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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."