Back in August, where did University of Miami Head Football Coach Al Golden project his team to be at the end of November? The ACC thought that his young Hurricanes squad was going to go 4-8 and finish 5th in the Coastal division. The team that was supposed to finish 6th? Duke. "That isn't something that we spend a lot of time with or attention to," said Coach Golden on Tuesday in his final press conference for the 2012 season. UM, due to a self-imposed postseason bowl ban, ended their season on Saturday with a win in a shootout with Duke. "At the end of the day, I think the reason there's some validity to why you get picked 5th is because everyone looks at the roster and says, ‘who are all these guys? They haven't played and there isn't a lot of experience coming back.'"
In 2013, the naysayers may have to find something else to doubt the ‘Canes about. Besides seniors Brandon McGee and Mike James, every starter is coming back. Every single damn one."I sense excitement," said Golden about the players' attitudes toward next season. "I sense the kids understand and that they have a vision of what we need to do in the Coastal division and what the role that will ultimately lead to."
For an outsider looking in at the Miami football program, all they see is a small jump record-wise for Al Golden from 6-6 in 2011 to 7-5 in 2012. In reality, that one +1 win means more to the integrity of the program and the foundation that Golden is constructing. His team this year was a young one, with true freshmen starting and succeeding in his scheme. Duke Johnson, recently named ACC Rookie of the Year, dominated headlines by running all over the field with over 2,000 all-purpose yards in 2012. Stephen Morris, the junior quarterback who averaged over 270 yards throwing a game, is "white hot," according to Golden. "We have, maybe, the hottest quarterback in American right now over the past four games." The entire offensive line and tight end unit is returning to help out both Morris and Johnson. "I know that he's [Johnson] is excited to have the entire offensive line back and the entire tight end group back."
Going forward, Coach Golden is expecting to sign roughly 15 high school seniors this spring to become a part of the Class of 2017 at the University of Miami. Golden didn't discuss in detail what positions he was specifically looking for, but did note that he will begin recruiting this weekend and be out for the next two weeks trying to put together the next piece of his puzzle at Miami. One particular area that many Hurricanes fans have questioned Golden on is Miami's lackluster defense in 2012. "To be honest with you, Mark [D'Onofrio] is as mad as anybody," said Golden. "Imagine coming to the University of Miami and having to play a bunch of kids, imagine being saddled with that. He's the one that should be mad. Coming here, and he has one cornerback in the program, Brandon McGee. He should be mad, and he is mad, and he's going to fight."
Many critics of D'Onofrio believed that Miami's philosophy was to ‘outscore' opponents and have their offense carry the team. "I'm not discouraged. Disappointed. I wish we would have played better." In regards to his staff returning in 2013, Golden simply stated this: "We're not going anywhere."
It was a bittersweet moment to see Al Golden depart from his last press conference of the 2012 season before December had even begun. In only his second year as head coach of the ‘Canes, Golden has faced more adversity than most college coaches face in all of their careers. The cloud of the NCAA remains above him, his staff and the entire program. Nevertheless, Golden kept on mentioning one word over and over again: forward.
Forward with the next recruiting class.
Forward with the development of his team.
Forward with the NCAA investigation.
Forward with their mission of once again holding the crystal ball as NCAA champions.
The man with the orange tie has a master plan, a foundation that his team is finally buying into. Growing up is hard; just ask any Hurricanes fan watching the team over the past two years. Alas, we saw a glimmer of what the U can be and will be in the future. This sense of excitement and purpose begins with Coach Golden and his desire in moving the program forward, brick by brick.
Asked where he was going to be on Saturday during the ACC Championship Game, "Hopefully I'm at a recruiting dinner trying to get someone that will help us get into that game."
It's only November of 2012, but Al Golden is already looking forward to December of 2013 and beyond.