CORAL GABLES -- University of Miami coach Al Golden met with reporters before practice Tuesday morning and discussed the big issue facing his program right now -- the NCAA investigation into allegations players took gifts from a former booster now in jail.
Golden, hired in December to replace Randy Shannon, said he won't be part of the investigation since he wasn't here. But several current players will be or already have been interviewed as the NCAA tries to find out if the claims made convicted by felon Nevin Shapiro, currently serving a 20-year sentence for his role in a $930 million Ponzi scheme, are true.
"Obviously we have learned of a situation here that we’re working through right now," Golden told reporters in an opening statement. "I'm as surprised as all of you and gathering information as you are. With that I'll open it up to questions."
Despite reports by The Miami Herald last August that Shapiro was planning on "dropping a bomb on UM," Golden said he knew "absolutely nothing" in the way that these allegations were coming or that the NCAA would be on campus.
"I just found out," Golden said. "Clearly there was some articles yesterday. But in terms of contact with NCAA, I haven't had any. Our [athletic director] and President have. Other than that, it's a joint effort, a cooperative effort. Once we learned of allegations, we want to make sure we're doing our due diligence and cooperate with the NCAA on this."
Shapiro’s alleged allegations happened during Larry Coker's and Randy Shannon's time at UM from 2001 to 2010. Golden said he's been instructed by the NCAA not to talk to his players about it and to stay out of it. He also said the school had already launched its own internal investigation before the NCAA got there.
"I'm out of it. I'll be completely out of it," Golden said. "We want it that way. It's unfortunate. It's hard for me to stand up here and defend something that occurred three, four, five, six years ago. Again, my record with the NCAA, our staff's record, our commitment to the student-athletes since we've been here speaks volumes for itself."
Athletic director Shawn Eichorst and President Donna Shalala have yet to comment on the matter. But the University of Miami issued a statement Tuesday morning following Golden's meeting with reporters.
It read: "When Nevin Shapiro made his allegations nearly a year ago, he and his attorneys refused to provide any facts to the University of Miami. The University notified the NCAA Enforcement officials of these allegations. We are fully cooperating with the NCAA and are conducting a joint investigation. The University of Miami takes these matters very seriously."
The NCAA began conducting interviews on Monday and will continue to do so. Golden said he has no idea how long they'll remain there. He said all he wants is for players "to be honest, be truthful and move forward."
"There's only one way to move here, to be honest," Golden said. "Clearly, we don't need these types of things to be a great team. We have 24 commitments right now and not one of them has taken an official visit. Not one of them has been on our campus. They're aligned with our core values, what we want to get done. The types of principals and cultures we'll have here are congruent with our coaching staff and direction of our football program. Again, this is tough for me to discuss because this all happened before I got here and certainly Mr. Eichorst feels the same way. We take this stuff seriously. But we've made so much progress in the last eight months, we don't want to go backwards."
Golden said he's sent emails to his players when similar issues have occurred Georgia Tech, Ohio State and North Carolina and used those events as educational tools. He said each player is given a "Cane Code" manual where it discusses extra benefits and agents.
"We're going to continue to be proactive and we got to make sure third parties stay away from our student athletes," Golden said. "Again, I said this to Sean [Eichorst] yesterday. Since I've been here, this is the tightest compliance department I've been around. They are strong. They have incredible manpower and on top of everything. For me, as the head coach, that's good. That helps you sleep at night. Dave Reid and his group do a tremendous job."
Asked if he would still be here had he known about Shapiro and the allegations, Golden said. "absolutely."
"This is the University of Miami. It's a special place," Golden said. "I can't tell you enough that this is an incredible place. You have a chance to do so many wonderful things whether it's academically or from a football standpoint. We're not going to less this knock us backwards. We have great kids on this team to the extent that they may have made a mistake. Okay, that's fine. But that's also part of growing up. What we have to teach them now is that if something did occur, let's be honest and move forward."
Golden said he isn't concerned that the investigation might scare away any of his 24 commitments or potential recruits.
"I really don't believe it's to that level," Golden said. "The student athletes that are committed to us know who we are, know what our core values are, know what we're committed to. Again, the timing is unfortunate because we've been doing so many good things. Our kids are doing a great job in practice, recruiting is going well. The timing is unfortunate. Again, if the allegations, some prove to be true, then we'll get it corrected."
Asked if his team won't let this become a distraction, Golden said: "We have to."
"That's part of being tough, having unity and staying together. We'll stay focused. I'm certain of that. We're disappointed, but we're not discouraged. Again, there's going to be a life lesson here. We're talking about allegations here from a man who is behind bars. If these do hold some truth, we'll deal with them."
Golden said players were not made available to the media because they were informed in a meeting prior to Tuesday's practice of what was going on.
"I don't think it was fair to have them come out here," Golden said. "They're getting ready to practice. From that standpoint, we didn't think it was fair to the kids."