Press Conference: Miami football coach Al Golden
Q. Coming into the kickoff in coaches’ interviews you were in a similar situation last year being voted first in the preseason poll. What are you going to do differently as a team to replicate and keep that No. 1 status at the end of the season?
AL GOLDEN: Yeah, so I think one of the things that we need to learn to get back to where we want to be, is how to handle the spotlight and the expectations, and it’s part of who we are and it’s part of where we want to go. The ascension that we made last year, if you look back, I’m sure there are a lot of guys on our team, that was the first time they’ve been in that situation, that platform, if you will. We were prohibited from going to the bowl game the previous two years and the ACC Championship game the previous year, so I think our guys have learned a lot from that, and that’s something that we have to carry forward now, and then they have to make sure they hand that down to the young kids coming in. What does it take to stay in the bunker, to ignore the noise and just focus on your one: Your one game, one play, one day, and they’re all one-game seasons.
Q. Duke Johnson has come out and said that this is his team. He’s obviously very passionate about what Miami is trying to become again. What can you say about his leadership and your definition of what Miami football needs to be at this point?
AL GOLDEN: Yeah, I think it’s great to hear Duke be so emphatic about it, but more importantly, to see him back it up with what he’s done in this off-season. When he left the game in Tallahassee, he was 193 pounds, and he’s 209 pounds right now. He ran the fastest time that he’s run as a Miami Hurricane last week, so he’s going to be a stronger, more durable, and certainly a more mentally tough player. He kind of leads individually. He’s not a guy that’s going to get up in front of the whole team, but he’s done a really good job of mentoring certain guys and talking to them individually, Joe Yearby, for one, and we’re excited about Duke and what he’s meant to our program, coming in when he did, staying, and then obviously setting a standard now. He’s one of the guys that personify what a Miami Hurricane is.
Q. I talked to some of your players yesterday about going from good to great, and they talked about getting the U back. How do you balance wanting to get the U back with maybe not going to the extreme of the swagger and the — you know what I mean, the bad stuff that went with the U?
AL GOLDEN: Yeah, again, I think we all say we want to bring it back. I don’t think there’s any question about it, but how we want to do it is our own identity. Clearly, there’s a standard of excellence at the University of Miami that was set forth by the previous teams and players, and you’re held to that standard, which we’ve all accepted, by going to the University of Miami. I think — the one thing I think that’s different about this team — and I don’t know maybe if it was lost in translation yesterday — is that they believe in who they are, so they certainly respect the past, but they want to represent who they are and their identity as a football team. There’s been nothing about the 2014 team that even resembles the 2013 team. They wanted to be their own team, have their own leadership, and really move forward, and since January 12th when we reconvened, we’ve seen that. So I’m excited about these guys saying, okay, let’s go out and make our own identity as opposed to relying on something that happened quite a while ago.
Q. Playing Louisville the first game of the season, some of your guys yesterday were saying they kind of look at this game as a rematch. Is there any extra motivation with your team getting to play Louisville in the first game?
AL GOLDEN: Yeah, I don’t think there’s any extra motivation. Louisville has got a new head coach and a new offensive system, defensive system, special teams. So we’re going to be playing an entirely different operation, although our guys will be familiar with some of the personnel. To be honest with you, we kind of left ’13 in ’13. As I said earlier, the 14 team has their own identity. As we get closer to the game, will that help with motivation and energy and all that? That’s great, but that hasn’t been the theme of our off-season, because if it is, we have to turn around and play four more times in September. And so the whole season can’t be about a rematch or anything and really hasn’t been our mantra. We’ve looked in the mirror and looked at the things that we need to fix and moved our program forward, and that’s what we’re focused on.
Q. Describe your emotion since the spring game until now. You’ve obviously had some situations in which your emotions have end and flowed a little bit. Talk about you, personally, right now.
AL GOLDEN: I’m as excited as I’ve ever been because I’ve never had an opportunity to experience this without talking about the NCAA investigation and the impending sanctions and all of that. I think one of the things that I’ve learned from that, as I look back now, is that no matter what you do, when you go through something like that, it tends to put you on the defensive constantly. I think the 2014 team represented a return to attacking at the University of Miami and not defending, and not defending everything every day, and defending yourself in recruiting, defending yourself in the media, defending yourself when you go to a social event or an alumni event. As I take a deep breath and call a time-out and look back, you can say, man, what that must have done to our kids that go to a class, and they hear it, or go to a party and they hear it, or go back home and they hear it, and none of us had the answer. We were just defending constantly for three years, and what I want to see this team do is return. I want to see us get back to attacking.
Q. One of the reasons, maybe, that you guys are selected to win your side of the division, just the way the schedule lays out for you, who you get at home, a couple non-conference games that you have, but even that Thursday night game, the dreaded Thursday night game at Virginia Tech, it seems like it falls in a good place for you. Do you like your schedule?
AL GOLDEN: I was kind of thinking that you guys hadn’t seen the schedule. But no, I mean, look, it just goes back to what — I’ve got to practice what I preach. We can’t play them all in the same night, and we really have to have a one-game mentality. Every game this year has got to be a one-game mission, and it’s really going to start in preseason camp. One day at a time, one play at a time, and let’s just take care of our one every day, and then we’ll go from there. That’s what we want to draw from from last year. We made the ascent into the top 10 and we weren’t quite ready for that platform and now we have to draw on that experience to make sure we’re ready to make sure we get back to where we want to be.
Q. An explosion of kick return touchdowns last year. There was a time — and you have a great one in Duke Johnson — there was a time when Florida State and Miami and Virginia Tech, of course, were the only teams that ran kicks back for touchdowns. Now, Carolina had seven last year, Duke had four, Georgia Tech has returned a couple of kicks for touchdowns. Talk about this particular dynamic and how maybe it has changed the league and how you prepare for games.
AL GOLDEN: Well, you know, we take a lot of pride in our coverage units, and it’s something that you’d better be ready for and you’d better have enough really good players, not just young players and not just non-starters on your kicking units. And we take a lot of pride in having a lot of starters on every unit. You’ve got to put more emphasis on your coverage units for sure, and I don’t know, has anybody addressed what the origin of it is? Is there any — again, it might be that we’re just overall not covering as many kicks, so then all of a sudden here comes the one that you’re not covering, because we moved it up, and now you’re not quite as good. I don’t know. But certainly, the teams that you mentioned, Duke and North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Florida State, have really, really good special teams units. I think one of the things, looking back at the film from last year, Duke didn’t get enough credit for how good their special teams unit was. They were really, really good.
Q. Annual match-up on Thanksgiving weekend against Pitt. Talk a little bit about the Pitt program and what that match-up means at the end of the season.
AL GOLDEN: Yeah, you guys are going to be plus 50 on the thermometer this year, though, so it’ll be a little bit different, and I’m sure you’re going to make your faculty trip or whatever or your alumni trip. Look, I think it’s great. Two old Big East foes are going to play each other again, so I think it’s great. Two large media markets. It’s going to be a game that’s always going to garner respect from a television standpoint, and it’s really two contrasts, right? — when you think about it, whether it’s the weather or the city itself or whatever, and I think it’s great. It’s great for the ACC, and it’s great for college football. I know our guys accepted the challenge last year, and I know it’s going to be the same thing this year.
Q. I only ask this to stir the pot —
AL GOLDEN: Thank you.
Q. You talked about 2014 being their team and everybody being hyped up and ready. When you do start camp, is it possible to be too enthusiastic, too hyped up, too ready to go too early?
AL GOLDEN: I don’t know — again, the young lady’s question back there, that’s why you don’t talk about revenge all off-season and everything, because it’s got to really become about your team. I don’t know. I like the team to be ready to go, and I’d rather be pulling back off of them in training camp or giving them an extra day off than to try to motivate them to be ready to play. And again, every team is different. But this team for whatever reason, when they’re doing with a two-minute drill, they want to do another one, and then if the offense wins, then the defense wants to go. A team is reborn every year, so we’ll see how this team is once we get to training camp. We’re going to need leadership, and we’re going to have to grow a lot in certain areas, and that will be our challenge.
Q. I know Braxton Berrios is coming off an injury. What are you seeing from him? What do you expect from him? Is the timetable pushed back at all or what are you thinking?
AL GOLDEN: No, Braxton is going to be ready to go here. We open up camp two weeks from tomorrow, and he’ll be full go. We may have to watch him a little bit early in training camp just to be prudent, but did you ever just meet the guy who can just figure it out? That’s Braxton Berrios. He’s just one of those guys. He’ll just figure it out. He’ll be really resourceful for us on special teams. He’ll play slot receiver in addition to playing some Z. He’ll be a kick returner, a punt returner. He’s just one of those guys. He’ll never give you that look or that palms up, he’ll just say, okay, if that’s what you want me to do, I’ll find a way a to do it. He bleeds orange and green now. He’s one of those guys that wanted to be a Cane growing up, and we’re very fortunate to have him in our program and equally excited to watch him develop here.