By TIM REYNOLDS
CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Miami coach Al Golden stood behind a lectern for a half-hour Thursday to talk about his team, discussing things like how the Hurricanes worked in the weight room and their depth at certain positions.
In other words, normal football stuff.
And that itself seems rather abnormal, given what the Hurricanes have been through over the last two years.
When Miami opens practice on Saturday, it will mark the third straight training camp where the Hurricanes will be dealing with the uncertainty that comes with what might be looming following an NCAA investigation into the actions of a rogue former booster. By the time this camp ends, Golden thinks his team will finally have answers — in the form of whatever additional penalties, if any, that the Hurricanes will be getting slapped with.
“It’s been an anomaly for sure, since we’ve been here,” Golden said of a summer that didn’t come with any additional problems or bombshell accusations. “My biggest focus right now is to keep the team focused. We know at some point there’s an answer coming. We’re going to do everything we can in our power to bunker down and stay focused and not let this disrupt our third consecutive training camp.”
Miami got its Notice of Allegations from the NCAA in February and met with the Committee on Infractions in June. Although there’s no deadline for that committee to act, the expectation after that meeting was that the Hurricanes would receive word within eight weeks — which, in this case, would be Aug. 9, or around the time Golden’s team will be wrapping its first full week of camp.
School officials have spent months preparing for the outcome, whatever it is. The NCAA began investigating the Hurricanes in March 2011 after former booster and convicted Ponzi scheme architect Nevin Shapiro said he gave dozens of athletes, coaches and recruits impermissible benefits over an eight-year span, often long before any of Miami’s current players were even thinking about college.
The most damning charge the NCAA eventually brought against Miami was that the school lacked institutional control when it came to monitoring Shapiro, who is now serving a 20-year federal prison sentence for defrauding investors out of $930 million. So far, the Hurricanes have missed two bowl games and last season’s Atlantic Coast Conference title game because of the investigation.
“I hope it happens as soon as possible,” Hurricanes athletic director Blake James said when asked about the looming NCAA decision. “But you know, that’s something I can’t control. I don’t put a lot of time into worrying about when it’s going to happen. I put a lot of time and focus on how we best move forward when it does happen. … I’m anxious to go through the process, but I guess I’m respectful enough to know you have to let the process run its course.”
Most of the 109 players who were on Miami’s preseason roster as of Thursday afternoon had one thing in common: They have spent the majority of their collegiate careers under this cloud of uncertainty.
The Hurricanes haven’t played in a bowl game since 2010. They haven’t won one since 2006. Since the last time Miami won a postseason game, 95 different schools — more than three-quarters of the schools at college football’s top level — have won at least one bowl matchup. But in the locker room, the Hurricanes don’t find themselves obsessing over their situation.
“How many times does it come up in the locker room? Never,” Miami quarterback Stephen Morris said. “When I’m talking with my friends, when I’m talking with my family, when we’re in the locker room, whatever, it never comes up.”
Golden has long said that he believes the worst is over, and recruits are obviously believing the same.
Miami has 25 non-binding, verbal commitments for its next recruiting class already, with many of those players saying they believe the Hurricanes — who won five national titles between 1983 and 2001 — are closing in on a return to the national spotlight.
“We bunkered in and stood here and fought it for two years and I think it was a lot more tumultuous and tenuous for young people and their families the previous two years than it is right now,” Golden said. “I think they see it coming to an end. I think that has manifested itself in the number of commitments that we’re getting early.”
For now, recruiting talk can wait. This year’s team takes its conditioning test on Friday, then hits the field early Saturday morning for its first practice of a season where many expect the Hurricanes to compete for an ACC title.
And for a change, all Golden has to worry about right now is football.
“I finally had a break after two years,” Golden said. “I’m a football coach right now. I’m not a litigator, I’m not a researcher, I’m not a defender, I’m not going through counseling from a media standpoint or anything. I had 15 different jobs the last two years. I’m a football coach right now.”