In a way, University of Miami fan “OCS” and about 70 other fellow fans aren’t too different from many other college football followers. They communicate online during the week and rag on their school’s coach, who happens to be former Temple coach Al Golden. That’s where the similarities stop.
OCS and company have also been pooling their money to pay for planes to fly banners above Miami football games containing some of the messages they trade back and forth about Golden. Each week, he says, they come up with hundreds of ideas, whittle them down to a few and then come to a consensus on the best one. And then the college football world gets to see this:
“I was gone out of South Florida for a few years and wasn’t able to maintain season tickets and swore when I got back I was going to buy them,” said OCS, who asked to go by initials related to his online identity because of threats made against the group backing the Golden banners. “Instead of buying season tickets, this is my labor of love.”
This is Golden’s reality. You remember him, right? You probably should. It’s hard to think about Temple’s success this year without thinking about him. Before he became head coach and led the Owls to their first bowl game in 30 years, the school had considered taking the program down to the Division I FCS level or eliminating it. Golden helped save Temple football.
Temple’s current coach Matt Rhule was an assistant on Golden’s staff. And some of Golden’s recruits are still on the roster as fifth-year seniors.
“Al Golden really laid the foundation for the current success,” said Bill Bradshaw, the former Temple athletic director who hired Golden.
But now Golden couldn’t seem farther away in terms of success. The Owls, 5-0, keep winning and have catapulted to within one spot of being ranked in the top 25. Golden is dealing with as much pressure to keep his job as any other football coach in the game. He’s dealing with those planes.
As seems to be the case with most problems for public figures around Pennsylvania (Kathleen Kane and her leak case, people in the porny emails scandal, Tom Corbett’s re-election bid), this one has some roots at Penn State. During Golden’s first three seasons at Miami, fans were mostly supportive of him as he overhauled the program through NCAA sanctions.
Then the Penn State job opened up when Bill O’Brien left to coach the Houston Texans. OCS says things started to change around this time. Golden, who called Miami “a dream job” when he left Temple, interviewed for the Penn State coaching position. One website even reported that he’d been offered the job. Of course, he didn’t get it. It went to James Franklin.
But Golden left fans feeling queasy after the process. He was silent for a few days before coming out with a statement about not being a candidate for another position, which was really an epic non-denial denial.
Golden followed up his flirtation with Penn State by leading Miami to a 6-7 record last year, losing the last four games of the season. The banners began flying. This spring, Miami had seven players selected in the NFL Draft. Fans began wondering how a team with seven NFL players, plus more who will probably be drafted in upcoming years, could have led a team to a losing record like Golden did.
#FireAlGolden has become one of the college football season’s most enduring trends. According to Hashtracking, there were at least 1,500 tweets and retweets with #FireAlGolden during the first week of October.
Since 2011, he has led Miami to a 31-24 record. That record would be more than OK at Temple. But Miami is one of college football’s most-storied programs and is located in a state featuring many of the sport’s best athletes. Fans don’t want OK. Miami has defeated just four ranked teams in Golden’s five years and has not beaten rival Florida State. It has not won a division championship in the ACC.
Hence there have been planes. They’ve flown over not only the home games but recent road losses to Cincinnati and Florida State.
In a radio interview after the Hurricanes’ second game, Golden said of the planes, “I don’t know how it helps.” And he left it that.
For college football fans, the planes have been a weekly comedic treat. Miami fans are more split about whether they’re the right thing for the program. OCS insists that the people paying for the planes are influential fans who want what’s best for Miami.
“It’s not a fringe group of fans,” he said of the people funding the flyovers. “They aren’t lunatics. They’re not malcontents. They are businessmen. They are very well-heeled.”
He said the group includes season ticket holders and former season ticket holders, as well as Hurricane Club members. The Hurricane Club is the Miami athletic department’s official fundraising club.
The group paying for the banners, OCS said, is also growing. Miami started off 3-0 but lost those last two road games, to Cincinnati and Florida State. Temple, by the way, beat Cincinnati 34-26.
OCS said he and the others have been putting a lot of time and money into their activity. The going rate for a plane tugging a personalized banner is around $600 an hour, plus expenses dealing with the distance traveled. OCS said their weekly flights have cost between $700 and $1,600. Though one banner joked that Miami needed to #FireAlGolden because the banners were getting too expensive, Golden should not expect to stop seeing the planes flying overhead anytime soon.
“We have guys that are contributing,” OCS said, “that could literally buy an Air Force of banners if they wanted to.”