Efforts this season make Al Golden prime coaching candidate in college ranks

Al Golden
Bengals linebackers coach Al Golden spoke virtually to the media on Tuesday. (NFL Media)

By Kyle Kelly
Medill Reports

LOS ANGELES — Al Golden’s role as a position coach on the Cincinnati Bengals staff has served more importance than just coaching linebackers. And college football teams have taken notice.

Golden, the former Temple Owls and Miami Hurricanes head football coach, has spent the last two seasons on the Bengals’ defensive staff and was previously with the Detroit Lions from 2016-19. Under his tutelage during the playoffs with the Bengals, linebackers Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt are the NFL’s top two leading tacklers with 23 and 16 tackles, respectively. 

Brilliance, expertise, leadership and infectious energy are just a few of the attributes that surface when Bengals head coach Zac Taylor and members of the Cincinnati Bengals described Golden to reporters during Friday’s media day session at UCLA. 

Even for a veteran player like Vonn Bell, who has spent six seasons in the NFL, Golden’s knowledge has helped him improve his game. 

Bell has been an asset to the Bengals in his own right this postseason. He is fourth in the NFL among safeties that have played at least 50% of defensive snaps in run stops (four) and opposing NFL passer rating (47.2). In the AFC championship, he intercepted Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes on the opening drive of overtime, which helped the Bengals punch their ticket to the Super Bowl for the first time in 33 years. At least some of the credit for that play can be given to Golden.

“He’s simplified the game for me in many ways,” Bell said. “The pass game, the run game, he’s always giving me tips and nuggets when I go up there and watch film with the (line)backers.”

Spending time with Golden in the linebackers room makes sense for Bell. On defense, players often switch positions depending on schematics. As a safety, Bell could either position himself as a linebacker or roam in the secondary to defend against the pass. That’s the same case for the Bengals’ versatile Sam Hubbard, a Cincinnati native who has spent time between defensive end and outside linebacker this season. 

Hubbard has closely observed Golden’s role in the Bengals playing for a championship this Sunday. 

“Al is one of the hardest working coaches on staff,” Hubbard said. “He puts in countless hours. So much time in the game plans, situations. He really just loves ball. He loves his players. (He’ll do) anything to get the win. You can see that every day in practice and the games how much it means to him, and you really appreciate that.”

While cornerback Mike Hilton spends less time receiving one-on-one attention with Golden compared with Bell and Hubbard, he still sees the impact Golden has had on the defense as a whole.

“Coach Al, he’s a real good dude,” Hilton said. “He is really infectious. He always brings a lot of energy. He is the guy on the sideline that you are going to see hyping up the defense and sideline. You want a coach like that.”

There are a few teams that have already wanted or currently want Golden, specifically back in the collegiate ranks. According to On3Sports, Golden was a candidate for the University of Connecticut’s head coaching vacancy in November. Now, Notre Dame has its sights set on him for defensive coordinator, according to a report from The Athletic.  

Golden has played a key role in player development in his two years with the Bengals. Specifically, Taylor acknowledged Golden’s role in the growth of Pratt. 

“Since Al got here the last two years, we drafted and developed those guys, and that’s an enormous credit to Al and the job that he’s done,” Taylor said. “The consistency he brings to this room, how demanding he has been. Those guys certainly have a ton of respect for him, and our coaching staff has a lot of respect for him. He’s been there, done that, and I am sure when the time is right, he’s ready for every opportunity that ever comes at him.”

Hubbard, who was initially committed to Notre Dame as a lacrosse player before being recruited to play football at Ohio State, outlined why Golden would find success at the college level if that’s where his talents take him.

“He’s a brilliant coach,” he said. “Great with relationships and people. He’s obviously had a lot of experience recruiting. The sky’s the limit for a guy like Al. I obviously want to keep him with us though.”

Hilton agreed.

“Absolutely. Like I said, his personality is infectious,” he said. “If he happened to go back to college, I know a lot of high school kids would love to play for coach Golden. I don’t want him to leave or anything. If he got that opportunity, I would understand.”

In a conversation with reporters on Tuesday, Golden said there are certain things about the college game that he misses and there are pros and cons between both levels of football. However, he did not comment on if he would be interested in returning to the amateur game. Instead, all his efforts are focused on beating the Los Angeles Rams.

“We’ve been on a grind the last four weeks,” Golden said. “All of our focus has been on each opponent. We’ve been successful and earned the opportunity to be here. … That’s all I’m concentrating on right now. Making sure that whatever roles that we have in the game that we execute at a high level and my linebackers are prepared and ready to win the game.”

While Golden may be focused on the Super Bowl now, Notre Dame still remains interested in him according to reports. The Fighting Irish have yet to name a defensive coordinator, despite promoting former coordinator Marcus Freeman as head coach on Dec. 3. In addition, they have named assistant coaches at all other of its eight positions. The team is still looking to hire a linebackers coach and defensive coordinator to complete its staff.

Notre Dame still has a position to fill and come Monday Golden won’t be otherwise occupied.

Kyle Kelly is a Sports Media graduate student at Medill. You can follow him on Twitter at @ByKyleKelly