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The Curse of Ambition: Why Al Golden Will Leave Miami

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Al Golden is going to leave Miami. Maybe not after this season, but at some point he will, and it won't be because he's 72 years old and has coached at Miami for 30+ years. Al Golden may very well be coaching Miami in 2012, like he (sort of) pledged today when he was asked by a Penn State beat reporter if he had any interest in the Nittany Lions' open head coaching job. Golden has said all of the right things so far, and many reporters with no stake in protecting Golden's reputation have stated repeatedly that they believe he loves it at UM and will remain as the coach for the foreseeable future. It has been clear watching Golden this season that he cares deeply about his team -- an obvious example is the few times this season when he's almost literally jumped into a pile when a fumble was being fought for near the UM sideline -- and if you read between the lines of reports of how Golden has conducted himself on the recruiting trail as the season ends, he doesn't come off as someone with his eye on anywhere else. But Al Golden is going to leave, and even if he is telling the truth now, there is no point in believing him. When the time comes for him to leave, the tune will be the same.

This says less about Al Golden than it does the university where he currently coaches and the type of head coach that the university attracts. The job as head coach of the University of Miami is one that offers many things, and if one succeeds there he can rise to the very top of his profession. But, as we've talked about before and is blatantly obvious to anyone that follows the sport, there are many obstacles in the way of reaching that apex. Money. Facilities. Fan base. We all know the drill.  It's a job that attracts a unique and desired brand of coach, one that is equally ambitious and talented. But that ambition and talent, and the obstacles of the university, are eventually what pulls those coaches away.

Miami will never have a Bobby Bowden. Its Bobby Bowden built a powerhouse program up from nothing and then left at the peak of its powers to start a fledgling pro franchise in the same city where he was on his way to becoming a deity. Miami will never have a Steve Spurrier. Its Steve Spurrier left Miami to coach the Dallas Cowboys and replace Tom Landry, the only coach the franchise had ever known. He literally cried as he left, but left he did. Miami will never have a Bob Stoops. Its Bob Stoops left Miami to take over the second edition of the Cleveland Browns, a team that had been in the NFL for only two years in a city that hadn't seen a championship since the 1960s. This is Miami's curse. It doesn't have the money or power to quell the ambition of its coaches.

It is a largely unsustainable model, as we all have experienced in the past decade or so. Hiring the right coach is very difficult, and the more times a school needs to do it, the more chances it has to fail. Miami's run of coaching hires from Howard Schnellenberger to Butch Davis allowed it to outpace teams like Notre Dame and Oklahoma, but the run was as unsustainable as it was brilliant. The truck blew a tire and then eventually hit a wall with Larry Coker, who would have stayed at Miami forever had they allowed him. Randy Shannon, likewise, would have stayed at Miami forever, had they allowed him. Maybe it's a coincidence that the only two bad head coaches in Hurricanes history are the two that would have stayed at the program forever. But Coker and Shannon were both obviously cut from a different cloth than the coaches that preceded them. The university settled when they hired both, and both men settled as coaches, in the types of players they brought into the program and what they expected from those players and the program and themselves.

Al Golden has coached one season at UM, and it's obviously too early to pass judgement on how good of a coach he is. But the feeling that I have, and the feeling around the program, is that Golden is much, much closer to Jimmy Johnson and Butch Davis than he is to Randy Shannon or Larry Coker. If we know anything for sure, it's that Golden is a very ambitious man. He took over a program at Temple that was as far in the dumps as any Division I program can be. When Golden first interviewed with ex-AD Kirby Hocutt, he gave Hocutt a 300-page, four pound binder titled "Deserve Victory" that outlined Golden's vision for turning Miami into a national power. His efforts in rebuilding a recruiting infrastructure left dilapidated by Shannon are the work of a very driven man.

But that ambition is going to one day pull Al Golden away from Miami, just like it did for his predecessors. Someone will offer him a greater challenge and more money. It might be Penn State in a few weeks, or it might not be. But someone will, because they always have. Miami fans can hope that Al Golden will stay for decades, but the truth is that we need to hope that he can leave the program closer to how it was found in 1989 and 2001 than how it was found in 2007 and 2011. The most important hire for the University of Miami is always the next hire, because there always will be a next hire, and it will always be sooner than anyone wants it to be.