For most, Al Golden certainly isn't the sexy pick. He isn't the surprising pick, the out-of-left-field pick, the head coaching candidate that no one expected would interview at Penn State.
For many, when he was head coach at Temple, after then-defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, he was somewhat of an heir apparent in Happy Valley.
When the PSU coaching job came open after the firing of Paterno in 2011, Golden's name unsurprisingly came up. Equally unsurprising was his quick dismissal of the rumors that he was in the running for the job that eventually went to Bill O'Brien, and Golden has spent the past two years coaching on the University of Miami sideline, wearing khakis and an orange and green tie, an homage to the coach he learned so much from.
Golden is, of course, the quintessential "Penn State guy" that LaVar Arrington wants so much to see at the helm of the Nittany Lions. He played tight end for Paterno, was named a captain his senior year, and spent one season on a pro roster before beginning his coaching career.
Even though he played on offense, Golden's coaching career has been on the defensive side of the ball. He spent time as a linebacker coach (including one year at his alma mater) before quickly being promoted to defensive coordinator at UVA under then-coach Al Groh; that job was a stepping stone to his first head coaching gig, at Temple, making him one of the youngest head coaches in the country.
Ah, Temple. With all the calls of mediocrity I've seen thrown around Golden ever since talk of the PSU position opening up again started, I think most have truly forgotten what a wretched hive of scum and villainy the Temple Owls football program was when Golden took it over in 2006.
One year after the Big East (!!!) voted to expel the Owls due to poor performance, Golden was hired to be Temple's head coach after an abysmal 0-11 season in the MAC. When he got there, this happened:
Adversity? Golden's faced it. He managed to turn around a program with little fan support or pride, in a bad neighborhood with less-than-state-of-the-art facilities. Their first two years of turnaround were a struggle, but after being ohsoclose to bowl eligibility in 2008 at 5-7 (then the program's best record since 1990), the Owls finally found their way to 9-4 and their first bowl berth since 1979 following the 2009 season.
I have to pause here for some reiteration. Now, in 2014, Temple is not a bad program. We can reasonably look at this past year's 2-10 record under new head coach Matt Rhule (a former Golden coordinator) as an exception, not the new rule; and the AAC (formerly Big East) undoubtedly agrees. But when Golden took over? Temple was a dumpster fire of unfathomable proportion.
They hadn't had a winning record in fifteen years, and they hadn't gotten close. They only won a total of sixteen conference games in the Big East--over the span of fourteen years. The three coaches who preceeded Golden had a combined win total of THIRTY-EIGHT games--over 17 years. For those of us who aren't John Urschel, that's an average of two and a quarter games a season--for almost two decades. For comparison's sake, Golden had 36 wins at the program after just five seasons--and that's with going 1-11 in his first year. If that's not some damn good coaching, I don't know what is.
Nearing the end of the Golden era at Temple, after a 2010 season that saw Temple once again get bowl eligible but go without an invite at 8-4, the University of Miami fired Head Coach Randy Shannon; in a matter of weeks, on December 13, 2010, they had hired Golden.
Because of a certain National Championship game, you'd be hard pressed to find a Penn Stater openly root for the University of Miami. For many of us, that changed in December 2010. Shannon had visibly turned around Miami off the field; whatever stereotypes had nationally existed surrounding the U's program before were all but gone by the time Golden stepped on the field for the Canes. And it didn't hurt that "one of us", with such clear ties to Paterno, was on the sideline for a once-hated team.
With such a rich history of winning, the expectations are high for the University of Miami, and Golden hasn't had a conference title there. But he also hasn't had a losing season, and was in contention for the ACC crown late in the year this year--and he's also faced more adversity at his second coaching stop than anticipated when he signed his original contract.
At least at Penn State, we knew right when the consent decree was signed what our perceived football punishment would be. We knew what we were up against, and what we had to fight through. Golden hadn't had that luxury for most of his time at Miami. After a self-imposed bowl ban in Golden's first two years, and after two and a half years worth of ongoing botched investigations by the NCAA, the organization finally issued its ruling on the program this past October, citing the dreaded "lack of institutional control"--and finally imposing scholarship reductions on Golden's team, an outcome which was undoubtedly hanging over the program's head from the outset of the investigation (and which, no doubt, could have easily been worse were it not for the NCAA's ridiculousness).
Couple the uncertainty of not knowing what sanctions were coming with the perceived lack of fan support and an outdated football facility that only just got replaced in 2013, and Golden has once again proven he's a good coach. Miami's current 2014 recruiting class is #6 in the nation (according to 247 sports)--better than Florida's, and Georgia's, and LSU's, and only two spots behind FSU. He competes in and out on the fertile Florida recruiting grounds with some of the best programs, and has gone toe to toe with Saban and Fisher.
With his ability to sell players, and to build a program up, and his acumen on both sides of the ball and ties to the region? Alongside his relative youth and his clear love for Penn State (and the biggest possibility amongst all candidates that he'd retain Larry Johnson Sr), I don't see how Al Golden would be anything but a great hire for the newly formed selection committee. The question for me is, would he be willing to give up what he's building in Miami to come home?
Is now a better time for him than it was in 2011? My spidey sense is tingling.