PINEHURST --- For UM coach Al Golden, the massive undertaking of correcting the myriad problems that surfaced during the 6-7 debacle of 2014 couldn’t start quickly enough. So as his players dispersed following the flight home from the Dec. 27 Duck Commander Bowl loss to South Carolina in Shreveport, La., Golden instead drove straight to the office.
He worked that day, and the next one and 55 in a row overall.
“Being down and feeling sorry [for yourself] --- none of that can help you a bit,” Golden said Tuesday from the ACC Kickoff, where the conference’s coaches met with reporters. “We went right to work. Our coaches went to work. I met with every player more than once.”
Golden also traveled to Dallas to meet with Cowboys coaches and study their system, challenged each of his coaches to propose new wrinkles, consulted with athletic director Blake James and met with every single person at UM whose tentacles touch his program.
“I talked to every department, wanted to make sure all of our values and standards are the same,” he said. “If you’re expecting a different response but not changing the behavior, it doesn’t work. Everyone has to self examine.”
What emerged, Golden said, was a plan that featured substantive changes, many of which he cannot specify for competitive reasons.
But when asked if fans will see clear differences in play-calling and schemes, he said yes.
He said that’s partly because Brad Kaaya is capable of doing more, as a sophomore, than he was a year ago and partly because his defense is more experienced.
“We’ve changed a lot of different things internally,” he said. “Operations, recruiting, different approach with a lot of different facets of the program internally. There are a lot of subtle changes that aren’t as easily [noticed]. We’re excited about the response of the team. Very team-oriented group. We can’t get them out of the building.”
The objective, Golden said, was to make “sure we have one scoreboard and not a bunch of different scorecards. This isn’t golf. If you’re content because your area is good and we lost, it’s not good. We have one heartbeat right now. We’re all responsible for one scoreboard.”
Golden said it does him no good to discuss anything that happened with his program before Jan. 1 but did say of last season: “It wasn’t good enough. You can’t escape the scoreboard. It’s not, ‘My guys did well or my department did well.’ We’re all responsible for results.”
He declined to comment about several remarks that players have made in recent days, including former UM center Shane McDermott citing selfishness on last year’s team and Tracy Howard saying leadership was lacking.
“For me to go back to last year, it doesn’t help anything,” Golden said. “We’re so far removed from that. Seven months, 21 days from that. Ultimately, I’m responsible. We all have to be better, starting with me….. Dwelling on anything last year is not going to help. It’s not fair to the guys not here. They gave a lot to our program.”
Despite relatively low national expectations and the swirl of negativity around the program in recent months, two things delight Golden: how his players have stayed out of trouble and are holding each other accountable for missteps, and how the distractions of the NCAA investigation have finally dissipated, though Golden pointed out that UM is still on probation, with modest scholarship limitations.
“I came here to coach football, man,” Golden said. “I didn’t come to be the dean of discipline… I came to coach Raphael Kirby and… Darrion Owens and… Brad Kaaya. That’s what we’re doing. It’s fun. We’re not dealing with a lot of external stuff. We’re like, ‘Can we start tomorrow?’ The staff gets fuel from that.”
In previous years, “I’ve talked about a lot of things that have nothing to do with our football program,” Golden said. “Last year, we had to answer questions that were awful. It was about four years before I could get my message out. When you see players buying in and being excited about who they are and what they want to be, it becomes fun.
“There’s a lot of trust right now. There’s a bond right now in the room that we haven’t seen in a while. That’s been exhilarating to be around a team like that. When everybody comes on time or is early and has suggestions to make things better, that’s awesome. That’s what we need to keep doing. Get the distractions out of here. Hold each other accountable. I’m excited about the direction of our team.”
He said the fact players are spending so much time together, using the chess boards and card tables that Golden’s wife purchased for them, pleases him greatly.
“There’s a calmless and a poise about our team,” Golden said. “There’s a focus. We’re getting very good leadership. They’re not paying a bit of attention to anything on the outside.”
Golden deflected questions about the pressure on him to turn the program around, insisting: “I don’t feel pressure. I’m in a great organization. I am very fortunate over the last 18 months, a lot of changes at the University of Miami. A lot of things that weren’t there are there now. The training table, lights [installed on the practice field], what’s going on at [Sun Life Stadium with modernization]. I’m grateful to be at the University of Miami.”
Regarding fan and media criticism directed toward him, Golden said: “Nothing I can do about it…. When I got here, we were blindsided” by the NCAA investigation.
In an ACC media poll released Tuesday, UM was picked to finish third in the Coastal Division behind Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. Golden insisted anyone can win the Coastal this season.
“It’s incumbent on us to get it back to where we want it to be, and have a model that’s sustainable and can endure,” he said.
### I asked Golden to assess most every position on the roster, and he kindly obliged. Check back later for that. (One quick thing: He suggested safety Deon Bush probably will play some cornerback.)
### Please see the last post for my Dolphins story from late last night and a six-pack of Canes notes.
### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz