On a bright May morning in 2011, coach Al Golden, sporting an orange Miami Hurricanes polo, gripped a Panama hat in his right hand and stomped across the field to address his team for the first time. "You're on a field of champions," boomed Golden, cherubic features tightening. "And we're going to hold you to that standard. You will train like a Cane. Be smart. Be tough. Be disciplined. And work your ass off."
In his three years at the helm of Miami's football team, perhaps no other individual has adhered to this ethos more fervently than 44-year-old Golden. Even after his first season, when the Hurricanes limped to a 6-6 finish — only the third time since 1979 the team didn't notch a winning season — Golden maintained his poise.
During the following season, as the full breadth of Miami football booster Nevin Shapiro's financial misdealings emerged, Golden continued to keep his cool.
University president Donna Shalala then voluntarily banned the team from two consecutive bowls — games that are vitally important to a football coach's legacy. But again Golden failed to complain: "I'm clearly disappointed," he told ESPN in November 2011. "I believe it's the right decision, and I'm 100 percent behind it... We're one step closer to putting these issues behind us."
Now, after two years, it appears as though Golden and the team have finally moved forward. This football season has served as Miami's re-emergence into relevance. Bolstered by a solid running game and ferocious defense, the Canes surged to a 7-0 start, soaring into the top ten.
Much of the credit belongs to Golden, even if he's as subdued in good times as in bad. "We paid a great price already [because of Shapiro]," the coach says. "A lot of people said it was a slap on the wrist. But this was two bowl games, no ACC championship game... It's been difficult."
Despite this season's successes — and despite the recent losing streak — Golden expresses confidence. With Shapiro receding into obscurity and an era of uncertainty coming to a close, the University of Miami may once again attract the best talent in the nation.