Commentary

Canes running on Golden time

Originally Published: March 11, 2011
By Heather Dinich | ESPN.com

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- There is a clock in the Miami locker room that is constantly counting down the hours, minutes and seconds until the season-opening Labor Day matchup against Maryland.

It's a fitting addition under this new coaching staff, considering Al Golden's high regard for clock management. After all, time is of the essence at Miami, where championships are expected on an annual basis but haven't been delivered since prior to its joining the ACC in 2004.

"If you look at our calendar, he's probably got things set through 2012," quarterback Jacory Harris said. "The calendar he gave us for spring was done every day, every time, all the way through May. You know what you're going to do at this time. There's nothing that's going to surprise you -- no surprise meetings. The only time anything will probably be a surprise is if he gives us a break."

[+] EnlargeAl Golden
AP Photo/Alan DiazMiami turned to Al Golden to return the Canes to their former lofty status.

It's not (all) boot camp. On one Friday during winter conditioning, Golden told the players they only had to lift for 10 minutes.

"We were all like 10 minutes?" Harris said, "But it was the hardest workout ever."

The intensity and demands have increased at Miami, but it's Golden's organizational skills and attention to detail that have made the most immediate, noticeable impact on the program. Those defining characteristics are what he's built his reputation on, how he elevated Temple from no wins to nine wins. Those within the program and longtime observers around Miami agree it's been years since they've seen such a smoothly run operation. The question, of course, is whether or not it will translate into wins, and if so, how quickly.

After all, they're on the clock.

"With this new micromanaging, detail-oriented focus, I think it's going to have huge dividends for this team," senior center Tyler Horn said. "We're not going to miss the big catch. We're not going to miss the block, or not make the tackle. There's so much focus on it, there's no way you can. They're leaving no room for error."

Because the seniors on this roster are so hungry to win, so eager to leave their legacy and live up to the hype the No. 1-ranked recruiting class of 2008 came in with, Golden easily won them over, essentially bypassing one of the most difficult parts of a coaching transition. Golden, who had been a part of staff changes at Boston College, Virginia and Temple, said he's never seen anything like it.

"I've been a part of four of these transitions," Golden said, "and this is by far, the most unique senior group I've been around. Seniors, just by the very nature of a transition, are generally the ones who don't buy in necessarily, tend to reject you because you didn't recruit them. Not only didn't you recruit them, but they were with the other coach for four or five years. … This senior group came in with such expectations, I think they have expectations and goals to such extent they feel like they have unfinished business. There's urgency on their part."

And there should be.

The 2008 class enters its final season with a pedestrian 23-16 record that doesn't include any bowl wins or Coastal Division titles.

[+] EnlargeTyler Horn
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesTyler Horn and the Miami seniors plan to make the most of their final season.

"When we came here, you come to Miami to win championships, that's the bottom line," Horn said. "When you go three, four years without doing that, it's just kind of like, 'This is my last hoorah. This is the last chance to actually make my time here mean something, leave my legacy here.' We're mature guys. A lot have played as freshmen, sophomores, juniors. We're ready to go. We have the experience. It's a last chance to leave a legacy here."

First, though, they've got to determine a starting lineup.

Golden sent a message to the players with the pre-spring depth chart that featured then-third-string quarterback Spencer Whipple at the top and true freshman Thomas Finnie starting at cornerback.

Yes, Golden said, some players were mad. Some came to his office, seeking an explanation. As long as they followed the chain of command -- position coach, coordinator, head coach -- Golden was more than willing to speak with them. There shouldn't have been any surprises, though. Every Friday, the position rankings -- based on a new point system throughout winter workouts -- were posted.

"Well, some guys were really pissed,'' said running back Lamar Miller, who wasn't upset or surprised by his demotion to third string because of his dedication to the track team this offseason. "But it depends on how you worked in the offseason. Now guys get the idea of what they've got to do in the summer.''

Harris, who was No. 2 on the depth chart, said many of them -- including himself -- needed the competition and chance at a fresh start.

"We see the potential we have on this team," he said. "I can't tell you … we've seen it since our freshman year. And for us to have the seasons we had, we've got to find something that's going to change. We feel like a new coaching staff came in and it gives us a whole new start."

Not to mention a whole new schedule.

At a recent practice, the Canes were running four minutes behind. Golden immediately informed offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch he had two fewer minutes for the next drill. Same for the defense. They also can't miss their mandatory two-minute Gatorade break. The players must drink their entire bottle. Golden said part of his regimented schedule stems from the fact that they have to stay on schedule to comply with NCAA rules and get the players to class and study hall on time.

But there's more to it.

"I am obsessed by attention to detail," Golden said. "When players carry the ball in the wrong arm, and we allow that, that is generally conveyed to their coach immediately. I think it's real important to be a smart team, to be a disciplined team. And we weren't that last year. We weren't that last year."

No, they were 117th in the country in penalties and 104th in turnover margin.

The discipline Golden has instilled extends beyond the field. They have a mandatory breakfast together at 7 a.m. every day. No hats inside the football building.

[+] EnlargeHarris
Andrew Weber/US PresswireQB Jacory Harris finds himself in an unfamiliar position on the Miami spring depth chart.

"Now I walk into class and sit down, take my hat off and put it down without even knowing," Harris said. "There are some things like that you just know to do."

Of course, there's also things they're still learning -- like entirely new offensive and defensive schemes.

"C'mon, man!" yelled defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio at the second spring practice. "What film were you watching? You gotta get better, man!"

Progress couldn't possibly happen quickly enough for Miami fans.

This staff knows the expectations. All five national championship rings are on display in a glass case in Golden's sprawling office, which is at least 40 percent bigger than what he occupied at Temple.

Temple, this isn't.

Golden and his staff must now beat the likes of Florida State and Ohio State. Not Kent State and Ohio.

"Good. Perfect. That's the way it should be," recruiting coordinator Brennan Carroll said. "That's why I love doing this; because there's high expectations, it gives you the chance to compete at the highest level. I'm so excited to be a part of it. Bring on the expectations."

Including a national title?

"All of the pieces have to be in the right place to get that done, but it's been done here before at different times, different decades," he said. "It can definitely be done again."

Whether or not it can be done on Golden's watch remains to be seen.

Heather Dinich is ESPN.com's ACC football blogger. She can be reached at espn.hd@hotmail.com. Please also check out the ACC blog.

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