Florida’s likely to make a permanent hire at the end of the season after firing football coach Jim McElwain, but for now, the Gators still have four more games to play in 2017. Randy Shannon, the Gators’ defensive coordinator, will be the man taking charge of the orange and blue for the remainder of the year.
Shannon, 51, has been with the Gators since 2015, when McElwain first came to Gainesville. He’ll be the third interim coach Florida has had in the past 13 years, as Ron Zook and Will Muschamp were both fired during their final season in Florida and replaced by Charlie Strong and D.J. Durkin on an interim basis. Shannon will have the longest interim tenure at Florida since 1989, when Gary Darnell replaced Galen Hall after Hall resigned under pressure from NCAA violations.
Here are five things you need to know about Shannon.
1. He’s the Former Head Coach at Miami
Prior to coming to Gainesville, Shannon had essentially been a lifer with Miami football. He joined the Hurricanes’ program in 1985 out of high school and was a key contributor at linebacker during the Hurricanes’ 1987 national championship season.
When he chose to pursue a coaching career, Miami was a natural fit. He returned to his hometown as a graduate assistant at his alma mater and instantly became part of another national champion, as Miami claimed a share of the title with Washington following a perfect season in 1991.
Other than a three-year stint with the Miami Dolphins, Shannon spent the entirety of his first 15 years of coaching with the Hurricanes, putting him in perfect position to take over when Larry Coker was fired after the 2006 season.
Shannon’s hiring was greeted with enthusiasm from former Miami players, but the results never showed up on the field. In four years, Shannon’s teams only finished above seven wins once, when the Hurricanes went 9-4 in 2009.
He’ll now be the first man to coach both the Hurricanes and the Gators.
2. He Had a Brief NFL Career With Dallas
Even when he went to the NFL, Randy Shannon didn’t shake his ties to Miami. When he was drafted in the 11th round of the 1989 NFL draft, it was by the Dallas Cowboys and Jimmy Johnson, the man who recruited him to play for the Hurricanes out of high school.
Truthfully, Johnson knew that Shannon wasn’t much more than a fringe NFL player in terms of talent. However, he drafted his former linebacker with one goal in mind: teaching his more talented linebackers how to correctly play the position.
Shannon did exactly that during his brief career with the Cowboys and even became the first rookie outside linebacker to start for the Cowboys since 1963 when he started in the Cowboys’ third game of the 1989 season. He ended up with four starts and 17 appearances during his two-year career with the Cowboys, helping lay the groundwork for the Cowboys’ dynasty that began in 1992.
3. He Was Initially Hired as Associate Head Coach
When Shannon came to Gainesville after three years at Arkansas, McElwain said that Shannon was at the top of his list for potential assistants because of his combination of success, experience and integrity.
Shannon initially served as the team’s linebackers’ coach with input on the defensive game plan, but when the Gators blitzed Iowa in the Outback Bowl in January 2017, Shannon was rewarded with the title of defensive coordinator, despite McElwain saying upon his hire that he didn’t believe much in titles.
The three points that the Gators held the Hawkeyes to was a team record for the fewest points allowed in a bowl game. Even after its disastrous defeat to Georgia, Florida is only giving up 26 points a game through seven games, suggesting that the Gators’ problems are not the fault of Shannon and the defense.
4. His Son is a Linebacker at Central Florida
When Randy Shannon Jr. came out of Coral Reef High School, he made one thing clear: he didn’t want any kind of preferential treatment because of his last name.
To that end, the younger Shannon initially cast his attention toward the Northeast when it came to choosing a college, hoping to play football at either Harvard or Yale. However, neither school showed enough interest in Randy Shannon Jr., so he instead opted to walk on at Central Florida, where he is now a redshirt freshman.
The younger Shannon might now play for a different Florida school, but that hasn’t strained the relationship between father and son. In high school, Randy Jr. asked to wear No. 22 as a way to honor his father, who wore No. 22 during his own playing days at Miami.
Randy Jr. is actually the second Shannon to follow the path of playing in college and not playing for his father. His older brother Xavier actually wanted to play for his father at Miami, but his father refused to recruit him because he didn’t want his son to be seen as a benefit of favoritism.
Xavier Shannon ended up at Florida International for most of his career, but in the end, the son got his way over the father. Upon graduating early from FIU, Xavier had a year of eligibility left. With Xavier having proven himself at FIU and eligible to transfer and play immediately, Randy Shannon welcomed his oldest son with open arms.
5. He’s a Team-First, By The Rules Kind of Coach
When Shannon became the coach of the Hurricanes, one of his first actions as the man in charge was to remove last names from Miami’s jerseys. Given Miami’s reputation for being relatively lax with player standards under Butch Davis and Larry Coker, the change was a stark departure for what the school’s football team had previously represented.
Off the field, Shannon was able to produce results almost instantly. Rather than being a group of individual big names that sometimes had issues with its behavior, Shannon got the Hurricanes moving in the right direction in the classroom, requiring a 2.5 GPA from his players if they wanted to see the field.
One reason why Shannon took academics so seriously might have been his own past, both with his family and at Miami. Not only was Shannon the first member of his family to successfully become a college graduate, but his academic focus was on education and social sciences, helping shape him into a coach who would demand results off the field as well as on it.
Inside his family, Shannon had even more reason to keep his players on the right path. At the age of 3, his father was murdered, and he would later lose two brothers and a sister to AIDS and drug issues.