Coker ponders coaching future, says Miami will be fine
BOISE, Idaho -- The last time the Miami Hurricanes changed coaches, an untried rookie who was promoted from his spot as a coordinator led the team to an undefeated record and national championship.
Randy Shannon, get ready for some high expectations.
When Shannon -- the team's defensive coordinator on Sunday, its new head coach on Monday -- leads the Hurricanes out of the tunnel at the Orange Bowl next Sept. 1 to begin the 2007 season against Marshall, he could have as many as 19 returning starters running behind him, including standouts at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, defensive end, linebacker and all over the secondary.
And even though he was fired by the school, even Shannon's predecessor will not deny that he truly believes Miami could make a speedy return to national prominence.
"I think very good things are in store for the University of Miami," said Larry Coker, who won all 12 games in his first season as coach of the 'Canes, leading them to the 2001 national championship, and finished his six years at the school with a 60-15 record.
The potential Coker spoke of was on full display Sunday night, as a number of underclassmen came through in his final game at Miami and helped the Hurricanes edge Nevada 21-20 in the MPC Computers Bowl, ensuring that Miami would post its ninth consecutive winning season -- albeit at only 7-6.
"Whether it was by one point or 100 points, a win was very crucial," graduating senior offensive lineman Anthony Wollschlager said. "But honestly, I saw this more as an ending point for coach Coker, rather than a springboard for next year. There's not going to be any looking back for the guys on that team."
Kirby Freeman, who'll likely enter the spring competing again with injured Kyle Wright for the starting job, threw for 272 yards. Freshman Chavez Grant made a diving interception with 18 seconds left to seal the win. Sophomore Calais Campbell was dominant at defensive end. Wide receiver Sam Shields and running back Javarris James, both freshmen, came through with big plays.
All along, Coker has insisted that Miami's future is bright.
Shannon can only hope that he's right.
"I'm really excited for our future," Coker said, still using "our" even though his time at Miami was over.
Whatever awaits Shannon and the 'Canes in 2007, it likely will not compare to what the program endured this season.
Between the shooting death of defensive lineman Bryan Pata, the speculation about Coker and his eventual firing; suspensions early in the year for seniors Ryan Moore and Tyrone Moss, a shooting that injured safety Willie Cooper over the summer, and the brawl at the Orange Bowl during the third quarter of the Hurricanes' first matchup with county rival Florida International, this was an extremely difficult year for the program.
Add the six losses into that mix, and it only becomes that much worse.
Yet, facing a very real possibility of finishing with a losing record, the Hurricanes somehow found a way to forget the subfreezing temperatures of Boise on Sunday night, dig deep and stave off Nevada's upset bid.
"That's what makes a great team," Freeman said. "We've had our ups and downs this season, obviously, but I can promise you this: We've grown up a lot. We played with a tremendous amount of heart and passion and sometimes that's more important to walk away with than ACC championships and whatnot. I promise you that."
Shannon has shunned the spotlight since being hired, deferring to Coker and making sure nothing seemed different for his final game. But he'll likely move quickly to start building a staff; many around the program expect defensive backs coach Tim Walton to replace Shannon as defensive coordinator, and it's expected that former Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter will become the new offensive coordinator.
And soon, Coker will probably decide where his next stop will be, too.
"I'm not going to retire," Coker said. "There's going to be some special things for me. I'm a young guy in my mind. There's going to be a lot. I don't know what that is yet, but it's out there."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press