The history between Miami Hurricanes head football coach Al Golden and defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio is wide and deep.
They were teammates at Penn State in late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Prior to coaching together at Miami, the two coached together at Virginia for two seasons before Golden landed the head coaching job at Temple and hired D’Onofrio as his defensive coordinator. When Golden was named the head man at Miami, it was a given that D’Onofrio would follow him. More imporantly, Golden and D’Onofrio are more than just college teammates and colleagues. They are best friends.
Friendships are all well and good, but this is The U. The expectation for success is high and patience on the part of the fanbase is low. Last season, D’Onofrio was in charge of the worst defense in the history of the school. Fans and alumni who used to taking pride in tough, stingy defense, were appalled and D’Onofrio quickly became Public Enemy No. 1. Each week, as the play of the defense seemed to get worse, local radio bellowed with hosts and callers demanding Golden fire his longtime friend.
Through it all, Golden remained loyal and defended his friend. He pointed out the defense was very young, that D’Onofrio had a track record of turning around defenses, and that the quick-scoring offense wasn’t giving the defense much rest. Surprisingly, most fans listened and grudgingly gave D’Onofrio another chance. However, as Golden stood up for D’Onofrio, one has to wonder if this was a knowledgeable football coach acting in the best interest of his team, or was he a friend remaining blindly loyal despite the facts.
Let’s be honest. After a season like the Hurricane defense had last year, most college defensive coordinators would have been fired. D’Onofrio’s close relationship with his boss no doubt gave him a reprieve. The question now is what happens if the defense doesn’t improve this season? What if they give up 45 points to Duke again? What if they allow three different quarterbacks to bomb them for 400 yards again? What if the defense can’t hold late leads against good teams? If it all goes bad, will Golden have the guts to fire his friend? Or will he remain loyal to D’Onofrio and risk going down with the ship?
One thing is sure: Canes fans will have little patience for bad defense this year. All those excuses Golden used to defend D’Onofrio don’t hold water this season, and fans will get the pitchforks and torches ready again. This time, though, they will be coming for D’Onofrio AND Golden.