Randy Is Ready And He’s Not Going Into This Fight Alone

By Dan LeBatard
Updated: December 10, 2006

MIAMI – The worldwide search for an inspired new leader took the University of Miami all the way to a few doors down from Larry Coker’s office.

While Alabama sent a caravan of armored trucks full of cash toward Nick Saban at the height of professional football, Miami rummaged through the change jar to pay a local-kid-makes-good story who never has been a head coach at any level.

There isn’t a lot of precedent for a program of this size and stature promoting a fired coach’s assistant because, well, Miami dismissed home-grown assistant coaches after a 9-3 season and Randy Shannon not only gets exonerated but promoted after a 6-6 one?

So this hiring is many things — fascinating, risky, cheap, earned, fair, groundbreaking and symbolic — but here’s the most interesting part about it:

Shannon, a proud and good and strong man, does not go into this fight alone. No, he has just about the biggest support system you’ve ever seen. And he’s taking that with him into the living room of every awed teenager who is about to help him get his beloved alma mater back to where it belongs.

Stoic and honorable and respected, Shannon is linked to all parts of UM’s glorious past, in every way. That’s what he has on his résumé that Greg Schiano and Rich Rodriguez don’t. That’s what makes him unlike any coach in Miami’s history.

He has run through that smoke in that tunnel in that Orange Bowl on a Saturday night. He made the journey from student to champion to man to leader to boss on that Coral Gables campus. He has swaggered and danced and howled and won.

He knows, at his core, how it feels to be loved by the men in that huddle and hated by everyone outside it. And this is what happens when you have these kind of roots:


Bernie Kosar, 1983 champion, is eager to help Shannon, whom he considers a friend. If Shannon needs advice, he can call Jimmy Johnson, for whom he played on campus and in Dallas.

A receiver needs extra tutelage? Shannon can request a visit from Michael Irvin, Shannon’s teammate as a Hurricane and Cowboy. Need help with the recruiting of a star linebacker? Shannon not only can speak of the position from championship experience, but can summon Ray Lewis and Jonathan Vilma and Dan Morgan — all of whom he coached — to whisper sweetly to said recruit, too.

The recruit can notice that Miami’s weight room isn’t as nice as the one he saw in Texas. Or he can notice that Andre Johnson, Ed Reed, Santana Moss and Edgerrin James still are working out in it because, not unlike Shannon, real Hurricanes never wander too far from the womb.

It goes deeper than that, too. This city, and its high school coaches, want this man to succeed. They will push their best players toward him because of the bond he has created with them during the past decade. Shannon would like his skin color to be irrelevant, but that’s as utopian as it is naive.


He has been given an enormous job that black men almost never get. Given that Notre Dame has lost seven consecutive bowl games and at least three games a year for the last decade, this might be the best job an African-American man has had in college football, Notre Dame’s Tyrone Willingham notwithstanding.

Shannon’s experiences as a Miamian and a Hurricane and a black man give him a connection and understanding of South Florida’s inner cities that no UM coach has had.

Area kids will gravitate to him naturally, and,if they don’t, their high school coaches will put a hand on their lower backs and guide them that way. Shannon, a symbol now, carries a weight that is both blessing and burden. If he succeeds in the good-old-boy network, others will get chances.

And this is why it’s going to work: Miami replenishes itself, always. No coach has failed here in 25 years, no matter the pedigree. It isn’t because the coaches always are unprecedented and unique and wonderful.

That would be quite the coincidence, wouldn’t it? No, it’s simple math: Get only kids from South Florida, and you’ve eliminated much of the guesswork that is projecting the talent of teenagers. You get 20-plus Florida kids a year, you are going to miss less often than other coaches.

Shannon is supposed to be a talented recruiter, but the truth is that any head coach at Miami immediately becomes that simply by virtue of being the head coach at Miami.

The ACC is tougher than it ever has been with Jim Grobe at Wake Forest and Butch Davis at North Carolina and Tom O’Brien at North Carolina State and Chan Gailey at Georgia Tech and Bobby Bowden at FSU. And Miami is trying to go at them now with a rookie who never has been a head coach at any level.

But Miami isn’t betting on just Randy Shannon here.

Miami is betting on Miami.

He will walk into that teenager’s living room alone.

But can’t you already see the army he has behind him?