September 11, 2007
CORAL GABLES He coaches at a school with one of the most fickle fan bases in college football. If the coach loses, criticism follows. If he wins, the fans openly wonder why he's not winning more, or by larger margins.
No program has more expectations than Miami, where coach Randy Shannon has the daunting task of restoring hope.
Even though he is in just his first year, there already was some talk of a national championship. After the Hurricanes' 51-13 loss to Oklahoma in the second game of the season, those absurd discussions likely will cease.
It will be interesting to watch the fan support for the rookie coach. Logic would suggest that it's way too early to stop backing Shannon, hired in December to replace Larry Coker.
But as the points piled up in the Oklahoma defeat, so did the negative remarks. Internet message boards were buzzing with criticism of Shannon and his staff. Why are they using the no-huddle? Why was a quarterback change made so early? Why is the defense of a defensive-minded head coach being shredded?
The angry fans were forgetting something amid all the complaining. Their expectations were way too high, way too early. Shannon may prove to be an excellent head coach some day, but he is no miracle-worker.
Sure, he told the fans what they wanted to hear when he was hired. He said the goal was to compete for the national championship each year. He said the subpar seasons were a thing of the past. A 7-6 record and an appearance in the MPC Computers Bowl, as the Hurricanes did last year, was unacceptable.
This is, after all, Miami. Just a few years ago, it played in consecutive national title games, winning in 2001 and falling one play short in 2002. The program was one of the most feared in the mid-1980s and early 1990s. The Hurricanes were the Bad Boys of college football, with players such as Michael Irvin, Vinny Testaverde, Bennie Blades, Warren Sapp and Ray Lewis. They backed up their swagger off the field by dominating opponents on it.
But times have changed. Teams have caught up. The Hurricanes have slowed down.
Despite this, the expectations from fans have stayed the same. They still expect 58-game home winning streaks at the Orange Bowl. They expect to be ranked each preseason, and finish high in the postseason. This fan base wants national titles, not conference crowns.
Their ferocity is obvious. Coker won a championship during his first season, and some say he would've won consecutive titles had it not been for a bad interference call against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl the next year. Once his teams tailed off, he was blamed. Six years after being on top, he was fired.
With Shannon, some patience would be fair. Fans need to be realistic. It's hard to believe that anyone would think that things would turn around immediately.
If anything, the Oklahoma loss should let fans know just how bad things have gotten. Look at the last three years. Back-to-back 9-3 seasons included ACC losses to Clemson, North Carolina and Georgia Tech. Last year, Miami almost fell to Duke and was embarrassed by Louisville. That should be more than enough to show that things are not the same.
Shannon obviously needs time. He's been with the program during the successful years. He was the defensive coordinator during the 2001 championship season and won it all as a player in 1987. He knows what it takes to win, and he knows it takes time to establish success.
QUARTERBACKS AMONG KEY ISSUES
The problem with many Miami fans is that they were spoiled during their ascent to the top of college football. While powers such as Michigan, Notre Dame and Oklahoma have been successful for many years, Miami is relatively new to all of this. It won all of its titles in a 25-year window. There were few downs between the ups, making success seem like almost a given.
Now things are much different. The Hurricanes are like a program starting over. Several schools have done it. Notre Dame, Penn State and most recently Oklahoma have sunk to the bottom only to rise again. Oklahoma dropped off the radar until it hired Bob Stoops, who resurrected things. He was given time, which the Miami faithful needs to understand. When a coach loses support, it can make things even more difficult.
Shannon started out with little resistance from the fans. He cracked down on discipline during the offseason. Players had to maintain 2.5 grade-point averages. Underclassmen were not allowed to live off-campus. No cell phones were permitted in class.
The support for Shannon grew when he opened up the quarterback competition during spring drills. Incumbent Kyle Wright was considered a can't-miss prospect coming out of high school, but he struggled in his two years as the starter. When he was injured at the end of last season, backup Kirby Freeman led the team to a 2-2 record.
Wright and Freeman competed in the preseason for the job, and Shannon picked Freeman, the fan favorite. It showed that the coach was willing to take a risk.
The move backfired against Oklahoma. Freeman struggled in the first half, forcing Shannon to play Wright. Things went from bad to worse when Wright was more effective, causing fans to question Shannon's judgment.
By game's end, Shannon had created the quarterback controversy he said never existed. The supporters who wanted Freeman were calling for Wright.
That's just the life of a coach at Miami. If Shannon didn't understand that already, he certainly does now.