Deconstructing the Randy Shannon Era

By 2003alumgocanes

How did it rapidly collapse?

And poof, it was gone.  The Randy Shannon era rapidly collapsed in a 2 week period, with losses to Virginia Tech and USF.  2 weeks ago, no one thought we would be here.  Many people wanted to be here, but it seemed like a long way away.  The irony of the last 2 weeks is that there was speculation that Stephen Morris could win 4 games in a row as a starter and save Randy Shannon’s job.  Instead, it was likely the fact that Jacory Harris was injured against Virginia that ultimately hastened Randy Shannon’s departure.  It’s hard to imagine the team not winning 9-10 games if Jacory Harris plays the entire Virginia, Virginia Tech and South Florida games.

And yet the injury allowed Randy Shannon to once again show his warts, to once again show a complete inability to handle adverse situations, another opportunity to buck conventional wisdom, and in doing so get himself fired.  If Jacory wore shoulder pads against VT, he could have played.  Instead, Morris was asked to do too much, threw 3 late INTs, and ultimately played a large role in losing that game.  On Saturday, in one of the last few decisions he would make as a head coach,  Shannon inexplicably started Morris.  He then threw him out there to start the 2nd half despite a scoreless first half.  He finally went to Jacory Harris, after the team was down 10-0 halfway through the 3rd quarter.  While Jacory Harris is better than Stephen Morris, he is not Peyton Manning.  So, despite the team playing significantly better as a team with him in the game, they only outscored USF by 10 points the rest of the way, failed to put the game away because Jacory is Jacory and threw a catastrophic interception, and the team lost in OT.  Of course, the game isn’t close if Jacory plays the whole game.  It was just another opportunity to mangle a situation for Shannon, and true to form, he mangled it.

4 years, it seems like 4 lifetimes.  The task faced by Randy Shannon 4 years ago was unbelievably difficult, and too much for a first time head coach.  The task of having to learn to be a head coach while simultaneously rebuilding a roster gutted by horrible mismanagement, all while changing the culture of a program that was spiraling out of control on and off the field, was just way too much.

Randy Shannon did accomplish a lot of those things, lest we forget that the team he inherited had 2 awful QBs, Lance Leggett as the top WR, and had recently had a season where the team participated in a brawl, had one player exchange gun fire with a robber while another player got hit in the crossfire, and ended with another player getting murdered.  But in the end, for all the good he did, while Randy Shannon might have been the right man to lift the program out of the mess that Coker had created to get them to the point where the team was clean off the field and get the talent to the point where it could once again compete, he also proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was the wrong man to take the team beyond that level.

In the end, his era was defined by amateurish mistakes.  As a new head coach, he needed to surround himself with experience, and instead opted for Walton and Nix.  Then, when Nix was fired, Randy Shannon made the defining move of his tenure.  We said at the time that Shannon would sink or swim with Mark Whipple, and ultimately, Whipple was the anchor that finally drowned Randy Shannon’s coaching tenure.  It was Whipple’s much ballyhooed arrival that ultimately hurt team chemistry, and it was his general incompetence coupled with his stubborn attitude that sunk the program.

The turning point came against Clemson last year.  That was when Whipple stood up, showed up the head coach, made an ass out of himself, and killed the good vibes that had been slowly building throughout the Shannon Era.  Keep in mind that this is a team that battled through a 5 game winning streak, coming back to win tough games @UVA, and against Virginia Tech and Wake Forest to get within a stones throw of the ACC title, playing primarily freshman under the direction of Patrick Nix.  This was the program that just that year had come back time and again against FSU, had come back to beat Oklahoma.

Everything changed with Clemson, at the end of the half, when the offensive coordinator dressed down the head coach because the head coach (correctly, mind you) called timeout to preserve a FG.    But the real issue was after the game, when Randy Shannon should have told Whipple off, he instead chose to appease Whipple, to feed the beast, and to seed control of the entire offense, including game management, to Whipple.

Whipple took his newfound control and ran the offense into the ground, consistently failing to adjust to the differences between the college and pro games, expecting too much of his offense between the ears, and in clock management situations, where he held on to timeouts in 2 minute drills against FSU and USF where any college coach knows to burn the timeout,  but where an NFL coach would expect his team to smartly lineup and efficiently get a play a run.

And ultimately, Whipple underestimated the teaching aspect of his job. In college you get raw talent that is often uncoached or poorly coached.  The QBs (all of them) at the University of Miami are completely uncoached.  Explain to me why Jacory Harris as a true Freshman had his best TD-INT ratio of his career.  Explain to me why this team is last in college football in INTs after being Bottom 15 last year.  It’s because this isn’t the NFL.  In college, the great teams rely on execution over complexity.  They teach fundamentals, they drill simple plays into the player’s heads, and then they execute them well.  When you get complicated, with limited practice time and raw talent, you make a ton of mistakes that lose you games.  And that’s what happened here.  To the end, on the last drive against USF, Whipple refused to call timeout, wasting 20 seconds while the team tried to get lined up, then called a complicated option route while in FG range resulting in the WR going one way and the QB floating the ball right to a defender. The administration held Whipple is such low regard by the end of this season that they named Stoutland the interim head coach when Whipple was the obvious choice.

Where do we go from here?

It’s also a warning going forward.  There will be a lot of rumors about this coach and that coach, and this scheme and that scheme.  And there will be a lot of debate over it.  But in reality, this team needs teachers, this team needs a dedicated QB coach to teach the QBs how to play QB.  Because they are all clueless.  You want to know how bad it is?  Out of the QBs on this team, Jacory Harris is by far the most effective Hurricanes QB at NOT throwing INTs.  Chewing on that and realize how poorly that position has been coached, and the rebuild job necessary for the new coach.

As for the “Wish list” (everyone seems to have one)…I will give anyone a chance.  You never know who will and will not work out.  But 2 guys that I have seen flying under the radar that haven’t seen mentioned:

Randy Edsall – Connecticut

He literally built that program from scratch, his teams play hard and competently, and he has maxed out there.  He is one win away from a BCS bowl.  I also like the way he runs his program.

Marc Trestman – Montreal Alouettes Head Coach

He has all sorts of experience, including at Miami as a QB Coach. His Montreal teams have won consecutive Grey Cup titles.

I don’t know if there is any interest in either cases, but I am just throwing the names out there for a discussion point.

Putting a bow on it

In the end, Randy Shannon got his dream job when he was not ready for it.  He will likely move on to a DC position somewhere, and might get a HC gig somewhere else in the future. He might even do well there, if he employs the lessons he learned from this tenure.  But the task faced in cleaning up Coker’s mess was so daunting that many head coaches with track records of success scoffed at it.  So, the task fell to an inexperienced coach, and he was out of his depth.  While he failed at this job, he did get the program to where it can compete, cleaned up a lot of the mess, and did do some good things here.  Ultimately, I don’t believe he deserved much of the bile and hatred that was directed towards him, and that him getting fired now was probably in his best interest.  He just wasn’t good enough for this job at this time.  But he did give the better part of 25 years to the university, as a player and a coach, and was incredibly successful at every level, until he became the head coach.  It’s unfortunate that he was put in a position that he had no chance of succeeding at given his past lack of experience.  Very few assistant coaches (if any) could walk into powerhouse programs that have been completely ripped to shreds with no discernible talent and resources, and win.  Randy Shannon never came close.

And fortunately, we have a proactive administration that was able to see the writing on the wall, act swiftly, and get Shannon out while the team was still stuck in neutral and before it started to plunge into the ground.  By doing so, the new coach will be able to win right away.  And he might have to.  This team will be stocked full of seniors next year, and poised to win everything.  While no one will rip a coach for winning the conference in his first year, the reality is that the new coach’s best chance to win the national championship will be next year.  Because in 2012, there will be a lot of a new starters, and a likely step back breaking in new players.  Next year’s team really just needs to replace some CBs.  Everything else should be stacked.  Randy Shannon couldn’t harness the beast he created, let’s hope the new coach can, immediately.

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