Al Golden can’t win.
I don’t mean that in the literal sense, like the Hurricanes have yet to beat a high-end opponent under Golden's leadership.
I mean it in the sense of there’s nothing Golden can say at this point to overcome the mountain of negativity on top of him and this football program.
Al needs to phone a friend. And he needs you -- the Miami Hurricanes football fan –- to answer even if you don't want to.
I’ll admit it. I was a little angry late Monday night. About 10 days after a fourth consecutive loss to end the season, Golden’s first words weren’t delivered in a season-ending press conference (the way things are normally done) but through a one-on-one interview with Gary Ferman at Canesport. As a reporter, you get a little ticked off when you aren’t given equal opportunity.
Then, I read the Canesport interview and didn’t feel so bad. Golden's responses were what we expected. In the end, it hit me why Golden is going one-on-one with select reporters versus facing a firing squad at a press conference (there will be more one-on-ones by the way). He can control the message. He can keep tough questions private. We won't get to see him bristle.
That's smart from a public relations perspective. In the end, what is Al going to say publicly that’s really going to make anything better anyway? Will blaming himself put an end to the fire Golden chants? No.
Truth is, only actions will do at this point. And after 10 days of inaction, does it really look like coaching changes are going to be made –- forcefully by the administration, anyway? It would have happened already.
Which brings me back to my point: that mountain of negativity.
Al Golden can bunker himself in, ignore the noise and plead with his players and assistants to do the same. But the rest of us? We do live in that world. That includes recruits, parents, influential coaches, street agents, girlfriends, Ray-Ray on the corner, the woman who does Susan Miller Degnan's hair and a bunch of loud people on the radio and internet. And that’s where all this irreparable public relations damage is being done.
That’s where the University of Miami – the program you are supposed to be supporting – is losing a much bigger war.
It might look like a one man job, one man’s sole responsibility to clean up after himself, after Randy Shannon and Larry Coker. After all, Al's got the fat paycheck, those pillars and that orange tie. But this isn’t a one-man job. It’s on fans too. Even if it's a smaller role, you play one on Saturdays and all the days inbetween.
In case you didn’t know (I’ll put in capital letters to make it clear Canes Fam): WE’VE HEARD YOUR CRIES FOR CHANGE. We saw those banners fly over the stadium over and over again. We’ve read Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, seen the red cups form the phrase FIRE AL GOLDEN on the Palmetto Expressway overhang. We get it: You are not happy with the job Al Golden has done. We know you not only wanted Mark D’Onofrio gone before Christ was born, but you wanted him to legally change his name to Mark Onofrio too.
This voicemail box is full, people.
Now, it’s time to stop digging the hole even deeper for UM. You’ve got to lend the Canes a hand even if Golden can’t fix this mess himself; even if in the end he doesn't turn out to be the right man for the job. It’s time to give up on the dream of creating such a loud chorus of boos that it will result in Golden's firing, bringing Butch back or ending D'Onofrio's reign of terror.
Athletic director Blake James is not going to fire Golden anytime soon. He’s said it over and over again. James isn’t even forcing Golden to fire anyone on his staff. They are going to see this through – at least through 2015 in my opinion – whether you show up to No Life Stadium or not (and not that many of you were doing that before this 6-7 mess anyway).
Status quo is the message Golden Canes, the donors, have been receiving for weeks when they’ve voiced complaints and concerns or threatened to pull funds if changes aren’t made. One Golden Cane told me James and others have told them "to keep holding on, nothing will happen until Signing Day.”
So, there. Something might happen after Signing Day. There's a ray of sunshine, a glimmer of hope. But that's all it is for now.
That aura of negativity permeating 24 hours a day? That's not doing anyone any favors. Nobody in their right mind, who could be part of fixing the future at Miami, is looking at UM and saying ‘Man that place is sexy. Look at all the support that school gets. Those fans are the best.’
And I don’t mean coaches. You can throw money at any coach and they'll lie through their teeth about anything. They are mercenaries paid to put their heart into something.
I’m talking about kids -- from seniors on down to Pee Wee football players. I’m talking about the future. I’m talking about all those people who don’t live in Al Golden’s world. I’m talking about the people who can see, smell, taste, hear and feel the negativity and have it push them away. And right now on the nasty scale, that storm is a Category 5.
Blake James, the aforementioned athletic director who took over after Golden had already received his contract extension through 2019, tried to wish fans a Happy New Year on Twitter a few days ago. The Rated-R responses to James were sickening. These were some of the PG-responses:
I can't imagine what the response would have been had Golden or D'Onofrio tweeted something.
Wait, I can.
Brad Kaaya’s mother, Angela Means, has tried to stem this tide of negativity on Twitter and Facebook, urging fans to stick by the side of the players and the team. So has UM. Somehow, they've come up with another clever marketing campaign sure to win folks over.
The public relations machine in Coral Gables has been on overdrive promoting positivity and unity left and right. It’s obviously a direct rebuttal to what Duke Johnson’s mother and Clive Walford were putting out there in the aftermath of the bowl loss –- that there was a division among players and that players would transfer out if they didn’t have to sit out a year per NCAA rules. You know, all the kind of stuff that makes recruits feel warm and fuzzy this time of year.
In the end, though, it’s clear UM is fighting a huge uphill battle. A really, really, really big one. And one they likely won't win on Signing Day either. Recruiting wars for 2015 have already been lost long ago. More could be on the way in more decommitments.
Golden and his staff deserve a lot of that blame. Did you know Miami-Dade and Broward County produced 16 seniors this season that played in the three major All-American games? Do you know how many are headed to UM? Two: St. Thomas Aquinas running back Jordan Scarlett and Miami Booker T. Washington running back Mark Walton.
Not all of that failure can be traced solely to Golden or the results on the field. Some of it can be traced to the black cloud of negativity surrounding the program, the one fans have helped create.
Michael Irvin, the face of The U, the man who supports Miami through thick and thin, Mr. Positive, Mr. It’s going to get better -- even he couldn’t blame his nephew, Miami Westminster Christian All-American safety Tim Irvin, for skipping out on UM to head to Texas.
Pinning blame on fans for the program’s current state of affairs isn't the idea here. The players and coaches deserve all that blame –- Golden the biggest chunk of that.
You can’t have fewer wins over FBS schools (5) in 2014 than potential NFL Draft picks in 2015. You can’t keep pointing to an NCAA cloud that “devastated the program” when the basketball team won an ACC title while said cloud was hanging over its head too. And you just can’t keep harping on a convenient argument (we improved from 90th in 2013 to 15th in total defense in 2014) to show signs of improvement.
Nobody cares. Nobody wants to hear it because they’ve heard it all before. Fans want action. They want results. And if not, they want blood.
But in this case, there doesn’t look like there will be blood. No matter how loud the chorus gets, Blake James doesn’t look like he’s changing his mind or his coach.
So, my advice, take a step back and put your energy toward something you can help change. And that’s making the cloud over Coral Gables -- the real one -- a little smaller each day. Turn down the noise a little. Al Golden can pretend he doesn't hear it. It's what he does. But just remember everyone else in this world can hear it loud and clear.