None of them were the right fit. They could have provided a quicker path back to the head coach position Shannon would like to fill again some day, but he didn’t want to risk making a move that hurt his career.
But when a program like Florida comes calling, any hesitation of moving disappeared for Shannon. The former Miami head coach jumped on the opportunity to return to the state of Florida, and he gets to get it at one of the top athletic programs in the country. He always knew about the strength of the athletic program in Gainesville, and the overall success of it was a reason he wanted to return to the state.
“Being at Florida, (there’s) a lot of programs in the country but there’s only a few programs in the country like Florida,” Randy Shannon said. “You think about what Florida has accomplished, football, basketball, track and field, baseball -- if you look at it for the last couple of years, they’ve probably been in the hunt for the national championship or have won it in the last six, seven years in all those sports. I’m not even counting the gymnastics and all those other sports.
“When you have a program like that and you have an athletic director that believe other sports can accomplish championships like football, which excites you as a person. As a person, you don’t ever want to stay the same and just get comfortable with a situation. Being at Florida, you can never get comfortable because you always have to live on edge. You have to have that mind that you’re going to win a championship, not just coming in second or saying, ‘hey we got nine or ten wins.’ You always want to be that guy and you always want to be the challenge of it.”
Doing it at a major rival of his alma mater and former employer does make it a little strange. Shannon walked into the room for his press conference on Thursday wearing a Florida jacket, which looked strange to everyone in the room. But the adjustment to orange and blue hasn’t been tough. Shannon said he hasn’t received any backlash from people he knows that are close to the Miami program.
Even as a player and coach at Miami, Shannon down played the rivalry as something that only involved dislike on the field.
“It was hatred because of Florida, Florida State and Miami were three schools in the state,” Shannon said. “Most of the guys I knew that played up here I grew up with. The same thing with Florida State. It was sort of like a little deal that you have with each other. Off the field, we were great friends.”
None of that mattered when Jim McElwain was putting his staff together.
He wanted the best group possible, and Shannon was a big part of that. McElwain said on Wednesday that the former Miami head coach was at the top of his list and wanted him badly. McElwain spoke with multiple friends in the coaching industry that have worked on the same staffs as Shannon, and they all raved about what he brought to the coaches’ meeting room.
For McElwain, who has only been a head coach three years before getting the job at Florida, Shannon can also be valuable because of his experience. He knows what a head coach goes through and all of the extra responsibilities assigned to the job and can serve as a sounding board to McElwain or an extra help in the defensive meeting room.
“I don’t have an ego about anything I do, I really don’t,” Shannon said. “I learned that from a guy named Sonny Lubick when I first started coaching. He said if you ever get in this business and want to be a real good coach, drop the ego and enjoy life. Anybody might ask me questions how I may think and stuff like that, I’m always going to be there for him. It doesn’t make a difference if it’s just a normal person.
“If Coach Mac asks me any questions, I’ll give him my opinion about certain things or I’ll try to help him out because if you have a sounding board that you can talk to all the time, it makes things a lot easier for you.”
Even with his past experience, Shannon just wants to be another member of the coaching staff while in the meeting room.
The closeness of the staff is something that means a lot to him, and in the early days of this staff being together, he likes what he sees. Late Wednesday night, Shannon saw something he has never seen with a coaching staff.
The group was together at the football facility going over recruiting when one of the assistant coaches was hungry and wanted to go get something to eat. Another assistant asked where he was going and if he could join. Shannon sat back and watched as every other assistant, one-by-one, asked if he could go and the group went together to eat at Ballyhoo, a seafood restaurant just miles from the stadium.
It might seem like a small deal, but Shannon saw it as a coaching staff that truly enjoys being around each other.
On the field, it’s a group of assistants that have coached at different levels and different position, but they have plenty of success in previous stops. The staff should be able to sell itself on the recruiting trail.
“We’ve got coaches that have coached (in the) NFL,” Shannon said. “Coaches that have coached great quarterbacks, have coached great running backs, linebackers, defensive backs. Our staff has done it all. So when you put a bunch of guys together that have coached great players, then it becomes a lot easier. Like myself, everybody looks at me and says ‘well, you’re a linebackers coach.’ Well, my first job was coaching Warren Sapp and The Rock when I was a D-line coach. A lot of people didn’t know that, but that was my first job, coaching those two guys.
“Then I got moved to linebackers and first job was Darrin Smith, Mike Barrow and Jessie Armstead. And then the trend went on and Edward Reed came around and Sean Taylor and guys like that. So when you have guys that can coach and guys coach a lot of quality guys, they know how to get it done. Coach Mac is the leader of our ship and that’s what we’re gonna follow and our guys believe in each other.”
Regardless of where he has been as an assistant coach, many have raved about the type of person Shannon is and the role model he serves as for his players. For all of his issues at Miami, the players behaved much better than in previous years and bought into his view of the program being a good reflection and something the university could be proud of.
McElwain has preached the same thing in recent weeks. The Florida coach’s main lesson is that he has only one rule -- do what’s right. If players can handle that, they’ll be fine and able to buy into what the Gators expect on and off the field.
“I consider myself as a person that believes in doing everything the right way but also getting young men to be where they need to be at,” Shannon said. “Let’s be honest, our job is to win games and try to win an SEC championship and try to win a national championship. That’s what coaches jobs are for. We feel like we got the right staff of doing that.
“But we’ve also gotta make sure these young men leave the University of Florida representing the University of Florida for the rest of their lives. If we can’t get these young men to win championships and to represent the University of Florida once they leave, we didn’t do our job. That’s more important right now -- winning but also getting these young men to understand why they’re at the University of Florida.”
When the Gators officially lost defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson to Auburn following the Birmingham Bowl, McElwain needed to regain South Florida ties on his staff. The Shannon hire was perfect to fill that void and also bring a veteran presence to the defensive staff.
When asked about recruiting south Florida, Shannon wanted to make it clear that it isn’t the only place he recruited. He also brought in players from California and Louisiana and sees himself as being “more versatile” than just recruiting south Florida. He did acknowledge that his connections to the area could help the Gators. Shannon said there are some coaches across the country that will tell college coaches what they want to hear about a prospect off the field, and he believes it’s part of his responsibility to find out the truth.
When he’s at a high school, there are a few ways Shannon makes that happen.
First, there are the janitors. Shannon said he has been known to approach high school janitors and ask what their opinion of a high school prospect is, noting that “some players like to screw around with janitors and give them a hard time.”
His other habit is to ask the girls that attend the high school what they think of the prospect. He'll stop some in the hall to ask what they think.
“Two things she’s gonna say,” Shannon said with a shy grin. “She could either say ‘yeah, he’s over here’ or she’s gonna tell you everything you wanna know that’s bad. You’ve gotta be careful on how you recruit because this time and age and the way social media is, you have to recruit and find out everything you can about a young man because once a young man comes to your university, (he’s) representing you and representing your university.”