Tough choice ahead for Hocutt, UM

Miami will be going to its third consecutive bowl under Randy Shannon, but he won't be around to coach it. Shannon was dismissed a few hours after the Hurricanes lost their regular-season finale 23-20 in overtime to USF.

The defeat dropped the Hurricanes to 7-5 in a year in which they had expected to return to national prominence ... or at least compete for their first ACC title since moving from the Big East for the 2004 season.

The record gets the Hurricanes into the postseason, but it will be to a second-tier game.

Of course, the Hurricanes haven't even won a second-tier game since Larry Coker's last season in 2006, when they beat Nevada in the MPC Computers Bowl in Boise, Idaho.

It had been announced before that game that Coker wouldn't be returning for the 2007 season, but he was allowed to coach in the bowl.

Shannon won't have that opportunity.

Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland was named interim coach, and the staff will remain on board to prepare the Hurricanes for their postseason destination. The Sun Bowl in El Paso is the popular prediction.

Athletic director Kirby Hocutt, who had awarded Shannon a four-year extension before the season, said a "national search" for a replacement would begin immediately. The Hurricanes have hired Chuck Neinas' firm, Neinas Sports Services, to assist in the search.

Hocutt said he had given Neinas a list of his preferences but would not disclose any details. Asked if the list was made up of all head coaches, he declined to comment.

Miami is hoping to make a splash with this coaching hire, and early reports linked former NFL head coach Jon Gruden to the position. Gruden, however, issued a statement Sunday night saying he was "committed" to his announcing duties at ESPN.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Athletic director Kirby Hocutt, who came to Miami from Ohio U. in early 2008, ranked the decision to fire coach Randy Shannon among the toughest in his career.

"I have had to discontinue four varsity sports programs at my previous school," he said. "We faced the death of a student-athlete at my previous school. I would say outside of the death of a young person, this has been one of the most challenging professional times. I say that because I care about Randy Shannon. He means a lot to this program and he means a lot to me. It was very, very challenging last night to visit with him."

--In a statement released by the school, Randy Shannon said he believes he leaves "the Hurricanes football program with a stronger foundation upon which they can continue to build. I thank President (Donna) Shalala for the opportunity. Those that know my history, know of my passion and dedication to the 'U', and only want success for this University moving forward."

--Kirby Hocutt said fan reaction did not come into play in his decision, but attendance might have. Though the crowd was officially put at 41,148 for the game against USF, a more accurate figure was the 26,369 reported in the Miami Herald.

GAME BALL GOES TO: WR Leonard Hankerson -- Hankerson had nine catches for 127 yards in his final home game, but he did not add to his school single-season record for touchdown catches. He remains at 12 with the bowl game to come.

KEEP AN EYE ON: RB Storm Johnson -- With Mike James out, Lamar Miller hobbled and Damien Berry fumbling, Johnson saw more action on offense. He had a 71-yard touchdown run to give the Hurricanes a 14-10 lead in the fourth quarter.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "No, it didn't take an ACC title. It took continuing to take steps to move this program towards national relevance. That in some ways could involve an ACC title, but it's not mandated by an ACC title. You can be relevant nationally and not win your conference. But at the end of the day, you must be relevant nationally here at the University of Miami." -- UM athletic director Kirby Hocutt, responding to a question about whether coach Randy Shannon needed an ACC title to save his job.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LOOKING GOOD: Freshman RB Storm Johnson had 75 yards on five carries, though 71 came on one touchdown run. That helped the Hurricanes to a 165-yard rushing day. WR Leonard Hankerson had nine catches for 127 yards. LB Colin McCarthy had 10 tackles, his third consecutive game in double figures.

STILL NEEDS WORK: QB Jacory Harris got the offense moving in the second half but then threw a big interception on his final play of regulation with Miami in range for a potential game-winning field goal. RB Damien Berry fumbled out of the end zone for a touchback, giving USF the ball midway through the second quarter. It was a 0-0 game at the time. The defense gave up two big pass plays to USF on its drive for the tying touchdown near the end of regulation.

ROSTER REPORT:

--QB Jacory Harris returned to the field after sitting out the previous three games with a concussion. He didn't start but was 12-of-18 passing for 110 yards in the second half.
--RB Mike James did not play because of illness.
--DE Adewale Ojomo had two sacks.


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