Commentary

A different view for football at Miami

Golden no stranger to urban setting, but Miami a different challenge

Originally Published: June 24, 2011
By Heather Dinich | ESPN.com

The view from Miami coach Al Golden's sprawling office resembles a postcard for recruits -- palm trees, practice fields and a wall of windows that overlooks the weight room.

[+] EnlargeAl Golden
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesAl Golden found success in Philadelphia at Temple; Miami poses far more unique opportunities and challenges.

There is simply no comparison to the modest office he left at Temple in inner-city Philadelphia, where the football building was surrounded by an empty lot, a dilapidated 20-story tenement building and the regular rumble of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority.

Golden's practice fields and selling points for recruits have almost quadrupled at Miami, but so have the expectations.

While Miami's sunny South Florida location is alluring, it's also a distraction for fans of a seven-win team. With four professional sports teams, miles of beaches and one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the country, the program's competition extends beyond the ACC. Having also spent time as an assistant at Boston College, Golden is no stranger to the challenges that come with coaching at a city school. In Philadelphia, he made Temple football relevant at a program with no football tradition that competes in the shadow of an NFL team, but Miami and Temple -- and their respective cities -- are vastly different.

Facilities, location, snow, talent -- all obstacles Golden doesn't have to worry about now in Miami. Instead, he has been tasked with reviving the storied program to the championship level, winning over one of the nation's most passionate fan bases, and filling the seats in a pro stadium that's 20 miles away from campus.

In 2008, Miami began playing its home games at Sun Life Stadium -- home of the Miami Dolphins -- leaving its longtime home at the Orange Bowl, the site of so many iconic moments in the program's history. The move engendered acrimonious feelings among some of the Hurricanes' most ardent supporters, but those within the program insist Miami's tradition was built on its success, not its venue, and a return to the highest level can heal those wounds.

"It's not just winning, it's winning consistently, and consistently competing for championships," Golden said. "They've won here before without [an on-campus] stadium. USC has won without [an on-campus] stadium. Part of it is just winning, being a vital part of the community year-round. Not just playing good football, but being part of a larger community, whether that's stewardship, community relations, athletic department and university events.

"I don't think there's any doubt that we'll be sold out for the Ohio State game the third week in September," he said. "It's up to us to go from there."

Golden has been going nonstop since he was hired. He has spoken in at least 10 different cities, including Atlanta, Chicago and New York, to share his philosophy and rejuvenate the fan base. All three spring scrimmages were open to the public, including the spring game, which drew more than 200 former players. And the marketing department has been expanding north, further into the Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

It appears to be working.

Blake James, Miami's senior associate athletic director for external affairs, said season-ticket sales are ahead of where they were last year at this time, but declined to give specific numbers.

The overall attendance at Sun Life Stadium, though, hasn't been as bad as the images TV cameras and Twitter pictures have portrayed. Miami ranked No. 39 in the country last year and sixth in the ACC with an average attendance of 52,575 -- more than the average attendance during three of the five seasons the Hurricanes won the national title (1983: 44,555, 1987: 53,920, 1989: 51,634, 1991: 57,964 , 2001: 46,162). Despite the tumultuous season, which ended in the firing of former coach Randy Shannon, the 2010 attendance average was the highest the program had seen since 2004.

[+] EnlargeMiami
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireMiami fans turned out in full force at Sun Life Stadium for a visit from Florida State. Despite the disappointing result, it's an atmosphere the Hurricanes hope to replicate.

"It's metropolitan, there's a lot of stuff going on," said 1992 Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta. "There's a lot of competition for the entertainment dollar. Winning cures all, internally amongst the team and coaches, and winning cures all as far as atmosphere. By the time I left, we didn't lose a game in five years, and I think we barely cracked 50,000 season tickets. It's not like we were strapping them on against a non-top-10 team and the Orange Bowl was filling up with 70,000 people. I think that's what people forget. People remember the big games, but when you're playing Cincinnati, or a nonconference school that isn't a marquee matchup, you're not filling the stadium up."

There were 41,148 fans who saw Shannon's last game, a 23-20 overtime loss to South Florida. There were 75,115, though, who made the pregame atmosphere at Sun Life Stadium electric for last year's matchup against rival Florida State -- an embarrassing 45-17 loss.

"When we have big games, there isn't a better place to play," said James, who worked at Miami through the 1990s in ticket sales, corporate sales and fundraising. "When we're winning, I would say this is as good of a place as you can possibly be. … I've been here through a number of years at the Orange Bowl, when the Orange Bowl was rocking. I felt that same way walking into that Florida State game on that day."

The problem was how Miami fans felt leaving the stadium that day.

Golden agreed that the venue isn't the problem.

"They play World Series and Super Bowls in that stadium," he said. "It's not the stadium. Until we get back to the point we're competing for championships, people are going to continue to say, 'Well, maybe it was the Orange Bowl' and all that.

"I think it will continue to be a topic of conversation until we get it fixed, until we get it right," Golden said. "It's like anything else: The more you can leave an excuse exposed, the more people are going to buy into that theory. We have to go back to winning on the field."

Heather Dinich is the ACC college football blogger for ESPN.com.