Miami's Al Golden never has coached in south Florida, but he's smart enough to copy the strategy that earned his predecessors championship rings.
His recruiting philosophy, for instance, comes straight out of Howard Schnellenberger's playbook.
Schnellenberger focused on signing all the best prospects from south Florida, which he referred to as the "State of Miami." That strategy helped Miami win each of its five national titles, including the first under Schnellenberger in 1983. Golden has a different name for the area -- he calls it the "Eye of the Storm" -- but he wants to make sure Miami lands the top players in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
"If every school in the country is coming here to recruit," Golden says, "why wouldn't we want the majority of our class to be from Florida?"
Golden has indicated Miami will continue to recruit nationally, but he also knows the Hurricanes must do a better job of protecting their borders.
Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties have produced a total of 48 four- and five-star prospects in the past two years. Incredibly, Miami signed only two -- running back Eduardo Clements of Miami Booker T. Washington and offensive lineman Brandon Linder of Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas. Miami didn't get any of the top 21 prospects in those three counties earlier this month.
By contrast, Florida State and Florida each have signed nine four- or five-star prospects from those three counties over the past two years. And the Hurricanes aren't merely losing these prospects to in-state rivals: Louisville signed four four-star recruits from Miami-Dade this year alone.
Golden, 41, would seem like an unlikely candidate to change this trend. The former Temple coach wasn't a familiar name to most south Florida players, coaches or fans before taking this job. Miami center Tyler Horn admits he "had no idea" who Golden was before hearing the rumors linking him to the job. Golden replaced Randy Shannon, who played for the Hurricanes and spent his entire coaching career in Miami.
If Shannon couldn't keep south Florida's top players in the area, how is a newcomer to the area going to succeed? Golden has answered that question by spending his first few months on the job doing everything possible to strengthen Miami's local recruiting efforts.
Miami's ability to regain its status as a national power under Al Golden depends heavily upon whether the Hurricanes can protect their home base in recruiting. Miami didn't sign any of the 21 Class of 2011 four- or five-star prospects from Miami-Dade, Broward or Palm Beach counties. Here's a look at where they signed instead.
NOTE: * - Randall committed to Oregon but hasn't qualified.
He has established an open-door policy with high school coaches in the area. He has dramatically lowered the price of admission to the school's football camp. He has scheduled informal gatherings with high school coaches in each of the three counties. He has offered area high school coaches unlimited access to Miami's spring practice.
"He's doing a tremendous job," says Miami Central coach Telly Lockette, whose team won the Class 6A state title and finished 14th nationally in the RivalsHigh 100 last season. "He's letting it be known he's trying to win in his backyard. I think the coaches previous [to him] got away from that.
"He's trying to do the Howard Schnellenberger tri-county thing -- Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. … You look at Howard Schnellenberger and how he built the University of Miami. The blueprint's already there."
That's the blueprint for succeeding in the long term. First, the Hurricanes have to improve their short-term results. UM hasn't won as many as 10 games since 2003 and hasn't appeared in any of the six ACC championship games. Shannon was fired shortly after the Hurricanes closed a 7-5 regular season with a 23-20 overtime loss to USF in front of a half-empty Sun Life Stadium crowd. The Hurricanes lost 33-17 to Notre Dame in the Sun Bowl with Jeff Stoutland serving as interim coach.
"The two things that need to be improved are easy," Golden says. "Turnover margin and penalties."
The irony of Shannon's tenure is that he dramatically improved Miami's behavior off the field -- the Hurricanes had only one player arrested during his four-year regime -- but was undone by the team's lack of discipline in game situations.
Miami averaged 8.23 penalties per game last season and committed 36 turnovers. Baylor and Troy were the only FBS teams penalized more often, while Middle Tennessee was the only FBS program with more turnovers.
Golden already has taken steps to correct that. Horn, a fifth-year senior, said he never has encountered such strenuous offseason workouts. Horn said each workout includes something extra at the end, whether it's flipping tires, pushing sleds or some other activity. The Hurricanes have dubbed that additional session the "Fifth Quarter" and are counting on that extra work to improve their mental toughness.
"We would have great weeks of practice [last season]," Horn says. "We weren't going out there and dogging it. People have to understand that. We had great weeks of practice, but come game time, it would come down to focus. The players were there. Players were able to make plays. But when it came down to making the catch, holding that block or making that tackle, that's where we failed.
"I think this new method of making us mentally tough and finishing every single drill we do will really pay off. That was my thing regarding this past season. I don't think it was a lack of effort. I don't think it was players not caring. I think it was not focusing. If we become mentally tough -- so when you're tired, you can make that block, make that catch, make that tackle -- I don't think there's any team that can beat us."
Many of Miami's mistakes last season came from its quarterbacks, as the Hurricanes threw 27 interceptions, more than any other FBS school. Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris combined to throw 24 of those interceptions, along with 21 touchdown passes.
Golden must decide which of those two quarterbacks deserves to open the season as the starter. Harris started the first eight games last season before suffering a concussion; Morris started the final four regular-season games. Morris outperformed Harris in the Sun Bowl.
"There are a lot of coaches in America who would like to have two quarterbacks who played a significant amount last year," says Golden, a former Penn State linebacker and Virginia defensive coordinator. "I'm going to let them sort it out this spring. We'll see how it shakes out. I'm encouraged by their work ethic and by their demeanor and leadership."
Golden needs either Morris or Harris to step forward because senior Spencer Whipple-- a former walk-on -- is the only other scholarship quarterback eligible to play this season. NCAA rules won't allow Michigan transfer Tate Forcier to take the field until 2012.
Miami's hopes of landing a top quarterback in the 2011 recruiting class vanished when Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer four-star prospect Jacoby Brissett opted for Florida instead. Although Golden worked to sign him, Brissett became the latest high-caliber south Florida recruit to head elsewhere.
Raiding the 'Eye of the Storm'
Al Golden has called the south Florida recruiting area the "Eye of the Storm," signifying that Miami needs to keep those top prospects "at home." But Miami has signed only two of the 48 four- or five-star prospects from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties in the past two recruiting cycles. Here's a look at all the schools that have signed multiple four- and five-star prospects from that three-county area in those two years.
But there's evidence that Golden is turning that around. Miami already has commitments from three 2012 Miami-Dade prospects and one Broward recruit. Although most of them pledged to Miami before Shannon was fired, Golden has managed to hang on to them. Miami also finally landed a high school quarterback recruit last week when Clearwater (Fla.) Countryside's Gray Crow committed to the Hurricanes.
"He wants to get to know you," Keith Brown, a 2012 linebacker recruit from Miami Norland, says of Golden. "He's not just there for a championship. He wants to get to know you personally. He's like a second father to you."
Golden is making sure his entire staff gets to know south Florida's top prospects. He kept one of Shannon's best recruiters in linebackers coach Micheal Barrow, a 13-year NFL veteran and a starting linebacker on Miami's 1989 and '91 national championship teams. Barrow also is a former south Florida high school star, at Homestead High.
Golden revisited Miami's rich history by bringing back offensive line coach Art Kehoe, who worked as an assistant on each of Miami's five national championship teams before getting fired at the end of the 2005 season. He also brought in recruiting coordinator Brennan Carroll, the son of former USC coach Pete Carroll.
Kehoe's return earned Golden plenty of positive publicity in south Florida. Adding Carroll and hanging on to Barrow could dramatically upgrade Miami's recruiting efforts.
"He's definitely taken the approach that, 'You're going to know me. You're going to know my assistants. You're going to know my position coaches. You're not going to be recruited by one guy, but by the entire staff,' " says Chris Nee, a Florida recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. "That's big. Micheal Barrow has always been a good recruiter for them, but I'm not sure that entire staff under Shannon had kids thinking, 'I know multiple coaches there.'
"You'd always hear Micheal Barrow's name, but not always the other assistants."
A look at Miami's roster underscores the importance of improving its south Florida recruiting. Shannon attracted the nation's fifth-ranked recruiting class in 2008 and signed 11 of the top 16 prospects from Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach three counties. That group of 11 included Jacory Harris, All-ACC cornerback Brandon Harris, All-ACC linebacker Sean Spence and All-ACC guard Brandon Washington.
But the Hurricanes have struggled to sign top local prospects since, and perhaps it's no coincidence that they also have struggled on the field.
The Temple turnaround
Al Golden earned himself a major-conference opportunity by staging a remarkable turnaround at Temple. Temple was 30-157 in the 15 seasons before Golden's arrival, including six seasons with one or fewer wins. Here's a look at Temple under Golden.
NOTE: * - Denotes EagleBank Bowl appearance.
Golden welcomes the challenge. After all, he already handled one of college football's toughest jobs when he took over a Temple program that had posted two winning records in the 26 seasons before his arrival. Golden led Temple to its first bowl appearance in three decades and posted a combined 17-8 record in his final two seasons.
"Every coach should have to go through that," Golden says. "Every coach should have to develop a program from scratch. There's no problem we didn't have to resolve in those years at Temple. It really prepared me well for taking over at a place like the University of Miami.
"That's why you hire experienced head coaches."
Going 17-8 over two seasons is good enough at many programs. Not at Miami, where a 16-9 record over his last two seasons got Shannon fired.
Golden understands the pressure that comes with this job. He addresses those expectations by making the same declaration he likely will be delivering in living rooms and high schools across south Florida for the next several months.
"It's nice to be at a place where the expectation is to win championships," Golden says. "Maybe that's troublesome to some or maybe that's something people would look at it as a negative, but the staff and I look at it as an incredible positive.
"You're at a place where at the end of the day, they want to win a championship in football. That's an incredible feeling every day."