November 8, 2005
CORAL GABLES -- The one constant during Larry Coker's tenure as Miami's head coach has been the presence of a dominant defense. That fact likely will make defensive coordinator Randy Shannon a hot commodity when the coaching carousel re-opens in December, as teams start exploring some of the nation's top assistants.
Shannon is without a doubt amongst them, and he has been for a while. The big questions are these: How ready is he to become a head coach, and how selective will the architect of the nation's No. 1 defense be? Consider a potential suitor such as lowly Temple, which already has put out a few feelers on him regarding the Owls' opening.
Last season Shannon interviewed for the Mississippi job, and he turned down an interview with the Miami Dolphins at the request of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which felt he was being used by the Dolphins as a token interview to circumvent the NFL's requirement that a minority candidate be considered. But during that process Shannon, a former Dolphins assistant, made it clear that he's not looking for just any head coaching job.
He's looking for the right one, a job he believes will set him up for success from the recruiting and facilities angles, and he intends to be selective in shopping himself. He's probably in position to do so, especially considering the speculation that he's athletic director Paul Dee's frontrunner as Coker's eventual successor.
However, how long will Shannon wait to be handed the top spot at his alma mater, and what happens if Dee leaves before Coker does? That's why Shannon likely will keep his options open this winter, when his name repeatedly will be submitted to schools by the Black Coaches Association, who view him as the best minority candidate on the college level.
It's not uncommon for top assistants at big-time programs to have their patience pay off big-time. Shannon, the winner of the 2001 Frank Broyles Award as the national assistant coach of the year, uses what happened to two former Florida State assistants as his standard. Both Chuck Amato and Mark Richt were patient, and it paid off with Amato landing the job at N.C. State (his alma mater) and Richt becoming the coach at perennial power Georgia.
Shannon's still a little rough around the edges when it comes to dealing with non-football issues and the media, which raises some concern about how he would handle powerful boosters and strong-willed administrators. But he's made tremendous strides over the past few years, which indicates that he's working on polishing his image.
COACHES TAKING WILLIAMS SLOWLY
While Willie Williams' high school teammate, Kenny Phillips, has stepped onto the scene at Miami and made an immediate impact (starting safety, third in tackles) as a true freshman, the prize of UM's 2004 signing class has had little impact into his second season.
Williams, of course, became infamous two summers ago, when it was discovered that his past included 11 arrests (several on felony charges) as a juvenile, brief jail time for his behavior on a recruiting trip to Gainesville, and two stints on probation. He redshirted last season with the Hurricanes, after injuring a knee during fall camp. This season, he's found it difficult to get on the field at linebacker, playing sparingly behind sophomore Jon Beason.
At times, Williams has lived up to his high school nickname, Da Predator, by blocking a punt or leveling opponents with crushing hits. He's shown the same knack for finding the football that made him a Parade All-American at Carol City High in Miami. The problem is that he's rarely been on the field this season, outside of his special-teams duties. That has fueled speculation that he is struggling with the basics of UM's scheme, but the coaches insist that's not true.
Shannon said Williams is "doing great" and agreed with Coker's assertion that he's ahead of where D.J. Williams (now in the NFL) was at the same stage. But Shannon also admitted that Williams still needs a bit of seasoning.
"You have to treat Willie like a true freshman," Shannon said. "Willie didn't play last year, and people don't realize he wasn't even on scout team (because of his knee injury) till the bowl time. Willie basically sat out of football for a whole entire year, so he's got a learning process. He's doing well.
"Willie's played early in the season, but when these teams get in these one-back (sets), we've got Willie doing two personnel groups, and he's learning a third one right now, but you can't just throw him to the wolves and all of a sudden Willie's not having any success. We can't have him taking a step back, so we put him in situations where he's going to have success."
HARRIS INJURY COMPLICATES HOOPS
It's a good thing Miami guard Guillermo Diaz spent all summer watching tape of Milwaukee Bucks point guard T.J. Ford to develop his skills as a floor leader, because it appears that the Hurricanes will need him to fill that role early this season. That's because junior guard Anthony Harris will miss at least the first four weeks of the season, after suffering a stress fracture in his right foot.
Harris, a junior who started every game last season and averaged 12.4 points and a team-high 4.6 assists, suffered the injury during an early November practice. A bone scan revealed a hairline fracture in the fifth metatarsal that required his right foot to be placed in a cast. It's the first time a significant injury has struck the Hurricanes since coach Frank Haith took over last season, and it likely will test UM's resolve.
Haith expected freshman point guard Denis Clemente, a speedster who is adept at scoring, to contribute early, possibly as the first player off the bench. But never did he expect Clemente to be a starter so early, nor does he believe Clemente is ready for it.
"The toughest position in college basketball today is the point guard," Haith said. "You've got to be a good decision-maker with the ball."
Clemente will get the first opportunity to replace Harris, but it's likely that Diaz will have the ball in his hands during crucial stretches of games. That's why it's important that Diaz steps up and proves he can orchestrate the offense and command the team.
The main thing Diaz learned from watching film of Ford, a player Haith coached while an assistant at Texas, was about pacing -- both himself and the game.
"I've watched (Ford) in transition and paid attention to how he controlled the game by changing his speeds," Diaz said. "When I first got here, there was just one speed. All I knew was run fast, shoot the ball and play defense. But now I know the importance of involving your teammates and keeping them in the game."
If handled right, the added exposure at point guard can only help Diaz in the future. The NBA likely will want him as a combo guard who can play the point or on the wing.