Randy Shannon was a starting linebacker on Miami’s 1987 national championship team and later served as the program’s defensive coordinator when it won the 2001 national championship. He won the Broyles Award that season for the best assistant coach in the country.
Shannon is used to being around dominant defenses, and this season in Gainesville is no different. But how does this Florida defense stack up with some of the national-title winning ones that Shannon has been around in the past? He thinks it’s too early to know for sure.
“We’re doing pretty well,” Shannon said. “We won’t know until the end of the season where it rates as far as stats and everything like that. These young men that we have on the defense are playing at a tremendous pace. When you let those guys run around and have fun on the football field, that’s the greatest thing going.”
Shannon is serving as the defensive coordinator for a team that has playmakers all over the field, but when the new staff came to Gainesville and took over in January, their attention turned to preaching team defense. If 10 people were in the right spot but one player was out of position on a play, it could jeopardize the entire play and give up a big gain.
The Gators have leaders at every unit of the defense. They’ve received All-American performances from defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard while the coaching staff believes linebackers Jarrad Davis and Antonio Morrison are the heart of the entire team. The secondary is loaded with future first-round cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, but fellow cornerback Jalen Tabor might actually be having the best season at the position.
The coaches have all of the defensive players buying into being in the right spot and not trying to freelance or create a big play by themselves. They’ve seen what happens this season when they believe in the team defense concept because they know playing time will decrease if they don’t.
“The next man steps up if you don’t want to do your job,” Shannon said. “Every day is competition on the football field and every day we grade the film, we see who’s doing the best and who’s not. It goes by reps. If you notice that sometimes you see a lot of guys playing on defense because they’re doing a great job in practice. The guys that are really not playing on defense or offense is because they’re really not doing the right things in practice. We base everything on practice. If you’re doing great during the week of practice, you get reps. If not, your reps go down.”
Before Shannon came to Gainesville, he had heard about McElwain from other coaches and was drawn to the intrigue of returning to the state of Florida. He hadn’t worked with McElwain before moving to Gainesville but was immediately impressed with Florida’s first-year coach.
“His swag is the way he’s handled himself and the way he’s he handles his football team,” Shannon said. “He’s very confident. It’s like he said, he didn’t come here and say ‘I’m going to win five, six, seven, eight games.’ His mindset is to win 15 and that’s our mindset is to win 15. He also holds guys accountable. The biggest thing that he stresses and he understands is the why. If you give a person the why you’re doing and the reasoning why this happened, they’ll respect and do anything they can for you.”