Al Golden faces media at ACC Football Kickoff
GREENSBORO, N.C. – As Miami football coach Al Golden approached his table in the print media interview room Monday during the ACC Football Kickoff at the Grandover Resort, a growing throng of reporters gathered, waiting to pepper the second-year coach with questions.
Golden walked over, sat down, looked around the table at the reporters - face red from the intense sun that enveloped coaches and the media in a golf event earlier in the day - and waited for the interrogation that was about to commence.
These aren't exactly the best of times for Golden.
His alma mater, Penn State, was hammered by the NCAA on Monday morning with unprecedented sanctions against its football program, perhaps crushing a program that not long ago stood as a bastion of what is right about college sports. Now it epitomizes what is wrong.
And last Friday, a report surfaced alleging NCAA violations against Golden right after he took over the job in Coral Gables in December of 2010.
But Golden maintained a smile and confidently answered what he could as the inquiries first went from his reaction to the Penn State situation to what his program is facing.
First off, the Penn State situation:
"It's really sad," Golden said, choosing his words carefully. "I'm going to continue to keep in the forefront of my thoughts and prayers the innocent victims and their families. Maybe not today, but hopefully here soon it will offer some measure of closer and healing an opportunity to move forward."
Pressed a bit more on what his alma mater is dealing with, Golden, who played for Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions from 1987-1991 and coached there in 2000, cautiously responded.
"I think as someone who has ties to that community, I think it's really prudent on my part to make sure I read and take my time and look at what all has been handed down and what ultimately led them to arrive at that," Golden said.
More important to Golden, though, is what may happen to his Hurricanes.
The Yahoo! Sports report last Friday said the NCAA had recently visited Miami investigating former university football employee Sean Allen's relationship with Golden soon after he was named the head coach. Allen has been linked to former booster and convicted Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro, who allegedly supplied numerous Hurricanes football players with illegal benefits, the NCAAA concluded last year.
Those actions prompted the school to self-impose a bowl ban last season, even though the Hurricanes eventually qualified for one. It also resulted in numerous players being suspended for a varied number of games.
The Friday report suggested Allen helped Golden and his staff with recruiting a week after the coach was hired.
Allen is alleged to have helped former Miami player and assistant coach Michael Barrow commit recruiting violations. Phone records indicate correspondence between Allen and Barrow and Allen and recruits within a brief range of time. The report also suggests Allen arranged meetings between players and coaches and other improprieties.
In addition, the report quoted a former Miami staffer who described Allen as an "off-the-books" recruiter. Golden couldn't comment specifically Monday, but stood by his previous statement.
"The inferences and suggestions in the Yahoo! Sports story that my conduct was anything but ethical are simply false," he said in a statement Friday.
On Monday, it appeared that Golden wanted to further address the charges and defend himself. He had to settle for the fairly political approach.
"There will be a day when I can refute that or discuss that," he said. "I look forward to that day, now is not the time to do that. I also don't want to lose sight that the person (Allen) in that whole deal has not been with us for a year. So, we’re not talking about something that happened yesterday. This is behind us, we are moving forward."
But what if the report is true and Golden used Allen, even if for just a month or so? Was he aware of Allen's ties to Shapiro? Did he know much about Allen? And was Allen posing as something he wasn't?
Miami could be facing a serious situation if Golden used the services of someone knowing they had Allen's background. Without mentioning his name Monday, Golden noted a few times that Allen hasn't been a part of the program for more than a year.
It's possible Golden wasn't aware of Allen's links. He didn't even know the program had been investigated when he accepted the job, only learning about the NCAA probe several months later. If Monday is any indication, the coach is intent on moving the program forward.
"At the end of the day, anybody will tell you, but if you don't have a culture where kids feel loved and feel respected and feel like they're being developed on and off the field on a daily basis, that's going to resonate with recruits," Golden said. "They're going to find that out.
"And I think what they're finding with the University of Miami is that, in addition to being a great institution and having a great football legacy, that those things are happening and that there is synergy there and we are making great progress. Certainly that's helping with recruiting. And that's stronger than any article that can be printed."