Friday, November 13, 2009

With Shannon at the helm, 'Canes only climbing higher

Miami coach Randy Shannon talks via his headset during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Florida State, Monday, Sept. 7, 2009, in Tallahassee, Fla.

By Dave George

November 12, 2009

Miami coach Randy Shannon talks via his headset during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Florida State, Monday, Sept. 7, 2009, in Tallahassee,

Somewhere in between Florida's drive for a third national title in four seasons and FSU's shocking slide into irrelevance is a college football story that's not getting enough play in this state.

I'm not saying that Miami's 7-2 revival has gone completely unnoticed, but there just aren't enough people who fully appreciate its worth.

Blame it on the lingering haughtiness of another Hurricane era, the notion that no season is memorable or even particularly remarkable unless it ends in a national championship.

Randy Shannon bears some responsibility, too, for yanking the emergency brake any time fans and media start getting ahead of the game on expectations. He wants his guys to earn everything they get, as clearly indicated by Miami's season-long pattern of 5:45 a.m. Wednesday practice sessions.

There's no denying, however, that Miami has become one of the best jobs in America again. Shannon has made it so by doing all the heavy lifting required after Larry Coker's firing.

Randy recruited South Florida hard and well, working the Miami neighborhoods where he grew up, and he endured the frustrations of a 5-7 record in his first season as head coach. Nothing could have been more jarring to the sensibilities of a man who won one national title as a Hurricanes linebacker and two more as a Hurricanes assistant coach.

Stubbornly, though, he toughed it out, and last year's 7-6 record, too, even as Butch Davis, Shannon's old boss at Miami, returned to the college game from the NFL and started kicking the Hurricanes around, too.

Well, Butch is back on the schedule Saturday as Miami travels to North Carolina. There's no guarantee that the Hurricanes will win the game but, either way, this much is certain. Davis would be much better off at Miami than where he's working today, and that statement is going to become more obvious next season, and the season after that.

Shannon's team stands at No. 14 in the BCS standings and is positioned, with young leaders like Jacory Harris and Travis Benjamin and Sean Spence, to rejoin the nation's elite in 2010.

Davis, on the other hand, has a 2-3 record in the ACC. He's coaching at a basketball school. He's remembering, too, what he left behind at Miami for the sudden money and swift disillusionment of the Cleveland Browns.

Butch got the Hurricanes all the way to No. 2 in the final AP poll of 2000. His last game was a 37-20 Sugar Bowl thumping of Steve Spurrier's Gators. His roster, inherited by Coker and led by Ken Dorsey, produced a 12-0 record and a national title in 2001.

While at Miami, Davis coached or recruited stars like Ray Lewis, Edgerrin James, Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne, Jeremy Shockey, Willis McGahee, Sean Taylor and Vince Wilfork. This is a partial list, of course, but Butch could recruit at North Carolina for a lifetime and never approach its quality.

Coker is the head coach of a new program at the University of Texas-San Antonio that is tentatively scheduled to begin play in 2011. He started out better than Shannon at Miami but ended up worse.

Then there's Dennis Erickson, who won two national titles at Miami. Shannon's got a better job today that he does, too, for Erickson is headed for his second consecutive losing season at Arizona State.

Any way you slice it, Shannon and Miami are farther along the road to consistent major bowl contention than the vast majority of Div. I programs.

Short view? Miami's probably not going to make the ACC title game this year, but Georgia Tech, the team that's close to locking up the Coastal Division, is No. 7 in the BCS rankings and would be even higher without a 33-17 loss to the Hurricanes.

If we don't start learning to appreciate that, then a 10-2 and an at-large BCS bowl bid probably won't be given the proper value in this market, either.

Shannon's got to work with that, too, and, thankfully, he seems to be up to it, just like he's been up to everything else at a job that for a time was pretty rough but is close to being regal again.

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