Monday, November 30, 2015
Gators assistant coach Randy Shannon will face Florida State for the 23rd time on Saturday. (Photo: Tim Casey)
By SCOTT CARTER
November 25, 2015
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- More than 10 months have passed since the day Randy Shannon walked into a room full of reporters dressed in Gators attire, their first glimpse at the University of Miami icon in Florida’s orange and blue.
Several snapped photos on their smartphones to share on social media, as if to verify, yes, Shannon really is a Gators assistant.
In the time since his official introduction at Florida, Shannon has quietly gone about his business far from the spotlight he once occupied as head coach of the Hurricanes. Shannon was dismissed by his alma mater after the 2010 season.
He spent a year working as a TV analyst, returned to coaching in 2012 at Texas Christian, worked on Bret Bielema’s staff at Arkansas in 2013-14, and accepted an offer from first-year Gators head coach Jim McElwain to return to his native Florida in January.
Well-regarded for his character and straight-forward approach by high school coaches around the state, Shannon helped the Gators salvage a respectable recruiting class in his first month on the job, the initial sign he would make a difference in the reshaped program under McElwain.
“The one thing you have to do in recruiting is be honest,’’ Shannon said. “I try to be up front and honest with all the coaches, all the parents and all the kids. If it doesn’t fit with what we’re trying to do, I’ve got to be honest with them. I think that is the one thing that coaches respect about me.”
Gators assistant coach Randy Shannon has quietly made an impact in his first season with the Gators. (Photo: Tim Casey)
A year ago Shannon never imagined he would be at Florida.
Other than for a brief exchange with McElwain during a trip to Alabama the year he spent out of coaching, Shannon had no connection to the former Crimson Tide offensive coordinator. Their backgrounds couldn’t be more different.
Shannon grew up in Liberty City, the hardscrabble neighborhood in Miami that took a devastating toll on Shannon’s family growing up. McElwain is from Montana, where he was a two-sport standout in high school who later played at Eastern Washington.
Despite the unknowns, the 49-year-old Shannon viewed the opportunity as one that worked professionally and personally.
“I didn’t have any concerns,” he said. “One thing I’ve learned in this business is don’t have an ego, just keep working, and you can work with anybody if you have an open mind. I have an open mind about everything I do.”
As the No. 12 ranked Gators (10-1) prepare this week to face No. 14-ranked Florida State (9-2), no one on Florida’s staff can match Shannon’s history against the Seminoles. His first matchup against FSU was 30 years ago as a freshman linebacker for the Hurricanes.
Shannon was 4-0 against FSU as a player from 1985-88, helping Miami win the 1987 national championship. He spent two seasons in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys -- drafted by Jimmy Johnson, his college coach -- before returning home to join Miami’s staff as a graduate assistant in 1991, earning a second national championship ring.
In his three stints at Miami as a player, assistant coach and head coach, Shannon went 14-8 (including one bowl game) against the Seminoles over 21 seasons.
Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis, who is having a breakout season, calls Shannon the “guru.”
“It’s like he has a lot of secrets to the game,’’ Davis said. “I feel real close to Coach Shannon … just the way he approaches business every day. He knows how to specifically reach each and every one of us. That really adds something special to me. Everything he says I really pay close attention to.”
Florida’s unexpected success in McElwain’s first season has turned attention toward the staff he assembled. Shannon, who is the team’s associate head coach/co-coordinator and linebackers coach, and defensive coordinator Geoff Collins are reportedly drawing interest as potential candidates to become UCF’s next head coach.
McElwain made no secret of the importance of Shannon’s hire when he brought him on board.
“He was a guy that was at the top of my list from a standpoint of the people and how they speak about his integrity, his discipline and his organization and ball-coaching ability,” McElwain said. “This guy is a great ball coach. I feel it was an unbelievable hire to be able to get that done.”
Once Shannon got settled and evaluated the players Florida’s defense had returning, he was confident the Gators could have one of the top units in the country. The Gators have lived up to those expectations, ranked sixth nationally.
Shannon also sees the impact McElwain’s approach has made on a team that many projected to win no more than seven games.
“His swag, the way he’s handled himself, the way he’s handled this football team, he is very confident,’’ Shannon said. “His mindset is to win 15 and that’s our mindset. He’s also held guys accountable. The biggest thing he stresses is the ‘why.’ If you can give a person ‘why’ you are doing something, or the reason ‘why’ this happened, they will respect you and do everything they can for you.”
The players say Shannon has played an important role, too.
“When he talks, everybody listening, everybody in the room, including Coach Mac,’’ sophomore cornerback Jalen Tabor said. “He's meant a lot, you know not only on the field, but he's kind of a mentor for some of us guys off the field. I go talk to Coach Shannon at least once a week just for him to drop some knowledge on me.”
At his introductory press conference at UF, Shannon said he would like to be a head coach again one day. But he also said he doesn’t know when, or if, that will happen.
Like he tells his players to, Shannon keeps an open mind.
He has enjoyed the transition to Florida and the surprises that have come with a turnaround season for the program.
“It’s been great. I’m having fun,’’ he said. “Being part of something that is unique and means something at a special place like Florida, that you’ve seen do a lot of great things and continues to progress, a lot of enthusiasm every day.”
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