Al Golden’s don’t-worry-be-happy, get-my-message-out media tour continued today when he chatted with each of the three local newspapers (Manny Navarro for us; Matt Porter for the Palm Beach Post and Christy Chirinos for the Sun Sentinel). Previously, Golden stated his case to Canesport’s Gary Ferman (who ran the first of these interviews) and AP’s Tim Reynolds.
Some thoughts on several things Golden had to say:
### The topic: Manny and I wanted to know specifically what Golden plans to change, because (these are my words) he would be quite foolish if he doesn’t change anything substantive – staff or scheme or style of play or something tangible.
I suspect Golden – who’s bright, albeit stubborn--- must realize that.
His answer, to Manny, was only partly satisfying: “It's fair to say I'm evaluating every aspect, every part of the program whether that's personnel or staff or off-season programs or how we run summer camp, spring ball, right down to our systems," he said.
"I want to make sure we're doing things right. 2014 was unacceptable…. If it’s not improving our team or helping us reach our goals, we need to fix it or perhaps delete it, let it go. From that standpoint I’m looking at every aspect of it. There’s nothing in the organization that’s not on the table.”
Does that include changing defensive scheme? "Oh sure," Golden said.
The view here: Golden’s modifications cannot be window-dressing, cannot be the type of cosmetic changes that Joe Philbin made last year when he started hooking up players to devices to determine their omega levels and sleeping patterns.
Fundamental changes need to be made on either side of the ball. Either play a more attacking style on defense OR take advantage of the athleticism of your skill position players by incorporating more spread elements and simply trying to outscore people.
If this team ran a high-octane, fast-paced offense --- and could successfully execute it --- then they wouldn’t have to worry about playing defense like they’re absolutely petrified to give up the big play.
But my expectations are probably too high. The sense here --- purely a sense, not a take-this-to-the bank prediction –-- is that there could be a change or two in the assistant ranks, below the coordinators, after National Signing Day.
### The topic: Golden told Manny that he doesn’t expect any more transfers beyond freshman cornerback Ray Lewis III. "But at this time of year,” he cautioned, “if kids are going to leave they do leave. We're just not anticipating it."
The view here: Don't believe all the transfer rumors. [UPDATE]: Though InsidetheU.com reported defensive tackle Earl Moore is transferring, Moore told UM he is not and a UM spokesman told me he is not.
### The topic: Golden told Manny that at the end of 2014, “there was disappointment, but there was no finger pointing, no fighting, no dissension.”
The view here: That’s not completely the way we understood it. Though one incident should not be overstated, a credible person inside the locker-room witnessed an animated argument between a senior and underclassman who shall remain nameless here.
The underclassman questioned the senior’s attitude. The senior was resentful about the older players losing playing time to some younger players.
### The topic: Golden told Matt Porter: “You’ve got to be really strong and lead by example. You have to make sure you’re setting the standard in terms of positivity, in terms of being relentless and being consistent in your message and your work ethic. That’s what I have to do as a leader.”
The view here: For all the valid criticisms of this coaching staff’s inability to extract more from this roster, Golden’s ability to remain upbeat with his players, amid a sea of negativity, remains a commendable asset. Let’s hope that’s accompanied by substantive changes.
### The topic: Golden declined to discuss the Duke Johnson mother controversy. To refresh: Cassandra Prophet Mitchell created a stir on Facebook by saying "the majority of the team wouldn't be there" if players could transfer without sitting out a year and that "kids [are] tired of this crap."
A source at UM told Manny that Mitchell reached out to Golden to say her comments "were misrepresented" and "the issue has been put to rest.”
The view here: It’s worthless if Mitchell tells Golden in a private conversation that her comments “were misrepresented.”
If Mitchell wanted to reverse any perception that this was a shot at the coaching, she should have set the record straight publicly. Instead, Mitchell said she would not respond when asked directly if this was a shot at Golden and his staff.
### The topic: Golden told Ferman: “The message to recruits is, 'We've done this without you. Imagine what we can be with you.' We need this next group to continue to come in and compete and raise the level of play."
The view here: I like the second part of the message. First part? Not so much. What exactly does: “We’ve done this without you” mean? Done what without you? Go 6-7?
### The topic: Golden told Ferman: "I'm responsible for all of it. At least I am brave enough to stand up and say it. I'll take it all on my shoulders. That just motivates me. But this thing is close to being fixed and so is our infrastructure. It's my responsibility to fix it and I am doing it.”
The view here: The “I’m responsible for all of it” comment, while sounding very coach-like, satisfies no one if not accompanied by more specific details about how he’s going to fix it.
And Golden shouldn’t have said “At least I am brave enough to stand up and say it.” Praising himself will elicit only more derision from a fed-up fan base.
### The topic: Golden told Ferman: "We went from 90 to 15 in total defense and played eight top 50 offenses in the country. Overall, too many people blame the defense all the time and as much as we tell our guys to ignore the noise, it's only natural for our seniors to grow sick and tired of it.
“The truth is this year's team was, in many ways, better than last year's team. Our tackling all year was so much better….
"You should see recruits' and parents' faces when we show them our defensive stats. They fall over. Why? Because perception is reality. Everyone is too busy bitching to accept the progress that has been made. As I have said repeatedly, are we where we want to be? No. Do we have a long way to go? Yes. Are we making progress? Very much so. It was a huge undertaking over a three-year period to go from 90th in total defense to 15th. This year will mark the first time in the last three seasons that we will have someone in the front seven drafted.
“We'll see how guys develop over the next five months, but we have a chance at being the most talented group on defense since I got here and most importantly they will be walking into a room where the standard is top 15. That is a far cry from two years ago. It is completely realistic for our defense to set their eyes on a top 10 unit now. That would have been unimaginable after 2013.. The pass rushers will be the most dynamic since Olivier Vernon left. "
The view here: In the Ferman interview, Golden reeled off a series of statistics that cast the defense in a favorable light. It’s understandable, even advisable, for Golden to cast a glass-half-full perspective with recruits, and the stats --- if offered in a vacuum --- certainly accomplish that.
But Golden is making a mistake if he convinces himself, or tries to convince his fan base, that this was the type of defense that’s good enough for a program with this tradition, with this inherent advantage of being located in a recruiting hotbed.
UM was still below average in third down conversion defense, needs to allow the players to play more instinctively and play its safeties closer to the line against run-heavy teams (two points that a prominent former UM assistant coach keeps telling me) and do a better job getting stops when it absolutely needs one.
And if Golden believes his defensive tackle play is good enough, he’s miscalculating. I assume he knows it isn’t.
### The topic: Golden told all three newspapers that he and James Coley spent the past two days in Dallas observing practices and other aspects of the Cowboys’ operation.
The view here: Wise move. Erik Spoelstra and others have grown by listening, observing and incorporating/emulating successful approaches of others coaches. After visiting Oregon practices, Spoelstra even took elements of the spacing and pacing from a coach in an entirely different sport --- Chip Kelly, who has since moved on to the Eagles.
### The topic: Of ESPN’s top eight Dade/Broward recruits (all top 125 prospects), two have committed to FSU, two to West Virginia, two to Alabama, one to Ohio State and one to Texas.
UM didn’t pursue at least two of them but vigorously pursued several other.
Incidentally, the ninth and 10th best Dade/Broward commitments on ESPN’s list --- running backs Jordan Scarlett and Mark Walton --- remain UM commitments.
In some telling comments, Golden told Ferman: “In recruiting, fans lose their minds about who you don't get. But recruiting is, and always will be, about who you do get. We can't take every player from South Florida. We don't have enough spots. Two years ago we did an extensive study on recruiting in the state. That year I believe Florida yielded 373 Division I players. So if you figure we take 20 per year, that leaves a lot of Division I talent attending other schools around the state and country.
“Lots of that talent goes unnoticed by the big programs. There are so many instances of underrated or undervalued kids from South Florida going on to become great players - T.Y. Hilton, Johnathan Cyprien, Antonio Brown, Louis Delmas, Khalil Mack. The list goes on and on.”
The view here: Golden makes some valid points about needing to be selective about what local players UM targets. Some high-end recruits weren’t pursued by UM because of size or academics or character questions.
But overall, UM needs to do a better job of snagging more elite local players. Too many are headed to FSU, Ohio State or top SEC schools –-- partly because those programs have been more successful in recent years and partly because of assorted other factors.
### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz