Shannon fired, Hocutt seeks replacement

Courtesy Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Hurricanes need a big splash and a leader who will dramatically change the complexion of the UM football program.

The theme of Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt’s press conference on Sunday was that the Hurricanes need “to be nationally relevant.”

Hocutt is confident that the identity of the football program can change rapidly.

“There are brighter days ahead and the U will be back where it belongs at the pinnacle of the college football world,” Hocutt said.

Randy Shannon shined as a terrific linebacker, a great defensive coordinator and an outstanding recruiter, but after four years as head coach, Hocutt felt a new leader was needed.

“[The USF] outcome did not determine this decision,” Hocutt said. “It was not made on 60 minutes. It was made with the total body of work in mind.”

Shannon’s well-known relaxed demeanor proved ineffective at maximizing the talent of his players. His 16-16 record in the Atlantic Coast Conference accurately reflected his mediocre performance.

With the hiring of a new football coach, Hocutt and UM President Donna  E. Shalala know they need an eye popper, a wow-factor, someone who exudes confidence, exhibits passion and oozes swagger.

Quarterback is the most important position in football and right now Miami does not have a definitive starter. Miami has two quality quarterbacks in freshman Stephen Morris and junior Jacory Harris.

“It’s going to be competition,” interim head coach Jeff Stoutland said. “I think that we have two really good quarterbacks and I think that they are very bright and I think they know this offense.”
The next coach must be able to handle this dilemma.

Filling the seats at Sun Life Stadium is a must. Miami had just over 25,000 fans at the USF game last Saturday and despite it being Thanksgiving weekend, that was not an acceptable turnout for Hocutt.
“Was I pleased with the crowd at the game? No. These young men deserve better than that and we are going to move forward,” he said.

They should be looking for someone who has tenacity, unbridled enthusiasm and a love for winning.

Hocutt stressed that Miami’s goal is to be relevant again in the college football world.

“A winning brand of football,” said Hocutt referring to what the potential candidate must infuse. “We have to be relevant and we have to win… we will not compromise on winning.”

Jon Gruden would fit the bill perfectly and he is reportedly UM’s No. 1 choice. He is a Florida native and a former Super Bowl winning coach.

Gruden is known as a winner. His charm and demeanor should instantly draw the message board posters out of their basements and into the empty orange seats at Sun Life Stadium.

But to lure Gruden’s fiery attitude and infectious personality, Miami will have pay top notch dollars. Gruden currently enjoys a lucrative contract with ESPN where he appears as an analyst on “Monday Night Football.” Gruden also still collects severance pay from his former employer, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which fired him in 2008.

“No [money] will not [be an issue],” Hocutt said. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to get back to the top of the college football world and we’re going to find the best individual in the country to come in and lead this talented group of young men.”

The downside about the man referred to as “Chucky” is that he hasn’t been on the college football landscape since 1991 when he was an assistant with Pittsburgh.

But if Miami genuinely desires national relevance, many believe they will have to go out on a limb and take a chance, be unique and take a risk.

This is Hocutt’s first major public decision since becoming athletic director in June 2008.

If Miami wants to go down other avenues, it could pursue a candidate with NCAA head coaching experience. Names like Jim Leavitt who is formerly USF’s head coach, Dan Mullen who is currently Mississippi State’s head coach, Stanford’s head coach Jim Harbaugh and Arizona’s signal caller Mike Stoops come to mind.

UM could go down the path about hiring an alumnus again. Options include Georgia’s Mark Richt and FIU’s Mario Cristobal.

There are several choices, but Gruden seems to have grabbed everyone’s attention. He could be the one to rejuvenate a fan base, and he could invigorate the plethora of talented student athletes.

Gruden proved he can maximize talent when he won a Super Bowl with Brad Johnson as his quarterback, the Brad Johnson whose career passer rating is only a shade above 80. For 133 straight weeks, at least one former Hurricane player has scored a touchdown in the NFL.

Miami’s recruiting class in 2008 was ranked No. 1 in the country.

These players have achieved success as high school teenagers and success as NFL professionals, but why isn’t there success when these student-athletes reach the collegiate level?

Most would agree that change is for the best right now and an impact coach is a must.

Justin Antweil may be contacted at