Shannon’s impressive history with linebackers

Randy Shannon’s reputation on the defensive side of the ball brings added validity to the recently constructed Florida coaching staff, but his work at the linebacker position specifically should be able to turn heads of some of the top linebacker recruits in the country.

In his time at Miami, Randy Shannon turned the linebacker position into an NFL factory. The names are impressive. Ray Lewis, Jonathan Vilma, Jon Beason, D.J. Williams, Dan Morgan, Colin McCarthy, Dan Morgan, Sean Spence, and James Burgess are just some of the linebackers Shannon turned into NFL Draft picks.

Lewis is the headliner of the group. The future NFL Hall of Famer, who will be eligible in the class of 2018, was an All-American while playing three years at Miami. Shannon was a young coach when he mentored Lewis but served as his position coach for the linebacker’s entire time in Coral Gables.

In Shannon’s second year as a college assistant and first year as linebacker coach at Miami, Lewis came to the program as a freshman and posted a 76-tackle season. He exactly doubled that number as a sophomore, totaling a team-high 152 tackles, two interceptions and one forced fumble. Lewis actually better those numbers as a junior, making 160 tackles before heading to an NFL career that saw him win Defensive Player of the Year twice and Super Bowl MVP after the Baltimore Ravens won it all in 2000. Lewis was also a 13-time Pro Bowler and a seven-time AP First Team All-Pro member.

Two years after Lewis left, Shannon found a true freshman ready to fill the void as the best linebacker on the team. Dan Morgan came in and started at linebacker, becoming the first freshman to do so since Lewis left. Morgan finished his freshman year with 105 tackles, three sacks and one forced fumble. He went on to become the first player ever to win college football’s three top defensive awards available to linebackers: the Butkus Award (nation’s top linebacker), the Bednarik Award (nation’s top defensive play by the Mawell Football Club) and the Nagurski Award (nation’s top defensive player by the Football Writers Association of America). Morgan went on to an eight-year NFL career, including a Pro Bowl appearance in 2004.

Shannon left the Hurricanes after the 1997 season, working on staff with the Miami Dolphins from 1998-2000. He returned to Coral Gables as the defensive coordinator in 2001, and the linebackers on his defenses continued to produce.

With his first defense at Miami as the coordinator, Shannon inherited a pair of star sophomores. Jonathan Vilma and D.J. Williams both started for the Hurricanes. Vilma, the starting middle linebacker, totaled 73 tackles on the season to lead the team, adding five tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Williams had 51 tackles and one quarterback hurry.

The 2002 season is when the linebacker duo broke out. When the list of 11 semifinalists for the Butkus Award was released, Vilma and Williams were both on it. The duo led the team in tackles while Vilma ended the year with 119 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, two sacks, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. Williams totaled 100 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, four sacks, seven pass breakups and two forced fumbles.

The two continued to lead the Hurricanes in 2003, again having the most tackles on the team. Vilma led the Hurricanes with 127 tackles while Williams had 82 tackles, six sacks and three pass breakups.

They went on to long NFL careers. Vilma started his NFL career in 2004 while the New York Jets, and the current season is his first without playing. He was AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2004, a three-time Pro Bowler and led the NFL in tackles during the 2005 season. Williams began his career with the Denver Broncos in 2004 and is currently playing for the Chicago Bears. He led the NFL in tackles during the 2007 season.

When Vilma and Williams left Miami and were both selected in the first 17 picks of the 2004 NFL Draft, the Hurricanes had a lot to replace at the position.

Shannon got production out of upperclassmen like Rocky McIntosh (89 tackles, 9 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks) and Tavares Gooden (68 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, three pass breakups). But the most important part of the 2004 season was the beginning of Shannon developing Jon Beason linebacker.

Beason came to Coral Gables as a fullback. He played in three games early in the 2003 season before an injury ended his year, but he was able to take a medical redshirt. During his rehab, the coaching staff decided to move Beason to linebacker. Less than a year after the injury when he was a fullback, Beason was the starting strong side linebacker and ended the 2004 season with 22 tackles and three tackles for a loss.

During the 2005 season, McIntosh led the team in tackles again with 89, adding 10 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. Beason was fourth on the team that season with 56 tackles but led the team with 7.5 tackles for a loss.

Beason had his breakout season in 2006, leading the Hurricanes with 92 tackles and adding 10 tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks and one fumble recovery. He left school after the season and entered the NFL Draft, where he was selected with the 25th overall pick by the Carolina Panthers.

After moving to the defensive side of the ball under Shannon, Beason played for the Panthers from 2007-2013 and was traded to the New York Giants during the 2013 season. He still plays for the Giants now. Beason is a three-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro.

When Larry Coker was fired after the 2006 season, Shannon was promoted to head coach. The linebacker play didn’t trail off when that happened.

The 2007 season featured Gooden leading the way with 100 tackles, but there was another young linebacker that started to emerge that season. Colin McCarthy finished his sophomore season with 68 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, two sacks, one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

McCarthy hurt his shoulder early in the 2008 season and missed a majority of the year, but the rest of the group stepped up. Shannon’s defense ended the year with three linebackers in the top four tacklers. Sean Spence ended the year with 65 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss and one forced fumble, ending the season as a Freshman All-American.

Over the next two seasons, McCarthy would total 225 tackles and 19 tackles for a loss. He was a fourth round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft and continues to play for the Tennessee Titans.

Spence was taken in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers and is still on their roster. In his senior season, Spence had 111 tackles, 17 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks while being a candidate for the Butkus Award.

Shannon was fired after the 2010 season and didn’t coach anywhere during 2011. He wanted to get back into coaching for the 2012 season and left the state of Florida for the first time in his coaching career to do it. Shannon took the linebackers coach position on Gary Patterson’s staff at TCU.

As expected, the linebackers took a step forward under Shannon.

Kenny Cain led the Horned Frogs in tackles the year before Shannon took over the position coach job, but under Shannon, he made 14 more tackles. In TCU’s first season in the Big 12, Cain was named to the All-Big 12 first team at the end of the 2012 season after totaling 86 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks.

Cain wasn’t the only linebacker to stand out. The year before Shannon took over, Joel Hasley was a freshman that played in every game but mostly did so on special teams. After starting zero games in 2011, Shannon threw him into the mix as a starter in 10 games during 2012. Hasley ended the season with 79 tackles, second most on the team, adding 8.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks.

After one year on Patterson’s staff, Shannon joined Bret Bielema at Arkansas, adding the associate head coach title to his linebacker coach duties. When Shannon got to Fayetteville, the linebacker position didn’t have any clear answers. The top two linebackers in tackling from the 2012 team were gone, and he had a lot of work to do with the position.

In 2013, Shannon turned A.J. Turner into the best linebacker on the team, ending the year with 97 tackles. The group played OK, but it wasn’t until Shannon’s second year on staff that the linebacker position took off.

During 2013, Martrell Spaight had only 22 tackles and one tackle for a lost, the fourth most tackles of any linebacker on the team. Going into his senior year, something clicked. In 2014, Spaight ended the year with 128 tackles and 10.5 tackles for a loss, being voted first team All-SEC at the end of the season.

Brooks Ellis came on late in the 2013 season as a true freshman but ended the year with only 33 tackles. He came on strong as a sophomore in 2014, ending the year with 72 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.

The role hasn’t mattered in Shannon’s career. Whether he serves as linebacker coach, defensive coordinator or head coach, the team’s linebackers have shown improvement in college. The long list of NFL linebackers that played under him will only help on the recruiting trail, but it’s his ability to work and improve linebackers that will help the most in his time at Florida.

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