Miami Hurricanes football coach Al Golden held his year-end press conference Tuesday, three days after his squad wrapped up a 7-5 season with a win at Duke. Though his team was denied a chance to appear in its first-ever ACC Championship Game appearance due to a self-imposed bowl ban, Golden said there is a "sense of excitement" among his players.
"We could have been in the championship game. You've got to give yourselves that opportunity. I think those kids see that now," he said. "We're just trying to move forward. We have a great group coming back. I'm excited. I hope our fans are excited."
Golden said he expects all of his assistant coaches to return in 2013, even oft-criticized defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio. Though the 2012 Canes defense gave up the most yards in school history, Golden deflected blame from his longtime friend D'Onofrio.
"Mark should be as mad as anybody," Golden said. "Imagine coming to the University of Miami and having to play a bunch of kids. Imagine being saddled with that. He's the one who should be mad."
"And he's going to fight," Golden added. "Everybody wants this change or that change. He ain't a quitter. He's not a quitter. None of us are. This staff will be together."
After a number of underclassmen left early in 2012 for the NFL Draft, Golden thinks most of his juniors will stay put, citing the low draft picks spent on those who left early in April. "Some guys left for 20 cents on the dollar," he said. "I think there was some misinformation last year."
As for the recruiting process, Golden said he expects to sign only 15 recruits in February, due in large part to the fact that he signed so many players in his first two classes. He said the NCAA's ongoing investigation of the school (which prompted the bowl ban this season and in 2011) has made it more difficult to attract players to Coral Gables, but remained upbeat.
"I think we're on the right kids," Golden said. "We've been honest with them. ... There's not really a lot of concerns. We made a significant sacrifice here. It wasn't just one postseason game — it was three postseason games, it was a chance to play in a championship game, and obviously a chance to play our arch-rival and play in a BCS game. So we've given up significantly and we're moving forward."
So the long offseason begins a month earlier than Canes fans would have hoped, but Golden is using the early start to get a jump on recruiting. When asked if he would watch Saturday's ACC Championship Game, he replied, "I hope I'm at a recruiting dinner, trying to get someone that's going to help us get into that game, again."