Last season the Miami Hurricanes went 9-3 with coach Al Golden, and the winds seemed to be shifting in their favor. Perhaps a return to national prominence, boosted by an elite running back, the rejuvenated Duke Johnson, and a highly touted freshman quarterback in 19-year-old Brad Kaaya.
Johnson and Kaaya have not disappointed, but the defense has yet to show up. The Hurricanes were blown away by both Louisville and Nebraska, the latter being coached by Bo Pelini.
Saturday’s matchup in Lincoln between Golden and Pelini featured two coaches who have alienated many of their school’s alumni. Pelini narrowly escaped a firing at the end of last season, though there are key differences between him and Golden.
Pelini is not accused of being a lousy coach. He consistently builds strong, disciplined defenses and a forceful running game that can thrive in the rough Nebraska Decembers. Pelini’s problem is his out-of-control mouth.
His eruptions against officials are an ongoing embarrassment for the university. He had another one Saturday, in the third quarter. He rushed, screaming, out onto the field to protest a roughing-the-passer penalty that was probably a correct call.
Last year he came under criticism from his superiors when an audio tape was released of him speaking disparagingly of Cornhusker fans: “They can all kiss my ass out the bleeping door.”
But with the Huskers now 4-0 and led by a genuine Heisman Trophy candidate in acrobatic tailback Ameer Abdullah (229 yards rushing vs. Miami), it’s probably safe to say that Pelini’s job is safe for at least another year.
That’s not the case with Golden, 2-2 after the 41-31 loss in Lincoln in which his defense allowed 343 yards rushing and forced only one punt by the opponent.
The 45-year-old Golden makes a fine appearance, handsome and dapper with his long-sleeved starched white shirt and bright orange tie. Unlike Pelini, he’s well behaved, patiently fielding questions from an increasingly probing media.
But the attacks on him are relentless.
A former Miami All-America cornerback, Phillip Buchanan, has taken to calling him “Folden” in a barrage of tweets faulting the defensive schemes of coordinator Mark D’Onofrio. The ’Canes have allowed 200 or more rushing yards 15 times since Golden and D’Onofrio arrived in 2011.
One prominent booster, Danny Vazquez, has organized a campaign to raise money for a plane with a “Fire Al Golden” banner to fly over Sun Life Stadium. This is supposed to happen when Miami hosts national champion Florida State on Nov. 15.
“We feel like board members will take note,” Vazquez said. “We have had good recruiting classes since Golden has been here. The talent is there.”
But the Golden Hurricanes are 3-7 against Top 25 teams. The talent may be there, but the progress is not.