Miami Hurricanes: “Ignore The Noise” Or Bust

Time will tell how it all plays out; but five years in it’s pretty obvious that head coach Al Golden is sticking to his guns—and his process.

The “ignore the noise” rallying cry popped up in late 2014 and during spring ball the mantra was seen on the back of some shirts at practice.

With kickoff and the 2015 season fast approaching, the mindset has seeped into all facets of the program and win or lose, it appears to be the attitude this team will embody Saturdays this fall.

AP writer Tim Reynolds—a Miami resident close to the program—penned a piece on Friday, focused on the team’s Teflon approach to outside noise and low overall expectations on a national scale.

To their credit or eventual detriment, players are preaching the same gospel as their coaching staff—where they’ll either shock the world, or put together another middle-of-the-road type season that inevitably does Golden in.

Reynolds opens with the road North Carolina-bred wide receiver Braxton Berrios took to Coral Gables; a feel-good tale about pint-sized underdog—albeit, a 4-star prospect—who beat the odds and earned a shot with his dream school.

“We don’t listen to it,” Berrios told Reynolds, with a chip on his shoulder regarding his critics. “We’re not worried about that … we’re not. We’re going to be good. We know we’re going to be good and that’s really all that matters to us. We can’t stop them from saying anything, we can’t sway their opinion. We don’t care.”

Golden had less to say at Friday’s media luncheon, when the topic of a four-game year-ending losing streak was mentioned.

“I’m excited. That’s it,” Golden said—in a manner Reynolds described as “exasperated over a question about the 2014 season”.

The rest of the piece was standard AP fare; mention of the Canes’ last bowl win—2006, for those who forgot the one-point win over Nevada on Boise State’s blue turf—as well as the expected make-or-break energy of the season and a quote from athletic director Blake James; chatter about the program getting better and what Golden is doing to ensure that.

The thought-process behind what Golden is doing here; it truly is the lynchpin of the season. Like a poker play down to that last hand, the maligned Hurricanes coach is going all-in regarding the hand he’s holding—in this particular case, putting his masters degree in sports psychology to work.

Golden is turning his team inwards; to a point where they’ll be close, connected and fully-reliant on each other. Everything on the outside is being deemed noise; the textbook definition being, “A sound, especially one that is loud or unpleasant or that causes disturbance.”

Not a bad description for what the Canes’ fan base has been bringing over the years regarding the lackluster results.

Miami players have been relatively quiet on social media. When anyone does chime in, it’s generally team-centric. Junior safety Jamal Carter posted an image days back of him and over a dozen teammates geared up to play paintball, with the caption, “Had To Be The Most Fun I Ever Had In My Life! #PreciateItCoachAG #GANG”—quickly retweeted by receiver Tyre Brady.

Weeks back when troubled offensive lineman Taylor Gadbois was given his walking papers, the footnote was in regards to his lack of being a team player regarding military-style training the program was participating in this offseason.

Linebacker Raphael Kirby spoke more about this style of training weeks back at ACC media day—where both he and quarterback Brad Kaaya were laser-focused in all their team unity talk.

Part of the training itself entailed six players selecting teammates to join them on “boat” teams, followed by grueling activities out on Biscayne Bay. Kirby explained that the leaders chosen were the ones with reputations for trustworthiness and a solid work ethic. The lazier ones were ultimately chosen last.

“They know who they are, and they know why they were picked last,” Kirby told the Miami Herald. “I’ve seen drastic changes in those guys since then.”

Kaaya discussed team leaders at the end of their rope regarding guys not buying in, or making the same selfish mistakes over and over.

The first misstep got the player in trouble, while the second had his whole position unit running. A third offense and it impacted his entire unit—offense or defense. Fourth? The entire time was running at sun-up—which proved to be the breaking point.

“The last straw is when the whole team got out there,” Kaaya explained. “We said, ‘We’ve had enough. When is it going to stop? We can’t keep having this happen.’ That morning we came together, right before spring break.

“Ever since, it’s been different. It has been cut down tremendously. This summer, we had no major issues. Coach Golden is not having any nonsense anymore. It’s all about business. Team leaders holding guys accountable,” the sophomore quarterback continued. “We didn’t want to focus on all the distractions holding Miami back. This team is clean.”

A lack of focus on the past is certainly part of Golden’s process—right down to Kaaya’s sentiment that this roster is fresh; making a negative into a positive regarding the talent turnover from last year to this fall.

Golden is letting players lead; right down to disciplining teammates in need of a wake-up call—which Kirby said has gone off without a hitch. The linebacker mentioned locker room issues that have since been cleared up and stated that the team is a unified now as ever before.

To Golden’s credit, he’s doing his work to get in the trenches; spending the past several months trying to get back in shape.

Those trivializing the effort are probably the same bunch who made weight jokes the past few seasons, but anyone who’s shaved off weight and made healthy living a priority understands the commitment and sacrifice it takes to get lean and mean.

Golden told Matt Porter at the Palm Beach Post back in May that he’s running and has challenged his staff to be fit when the season rolled around.

“Great coaches have lots of energy,” Golden said. “For our players, for our families, for our children, for our wives—that’s been a big part of it. I think the staff has done a really great job getting their minds right.”

Again, sounds like another rung on the ladder and step towards making all things right. Still, the key for Miami on the field as fall approaches; seeing how all of psychology and toughness evolves in real time.

If there was any true takeaway from the 2014 season, it was a notion that in the moment the Hurricanes either didn’t know how to react—or knew and remained unable to execute.

In the opener at Louisville, things appeared to move too quickly for Miami and the Hurricanes were a step behind seemingly on every play.

Duke Johnson is running effectively in the second quarter and the Canes are moving the ball well, only to see Gus Edwards get his first carry of the game in a 3rd-and-3 situation; stuffed for a two-yard loss and Miami settling for a field goal. On the ensuing kickoff, the Cardinals took it back 97 yards for a score.

Weeks later at Nebraska, everyone in the stadium knew Ameer Abdullah was going to run the ball, and he did—35 times for 229 yards and two touchdowns. The Canes couldn’t stop him. Miami had its shots to get back in the game, but a late third quarter fumble by the reliable Johnson was returned for a score and was arguably a 14-point swing in an ten-point loss.

Georgia Tech played keep away, holding on to the ball almost 41 minutes—just as head coach Paul Johnson said they would. Florida State scrapped back from a 23-7 deficit for the 30-26 win, with Miami’s offense going into a second half shell that seemed a mix of fear, coupled with not knowing how to play with a lead.

A four-win Virginia team outscored Miami, 30-6 from the second quarter on—the Canes emotionally checking out (and never returning) when receiver Herb Waters went down on a special teams play.

The wilting continued a week later in an embarrassing home loss to a Pittsburgh team scrapping for bowl eligibility and Miami lost a battle of six-loss teams when South Carolina bested them in the Independence Bowl; Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier making in-game changes; doing what needed to be done to get the ball in the hands of his biggest offensive playmaker.

The purpose of that long-winded trek down a frustrating memory lane; to underscore that the Canes have often known what needs to be done; but simply couldn’t adjust in game to do it—which underscores the offseason focus on trust, discipline, team building and leadership.

The sports world loves the Mike Tyson quote about everyone having a gameplan until they get punched in the mouth—which seemed to be the case for Miami more than any other program in the country last season. (Not really, but after a rough decade of Hurricanes football a degree of paranoia has certainly set in.)

Everyone appears to be talking the talk and comes off ready to walk the walk. Will Golden’s psychological efforts be enough to trigger a different response in these year-older players at pivotal in-game moments this fall?

The answer to that question in itself might be the ultimate key to the 2015 season.