TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It’s almost as if Pete Golding really hates towels.
You watch Alabama’s newest defensive coordinator closely, and it quickly becomes apparent.
In the locker room he draws everything out with a blue watercolor marker with one hand while gripping a towel in another. He’s talking a mile a minute, and before long the towel starts to change color. The first time he turns his attention to something else it’s replaced.
Something similar occurs on the sideline, only the coach is even more non-stop, giving directions and visual instructions in tandem. His only pauses are to clear the mobile whiteboard before starting over again.
Talk, talk, wipe. Talk, talk wipe. It’s nearly as rhythmic as to what’s being said, because Golding breaks things down into segments and then almost always ends each with the same set of words: “Does that make sense?”
They could be his trademark line.
The more he says it the more towels fall by the wayside. If the student managers didn’t pick them up, the ground would resemble a little linen cemetery by halftime.
“Too many,” one of the workers says with a laugh when asked how many Goldman might go through during a game.
Yet they’re like temporary markers of how Golding’s mind is often going a mile a minute when it comes to football.
He frequently pauses to register for feedback, but even those are quick — very quick, and obviously temporary. There’s the next thing to get to.
From the delta to dealing with the Tide
One of the three most powerful men in the Alabama football program looks like he could be running a golf shop that plays a lot of Jimmy Buffett music, and only comes up to the shoulder of 6-5 sophomore outside linebacker Eyabi Anoma.
Get Golding away from football and he can be pretty low key. Yet that’s obviously not why he has a seven-digit annual salary ($1.1 million).
Alabama fans didn't know a lot about Golding when he was hired other than he went to Delta State and was considered a fast-riser in the coaching world. They haven't learned much more over the last year other that a lot of other schools tried to hire him away this past offseason.
If you Google his age, the answer is “About 35 years.” He was born sometime in 1984 in Hammond, La.
As a football player Golding was a safety (2002-05). It was during his final semester while finishing up his degree that he started looking at the other side of the game and quickly got the coaching bug. He’d probably be happy to still be at Delta State, but after a year as a graduate assistant was hired at Division II Tusculum and by 2008 was the Pioneers' defensive coordinator.
He subsequently had the same role back at his alma mater in 2010-11, when the Statesman reached the Division II national title game, before serving as the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at Southeastern Louisiana (2012-13). From there he coached safeties at Southern Miss for two seasons before heading to UTSA in 2016.
The first season the Roadrunners played in their first bowl game. The next, 2017, they were seventh in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total defense (287.8 yards) and eighth in scoring defense (17.0). The coaching staff also included a former Nick Saban assistant coach, Bo Davis.
“I think Pete’s one of the really fine young coaches out there which is what I always look for,” Saban said after hiring Golding. “Those guys have energy. They have enthusiasm. He’s very intelligent. He’s got a wealth of knowledge and experience for someone at his stage of development as a young coach. He’s been a coordinator for a long time.
“So we just felt he was a really good complement to the rest of our staff. And I think he’ll do a really good job for us.”
When Golding was hired on December 15, 2017, he was portrayed as Alabama’s eventual 10th assistant coach as the NCAA had approved expanding staffs for the 2018 season. So he was on hand for the 2017 playoffs as an observer, for what turned out to be his acclimation period.
“Everything you can have a staff for, they have a staff for,” he said was the biggest surprise. “I’ve been at smaller schools. You have to wear different hats.”
At the time, Saban didn’t know where Golding would fit in on the staff because there hadn’t been any turnover yet other than defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt had already been named Tennessee’s next head coach.
Saban ended up having to fill six spots. Golding was given the inside linebackers, but would also serve as a sort of safety net if Tosh Lupoi didn’t work out as defensive coordinator. He had never called plays before and Golding obviously had.
A year later, Saban had to hire seven new assistant coaches. Not only was Golding one of the three still on staff, he was the only one to get a promotion.
The locker room was in a state of organized chaos and Golding was getting ready to lead the White against the Crimson. It was A-Day, the Crimson Tide’s celebratory scrimmage to mark the end of spring practice, but Saban wanted it to be as game-like as possible.
Scott Cochran was Scott Cochran, so when the strength and conditioning coach started yelling for special-teams players the whole room couldn’t help but listen. Meanwhile, running backs coach Charlie Huff was already addressing the offense.
“After the first, first down, we’re going to take a shot,” he said about throwing a deep ball on a play that would be the quarterback’s choice. On the third possession was when the White would pull out a trick play.
This was why Saban later scoffed at a reporter asking about the game plan. There wasn’t one for either side, just some basic rules designed to make sure the Crimson Tide didn’t give too much away to opponents. They were essentially doing the equivalent of drawing up plays in the dirt – or in Golding’s case on a board.
A projector was turned on to reflect what he was writing on to a wall, but Golding turned it off and started talking and writing at a feverish pace on the large attached display board.
He lectured about applying pressure without blitzing per the day’s rules. He was concerned with picking up players out of the slot (the usual spot for Biletnikoff winner Jerry Jeudy) in pass protection in addition to the tight ends and running backs.
Maybe his most important message was about communication. Golding emphasized that he never wanted anyone to simply take a call from the sideline and execute the play. On every down everyone needed to also check with the players beside him to make sure they all got the same call and were running the same thing.
Not once did he mention Tua Tagovailoa, the opposing quarterback who was the Heisman Trophy runner-up. The entire focus was on what the players were supposed to be doing.
“We’re keeping it simple so you can play fast,” he said. “The reason why you’re on the field is because you’re the best [freaking] player.”
He then talked more one-on-one with the interior linebackers, but it was mainly to make sure they didn’t have any questions. The real interaction wouldn’t start until after the game started.
Heading out, a player made the first reference to steak. Saban liked having something on the line for A-Day so the winning side would enjoy a steak meal while the losers got franks and beans at the team banquet. Medium-rare was what he’s playing for. It’s not being arrogant, but motivation. After hearing non-stop all spring about how good the offense was, the defense wanted to win this thing.
On the field
The White finally came out of the Fail Room, the name for the visitor’s locker room at Bryant-Denny Stadium, and headed to the eastern sideline.
It’s the un-sexy side, with few observers and only a couple of former players. Everyone else was over on the other side, even the ESPN sideline crew. The contrast was as different as the jersey colors, but many of the White staffers considered it a positive because there was more room to walk around and less bystanders in the way.
The former players who did hang out for at least part of the game were almost exclusively defensive standouts, like Reuben Foster and Quinnen Williams. It’s where their closest friends were, and what they knew.
The first time Golding saw Mack Wilson he stopped what he was doing, went over and gave him a hug. Then it was quickly back to work.
Golding was considered the head coach for his side, with offensive counterpart Steve Sarkisian overseeing the Crimson. But first and foremost he had his primarily responsibilities, being the defensive coordinator and position coach of the inside linebackers.
It’s a lot to juggle and he was continually prioritizing what needed to be done. However, Golding paid particular attention to the players who were stepping into new roles, senior Joshua McMillon and sophomore Jaylen Moody.
McMillon was starting alongside Dylan Moses, in Wilson’s former spot, and Moody was the first player off the bench. Moses already knew what he was doing and outside linebacker Terrell Lewis (knee) was being held out as a precaution and only observing.
An amazing part about being on the sideline is one can see certain things that no one else can, and totally miss what everyone else can easily observe. For example, Golding was oblivious to his reserve quarterback, freshman Taulia Tagovailoa, completing his first attempt on a slant followed by his second attempt being picked off. The coach was going over things with his position group until someone said over the headset that there had been a turnover.
However, he definitely saw it when linebacker Dylan Moses got dinged.
Attendance was generously announced at 62,219, but Golding may have been the only one at Bryant-Denny Stadium who initially knew that Moses hurt his shoulder while chasing down wide receiver DeVonta Smith at the end of a 36-yard reception. ESPN didn’t notice it either, and quickly cut away to show Cochran and to interview Saban.
When Moses walked off the field at the end of the possession, Golding was immediately by his side. He gave the appearance of going over something with the linebacker, but the coach was really making sure that the junior was ok in a way that didn’t draw attention. After walking arm-in-arm past the big white line, Golding yelled to the other defensive coaches, “Moses is going to get checked out.”
A few moments later Moses was asked to stand square and hold out both arms as someone from the medical staff pushed down on the extended limbs. He only did it once, the wince was enough to signal the end of his day. A small icepack was tucked under the jersey on the left shoulder.
The good news for Moses was that the injury wasn’t deemed serious, and it was at about the same time in the game that the linebacker was going to be replaced anyway. So again, little seemed out of the ordinary. He stayed with teammates for the rest of the exhibition and then took a turn in the post-game interview room. Players with significant injuries are considered off-limits to reporters.
The other telling moment with Golding came with Moody, who stepped in for Moses.
Even the fans in the stands could hear Golding rapidly yell out “Moody, Moody, Moody,” when getting him to adjust before a snap. However, it didn’t take long for the promising player to get a major confidence boost when on third-and-13 he made the decisive play of the day.
With Moody staying out of Paul Tyson’s line of vision in coverage, the freshman quarterback tried to hit a receiver on a crossing route for a first down, only the linebacker stepped in for the pick.
“There it is Moody!” Golding started yelling when the ball was thrown. The linebacker had already caught it before he finished.
“You got it Moody!”
Moody returned it 26 yards for the touchdown and 31-10 lead, officially burning the Crimson’s chances of steak. He was was subsequently mobbed by teammates and Golding wanted to run out to congratulate his linebacker too, but then held back until No. 42 got close to the sideline.
Even though the win was nearly wrapped up, Golding kept going back to his board, which was like an Ipad version of the big whiteboard in the locker room. He kept it tight on his hip, similar of how a ventriloquist holds a dummy so everything was for the benefit of his audience.
“All right, listen up,” he said, and was off again with dot-dot-dash-dot-dot across the top. It looked like Morse Code, but was really the offensive line to give everyone a starting point.
It’s followed by adding the defensive players who are relevant to the play (he doesn’t bother adding everyone) followed by lines and arrows to indicate movement. Alabama doesn’t have to worry about an opposing team trying to steal anything from the press box because it’s almost indecipherable on its own.
“I can read it,” Moses said, laughing at the question.
Lewis had the same response, but senior outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings admitted that the key was to also hear Golding talk through everything.
“It kind of does look like chicken scratch, but I know what he’s talking about.”
ESPN announcers Todd Blackledge and Tom Hart told the story of the board during the A-Day broadcast. When Golding first started out as a graduate assistant, Delta State coach Ron Roberts made him draw out everything on the board, every day.
Being able to do so without having to stop is a strong indicator of someone who knows the scheme inside and out. It's why NFL teams ask draft prospects to diagram plays during the interview process.
For Golding, it's become part of his process.
“He does this, you do this,” Golding said during more than one board session, then quickly moved on.
“Anfernee, you did a great job on that.”
“Are we good on that?”
Granted, it may have been a glorified scrimmage on A-Day, but the White was all business, just like the guy who was standing out front along the sideline.
There were still fun moments like Lewis joking after tight end Kedrick James’ 39-yard touchdown “Kedrick had no swag when he scored,” to defensive lineman Raekwon Davis letting out, “It’s about time” on the interception by cornerback Trevon Diggs to wrap the 31-17 victory.
The defense had something to prove, just like Golding.
“Does that make sense?”