Sunday, November 28, 2010

On the Departure of Randy Shannon

While I was watching the final minutes of an intense Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game, ESPN's friendly ticker announced that coach Randy Shannon had been fired after 4 years at the University of Miami, following a 23-20 loss to South Florida. These two pieces of news (the loss and the firing) made Miami one of the biggest surprises in a day filled with intense rivalry games. The firing is the more perplexing of the two, and one has to wonder at Miami's timing.

There are high expectations at "The U," and rightfully so. This is a program with 5 national championships (many argue that that total should be 6) and is known for producing high-caliber NFL talent. But in order to have a top-tier team, top-tier coaching talent is a must. With all respect to Randy Shannon, he proved within his first three seasons that he is not a premier coach in this stage of his career, or at least not the type that the Hurricanes thought they were looking for.

To illustrate, let's compare Shannon's tenure and that of his predecessor, Larry Coker. In Coker's first year, Miami went undefeated en route to a national title, which culminated in a 37-14 dismantling of Nebraska at the Rose Bowl. The next year, 2002, Miami went undefeated in the regular season and went to the championship game a second time, yet lost to Ohio State in a double-overtime thriller (and that's all that needs to be said there). In 2003, Coker's 'Canes went 11-2, and beat their rival Florida State in the Orange Bowl to end the year. The next two years, Miami finished 9-3, and for their bowl games proceeded to beat a rising Florida and be embarassed by LSU, respectively.

In Coker's last year, the Hurricanes opened 1-2, and by Week 4 were unranked for the first time since Coker came to Miami. Four weeks later, in a game with Florida International, a massive fight broke out, which resulted in 31 players suspended, 13 of which were Hurricanes. They went on to win--

Pause the history here. Miami, two years removed from winning the Orange Bowl, is clearly on the way down. A pair of three-loss seasons is barely a cause for concern, but their last bowl game, a 40-3 shellacking by the LSU Tigers, is slightly unnerving. Now, in 2006, this latest version of The U sits at 4-2, out of the rankings (let alone BCS contention), and has just displayed a massive lack of discipline that casts the school as a haven for thugs. Is this just cause to bring about a change of leadership? Not for the Miami athletic department, who stuck with Coker--only to watch the team finish .500 on the regular season. He was fired the day after the season ended, and Randy Shannon was pronounced the new head coach.

Unfortunately for Shannon, after 2006 Miami's recruiting power had diminished significantly, and he has been feeling these effects over the last four years. He coached Miami to a 28-22 record in four years, the most recent being a 7-5 effort that saw Miami take second in the ACC Coastal Division; interestingly enough, this is where they were supposed to finish. In 2009 they finished 9-4, a mark good enough to earn him a contract extension, but this offer didn't quite make sense: while this is a normal indicator of a team on the rise, especially after a 12-11 record over the past two years, Miami went 0-3 in bowl games under Shannon's watch, and those four losses in 2009 included two very winnable games down the stretch (Clemson and North Carolina). Regardless, he turned them into a winning team, and was not given enough time to reap the rewards.
In summary, Coker was released for driving the Hurricanes into a hole, and Shannon for not getting them out of said hole quickly enough to Miami's liking. The athletic department expected another Larry Coker, but Coker I inherited a team that had been winning bowls, the most recent being a Sugar Bowl win over Florida. Coker II (Shannon) received a shell of greatness, a team that had to scrap out a win over Nevada in the Las Vegas Bowl for his first game as coach, and was given roughly the same window to do great things and restore Miami to "national relevance," as athletic director Kirby Hocutt puts it.

It has been said many times over the past two seasons that Miami has turned the corner, and I agree to a point: they are turning the corner. Randy Shannon did his part in helping to restore the 'Canes to glory; however, his players did him no favors this year, most notably his quarterbacks. Stephen Morris' willingness to play Beamerball and Jacory Harris' last second interception today against USF are, in all likelihood, the difference between this team being 7-5 and 9-3 (or at least 8-4; I'll give them a pass on the Va. Tech game). Regardless, Randy Shannon is now the first big spin in the coaching carousel of 2010-11, and probably the most undeserving victim in the madness to come.

University of Miami Hurricanes' coach Randy Shannon.
Picture property of Walter Iooss Jr./SI