The game ball Randy Shannon received in the locker room after Florida’s victory over UAB on Saturday was the players’ version of a thank you card.
Thank you for being there, for holding things together in this difficult time, for caring and keeping the focus on football, for giving direction and never letting anyone hang their head.
“Man, it meant a lot to us,” sophomore linebacker and new team leader David Reese said. “I was just happy for him. Just to know what he did. I feel that speaks for his character, how he came back, knew the situation and just tried to lead us to the right direction.”
Just four weeks ago, this was a troubled Florida football team that very easily could have splintered and spiraled off in all kinds of different directions.
There were the player suspensions, all the injuries, the tough losses and then the unexpected body blow the day after the loss to Georgia — the stunning news that their coach, Jim McElwain, and UF had parted ways.
It was a time where chaos could have taken over.
But Shannon, the interim head coach, and the rest of the coaching staff didn’t let it happen.
“They’re just great dudes, man,” junior defensive tackle Taven Bryan said after Saturday’s win. “The players love them. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like them. They come in, they do things in a timely manner, and they do things that the team loves. They’re great dudes, they keep us afloat.
“With them, I’m expecting honestly that we’re going to win the next game very solidly. We’ve just been taking steps and getting better and better. Next week we should have a good solid week and play way better than we did this week.”
Shannon took over the team the same day McElwain lost his job. Only five days later, the Gators had to travel to Missouri to face one of the hottest teams in the SEC, especially on offense.
Almost predictably, the Gators came out flat and were blown out 45-16.
But Shannon and his staff kept coaching, stressing preparation and focus and then going out and having fun on Saturday.
A week later, it became obvious the Shannon approach was sinking in, and that no one was giving up. After a bad start, the Gators rallied in the fourth quarter before coming up a score short in a 28-20 loss at South Carolina in a competitive game.
Then, last Saturday, the fun finally returned for Florida football with the 36-7 win over UAB.
“He’s been great,” sophomore wide receiver Josh Hammond said of Shannon. “Coming in as the interim coach, he’s been very helpful, very truthful, very real with us and just giving us a lot of food for thought. A lot of guys think a lot of different things about life, not even football so I think he’s done a great job coming in and helping guys understand about life and not just football.
“We’re playing with togetherness, playing with being grateful for things. We’re playing with toughness, guys just being accountable — some things he felt were lacking in the past that we can improve on and help us in the future.”
Speaking of the future, the players say they would love to have Shannon be a part of it at Florida. They’re hoping Shannon is retained in some capacity by the new head coach, whoever it turns out to be.
Senior cornerback Duke Dawson said it would be a unanimous yes if the players were asked if Shannon should be retained.
“It would be 100 percent, man,” Dawson said. “That’s what I think. Everybody loves that guy. He has nothing but love for each and every one of us. The respect that we have for him and the respect that he has for us, it’s unbelievable.”
Shannon took over at a time when things could have grown worse, much worse, for this team. Instead, it’s gone in the opposite direction, the players say.
“I feel like things have gotten better,” Dawson said. “I wouldn’t say anything (negative) toward Coach Mac, but you just see a lot of things changing. It’s great to see.”
Reese said the influence Shannon and his staff have had on the Gators goes beyond football and wins and losses.
“It’s bigger than football with them,” he said. “They’ve helped us grow as people. Through this adverse time they know that we’re probably going to go through some stuff later on through life. What is your reason? What do you want to be remembered by? Those type of things will stick with you for a long time.”
Since taking over, Shannon has had a rather simple message for the players, and it apparently has gotten through to them.
“Coach Shannon always says don’t get bored with success, and that’s real,” Reese said. “And he actually lives by that. So when we’re winning, don’t get bored by it. Don’t go off track, just stay on track and do what we’ve got to do to win. We’ve all got a common goal, so let’s try to achieve that. That’s the main message.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or email@example.com. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.
If we can’t get a good HBC, he should be asked to stay with better assistants especially on offense and special teams. He sounds like a true leader and with changes he might have been restrained by Mac.
Good thought there Vulcan…..no doubt he’s a good man and I always thought he did a good job c Miami especially at a time when everything was falling apart down there program-wise. Doesn’t sound like he wants it though (although I’m beginning to think the same of C. Kelly as well). Dunno, I wouldn’t be opposed to it, believed the same about Ogeron at LSU and he’s doing fine.
I agree. I think he’s done a great job of keeping all of the working parts in place (recruiting, coaching, etc). Seems like the guys have bought into his philosophy and it seems like he’s invested in them as men, not just as players. Would like to see him retained in some capacity that allows him some interaction with the players.
I sure would like him retained too, Gator Al….in some capacity at least. I suppose HBC was out from the beginning, likely he’s considered a failed head coach regardless of the circumstances.
RS high Character but SS wouldn’t survive the hire. Gator Nation needs splash hire
Why do you reckon that, HG2? Animosity between the two that isn’t public? Concur c the splash hire…but I’m beginning to wonder if we’re not going to come up short and holding the bag again.
Why do I have a deep, sick feeling UF is not gonna get the bag of chips or the frosting? UF is moving very slow in this process and we’re about to strike out on two BIG names here.
We have not lost anything yet. The only one that UF can or will contact is Kelly. And now Mora. The other candidates are still coaching until their season ends and can not really be approached about our opening. Sure things can be done through back channels to gauge interest but it would show UF to have no class to openly approach a coach still coaching his team.
Well put BFD.
Having the same gut reaction too, Key. Hoping it’s just the private nature of the way the AD does bidness though. Truth is, none of us know much of anything when you get right down to it, especially from where I sit in the heart of the Big-12. Well, at least we’ve got one SEC team out here, but that doesn’t help much.
I wouldn’t mind seeing what he could do as a HBC, as long as he kept his hands off the defense and brought in another aggressive coordinator instead of his soft zone philosophy. I couldn’t believe my ears when he said he likes to pressure with just the front 4. Wouldn’t it be cool if Strong would come back as DC and maybe associate HC for Shannon? I’m hoping for a bigger name but I’d give Shannon a chance if he cleaned house and brought in all new assistants. I also think we need a new strength coach. We were unstoppable in the 4th quarters of Champ’s first year because our players had Mickey’s strength training combined with the new guy’s olympic lifting, but then they started getting more injuries every year after that. I feel like we’ve never been as big and strong or as durable as other teams since. Clearly we’re missing something in the training aspect.
Man, that would be a dream come true if we could pick coaches like that!
I’m a huge fan of Randy Shannon, maybe not as a HBC, but definitely as a person and a leader of men. Do any of you know his story? He grew up in Liberty City in Miami, the ghetto. At 3 years old, his father was murdered. His older twin brothers, who became addicted to crack cocaine when Shannon was 10, both died of AIDS, as did his older sister. And yet…he excelled in both football and basketball. Won a national title with Miami in 87 as a linebacker and another in 2001 as Miami’s Defensive coordinator. The guy knows winning and he also knows the other dark side of life. The players see this when they talk to him, he is as real as it gets. I loved when Florida hired him and am proud to have him as a part of the Gatornation. Go Gators!