GAINESVILLE, Fla. — In 2001, the Miami Hurricanes featured the best collection of college football talent we’ve ever seen.
NFL teams selected 17 players from that squad in the first round of the NFL draft, and 38 total. And they weren’t just good in college, as those 38 players accounted for 43 trips to the Pro Bowl. Amazingly, 20 backups from that team got drafted.
Players like Vince Wilfork, Sean Taylor and Frank Gore couldn’t get on the field. It was truly a marvel of former head coach Butch Davis’ recruiting prowess. But Davis never realized the full potential of his historic haul.
After the 2000 season — and a destruction of Florida in the Sugar Bowl — Davis left to coach the Cleveland Browns. Miami promoted offensive coordinator Larry Coker to head coach. Coker installed Randy Shannon as the defensive coordinator. Shannon had spent the previous three years as an assistant for the Miami Dolphins.
That 2001 team won the BCS Championship, and the 2002 team was a phantom pass interference penalty away from beating Ohio State for back-to-back titles.
Fifteen years later, my memory was that recruiting fell off significantly under Coker and that Davis loaded the 2001 and 2002 teams so much that no coach could screw it up. But that’s not entirely accurate.
The reality is that nobody was going to replicate the collection of talent that Butch Davis collected. Nick Saban is attempting to do so at Alabama right now, but I’m not sure any of Saban’s Alabama teams were this loaded.
But 247Sports’ recruiting rankings date back to 2000. Note that the year listed for these rankings is prior to the actual playing season. Davis’ last class ranked seventh in the country. Under Coker, Miami finished outside the top 10 only once and boasted an average ranking of 6.8.
With Shannon as defensive coordinator, the Hurricanes defense played fairly consistent, ranking — on average — 8.8 in the country in points per game allowed. It was the Miami offense that caused the decline of the Hurricanes. It fell from elite to middle of the pack after QB Ken Dorsey graduated.
The number of Hurricanes reaching the NFL dwindled by 2007 as Davis’ recruits aged out. NFL teams drafted just 13 Miami players from 2007-2010 compared to 31 from 2003-2006. The well ran dry, and Coker and Shannon bore the responsibility.
Shannon replaced Coker, and the Hurricanes’ defense immediately got worse. Miami also recruited worse than it had in more than a decade. Shannon’s defenses ranked 43rd, on average, in points allowed per game during his tenure as head coach. His recruiting classes made the national top 10 just once. And this was with Nevin Shapiro allegedly making it rain with recruits at Miami strip clubs and abortion clinics.
When I heard Florida promoted Shannon to defensive coordinator, I thought there must be another move coming. Shannon did an excellent job in his one-game audition against Iowa in the Outback Bowl. But as everyone reminded fans heading into the game, Iowa’s offense was as bad as Florida’s.
I hate the timing of this decision. If Jim McElwain wasn’t convinced that Shannon was the right man for the job when former defensive coordinator Geoff Collins left before the Outback Bowl, becoming convinced based on a one-game sample size is extremely dangerous. This is doubly true given the Miami history I’ve outlined above.
I don’t think McElwain makes decisions like that.
The Gators may have been holding out for someone they perceived as better but got turned down. This makes sense based on the noise around McElwain being on the hot seat (he shouldn’t be) and McElwain potentially feeling underappreciated and exploring other jobs. Also, the defense is losing a ton of talent to the NFL, and any new coordinator would be compared to this year’s team.
Or McElwain recognized that Shannon needed to be relieved of his recruiting coordinator responsibilities. While all accounts are that Shannon is great at building relationships with recruits, the Gators’ overall recruiting has trended down since McElwain arrived.
Florida has been placing second in a lot of recruiting battles. The Gators are hovering somewhere around No. 20 in the 2017 class recruiting rankings. McElwain is a good coach, but facing Alabama and Nick Saban in back-to-back seasons should have taught him that he can scheme all he wants, but he’s going to lose if he doesn’t have the horses.
This move only makes sense if there’s another move coming. Bringing in someone like Alabama offensive analyst Mike Locksley — as has been rumored — would add an ace recruiter to the staff, and pull one away from the Tide. He’s also recruited at Florida (RBs coach in 2003-04). Recruiting coordinator would be a significant promotion from offensive analyst.
To compete for national championships, Florida needs to recruit better. Shannon took talent that someone else recruited and excelled at Miami. He — and to a similar extent, Geoff Collins — have done the same thing at Florida the previous two seasons. Now that the majority of former head coach Will Muschamp’s recruits are gone, the question is whether the gap in recruiting is going to hamper this program.
Shannon’s history indicates that he is unable to fill that gap. His players didn’t go to the NFL and they didn’t win many games at Miami. So the only way this move makes sense is if someone else is going to be filling Shannon’s defensive cupboard.
We’ll find out Tuesday after the conclusion of Alabama’s season.