Al Golden, A Cautionary Tale For MAC Coaches Who Might Move Up

Welcome to Miami, Florida, the land of sun, surf and scandal.

Perhaps that should have been the sign that greeted Al Golden when he exited the plane from Philadelphia to sign his contract with the Hurricanes, a contract which might be worth as much as Enron stock once the NCAA finishes with the 'U'.

Not that Golden won't get paid. In fact, he might be paid just to go away in order to head off any lawsuits that he might dream up for unfair bargaining practices by the university. It wasn't like they didn't know this was coming when they hired him. And according to USA Today, the school didn't tell him when interviewed for the job.

No, the man who took Temple from a winless laughing stock that was kicked out of the Big East, and turned them into a 17-8 team over the last two seasons -- including its first bowl in 30 years -- was blindsided by this mess. Sure he may have suspected the program wasn't entirely squeaky clean -- this is The U after all -- but nothing could have prepared him for this.

As things stand right now, the entire Miami season is in limbo, much like what happened at North Carolina last year. The school knows there is an investigation. It knows the players involved, including starting quarterback Jacory Harris. It may be forced into a situation where it has to hold players out just to salvage what it can from this season.

Take away the distractions, even if the players won't admit to the crime.

Instead of a team that many experts were expecting to compete for the ACC title, Golden is now left with another rebuilding job. And if the NCAA truly brings the hammer, he will be picking up the pieces from a mess he was nowhere close to creating. Imagine Golden attempting to rebuild a team that loses every scholarship player in a death penalty circumstance. It just can't be done.

It took SMU decades to rebound from its mistakes, and it is still a shadow of what it once was. According to the recent ESPN documentary, there are many that believe the death penalty is too harsh to a program; that you can't recover from it. But in a case like this, where Nevin Shapiro flaunted the rulebook in front of the administration — much like SMU, whose administration was complicit — what other choice does the NCAA have?

Al Golden's career has just had the parking brake pulled on it at 100 mph.

But this can serve as a lesson for other coaches in the MAC, a league that has been an incubator for coaching, producing Urban Meyer, Brian Kelly and a couple of guys named Woody and Bo.

Perhaps it is better to stay at the small school, grow a program, and dominate a smaller league. Coaches do it all the time in basketball. Look at Tom Brennan at Vermont, or Herb Magee at Phildelphia University in Division II. These are guys who stuck with programs, including during some lean years, and built winners that were for the most part out of the spotlight. The same can be done in the MAC. Start small, think big. Out of the MAC's 13 teams, 11 of them have a coach with less than three years at the school, many of them in their first season.

Imagine if all of them stayed in place for the next 10 seasons or more, building a league with strong coaching as its foundation, instead of just being the first cookie jar to get raided when a job comes open. It might not be glamourous, but there is a price to fame, something that Golden is finding out right now.

While Golden is saying all the right things, how can he not have a part of him that is wishing he were back at Temple right now? And there are myriads of coaches who left relative obscurity for something grander and got hit with a bus. That price isn't always worth it.

For those coaches who might still be on the fence and thinking that the bigger name (and associated check) is the way to go, take the example of Larry Blakeney, head football coach at Troy. The man is going into his 21st season, after guiding the program from D-II to FCS and now, the FBS. Since Blakeney and the Trojans have reached the top level, they are 42-6 at home. Imagine being a fan of Troy and knowing that when you went to a home game over the last 6 seasons, you were likely going to get a win.

That breeds loyalty and at some schools, fills stadiums and builds bigger ones. People want to cheer for a winner, something Blakeney has provided in the Sun Belt, winning at least a share of the last five titles. He was no slacker at 1-AA either as Troy was 77-22-1.

It can be done, as Blakeney, Magee and Brennan have shown.

Maybe it is time for coaches to get some schooling from all this, especially all the up and coming stars in the MAC. Do a little extra homework before jumping to that big ticket university. The fall is much much further from higher up.

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