First-year coach Shannon gets tough at Miami

Updated: March 6, 2007, 10:17 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Randy Shannon got on the ground on a sunny, breezy Tuesday afternoon, barking out instructions while showing a group of offensive linemen the correct way to corral a loose ball.

"Do it right, or you run," Shannon warned 340-pound tackle Chris Barney.

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Spring practice was barely 15 minutes old, and already, Shannon was in the process of reshaping the Miami Hurricanes.

The Hurricanes have a new coach in Shannon and a new attitude: Shape up or ship out.

Miami's new coach has added new rules -- among them, any player caught with a gun is off the team and players must wait two years before moving off-campus, plus maintain a 2.5 grade-point average to stay there. And anyone caught with a gun is not only off the team, but kicked out of school.

He's demanding accountability on and off the field, all part of the plan to push the Hurricanes back to prominence.

"Zero tolerance," Shannon told reporters Monday, as spring practice started for the Hurricanes. "You get caught with a firearm, you get dismissed from the university."

Shannon is taking over a program that had perhaps its worst-ever season in 2006. The Hurricanes lost senior defender Bryan Pata, who was shot to death outside his apartment. They took part in an ugly brawl with Florida International at the Orange Bowl. And the Hurricanes went 7-6 and 3-5 in the ACC.

"Put it this way, guys fear Shannon," former Miami offensive lineman Alex Pou told the Miami Herald. "Guys are afraid to screw up and mess around because they know there's no second chance with Shannon. He'll bench you and put someone younger in there."

That process truly started on Jan. 1, when Shannon replaced Larry Coker, and Miami's former defensive coordinator said there was no extra feeling of excitement Tuesday running his first real practice as the boss.

"Not at all," Shannon said. "If you're a coach, you can coach. You just mingle and go from side to side, you get into drills, you get involved. You don't sit back and just wait. ... You just bounce around. You see different things. Players have got to understand you're part of them, not separate from them."

So he spent the afternoon scanning the entire field, looking at dozens of returnees and a few newcomers run around in shorts, jerseys and helmets, all under the watchful eye of a coaching staff that was revamped following a 7-6 season.

The big question for Miami entering spring practice -- will either Kirby Freeman or Kyle Wright emerge as the starting quarterback? -- will be unanswered until just before the start of the regular season. Shannon isn't allowing the quarterbacks to answer questions until the fall; they're off-limits this spring.

He's laid down new laws, and his players are clearly taking notice.

"We're not really supposed to be talking about the quarterbacks," running back Javarris James said, sidestepping a question.

So how did the quarterbacks look Tuesday?

"Don't know," Shannon said, smiling.

It's impossible to know if Wright -- the starter until getting injured late last season -- or Freeman, who led Miami to a win in the MPC Computers Bowl against Nevada, is the front-runner entering the spring, because there's no depth chart, either.

Shannon's thinking there is simple: Naming even prospective starters now, more than 5½ months before the regular season opens Sept. 1 against Marshall, would be counterproductive. He's trying to convince every player that every spot on the team -- no exceptions -- is open to competition.

"Team. We need team. The chemistry issue, that's the biggest thing," Shannon said. "We've got to get the chemistry issue down to where we're working together toward common goals, nobody worried about how many interceptions they get or how many sacks or how many touchdown passes. It's team."

Shannon is known as a disciplinarian, especially among the defensive players who were recruited by him and worked closely with him since their arrival on campus.

But now, the rest of the team is figuring out what makes the former Miami standout tick. He's changed the way the locker room is set up, putting offensive and defensive players around each other so they can mingle more and become closer, all with the goal of building that chemistry that he often speaks about.

"Word of mouth, the last couple years, being on offense, we were always like, 'Oh, man, we're glad Coach Shannon's not with us,"' offensive lineman Derrick Morse said. "But he is, and that's exactly what our offense needs now. I think it's going to be great for us."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.