CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) - Throughout his three seasons as Miami's coach, Al Golden often has pointed to Virginia Tech as the standard that the Hurricanes are chasing in the Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division.
His respect for the Hokie program is obvious.
An act by Frank Beamer a couple weeks ago showed that it works two ways.
The longtime Virginia Tech coach sent Golden a note when Miami's NCAA saga ended, lauding the way the Hurricanes handled the investigation. It was a clear example of how the Hokie-Hurricane rivalry isn't vengeful - but it will still be heated Saturday when No. 14 Miami (7-1, 3-1 ACC) plays host to Virginia Tech (6-3, 3-2) in a game that will help decide the league's Coastal Division title.
''It means a lot,'' Golden said Tuesday when asked about Beamer's message. ''I kind of cut my teeth at Virginia when Frank was growing that program and learned so much from him. No matter how much that rivalry was, Virginia-Virginia Tech at that time, Frank was always class. ... In our conference, he's kind of the patriarch, if you will. When Frank talks, we all listen. He's done it the right way.''
Apparently, Beamer thinks the same about Golden, who was a graduate assistant at Virginia from 1994 through 1996, then returned to the Cavaliers as their defensive coordinator from 2001 through 2005. Golden's first 30 games as coach at Miami came with a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the program, while the actions of a former booster were probed by the NCAA.
''I think he got through that and made the program better,'' Beamer said. ''Not just survive. He made it better. I thought he did a heck of a job. And I told him that too. And I do. I think he's gone in there and been a very steady, solid influence on that program.''
That ''steady, solid influence'' has surely been needed this week.
Not only did Miami lose a game - to archrival Florida State, no less - last weekend, it also lost running back Duke Johnson, widely considered to be the Hurricanes' best player. Johnson's season is over after breaking his right ankle in the third quarter of that 41-14 loss; surgery was performed and went well on Monday, school officials said.
So in short, last weekend couldn't have gone worse for the Hurricanes.
But a win this week would not only right the ship, it would move Miami a very big step closer to finally representing the Coastal in the ACC title game - which would probably earn the Hurricanes a second shot at Florida State. And having an attention-grabbing opponent like Virginia Tech to think about this week has made the process of getting over the Florida State loss a bit easier, several Hurricanes said.
''It helps a lot,'' safety A.J. Highsmith said. ''You can't let that game beat you twice. So we have to move on, in a hurry.''
It's easy to see why Golden has used Virginia Tech as an example of what Miami should want to become.
The Hokies are in their 10th season in the ACC, just like Miami. The Miami-Virginia Tech game in 2004 was essentially for the league title, though since the ACC added a true championship game in 2005, the Hokies have represented the Coastal side of the conference five times in eight seasons.
Miami hasn't played in that game yet. The Hurricanes would have done so last year, if not for the second straight self-imposed postseason ban brought on by the NCAA mess.
''So we don't count that,'' offensive lineman Jon Feliciano said.
Golden said he was ''appreciative and grateful'' that Beamer took the time to write. And it wasn't the first time Beamer coached Golden up during the process either; the Miami coach relayed a story Tuesday that Beamer and longtime Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster told him last year about what they faced at Virginia Tech in 1987, their first season at the school.
About two months into that season, the Hokies got hit with scholarship reductions because of violations that occurred before Beamer and Foster arrived in Blacksburg - the same scenario that Golden faces now at Miami, with the NCAA penalties that came last month all in response to things that happened before he took over the Hurricanes.
''I know they knew what we were going through and how difficult it is,'' Golden said. ''So I was very appreciative.''