Five weeks ago, I went down to Miami on a spring visit. What stood out more than anything was how relaxed Al Golden seemed.
All was quiet around the program for the first time in years. Golden smiled easily, reinvigorated after a nine-win season, some early wins on the recruiting trail and the NCAA mess long in the rearview. Indeed, the story I wrote read, in part, Al Golden and the Hurricanes enjoy drama- and controversy-free spring.
Well, the drama-free part did not last long.
What, exactly, does Golden have to do to catch a break around Coral Gables? Four years in, and the setbacks just keep on coming.
When he was initially hired in December 2010, Miami had a grand total of two commitments. Four high-profile players backed out of commitments after Randy Shannon was fired, including quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and current Louisville receiver Eli Rogers.
Golden scrambled to put together a class, but what appeared to be a potential top-25 group when Shannon was in charge turned into one of the lowest-rated classes the Canes had signed in years.
Then in August 2011, the NCAA began investigating Miami over improper benefits allegations made by convicted felon Nevin Shapiro. Eight Miami players received suspensions, and four more were punished. Ultimately, Miami self imposed a two-year postseason ban, costing it a spot in the ACC title game in 2012.
Last October, the NCAA finished its investigation, taking away scholarships and putting the program on three years' probation. The clouds finally parted, and an emotional catharsis began. Only a few weeks later, leading rusher Duke Johnson broke his ankle and Miami ended up losing four of its last six games after rising as high as No. 7 in the polls.
Now, Golden goes into the season hoping that Kevin Olsen will be everything Williams was during the spring. The early results were not encouraging, but the game plan remains the same. Miami has to rely heavily on Johnson and stay out of third-and-long situations on offense to help Olsen succeed best. During the ACC coaches call last week, Golden tried to put an optimistic spin on the situation, saying the team would have confidence in Olsen or whoever ends up starting against Louisville on Labor Day night.
What is undeniable is that Golden begins Year 4 facing some sort of adversity. Again.