The last time Randy Shannon was in Gainesville, Florida, he showed his displeasure with then-Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer for, in Shannon’s eyes, running up the score in a 26-3 win. A lightning-fast handshake at midfield became the buzz of college football, but it was just the start of a memorable season for Florida.
Six-and-a-half years later, Shannon is the one donning the orange and blue for new head coach Jim McElwain as they look to help lead the Gators back to the success the program last realized during that 2008 season, when Florida won its second national title in three years under Meyer.
Named the Gators’ associate head coach, co-coordinator (whatever that means) and linebackers coach, Shannon was able to make a jump to Florida from Arkansas by sheer happenstance. One year after Razorbacks head coach Bret Bielema hired Shannon, he began insisting that his assistants sign a no-compete clause restricting them from leaving Arkansas and going to another Southeastern Conference program. Shannon’s contract did not include that clause, so he picked up McElwain’s phone call and took advantage of a better opportunity to succeed, this one in his home state.
“It’s just another opportunity to work with some great people. I had a great time at Arkansas; we did some great things at Arkansas. It’s just another step of being with guys like Coach Mac, Coach [Doug] Nussmeier, Coach [Geoff] Collins and other guys on the staff, getting on the same page and having excitement,” Shannon explained.
“Being at Florida, there’s a ton of programs in the country but there’s only a few programs in the country like Florida. Just to be honest with you. 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 won it in [each of those sports in] the last six or seven years, and I’m not even counting gymnastics and other sports.
“When you have a program like that, and you have an athletic director that believes in other sports accomplishing championships like football, that excites you as a person. Sometimes as a person you don’t want to ever stay the same and get comfortable with a situation. Being at Florida, you can never get comfortable because you always have to live on the edge. You always have to have the mind that you want to win the championship, not just settle for second.”
Shannon is thrilled to have the chance to “be a part of something special” under McElwain with “an athletic director like Mr. [Jeremy] Foley who gives you every opportunity to be successful.” He was so enthusiastic to be considered for arguably the third-most important position on McElwain’s staff that his passion led the coach to reach somewhat out of his standard circle to bring Shannon aboard.
“In this business, you get guys that give you calls and recommend a guy, and I don’t even know who those people are half the time. I’ve never met them. They’re just checking on their list to say, ‘Yeah, I tried to help this guy get the heck out of somewhere.’ … Guys that I trust, guys that I’ve been in rooms with, guys that I consider true friends that can and will tell me the truth recommended him and knew what a great person he is and how great he was for players,” McElwain explained.
“It was instant when I took this job. He was a guy that was at the top of my list from the standpoint of the people and how they speak of his integrity and his discipline and his organization and his ball coaching ability. The thing that gets lost, man, this guy is a great ball coach. I feel it was an unbelievable hire to be able to get that done and yet I think it speaks that we had a lot of mutual friends, true relationships that he felt compelled to jump on board as a confidant and a guy that can help me navigate because he’s sat in this chair.
“Until you’ve sat in this chair, it’s really hard to understand all the things that come with it, and he’s already helped me immensely on things. He’s a guy you can bounce ideas off, not only football ideas but organizational ideas. I can’t tell you how excited I am.”
Shannon has aspirations to be a head coach again “one day,” and he has been offered such opportunities since being fired at Miami. But he claims he did not take the Florida job to use it as a stepping stone, rather, it is a place that he wants to be, a program that he believes he can impact both on and off the field.
“I consider myself a person that believes in doing everything the right way but also getting young men where they need to be,” he said. “Our job is to win games. Let’s be honest, our job is to win games, 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; Coach Mac has done a great job assembling this staff to get it done. But when it all comes down to it, we also have to make sure these young men leave the University of Florida representing the University of Florida [in the right way] the rest of their lives. If we can’t get those young men to win championships and then represent the University of Florida [the right way] once they leave, then we didn’t do our jobs.”
McElwain shares that vision, which is why he laughed off questions about Shannon’s title and responsibilities. Many assumed, due to his long history as a successful recruiter, Shannon would receive a “recruiting coordinator” title. Others (including this particular website) seemingly assumed incorrectly that the “co-coordinator” title he was given meant that he would join Collins in calling the defense; that has still neither been officially confirmed nor denied. Simply put, McElwain does not care what Shannon is called or how he is viewed from an organizational standpoint.
“These title deals, I mean, are you kidding me? Really? You’re a ball coach. Your title is: you’re invested in young men. Your title is: it’s about how we can help them be better for the rest of their lives. That’s your title. I don’t get into titles, never have,” McElwain explained with a fair share of snark.
“He’s obviously the ‘whatever’ associate, assistant head coach or whatever the word is. ‘Chief bottle washer?’ I don’t know. ‘Guy in charge of tackling?’ There’s a reason for that [lack of definitive title]. He’s a true confidant in the standpoint of we can discuss a lot of different things about sitting in this chair. I’m a guy that believes in input, believes in listening and taking it all in and then fitting what’s best with the organization. … That’s how I’ve seen the guys that sit in this chair that have been successful, they always have certain people that have certain qualities to help them be and make decisions that are important not just to affect a position group, not just to affect a football team but to affect a total organization in everything we do. I feel very fortunate to have been able to get a guy like Randy on board.”
Shannon will have a “big hand” in the defense, according to McElwain. Shannon himself said he and Collins have “been on the same page” from the start though there has been no true talk about football to this point, just recruiting. When the two defensive chiefs do sit down to discuss what’s going to happen on the field, he is confident that they will share one brain on the matter.
“We got to have a team that’s very excited about playing the game. A lot of enthusiasm, a lot of energy. That’s how me and Coach Collins coach; we coach with a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of energy. We get after it. But it’s all about having fun and making sure the players on the field are having fun and enjoying what they’re doing,” he said.
It is clear, based on a story Shannon shared on Thursday, that it is not just he and Collins that share an energy and enthusiasm about their new roles but rather the coaching staff as a whole:
“One thing happened. This was unbelievable. First time this has ever happened. We were all sitting in the office last night, and we just finished doing some recruiting stuff, running around. Somebody walked out the door and said, ‘I’m going to get something to eat.’ I said, ‘Where you going?’ He said, ‘I’m going over here.’ Next guy said, ‘OK, wait up, wait up for me.’ It turned out to be like a chemical reaction. There wasn’t nothing planned. It was one guy going, then the next guy wanted to go, then the next guy wanted to go, then the next guy wanted to go, then the next guy wanted to go. Then all of a sudden, you’re at a restaurant eating and there wasn’t nothing planned.
“That tells you how good this staff is going to be because of the chemistry of that happening. A lot of people can’t say a staff is going to just walk out the door since one guy made the [decision] to go to eat, another guy wanted to join in, and it just snowballed. I think that was something that was really special that I was showed last night.”
That story may seem like a relatively small deal to most, especially those with large groups of friends, but when you consider this staff has been assembled for less than a week and the story was told by a 20-year coaching veteran, the actions speak volumes.
It also speaks to the impact Shannon can have on the Gators from the get-go, as does the last thing he felt necessary to point out during his first Florida media availability Thursday.
“If the players know you love and care about them, no matter what happens, they will do everything for you, and they’ll be there for you,” he said. “If you think it’s all about you as a coach, players sense that and then it becomes a different animal.”
McElwain stated ad nauseum that he did not want independent contractors on his staff. Shannon appears to be anything but one, at least from early returns.