One of the first things you notice when you catch a reairing of ESPN’s famed 30 for 30 documentary The U–before Luther Campbell’s gap-toothed smile, even–is the boldness of it all. From the colors to the cutaways to the general bravado of everybody featured, everything is presented with a sort of fearlessness.
Part of that is the stylistic nature of director Billy Corben, but most of it has to do with the nature of Miami Hurricanes football in the 1980s and near the turn of the millennium. For simplicity’s sake, most call it the “U Swag” but it envelops so much more than a mentality. It’s the culture.
You could make the argument that no team has ever presented the spirit of Miami, FL, quite like those great Hurricanes teams we’ve seen in the past. It’s a city boiling over with excitement, and that’s an energy you only get when the circumstances are just right.
And, while we’ve seen championships in Miami from the Marlins, Heat and Dolphins, nobody has won with more energy than the truly great Miami teams of the 80s, 90s and 00s. Unfortunately, we’ve seen the University of Miami football program fall on hard times in recent years.
For over a decade, the Miami Hurricanes haven’t won anything of note. Mediocrity has permeated.
In the last nine seasons specifically, Miami has won seven games or less on seven occasions. It’s been 11 years since they’ve managed a double-digit win total.
There was an NCAA investigation in light of Nevin Shapiro’s involvement with the program–a substantial focus of Corben’s second 30 for 30 feature, The U: Part 2–and when Al Golden took over in 2011, the program decided to implement a self-imposed bowl ban in each of Golden’s first two seasons.
Despite the lingering challenges of an impending NCAA investigation, Golden made gradual progress at Miami. In 2012, he went 7-5 (a one-game improvement on his 2011 record) and tied for first place in the ACC Coastal. The following season, Miami managed a 9-4 campaign, winning their first seven games of the year and peaking at No. 7 in the AP Poll.
Ultimately, Miami would struggle down the stretch in 2013, losing four of their last six games with Duke emerging with the Coastal crown. Yet, the continued improvement throughout Golden’s tenure left some room for optimism.
With a vacancy open at Penn State, Golden’s alma mater, Miami extended their head coach through 2019. The Miami Hurricanes football program appeared to once again be on the rise.
However, 2014 brought more disappointment for Miami. The Hurricanes regressed, falling to 6-7 after a demoralizing 30-26 loss to Florida State led to four-straight defeats to close out the season.
Now, a year after issuing an extension that made Al Golden virtually unfireable for the foreseeable future, it’s reasonable to question whether Golden was the right man for the job in the first place.
Situated in the heart of arguably the nation’s most fertile recruiting area, South Florida, Miami has access to premium talent that served as the foundation for all those national championship teams from 1983-2001. In five recruiting classes now, Al Golden has managed just one Top 10 class according to 247Sports’ composite rankings, and that came in 2012 at No. 10.
Last month, Miami’s recruiting class finished No. 27 in the country. Even worse, Golden managed to gather signatures from only two of the Top 30 prospects in the State of Florida.
The byproduct of Penn State and Joe Paterno, Golden has struggled to recapture the essence of what made Miami great for so long because he hasn’t managed to recapture the essence of Miami as a whole.
Those five national championship teams were first and foremost great football teams with incredible amounts of talent, but those rosters were also loaded with incredible showmen. Al Golden doesn’t bring any of that signature Miami style. As a matter of fact, his only signature–an ill-fitting dress shirt, a tie, dress slacks and loads and loads of sweat–seems to lack style altogether.
He doesn’t have to be Howard Schnellenberger or Jimmy Johnson. Dennis Erickson and Larry Coker certainly weren’t big personalities. However, you still have to be able to field a team that embodies Miami, FL, and gets the fanbase excited. Erickson and Coker (although you could argue Coker’s success was predicated by Butch Davis’) at least managed that.
Outside of watching Duke Johnson run, Al Golden hasn’t managed to field a roster befitting of the Miami Hurricanes football program, and people are starting to voice their concern. Ex-Hurricanes have been among the most vocal critics of Al Golden and his staff.
Sun-Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde reported on a review of the 2014 Miami spring game where alumni were present and asked to voice their opinions that got heated in an Oct. 8 column. Since that spring exchange, things have escalated with greats like Gino Torreta, Allen Bailey, Clinton Portis, Warren Sapp and Randal Hill all voicing their displeasure.
The continued relationship between Miami Hurricanes football alums and the program was once one of the program’s most redeeming factors and now it’s turned into a point of contempt.
Next year, Al Golden returns just 11 starters from a 6-7 team. In four years, he hasn’t managed to connect with the City of Miami as a whole and he’s alienated Hurricane alumni.
He certainly didn’t inherit a great situation, but even with the program struggling the way that it has for the past 10 or 11 years, it’s hard to imagine that things could be any worse.
In order to find any of the attitude that once made Miami Hurricanes football so great, you’ve got to order a DVD. Not even Larry Coker’s last few teams or the Randy Shannon teams in the late-00s were completely absent of that “U Swag.”
That’s as damning of a statement as you can make about Al Golden’s squad.