GAINESVILLE, Fla. — When Florida coach Jim McElwain said Tuesday that he’s “got some things already in the works” in regard to choosing a new defensive coordinator, he didn’t offer any further details.
But one of those things should have been a conversation with linebackers coach and co-coordinator Randy Shannon that started something like this:
“Randy, do you want to be the new defensive coordinator?”
Is it that simple? Maybe not. McElwain may have some other names on his list, ideas for potential hires he’s filed away for this exact scenario.
That’s how he identified Collins for the post when he took over at Florida, for that matter. McElwain commented in October that Collins had made an impression on him well before he got the Gators job and he had thus known that when the opportunity arose, he would check on Collins’ availability.
It worked out well for both parties. The Gators got two seasons ranking as a top-10 defense nationally and Collins now has his first head coaching opportunity with Temple.
So, sure, McElwain should do his due diligence, check in on any promising candidates he likes, but in the end there’s a good chance the best fit for the job is right down the hall.
And there’s also a good chance that McElwain already feels the same way. When asked Tuesday if Shannon was a candidate for the position, he said, “Absolutely.”
Shannon has been overqualified as the Gators’ linebackers coach, even while also carrying the additional titles of co-coordinator and associate head coach. In fact, those extra titles might well have reflected McElwain’s foresight for a succession plan if and when Collins left.
Shannon was a highly successful defensive coordinator at Miami from 2001-06 before becoming the head coach for the Hurricanes from 2007-11.
In terms of yards allowed and points allowed, his Miami defenses ranked as follows during his stint as coordinator: 2001 (6th/1st), 2002 (7th/22nd), 2003 (2nd/4th), 2004 (28th/13th), 2005 (4th/4th) and 2006 (7th/13th). That’s a tremendous track record.
At Florida, his work with the linebackers speaks for itself. Despite losing veteran starters Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone for significant stretches this season, Shannon had freshman David Reese and redshirt freshman Kylan Johnson ready to step in and perform at a high level.
He also got those players to Gainesville in the first place.
While not 5-star recruits, Shannon’s work as a talent evaluator is exemplified in the players he’s brought in at that position.
Reese, a 3-star recruit from Farmington, Mich., who was initially committed to Louisville and then Michigan, eventually found his way to Florida despite strong pushes from Nebraska and Texas. After emerging over the second half of this season, he now projects as a key cog in the middle of the Gators’ defense for seasons to come.
Johnson was a 3-star recruit from Dallas who didn’t have a defined college position coming out of high school, but Shannon saw early on his potential at linebacker and managed to flip him off an earlier commitment to Kansas State. He too now projects as a central piece for the Gators next fall.
And true freshman Vosean Joseph, a 3-star recruit from Shannon’s hometown of Miami, who delivered one of the more memorable hits of the Gators’ 2016 season while leveling LSU quarterback Danny Etling at the 1, maintained his Florida commitment despite a strong push from Alabama.
Shannon has already been valuable for the Gators during his two seasons in Gainesville and could be even more so with a return to the defensive coordinator role. Assuming he wants it, which seems likely given his stated desire to become a head coach again at some point.
Surely that conversation took place in some form or fashion as soon as the Collins-to-Temple rumblings reached McElwain’s attention, or even earlier.
It makes plenty of sense for the aforementioned reasons.
But here’s another way of looking at it.
For fans who critique and scrutinize the Gators’ recruiting efforts and bemoan the lack of 5-star commits — even when the 3-star guys like Reese, Johnson and Joseph show nice promise — elevating Shannon to the more intensive defensive coordinator role also allows Florida to target another dynamic recruiter for the linebackers job.
And for what it’s worth, it sounds like the players would be behind the move as well.
Coach Shannon as DC ??
— V.Joseph (@gloryboy_Sean) December 13, 2016
I like it‼️? https://t.co/D3hpDVx4dn
— CJ McWilliams (@_12era) December 13, 2016
Despite what fans may think at times, especially when it comes to the other side of the ball, McElwain knows what he’s doing. He did well with the Collins hire.
And finding his next defensive coordinator could prove even easier.