Tag: Al Golden

North Carolina State v Miami

And in that corner… The Miami Hurricanes


In the short history of the Shamrock Series, Notre Dame has had the chance to play in some great venues in some terrific cities. Starting the neutral site renaissance with an odd match against Washington State in San Antonio, the Irish exponentially improved the concept when they played the first football game in new Yankee Stadium against Army in 2010, and went to the nation’s capital for a game against Maryland in FedEx Field. This Saturday, the Shamrock Series marries the the best package of opponent and venue thus far, with the Miami Hurricanes joining Notre Dame in Chicago for a night game in Soldier Field.

This may not be the spirited rivalry it was back when Jimmy Johnson and Lou Holtz squared off, but it’s certainly a game that both teams have circled on their schedules for some time. With the ‘Canes entering the game at a surprising 4-1, it’s also a game that’ll garner some of the national spotlight, with the Irish looking to knock off another impressive opponent and Miami hoping to vault into the top 25.

Looking for a little bit more insight into the game, I tracked down Michael Casagrande of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Fresh to the Hurricanes beat after covering Alabama from 2009-2012, Michael was generous enough to find some time for me while spitting out columns left and right before the big game.

I asked, he answered. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy.


1. The ‘Canes seem to have been on the high-wire this season, winning shootouts with Boston College, Georgia Tech, and most recently North Carolina State. That Al Golden’s young squad is 4-1 (3-0 in ACC play) says something about his team. How confident is this Miami team heading into Chicago?

They’re in a much better place than they were three weeks ago. The ‘Canes faced a turning point after the 52-13 pounding at Kansas State. There was no guarantee of anything at that point, but things started to click at Georgia Tech and they’ve played like a different team since. Well, at least on offense. Defense is another issue.

2. The last time most Notre Dame fans saw Stephen Morris, it was in mop-up time against the Irish in El Paso at the Sun Bowl. Morris was the bright spot of a pretty mediocre performance by a ‘Canes team playing without a head coach. Now a junior, he seems to have put the pieces together. What type of challenge will he present to Notre Dame’s defense?

Morris has a cannon for an arm. Coaches even had to ask him to dial it back a bit sometimes and throw with a little more touch. He’s thrown with both recently when fitting deep balls in tight windows. Morris can also move around in the pocket and take off on occasion. A few planned QB runs have been effective this season. He’s also spread the ball around to several different receivers and running backs. So far, the tight ends have been a disappointment in the passing game.

3. On the other side of the ball, the Hurricanes have some pretty ugly numbers defensively. As someone that’s watched every snap this year, how bad is it? What’s been the biggest problem for Mark D’Onofrio’s unit?

It’s pretty bad at times. This is a young group with serious deficiencies in certain places. The defensive tackles aren’t very deep and will likely be without starter Olsen Pierre on Saturday. The most talented players are also the youngest. Sophomores and freshmen play many key roles, but also make the biggest mistakes. It’s a work in progress that might not be complete for another year. Forcing turnover (six of them) was huge last week when allowing 644 yards to NC State.

4. There’s a lot of good young offensive talent at Miami. I imagine we’ll hear plenty from Duke Johnson and Phillip Dorsett this weekend. Who else should Irish fans be worried about?

Receiver Allen Hurns was having a big season early on, but went down with a head injury (assumed to be a concussion) early at Kansas State. He has the size, speed, and hands to make a difference out there. Running back Mike James has also had a few big games here and there. Having the balance between run and pass will be huge in Miami’s shot at the upset.

5. Two recruits Notre Dame chased hard were Hurricanes Seantrel Henderson and Anthony Chickillo. Now that the recruiting spotlight is off of them, how have they played?

Both should play big roles. Henderson has been all over the map this year. He got in trouble when arriving late for summer classes, then there was a preseason concussion suffered in a car wreck. He missed all of August with that and attending two family funerals. Henderson even played on the scout team in the first week before moving back into the rotation. He’s been at both left and right tackle, but figures to start on the right side Saturday night. Chickillo is battling through almost constant double teams. As the bright spot on the line, he’s drawing much more attention. The Hurricanes need him to get pressure on the quarterback.

6. Vegas has this game with Notre Dame a double-digit favorite. How do you see it? What does Miami need to do to win the game on Saturday?

I have no clue. Seriously. This Miami team is all over the place. My gut says Notre Dame by 10, but my gut has been so wrong so often this year, it’s not worth asking anymore.


For more of Michael’s coverage leading up to the game, you can follow him on Twitter @ByCasagrande and check out the Sun Sentinel’s Miami Hurricanes Blog.

Golden talks match-up with Irish

Miami v Georgia Tech

Al Golden met with the media yesterday to discuss his team’s game against No. 9 Notre Dame. And after listening to Miami’s head coach, the Hurricanes certainly won’t enter Soldier Field overlooking the Irish.

Golden was effusive with his praise for the Irish, applauding the work Brian Kelly and Notre Dame have done in the season’s first month, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

“Really impressive defensive group. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with them,” Golden said of Notre Dame’s defense. “Really strong and rugged up front, 3-4 alignment, Nix at the nose is a load to handle. Linebackers are all big. Te’o in the middle is as good as advertised, holds it all together, and does a great job running the operation for them. Play a lot of cover 2. Make it hard for you to run the ball. Up front as good as anybody I’ve seen in the red zone in a long time. Really good.”

Golden’s comments on the Irish red zone defense actually point out something many of us have overlooked for most of the season. The Irish have been really, really good in the red zone, especially keeping teams out of the end zone.

Notre Dame is ranked second nationally in touchdown efficiency on defense, holding opponents to just two touchdowns on ten attempts, with the 20% clip behind only TCU. Putting that rate into context, if the Irish kept it up, they’d beat Alabama — the nation’s No. 1 team in TD efficiency in 2011 — by 15 percent. No team in the last five years has held opponents below 31.7 percent, putting another datapoint on the board that shows how impressive Bob Diaco’s unit has been playing while breaking in a young secondary.

Offensively, Golden and his coaching staff have prepared for both Everett Golson and Tommy Rees. And while you wouldn’t know it from talking to Irish fans, the Hurricanes staff doesn’t see much difference between the two quarterbacks.

“We’re ready for either Golson or Rees at quarterback,” Golden said. “From our standpoint, we don’t see a whole lot of difference when Golson’s in there as opposed to when Rees is in there. We see a lot of the same throws, a lot of the same reads, formations, and things of that nature. From our standpoint, as far as how they’re formationing things and what they’re calling, we don’t see a whole lot of difference between those two.”

Golden is a smart coach and has a young defense that’s learning on the fly and struggling as it goes along. But this should be a great opportunity for the Irish to let Golson get into the game plan as a runner as well, holding onto the ball in the zone read and breaking some plays on the outside with his feet. Golden was candid about the team’s struggles on defense and knows they’re a work in progress.

“There is no frustration,” Golden said about his young defense. “I know where we are right now, and there’s going to be a day when we all play our best on the same day. As I said to the team, why not today? Why not this week? I don’t know when it’s going to be, but we haven’t done it yet and we’ve won. I want to make sure we don’t lose our aggressiveness. We’re competing right now. You can’t turn on the film and say we’re walking around on defense. We’re not playing as smart as we need to, we’re not executing like we need to, and we need some guys to step up.”

After watching from the press box as Hurricane players huddled around heaters in El Paso and wore neck warmers during their Sun Bowl drubbing against Notre Dame in 2010, Golden did his best to choose his words wisely when asked about potentially cold weather this weekend, with Saturday evening temperatures expected to drop into the 30s.

“How cold are we talking about here, like Green Bay Packer cold?” Golden asked, doing his best to move past a game where the Hurricanes program was in transition. “I think we’ll be alright.  I hope we’re not to the point where we got to huddle around a heater. I hope we’re just tough enough to go out and play, to be honest with you. I don’t mean that facetiously, I mean that. We’re going to be outside for three-and-a-half, four hours against a Top 10 teams. If we have a team that’s thinking about heaters at that time or looking to get sweatshirts and stuff, I’m not doing something right.”

Hurricanes and Irish battling for recruits, too


It’s not enough that Miami and Notre Dame will face off on December 31st in the Sun Bowl. New head coach Al Golden kick-started the rivalry when he dropped into the Brooklyn high school of Irish target Ishaq Williams, throwing the Hurricanes into the heated pursuit for the blue-chippers signature.

CaneSports.com spoke with Lincoln High coach Shawn O’Connor, who chronicled the visit.

“Coach Golden and Coach D’Onofrio made a great impression on Ishaq,” O’Connor said. “Ishaq was very impressed. Now, he’ll go home and put this through his process, go through it all. I don’t think he really thought about the whole Miami thing until now. I don’t know if he’ll visit, but Coach Golden did a great presentation. We know he’s going to be a great coach. He’s keeping ties from the north to the south.”

The Hurricanes currently have only four committed prospects, with Anthony Chickillo openly wondering if he’ll visit Notre Dame and a few other places. It goes to show you how elite of a prospect Williams is that Golden would take both he and his defensive coordinator to Brooklyn instead of patrolling South Florida for recruits with stronger ties to the ‘Canes.

Irish fans, rest easy. Williams and his family welcomed head coach Brian Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco into their home earlier this week to listen to another sales pitch on why the Irish were a great fit for the Brookyln product.

Here’s what Shaun Williams, Ishaq’s father, told Pete Sampson of IrishIllustrated.com:

“They always make a compelling case,” Shaun said. “It’s just clarifying some stuff with us in terms of what it is actually that they do in that defensive. Coach Diaco has a defense that is his own invention. It just oversimplifies it by calling tit a 3-4. It’s not purely a 3-4. It’s something brand new and something brand new that they want Ishaq to do, which is kind of cutting edge.”

From the sounds of it, the Hurricanes have quite a bit of catching up to do in the recruitment of Williams, but that won’t stop them from trying.


New hires put coaching vacancies into perspective

Jack Swarbrick

Filling a coaching vacancy is tough business in major college football. Your pool of potential targets is always shifting, already happily employed, and also filled by men who have to act as if they’re absolutely uninterested in switching jobs right until the point they sign on the dotted line. Adding to the complications, there’s an unruly group of fans and media watching your every move, and even tracking your flights, as you set about scouring the country for your next head football coach.

Yet when Jack Swarbrick went about looking for the next head coach of Notre Dame after dismissing Charlie Weis after 21 losses in three seasons, he did so in a relative cloak of secrecy, only turning up after securing Brian Kelly as the Irish’s next football coach. While there was smoke surrounding Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, there were no leaks from the Notre Dame Board of Trustees, no outsiders with advanced knowledge of the search, and no real idea of who else was in the running for the job until Kelly’s name was announced by Notre Dame.

Maybe the fact that Kelly was the overwhelmingly logical choice is what rankled many of the feathers of those that didn’t like the hire. Perhaps it was the workman like apprenticeship Kelly had served, with six years spent at the D-I level at Central Michigan and Cincinnati after an illustrious run at Grand Valley State, a solid, but certainly not dazzling CV. Sure Kelly put up near historic numbers in the Big East, but that incredible run came with the built-in caveats that come with playing in a conference that now lacks the traditional powers of the other automatic qualifiers.

But after watching elite football programs like Miami miss on Domer fantasy Jon Gruden and “settle” for Temple coach Al Golden, while Florida AD Jeremy Foley replaced fellow Domer dream Urban Meyer with Will Muschamp, the defensive coordinator of the worst Texas team of the decade, and it might be time for Irish fans to either recalibrate what kind of coach should be coming to South Bend next time the head job comes vacant, or come to grips with just how good of a hire Kelly was by Jack Swarbrick.

Thanks to some research by the hibernating website Blue-Gray Sky, let’s take a look at the hires of some of the other “big name” colleges since 2006:

School Outgoing Incoming Days Elapsed
Florida Urban Meyer Will Muschamp 2
Miami (Fla.) Randy Shannon Al Golden 14
Tennessee Lane Kiffin Derek Dooley 2
Southern California Pete Carroll Lane Kiffin 2
Florida State Bobby Bowden Jimbo Fisher 0
Notre Dame Charlie Weis Brian Kelly 10
Oregon Mike Bellotti Chip Kelly 0
Tennessee Phil Fullmer Lane Kiffin 28
Washington Tyrone Willingham Steve Sarkisian 39
Clemson Terry Bowden Dabo Swinney 49
West Virginia Rich Rodriguez Bill Stewart 18
UCLA K. Dorrell Rick Neuheisel 25
Arkansas Houston Nutt Bobby Petrino 15
Nebraska Bill Callahan Bo Pelini 8
Texas A&M Dennis Franchione Mike Sherman 3
Michigan Lloyd Carr Rich Rodriguez 28
Stanford Walt Harris Jim Harbaugh 14
Alabama Mike Shula Nick Saban 37
Miami (Fla.) Larry Coker Randy Shannon 15
North Carolina John Bunting Butch Davis 21

Above are arguably the 20 most high-profile coaching transitions of the last five seasons. Taking a look at the list, you get the idea of just what type of coach jumps from a job that they have to a job that opens up.

Of the head coaches on that list, regardless of what you thought of the job that Kelly did in his first year at Notre Dame, it’s hard not to rank him above every head coach on this list with the exception of Nick Saban, Rich Rodriguez, and probably Bobby Petrino. Obviously Rodriguez’s struggles at Michigan help frame the discussion, while Petrino’s “personality” make him a tough fit at a place like Notre Dame.

Simply put, no matter the shine of the Golden Dome, or any other college program, here’s empirical evidence that shows no coach — regardless of the history of the football program — flees a top job at an elite college or NFL team for another school.

Even new Florida coach Will Muschamp addressed the concerns of his lack of head coaching experience in his opening press conference, surely as a reaction to the news of a defensive coordinator getting his first head coaching job at a place like Florida.

“I know that there will be criticism about maybe not hiring a guy without head coaching experience and I certainly understand that,” Muschamp said. “But I do think if you look at it you can really look at all the examples across the board of guys that had no head coaching experience and did an outstanding job because they were the right fit, for the right job, at the right time. And you can look at a lot of examples of guys that had head coaching experience and went to situations like Florida and didn’t have success like you thought they might have.”

Muschamp’s comments might as well be taken verbatim from Swarbrick’s introductory press conference where he called Kelly “the right man at the right time for Notre Dame.” Only in Kelly’s case, he also put together one of the best six year runs of any coach in Division I-A football in his two stops at Central Michigan and Cincinnati.

Neither Swarbrick nor Kelly are happy with being 7-5 after one season on the job. But if you look at the process of hiring a new coach at a major college football program, there’s every reason to believe that Notre Dame and its administration actually made the best move possible when considering their options. That may be a tough pill for some Irish fans to swallow, but it’s probably a far better one when you consider Kelly would likely have been the front-runner for both the Miami and Florida position had he stuck around another season at Cincinnati.