CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Randy Shannon understands his situation.
Florida’s interim coach has no expectation that he will become the next full-fledged coach of the Gators, nor is he certain of what program he’ll be working for when the 2018 season kicks off. He may remain at Florida. He may go elsewhere. That’s the reality that comes after coaching changes, like the one that saw Jim McElwain and the Gators part ways earlier this week.
All Shannon knows for certain is this: Florida has four games left in this regular season, and they represent opportunity — for players, staff and himself.
“I just have to keep my enthusiasm going, keep my motivation going and then also bring everybody else to that level,” Shannon said in an interview with The Associated Press. “If you don’t bring everybody to that level and you think it’s all about you, that’s when things go down. That’s when bad things happen. You have to always go in the right direction. You have to keep moving.”
That has been Shannon’s mantra for some time.
He looked back this week at his other opportunity to be a head coach — the four years at Miami, his alma mater, the school just a few miles from where he grew up. He took over for Larry Coker after the 2006 season, got the program to take some big strides in the classroom and off the field, but never got enough wins. Shannon was 28-22 in the four years, and got fired.
Shannon thinks going through that made him better. He’ll have a chance to show how over the next month.
“You have to manage your football team in a lot of situations to be an excellent head coach, and when I stepped in I don’t think I was ready for that situation right at that point in time,” said Shannon, who has been Florida’s defensive coordinator. “But now, it’s easier for me. I can manage all the situations, the off-the-field things, the on-the-field things, the campus responsibilities, the alumni, the booster responsibilities. When you first dive in, you don’t understand that.”
Florida (3-4, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) could still win seven games, could still get to a decent bowl game, could still win its annual rivalry game with Florida State.
So there are plenty of ways to salvage something from the season.
Futures are at stake as well. There are seniors with NFL hopes, juniors with the idea of coming out early, and underclassmen who will either stick it out at Florida under a new coach or try to transfer elsewhere. All of them will be on tape over the next four games, and Shannon quickly pointed out that everyone — not just coaches — will be evaluated by what they do now.
“You never know what’s going to happen, but the only thing people are going to remember you by is what you did over the last four games,” Shannon said. “You tell the staff, ‘Hey, we’ve got four games left. Everybody in the country is going to be looking at what we are as a staff. We win these four games, there’s going to be a lot of guys in this room that get jobs.'”
McElwain left after three straight defeats, the last of those a 42-7 debacle last weekend against Georgia — the No. 2 team in the AP Top 25 and the No. 1 team in the initial College Football Playoff rankings.
Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin, who put Shannon in the interim role, said the McElwain decision was based on “more than just wins and losses.” Florida’s offense sputtered under McElwain, and the school was not pleased with the way the now-former coach handled things when he said players and their families had received death threats.
Shannon wants no part of that drama. He never has. He’s hesitant to talk about himself, doesn’t seek attention, and has rarely discussed his many tales of personal grief brought on largely from a difficult upbringing — he was 3 when his father was murdered, he lost three siblings to deaths related to AIDS and he was the first member of his family to get a college degree.
Overcoming things like that gives him perspective.
That’s why things like an uncertain future get him excited.
“It’s part of the business,” Shannon said. “You accept it and you move forward. We get in the business because we want to coach, because we want to be in young men’s lives. And when you get fired, you’re truly a coach. Then you move on, and do whatever’s next with the best of your ability.”