Published November 22, 2012
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – When Al Golden enters the Miami Hurricanes' home field for his team's pregame warmup, Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" traditionally blares through the stadium.
It's his song, a nod to his New Jersey upbringing. It's apparently not his mantra.
Golden's second season at Miami ends Saturday when his team visits Duke. If the Hurricanes win, they'll finish tied for first in the Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division, which would mark the first time since 2003 that Miami could call itself co-champions of anything.
"We're there because of coach Golden," Miami defensive back Brandon McGee said. "He's put everything in place for us to do this."
When the game ends, Miami will head home and do what it has done for two seasons: Wait for the NCAA to reveal how much trouble the school is facing. The long investigation into the university's athletic compliance practices seems to be winding down, almost two years after the NCAA started digging and now 16 months after the probe became publicly known after a rogue former booster's claims were published by Yahoo Sports.
No one knows what's coming — or when.
"Do I worry about it? I worry about everything," Golden said. "I worry about all the kids that sit in a room and the staff, our strength staff, our training staff, everybody. When we go on that field, there are usually 240 people on that field. So there are a lot of people involved, a lot of lives involved. But I can see what we're becoming and what we want to do with the program.
"That vision pulls me a little bit stronger than some of these things that try and tear us apart. I think we're here for the right reasons, which is why you have a tendency to dig in and fight as opposed to flight."
In short, Golden's not planning to run anywhere.
Dark days are almost certainly coming to Miami, with the NCAA expected to send a notice of allegations to the school soon — possibly in the next couple weeks. If that timetable holds up, sanctions could come around March. But Golden believes the worst has already happened, with Miami self-imposing two bowl bans and with him planning to hold back some scholarships that could go toward signing more players this winter.
That all being said, many around Miami's program believe the next couple seasons could be great ones. That's also why they think Golden is staying put.
"Al is very committed," Miami acting athletic director Blake James said. "He recognizes, I think, what we all recognize, in that we have a very, very bright future as a program. When you look at the team that we have out on the field, when you look at the young guys we have out contributing to this program right now, who we are as a program right now with a lot of our impact players freshmen and sophomores ... that credit goes to Al."
Players rave about Golden.
His first official meeting with the team two seasons ago started with a joke, and no one dares say publicly what the details were other than "it was a good one," McGee said.
His motto — "Deserve Victory" — is not only on the wall of the team's meeting room, it's the last thing they see in the tunnel before they walk onto their home field. And his tight, emotional embrace of wide receiver Malcolm Lewis when the freshman had just shattered his ankle in a gruesome play at Georgia Tech this season is still something players discuss proudly.
"We believe in this staff. We believe in this program," quarterback Stephen Morris said. "We believe in coach Golden."
While there's no denying it's an anxious time for Miami right now, at least Golden still has his hair.
His personal history suggests that's a good sign.
Five years ago, it was coming out in clumps. It was during his second season at Temple, around the time his career coaching record was 1-16 and his Owls were being outscored by an average of four touchdowns per game. They lost a game 62-0, then another by the same score the very next week. Golden's stress level was through the roof.
These days, the hair is just fine.
He raves about living in South Florida, both life in Miami and the ability to jump in the car and be in gorgeous places like the Florida Keys, Naples and Palm Beach within an hour or so. His wife and children are happy calling the area home. He's under contract until Feb. 1, 2020.
If the Hurricanes could just get past this NCAA matter, everything might be perfect.
"We can complain all we want but we can't change it," Golden said. "But the challenge for our team is we're going to be defined by how we respond to this. And the first test of that is Saturday against Duke. We can say whatever we want. We can say we have a great attitude, we're working hard, we're focused, but the test is Saturday at 12:30."
So Saturday becomes Miami's bowl game, in essence.
Duke's home field — Wallace Wade Stadium — has hosted bowl games before, including the 1942 Rose Bowl (moved because of the attack on Pearl Harbor) and the 1972 Pelican Bowl, a short-lived, lower-division, now-defunct event. In 2012, it may as well be called the Hurricane Bowl, in that it is Miami's championship game.
"We're blessed with an opportunity to play one more game, so that's all we can ask for," senior running back Mike James said. "Of course, it means a lot. It's the last game."
It's also probably the last time Miami will play without knowing its NCAA fate.
Golden's tenure with the Hurricanes has been completely blanketed by uncertainty — the suspensions related to the investigation that were deemed necessary before his Miami debut last season, ongoing fallout ever since and the fact that he worked for four different athletic directors at Miami before even coaching 18 games at the school.
By next season, the sanctions should have arrived. The page, he hopes, can be turned. Golden and his wife have had plenty of talks about the future, and they always seem to come back to the same conclusion: He's supposed to be at Miami, supposed to see this saga through to, they hope, a championship end.
"I think it's a great place and we're destined for great things here," Golden said. "We're just going through some tough times."