CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Miami is a place with a proud tradition and unrelenting fan base, a mix that has turned the atmosphere around the football program so toxic, flying banners have encapsulated all that negativity for the world to see.
“Fire Al Golden” signs have flown before every Hurricanes game, home and away, making it routine now to look up to the sky. Last week, two banners showed their support for Golden, Miami's head coach, but they fought for airspace with the others.
Miami athletic director Blake James has seen them all. Each time, he comes back to one main idea.
“I’m not sure what the end goal is that they’re accomplishing,” James said in a recent interview. “Are they accomplishing the fact that I am aware or someone’s aware that they’re not happy with the results that Al has had on the field? That’s already well known. I think what it does do is it just gives all the great fans a black eye, and I think it gives the program a black eye in a lot of ways.
“As much as I understand the frustration and the disappointment, the desire to see a change made, flying the banners does nothing to help the situation and does nothing to help the program in my opinion.”
Those banners will not influence James, nor will they force him into making a decision about the future of the program right now. As he has maintained for months, James will evaluate Golden once the season ends. Golden's contract expires Feb. 1, 2020.
“We’re in a 12-game season, and it’s hard to evaluate a 12-game season until you’ve played 12 games,” James said. “For us and my approach, we have to let the season play out as we do with any sport. You look at the season and look at where we’re at, look at what we like, look at what we didn’t like and then do a sound evaluation and decide what’s best moving forward.”
That might not satisfy the most vociferous Miami fans, whose disenchantment with Golden and the program has grown to an all-time high headed into a huge game against No. 6 Clemson on Saturday. James does not need banners to tell him that.
He uses the word “disappointment” to describe the way he felt after the losses to Cincinnati and Florida State. Fans can afford to fly off the handle; the athletic director must keep his perspective at all times, through difficult and disappointing losses.
“It’s a very passionate fan base and so when they’re not happy, they’re going to make me aware of that, and no one’s happy after a loss,” James said “That starts in our locker room. Al’s not happy with a loss. Our team isn’t happy with a loss. Our leaders aren’t happy with a loss.
“A lot of people in the fan base want to continue to see this team get better. People want to see us win every week and those are the Hurricane fans. I guess I struggle to hear people say they’re Hurricane fans and don’t want to see us win. To me, that doesn’t sound like a fan, but there’s definitely a passionate group that wants to see us do well.”
With the high stakes involved in college football, and at Miami in particular, it has become harder and harder to have patience when the results do not come quickly. But given the circumstances Golden faced when he arrived, with an NCAA investigation and sanctions clouding his first several seasons, Miami has opted to give him time.
Those supporters most upset believe Golden has had time, and point out that last year's team had seven players taken in the 2015 NFL draft. They point to coaching decisions that have seemed head-scratching at times. They point to six consecutive losses to Florida State. They point to zero signature wins.
Golden is 32-24 midway through his fifth season at Miami. It has been 12 years since Miami has posted double-digit wins. But James says he has not given any thought to a win total that would be enough to ensure Golden returns for another season.
“I don’t look at it and say, ‘We need to get to this number of wins,’” James said. “The goal is to win the Coastal. To win the Coastal, they’re going to have to play some great football here because there are a lot of teams that want to win the Coastal. Everyone’s in position.”
That's the one banner James is actually paying attention to.