'Invigorated' Golden grateful for new start with Lions

Josh Katzenstein, The Detroit News

Allen Park — The fall holiday season was a nightmare for Al Golden last year.

Miami fired the head coach on Oct. 25, a day after Golden’s Hurricanes suffered the worst loss in program history, 58-0 to Clemson. The loss dropped Miami to 4-3 for the season, and Golden’s career record of 32-25 in four-plus seasons just didn’t match the standard at the elite program.

Around the same time, Golden had to deal with family issues including both of his parents being hospitalized.

Then, around Thanksgiving, he received a call from Jim Caldwell, the Lions head coach who was a Penn State assistant for the duration of Golden’s college career with the Nittany Lions (1987-91). The two embattled coaches — the Lions started 1-7 in 2015 — hadn’t seen each other in years, but Caldwell was among the first people to reach out to Golden. And Golden said it was just good to hear his voice at a difficult time.

Golden said he and Caldwell agreed to talk after the winter holidays, and on Feb. 1, the Lions hired Golden as tight ends coach, his first job in the NFL and the first time he’d coach his former position.

“I was just so fortunate that it worked out, and I’m really glad that I did this because initially I was thinking to sit out and kind of regroup,” he said. “But I don’t think there’s anything I could do sitting out that would eclipse what I’ve learned here in four months.”

So, despite all the turmoil in Miami, Golden said he now feels “invigorated.” He coached in college since 1994, so he’d never been in a draft meeting, though he admits that might be less exciting in a few years. Learning a new offensive system and bouncing ideas off Lions general manager Bob Quinn has been “awesome,” too.

Between nearly five years at Miami and another five at Temple, Golden had been a head coach since 2006, and he’s also thrilled to have the chance to spend more time with his children, a 10-year-old boy and girls that are 9 and 6.

“In college, you’re never off,” he said. “You’re never off. You never get a weekend. And when you go home at the end of the day, the job never stops. This guy missed this, this guy’s late for this, this guy got in trouble, this recruit wants to talk to you — there’s never an end.”

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Golden’s tenure at Miami started poorly regardless of the results. In August 2011, before Golden’s first season with the Hurricanes began, a Yahoo! Sports exposé detailed impermissible benefits offered from convicted Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro to Miami football and basketball players from 2002 to 2010.

In November 2011, as the NCAA continued its investigation, Miami self-imposed a bowl ban for itself for the season. The university did the same thing in 2012. Golden’s team would’ve been bowl eligible each year.

After more than a two-year investigation, the NCAA finally levied its punishment on Golden’s program in October 2013. There were no more bowl bans, but the team lost nine scholarships, among other penalties, while on probation from 2014-17 for a lack of institutional control.

“I don’t want to rehash that,” said Golden, whose best season with Miami was a 9-4 finish in 2013. “The way I look at it is it already took too much of my life, so I moved on.”

After a handful of distressing years, Golden is starting a new chapter in his coaching career.

“I think (having head coaching experience) tends to, sometimes, make you a little bit better when you do become an assistant,” Caldwell said of Golden. “I did it on a couple of occasions, and I don’t think it was a detriment. I think — matter of fact — he’s a real bonus to our whole unit.”

Although his job is much lower profile, Golden’s role is pivotal to the Lions as he’ll be the man who tries to help Eric Ebron, the 10th overall pick in 2014. Golden said he’ll try to help Ebron “remove all the clutter from his life” to narrow his focus.

The Lions have a variety of tight ends in terms of size, role and experience, and Golden’s goal for each of them is simple.

“Get your talent in the game,” he said.

And even though there’s still pressure on Golden, he’s now in a place where fans won’t be flying banners over the stadium calling for his job.

“It was a challenge from the get-go,” he said. “At the end of the day, I don’t really look back. I miss my friends, I miss the people that were great to my family and my wife, I miss the players and I wish them nothing but great success. They know that. But for me, it was time to turn the page and move on.”