It's late September, the Miami Hurricanes have two dozen verbal commitments, and according to ESPN, are the fourth-ranked class for 2014.
On the surface, it sounds like the norm. Dominant program with five national championships over the past three decades, a pipeline to the NFL and a strong national brand that has become "The U." Miami should be atop the list with the likes of Alabama, Texas, Florida, Ohio State and other major players.
That hasn't always been the case—especially as of late.
When Al Golden replaced former Miami head coach Randy Shannon in December 2010, there were five verbal commits and, within days, only two remained.
Golden scrambled to save the 2011 class, hauling in 19 kids, including some current impact-Hurricanes like Anthony Chickillo, Phillip Dorsett and Denzel Perryman, but the former Temple coach had his work cut out for him in the years to come.
Inexplicably, Shannon and the former Miami staff burned bridges with local high school coaches, according to an article by Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald. Good players went unrecruited by the Hurricanes, leaving Golden the challenge of both proving himself and reselling the program to players, parents and coaches—with NCAA sanctions hovering, no less.
Golden arrived in Miami with a 300-page binder titled "Deserve Victory" and an agenda regarding how he planned to rebuild the Hurricanes program. Former UM athletic director Kirby Hocutt spent two hours meeting with Golden in New York City soon after Shannon's firing and, in that short window, knew he'd found his man.
"I walked out of there thinking, 'This is the guy. He's got it,'" Hocutt told the Palm Beach Post, according to Jorge Milian. "Al had gone the extra mile. He came in with a game plan. He had a drive and desire and hunger for this job."
Almost three years later, that drive, desire and hunger are proving to be the keys to Golden's rebuilding process, as is his unwavering loyalty. Golden could've easily bailed out when things got tough, but the New Jersey native isn't wired to duck and run.
As rumors swirled about regarding a return to his alma mater and taking over as Penn State's next coach, Golden planted firm in Coral Gables, signing a four-year contract extension just over three months after the Nevin Shapiro scandal became national news.
It was a message to critics and outsiders. Amidst the storm, Golden was staying put—running toward the crisis, ready to help, opposed to fleeing, which he explained to ESPN last spring, according to Heather Dinich:
We have the good fortune of going to work at a place that, when it’s right, is as good as anywhere you can imagine in college football. That’s what our job is -- to get it right. Our job is not to complain about what hasn’t gone right, or what has gone wrong—anybody can do that. Our job is to fix it.
To do that, you have to have a vision, you have to have leadership, and in this particular case, you have to have courage and resiliency and a great staff, and an administration that is committed and student-athletes that want to be a part of it. I feel like we have all of that.
Recruits seem to believe Miami has all of that as well, starting with a pivotal class in 2012 that put the Hurricanes back on the map and set the foundation for the future.
Duke Johnson, a 5-star commit was the crown jewel of the bunch. Committed since he was a high school sophomore, the Miami Norland standout's heart for the University of Miami and desire to bring "The U" back, opened the floodgates for a haul-in of 33 quality players.
Deon Bush (Columbus), a 4-star safety, committed to the Hurricanes live from the Army All-American Bowl and on signing day, Golden and crew swayed 5-star cornerback Tracy Howard (Miramar) to Miami, after being a longtime Florida lock.
Keeping local talent home has always been Miami's lifeblood. Former head coach Howard Schnellenberger won UM's first national championship in 1983 and did so adhering to his "State of Miami" principles: Take the best talent from the tri-county area—Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties—then go after the rest of Florida, and from there, the nation's elite.
Golden is following Schnellenberger's blueprint, and combined with his own core values, is in the process of rebuilding a beast, and the results are proving infectious.
A small, but talent-heavy class, was reeled in this past February, with South Florida well-represented.
Defensive backs Artie Burns (Northwestern) and Jamal Carter (Southridge) were two of Dade County's best, while the Hurricanes picked up signing day commitments from coveted wide receiver Stacy Coley (Northeast) and linebacker Jermaine Grace (Miramar), two of Broward's best, and all four are considered 4-star prospects.
Of the 24 verbal commitments from the pending 2014 class, 14 recruits are from the tri-county area and nine are out of Dade County, according to Scout.com—the "State of Miami" is well-represented.
Golden's efforts are being felt on the field, as well as off. Fan support is returning, and Miami's student body has, in fact, been "Goldenized." Game days at Sun Life always show a rowdy student section, many sporting ties and headsets, or, at minimum, t-shirts with silk-screened ties.
Just this week, a U-themed viral video launched, based on the "The Fox" by Ylvis.
Lyrics to the original tune were reworked to include Atlantic Coast Conference rival mascots, Sebastian the Ibis learned some new moves and fans shook their stuff. The clip was shot during a TV timeout last week in Miami't 77-7 win over Savannah State.
For a small private school in a large metropolitan city, Miami's student section is finally taking on a state-school, college-town vibe.
Aside from winning, which isn't new, Golden's enthusiasm is proving infectious. Moments after the Hurricanes upset the Florida Gators weeks back, Golden sprinted toward the student section, where he pointed at the crowed, delivered his players to a sea of rabid fans and quickly bowed out of the spotlight.
All the fun and games in the stands is a direct result of what Golden's crew is doing on the field. Miami is currently No. 15 in the nation, sitting at 3-0, including the upset of archrival Florida in Week 2. There is no better cure-all for a struggling program and no stronger sales pitch coaches can give recruits than winning ballgames.
Next up, a date in the middle of the state against South Florida, an area Miami coaches canvassed weeks back, according to a report by Susan Degnan Miller of the Miami Herald, when the Hurricanes had a bye. If Golden and the Hurricanes can top the Bulls, it will mark Miami's first 4-0 start since the 2004 season.
Can the Ibis say "undefeated early October" and add another step to its dance-craze repertoire?
Follow Chris Bello on Twitter @allCanesBlog
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