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2007 Retrospective: Randy Shannon

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SOTU examines the rise and fall of Randy Shannon’s tenure at Miami

Miami v North Carolina Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

SB Nation has fixed up the DeLorean and traveled back in time to examine the state of the University of Miami program in 2007. It was one of the most forgettable seasons in program history, with few positives. The man in charge at the time, Randy Shannon, has now become a polarizing figure in program history, and his two seasons as head coach has eclipsed many of his achievements prior to this appointment. State of the U will now look back at the rise and fall of Miami’s own Randy Shannon.

College Years

Shannon was recruited as a defensive back by the the Hurricanes and played under head coach Jimmy Johnson from 1985 to 1988. After redshirting his first year, Shannon changed positions, alternating between weakside and strongside linebacker. He finished in the top 10 on the team for tackles most seasons. The University of Miami had a magical season in Shannon’s junior year, which culminated in the 1987 National Championship victory over the Oklahoma Sooners. Throughout his time with the Hurricanes, Shannon was a valuable member of a defense that found itself recognized as one the best in the country. In his senior year Shannon finished with 83 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 8 passes defensed, and 3 forced fumbles.

In the classroom Shannon focused on what made people tick, enrolling in social science and education courses.

In his senior year Shannon won the Christopher Plumer Award for the team’s most inspirational player. He graduated after the 1988 season with a bachelor’s degree, the first member of his family to accomplish the feat, and entered the 1989 NFL Draft.

The Professional

Although Shannon was seen as being too light for the position, his former head coach Jimmy Johnson, now with the Dallas Cowboys, still selected him in the eleventh round (280th overall) of the 1989 NFL Draft. Criticized for his lack of bulk, a determined Shannon set out to prove the league wrong for writing him off in the draft process. He went on to defy expectations, not only making the Cowboys’ final roster but also becoming a starter shortly after the season began. In fact, he became the first rookie to start at outside linebacker for Dallas since 1963. Johnson noted Shannon’s ability to teach fellow linebackers how to play the position, foreshadowing what was to come down the line for Shannon.

Shannon had four starts from 1989 to 1990 and was credited with participation in 17 NFL games. He defied the odds, playing the game at its highest level. However, upon the conclusion of his NFL career he was drawn to a familiar setting.

Working His Way Up the Ranks

Although it may not have been clear to Shannon, those around him recognized his gift of teaching. As a Hurricane, Shannon often relayed information to teammates and made defensive adjustments. It was only a matter of time before he would make the transition to roaming the sidelines.

In 1991 Shannon was hired by University of Miami head coach Dennis Erickson as a graduate assistant. From there he worked his way up, accepting a promotion to defensive line coach and later becoming the linebacker coach. Shannon returned to the NFL, reuniting with head coach Jimmy Johnson, as a defensive assistant with the Miami Dolphins in 1998 and 1999. In the 2000 season he became the team’s linebacker coach.

Randy Shannon’s biggest ally was Jimmy Johnson (middle), who drafted him in Dallas, later hiring him to his coaching staff with the Dolphins.
Photo Credit - Getty Images

After Jimmy Johnson retired from the game at the end of the 2000 season, Shannon was left to look for employment elsewhere. With his experience at both the collegiate and pro levels, it made sense when Larry Coker hired him to be the defensive coordinator for Miami in 2001. There were a lot of expectations on Shannon, as he was helming one of the best defensive units ever seen in college football. Players such as Sean Taylor, Vince Wilfork, DJ Williams, and Jonathan Vilma make a defensive coordinator's job easier due to their talent and football IQ. The 2001 Miami Hurricanes went on to win the National Championship, and Shannon won the Broyles Award, which is given to the best assistant coach in college football.

From 2002 to 2006 the Hurricanes underwent plenty of changes, and things slowly unraveled. The team was robbed of their sixth national championship, suffered late-season losses, jumped to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004, and lost in a humiliating fashion at the 2005 Peach Bowl.

The Hurricanes started the 2006 season 1–2 after losing to both FSU and Louisville, and they followed that performance with a massive brawl with FIU. UM finished the season 6–6, having its first 4-loss season since 1999. Coker was fired, and before the Hurricanes played in the MPC Computers Bowl against Nevada, Randy Shannon became the University of Miami’s 19th head coach.

Head Ball Coach

Head coaches tend to fall under two labels: player friendly or a hard-ass. Teams typically follow a cyclical pattern when they hire their coaches. A tough coach who works his players hard is usually followed by a coach who is more forgiving, friendly, and communicative, who in turn is supplanted by a hard-nosed coach who is out to get results with little care to how players feel about them.

As shown in The U documentary, Shannon coached and policed his team more than Coker and his staff ever did, who had instead taken a backseat to the young leaders on the roster. As the defensive coordinator in 2001 seen the Miami team change from their best version to a run-of-the-mill program. Desperate to turn the fortunes of the program around, Shannon established his rule as commander-in-chief by establishing his own rule of law.

Hiring Shannon was the logical solution to the question of who could right the program. He is among the brightest minds in football, having watched more film and broken down more offenses than many of his peers. In addition, promoting from within was a trend that the university had grown enamored with. After Coker’s early success, why not roll the dice on another internal hire? Shannon was a hot commodity, so perhaps the fear of losing their prized asset influenced the university’s decision.

Due to some off-field mishaps and public perception of the Hurricanes, Shannon established his authoritative rule as a head coach. Some of the rules he instituted included no surnames on the back of jerseys and a 2.5 GPA threshold for players to remain eligible to play in a game.

Known more for his defensive acumen, Shannon relied heavily on who he brought in to be the new offensive coordinator. In January of 2007 the school hired Patrick Nix to run the offense. Having excelled at Georgia Tech—where he served at different times as QB coach, run game coordinator, and offensive coordinator—Nix had a talent for making the run game more efficient. To allow Shannon to focus on his head coach duties, Tim Walton—who served as Miami’s defensive backs coach from 2004 to 2006—was promoted to defensive coordinator for the 2007 season.

With this support system in place, it was now up to the new head coach to meet the expectations and get the results that those familiar with UM demanded. All the changes to the program’s culture would mean little if the team was unable to produce wins. Adding more heat to the situation, the 2007 season would be the last one played at the Miami Orange Bowl. The pressure to leave the stadium on a high note was immense. But when you’re a Hurricanes head coach, pressure comes with the territory.

The 2007 Season

Miami v Duke Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

To be frank, the 2007 season was a continuation of the 2006 season, but with a different coaching staff and players without names on their jerseys. The highlight of the entire season may have been the ’Canes’ win against FSU. Aside from that win and the one against Duke a couple weeks earlier, Miami finished 2–6 in ACC play. If the 6–6 record the season before was not enough to infuriate the fanbase, a 5–7 overall record in the Orange Bowl’s final season sent UM alumni and fans into a fit. The 48–0 shutout at the hands of Virginia in the final game at the Orange Bowl caused any goodwill for Shannon to be immediately set on fire and thrown out the window.

Shannon’s saving grace, aside from being an alumnus, was that he had the program going in the right direction off the field. Miami’s Academic Progress Rate was on the rise, and there was a decline in incidents involving players from the team. Most importantly, UM was doing well on the recruiting trail: its 2008 recruiting class included five players from a historic Miami Northwestern team.

Bottom Line

From removing player surnames on jerseys to establishing GPA limits, Shannon strove to reset the culture of the team. He had the support of his colleagues and fans until the results did not translate into wins. Fans wanted to see the program return to the dominance it had enjoyed earlier in the decade. The institution likely would have agreed with the assessment.

So who is Randy Shannon? He is a “Miami guy” who was born and raised in the area, spent time as a player, and worked his way up the coaching ranks. UM fans will most likely remember him for his failures as a head coach rather than for his other accomplishments and roles, such as his 41-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Florida Gators. It’s difficult to be objective when we see in Orange and Green. While Shannon’s career at Miami ended in one of the lowest fashions, it can’t be denied that he has been a positive contributor to Miami in other ways.