Q&A with first-year Miami coach Al Golden
We don't have a natural place to post Miami stuff in our college football coverage, so it's here on our USF blog, but there are some USF notes in this conversation we had with Miami coach Al Golden on Friday night. Golden was in town to talk to boosters at Avila Golf & Country Club, and a shorter version of this Q&A will be in Saturday's paper. Here's what he had to say in a conversation with the Times on a number of topics before his dinner -- if you read closely, there sure seems to be a veiled shot at Florida's scheduling, and from a geography standpoint, he's liberal in what he considers the Tampa area. Enjoy ...
Q: How has your transition been adjusting to the new job, with a full spring under your belt now?
A: It's such a thrill to be working at a place like Miami, with the tradition and the legacy. That part of it provides a lot of fuel, not just for me but for our staff. That's been fun, and my wife and kids are doing good, getting acclimated. President (Donna ) Shalala and everybody at the University of Miami has been so gracious and welcoming.
Q: You haven't coached a game yet, and yet you've been around longer than your athletic director, Shawn Eichorst, hired last month from Wisconsin. What do you like about your new boss?
A: No. 1, he's a communicator. Whether you like his response or not, he's honest. He's earnest. He communicates. He's direct. So that's incredible traits to have as a leader. That part of it is tremendous. Very bright, a lot of energy. You can tell in a very short period of time that he has a plan and a vision.
Q: You coached in the ACC for five years at Virginia, and though you were only out of the league five years, all the head coaches except for Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer have changed since then. You still seem to know some of the league's head coaches very well.
A: You should be writing about (N.C. State's) Tom O'Brien. He had three of us as assistants at (Boston College) -- me, Spaz (BC coach Frank Spaziani) and (Virginia coach) Mike London. Those are the guys I know best. I certainly have tremendous respect for Frank. I've known (North Carolina coach) Butch (Davis) from the past a little as well.
Q: Tell me about the program you inherited and what you think the biggest keys are in this first season to restore some of the swagger and confidence associated with Miami football.
A: Conditioning. Conditioning. Conditioning. As a team, if we can improve our conditioning and get to the next level in terms of our condition and improve our team unity, then we have a chance to play with passion and play with confidence.
Q: Is that to say you were surprised by the level of conditioning you found when you came in?
A: I'm not going to comment on anything that happened prior to me. It's immaterial. You can comment. I'm not going to comment. What I will tell you is I know what I want it to look like. I know precisely what I want the bench numbers to look like. I know precisely what I want the tempo of practice to look like, precisely what we want our finish grades to look like in a scrimmage or in a game. It's probably the area we've made the most progress in over the last four months, but it's nowhere near where we need it to be.
Q: I want to ask you about your quarterbacks, because you have two that played last season in senior Jacory Harris and sophomore Stephen Morris. Tell me how those two stand heading into two-a-days this fall.
A: They're in a dead heat right now. I'm very pleased with both of them in terms of their preparation and their progress, their ability to learn a new system with coach (Jedd) Fisch. There's a lot of college coaches going around the country, doing these functions, that don't have an experienced quarterback or a starting quarterback coming back. We have two. As much as the media wants to make it a quarterback controversy, it's really a quarterback competition. They've improved our team by competing and I'm excited by the way they've handled the competition. We'll know probably 15, 20 days into training camp who's the winner.
Q: This fall is 20 years since your senior year playing at Penn State. What's the best lesson you learned from Joe Paterno?
A: Process. He just told us to really focus on the little things and the big things would take care of themselves. That you can be a championship level team and excel in the classroom and comport yourself the way you should in the community. It's always been about the process with him.
Q: Miami only had two players total from Hillsborough and Pinellas counties on its roster last fall. That number should be three this fall, including defensive end Anthony Chickillo from Alonso. You've done a great job in keeping South Florida recruits close to home, but talk about your recruiting efforts in this area.
A: I think it's great football. I had a chance to get around a little bit with Anthony Chickillo and a couple other guys we were starting to recruit in this area. We were late. I'm really impressed with Tampa metro football, so much so I felt one coach in this area wasn't enough. So I put two coaches in this area, (offensive line coach) Art Kehoe and (former Bucs assistant) Jethro Franklin. I'm not pleased with our representation on the team from this area. It's already getting better, with Dallas Crawford from Fort Myers.
Q: Chickillo is a young man our readers know well. What have you seen from him and what might we see this fall?
A: It's a lot easier to recruit to your core values than it is to train your core values. There's a lot of kids that deserve a coach that believes in them, a coach to continue to educate and train. But let's face it: If you have to train everybody, you're in trouble. You need guys in that locker room that represent your core values. I can tell you, that young man represents what we're trying to be. Smart, tough, passionate, intense, rugged, gymrat, work ethic.
Q: Since you're in Tampa, I'll ask you about the USF game in November and what stands out to you about that game.
A: We have so many games before that. I have so much respect for Skip (Holtz) and the job he's done. They have a great program and clearly are doing great things. From our standpoint, it's exciting to play those games. There are a lot of teams that aren't playing those kind of caliber games out of conference. USF, I don't know what their nonconference is this year (includes Notre Dame). There you go. Obviously our hat has to go off to Florida State, playing Oklahoma and Florida. We're playing USF, Ohio State and Kansas State, three bowls teams out of conference. I think that's great. I hope Jimbo and Skip and I and others continue to play those types of games. That's what college football was built on. It's going to be fun to come up here. It's going to be exciting. It's a long way off.
Q: Do you and Skip know each other? Have you crossed paths before?
A: A whole bunch. Just everywhere. I can remember Skip bringing his staff up to BC when he was the head coach at Connecticut and we were just starting out in '95, '97, '98. He'd come to spring ball, that type of thing. We always crossed paths recruiting. I think there's a real mutual respect there. I really appreciate him and the job he's done.
Q: You've been a college coach in Philadelphia at Temple, and now you see Villanova pondering a move to the Big East. What kind of match could Villanova be for the Big East, trying to upgrade the college football in Philadelphia?
A: Wow. That's a tough one. Obviously I think Temple's a better fit. I look at Temple as the 26th largest university in the country, 34,000 students, 115,000 alumni right there in the Delaware Valley, fourth-largest media market. If you want me to make a pitch for Villanova, but if I'm making a case in Philadelphia, it's for Coach (Pete) Addazio and Bill Bradshaw and the Temple Owls. I think clearly we began the process of establishing you can recruit, and there's so many great things that have occured at Temple University. I think they're worthy of taking that next step.
Q: Can you compare Philadelphia and Miami as sports towns, in that you're a college coach in a market loaded with pro teams?
A: When the Miami Hurricanes are right ... we've just got to take care of our business. At the same time, we wish all the teams well down there. I hope the Miami Heat wins it all. It's great. It doesn't hurt recruiting when every kid in the country is turning it on and they're panning out of th arena to show South Beach or Key Biscayne, all the great sites. In reality, that's why people all over the world come to Miami.