

Andrew Jones is in his 15th season covering the ACC.