Don’t Count on Al Golden Replacing Joe Paterno at Penn State


The focus of the story coming out of University Park over the last few days has rightfully centered on the heinousness of the acts committed by former Penn State assistant Jerry Sandusky, and the failure of those made aware of the egregious acts to alert the authorities. Calling the police would have likely prevented who knows how many future child rapes or other sexual assaults.

As speculation builds that Penn State head coach Joe Paterno could see his coaching career end on this note, so too does speculation for his replacement. If this season proves his last in Happy Valley, at the center of the speculation will be Miami Hurricanes head coach Al Golden.

Urban Meyer‘s name has been tossed around, too, and it’s only a matter of time before somebody mentions Mike Leach–although I doubt Penn State would feel comfortable hiring the former Red Raiders coach given the accusations he locked a concussed player in an electrical closet, no matter how blatantly untrue those accusations may be.

Call me naive, but I fully expect Golden to stick around even if Penn State comes calling. This, of course, is my opinion. I’ve been wrong plenty.

Since his hiring in December last year, Golden has tried diligently to suppress speculation that he’d leave the Hurricanes for University Park. He’s told reporters several times that he and his family are happy in South Florida, and that the University of Miami is where he wants to be. He has committed himself to rebuilding the program, and has embraced the Canes’ unparalleled tradition of excellence in the eighties, early nineties, and early in the last decade.

Why, then, do some not believe him? Maybe South Florida sports fans remember a certain blanket statement from Nick Saban back in 2006 when he was wrapping up his second season with the Dolphins: “I’m not going to be the Alabama coach.” He won a national championship with the Crimson Tide a few years later. I can’t say I blame Saban for the denial, but it’s the attempt to always say the right thing that leads to the distrust fans have of head coaches and their future plans.

It wouldn’t be completely unheard of for a coach to leave a program after one year. Ask Lane Kiffin. Kiffin came to Tennessee with all kinds of energy. Then he bolted after one season for his dream job at USC. Canes fans fear Golden will take a similar route.

But I don’t think that’s Golden. I wouldn’t blame him if he did leave, though. His current school, after all, essentially deceived him by not disclosing the NCAA investigation into the program during the hiring process. He’s a Penn State alum, former player, and spent a year at the school as an assistant.

The obvious argument against taking the Penn State job is that it he would leave one program steeped in controversy only to join another also steeped in controversy. But that’s not the whole story.

Golden came to his Miami interview with a thick three-ring binder containing a detailed game plan for getting the Hurricanes program back to the elite level. In his introductory press conference, he asked former players to return to the program to instill into his players the price of success. He continues to stress that he and his coaching staff is building for the future. I’ve watched a lot of coaches come through South Florida, and few seemed as committed as Golden. In the last 15 years, I’d compared only Pat Riley‘s commitment to the Miami Heat to Golden’s apparent desire to build something with the Hurricanes.

Golden has come to Coral Gables to accomplish something. And his personality is such that it leads me to believe he isn’t about to abandon that goal so quickly. Not even for his alma mater. He just doesn’t do things half-hearted. This isn’t merely a placeholder or a resume-builder. He appears in this for the long haul.