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Former Hurricanes player rips Lions tight ends coach

Al Golden says he was burnt out at Miami, but former player paints a very different picture

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

On June 15 the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News published stories about newly minted Lions tight ends coach Al Golden, who was formerly the head coach of the University of Miami Hurricanes. The marriage of Golden and Miami ended bitterly and he found himself kicked out of town in the middle of the 2015 college football season following the school's worst loss in history. But as Golden told the press, coming to the Lions helped him to feel like he's got new life to him:

"I needed this right now," Golden told the Free Press after practice Wednesday. "I was a head coach for 10 years. I just felt like - I felt like I was burnt out, and I needed this. It's been great. I'm coaching offense. I've been rejuvenated. Just exposing myself every day to something new in the league."

As Golden would tell it, a lot of his time at Miami drained him. But one of his former players at Miami tells a far different story of what was going on with Golden and the Hurricanes near the end of his reign.

"I'm in a group text with a few of my other teammates from Miami and everyone in that text felt disrespected and felt like he was trying to put the blame on someone else," Johnathan Feliciano told Miami 560 WQAM.  Feliciano is a guard currently playing for the Oakland Raiders, who drafted him in the fourth round in 2015.

Golden told the Detroit News, "In college, you're never 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."

"There's so much that...BS that could have been avoided or should have been avoided," Feliciano said. He laid out one example involving former Miami quarterback Stephen Morris. "We had Stephen Morris playing on one Achilles the whole season that they didn't want to get an MRI until after the season because we really needed Stephen at that point."

"We didn't find out the extent of Stephen's injury until the Combine. By that time it's a red flag, he has a ruptured Achilles. Go on and Stephen doesn't get drafted. He's bouncing around the league now."

Another quote from the Detroit News piece:

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.

Feliciano laid out how Golden had forced outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo to gain 60 pounds and convert to defensive end. Chickillo has since reverted to his original position in the NFL.

When Ereck Flowers was looking to enter the 2015 NFL Draft, Feliciano said that Al Golden tried to convince him to return by telling him he wasn't a first-round draft pick. Flowers was picked ninth overall and started at left tackle for the New York Giants by Week 1.

But Jonathan Feliciano didn't just lay out the grievances he had of Golden's treatment of players. He also described how the rest of the coaching staff was pressured to fall in line with Golden's schemes, in spite of wanting to run other systems that, as Feliciano described it, better fit the Miami roster. One such staff member, offensive line coach Art Kehoe, was mentioned by name by Feliciano. Kehoe was not retained by the new Miami head coach Mark Richt.

"[Golden] might not have been over his head, but might have been stubborn to his ways, which I think would be a better term for it."

When asked if the players ever went to Al Golden to ask him about these issues, Feliciano just laughed and said, "good luck with that."

Finally, one last piece of the Detroit News article:

"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."

"The whole Ryan Williams situation, that was the most messed up situation," Feliciano said. "[He] starts at Memphis, breaks a bunch of records at Memphis, transfers to Miami has to sit behind Stephen [Morris] for two or three years, pays his dues, does everything right, he starts, he's doing great in camp...tears his ACL...he works his butt off to be ready by camp, he's ready, but they say he's not ready. They're trying to say he's not ready, we're not going to clear him."

Feliciano continued, "No one knows how good Ryan Williams is. He never got the chance to play...they were telling him 'this is still your team whenever you get back from your ACL, this is still your team.' We come to find out, he's back, but sorry, we're going with Brad [Kaaya]. The way the players felt is that [they were] going with Brad because he's a freshman and we could say we had a freshman quarterback."

"So it was almost like a planned excuse?" the host, Orlando Alzugaray, asked. "Let's put the freshman in so that way if we fail, we can say we have a freshman quarterback, he's learning?"

"That's how the upperclassmen felt," Feliciano responded. "And I'd say the people that could have been drafted, that's what they felt."

Ryan Williams was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Cincinnati Bengals. He's currently on a reserve/future contract with the Green Bay Packers.

You can listen to the whole 560 WQAM interview here.

Some of the accusations leveled against Golden by Feliciano are almost notoriously common in college football: forcing players to play through injury, attempting to convince a player he has lower draft value in order to get him to come back for one more year. It takes a grand mess like the horrifying tales surrounding Tim Beckman's conduct as head coach at the University of Illinois for people to really start to raise a stink.

Obviously, this is all one player's account, but it's important to detail all of this out when it comes to Al Golden. By all accounts, a primary driver in Golden's hire by the Detroit Lions can be traced back to his football playing days at Penn State when Lions head coach Jim Caldwell was on Joe Paterno's staff. And by most accounts, the tales told by Feliciano are given more heft by the fact that the disdain for Al Golden was widespread among Miami players, local media and the school's football-playing alumni.

Maybe Al Golden does really feel refreshed and rejuvenated with another job; this time not as a head coach, but focusing on a certain position. However, that he is being accused by his former player (and perhaps by others down the road) of being stubborn and wantonly alienating his players and costing them chances to succeed might lead anyone to question the veracity of Golden's redemption tale currently being pushed.

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