Shannon’s official bio reads that
his coaching career began in 1991, when he was a graduate assistant
at the University of Miami under then-coach Dennis Erickson.
But talk to any of his former teammates, and they’ll
tell you that Shannon was a coaching prodigy before he even
reached his teens.
Blanton Harris, who played
with Shannon on a Scott Lake Optimist youth football squad,
recalls Shannon explaining
his teammates when he was as young as 12. And Melvin Bratton,
B.B.A. ’88, a former UM teammate of Shannon’s,
likened him to a “coach on the field” for his
uncanny ability to make defensive adjustments on his own.
Now Shannon, B.G.S. ’89, has entered the biggest coaching
chapter of his young 41 years—head coach of his alma
mater, a legendary program that, since 1983, has won more national
championships (five), a higher percentage of its games, and
produced more first-round NFL draft picks than any other Division
“This is my dream job—always has been,” Shannon
Indeed, Shannon has been a Miami Hurricane his
entire life. He applied himself in the classroom just as diligently
did on the football field, taking several sociology, behavioral
science, and education courses that taught him about the
intricacies of the brain and the human learning process—lessons he
would sometimes apply during game-day situations. As a player,
Shannon was a four-year letterman at linebacker and the starter
on the 1987 national championship team. During a nationally
televised game in the Orange Bowl against the University of
Florida on September 5, 1987, he ran back an interception for
a 41-yard touchdown in his team’s 31-4 romp over the
Gators. A year later as a senior, he received the Christopher
Plumer Award for most inspirational player.
“Once you’re a part of the University of Miami,
always bleed orange and green. You never forget those experiences
as a player or coach because they’ll always be a part
of your life,” Shannon says.
Shannon calls UM the “cradle of coaches,” noting
many who learned their craft here—from Ron Meeks, defensive
coordinator of the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts
who was the secondary coach at UM from 1986 to 1987, to Dave
head coach of the University of Pittsburgh Panthers who was
defensive coordinator at UM under Jimmy Johnson.
An 11th-round draft choice of the Dallas Cowboys
in 1989, Shannon became the first rookie since 1963 to start
at outside linebacker
for Dallas. He played for the Cowboys for two seasons before
going into coaching. He was a graduate assistant in 1991
when the Hurricanes won their fourth national championship.
he became a full-time assistant coach, working with the defensive
line, and from 1993 to 1997 he coached the team’s linebackers.
He was a defensive assistant with the Miami Dolphins in 1998
and 1999 before assuming the role of linebackers coach in 2000.
Shannon returned to Miami in 2001 as defensive
coordinator, and since then his defenses have been among the
in the nation. During his tenure as defensive coordinator,
the Hurricanes had seven All-America defensive players. Many
of the players he recruited and coached at the University
of Miami have gone on to star in the NFL, from All-Pro safeties
Ed Reed, B.L.A. ’02, and Sean Taylor of the Baltimore
Ravens and Washington Redskins, respectively, to nose tackle
Vince Wilfork of the New England Patriots. But Shannon is most
proud of his former players for more than athletics.
“I’m excited for them because they’ve earned
their college degrees,” Shannon says, noting former players
such as Cortez Kennedy, B.L.A. ’06, and Duane Starks,
B.L.A. ’05, who have come back to UM to complete their
academic studies. “Football is your life when you’re
playing, but when it’s over and you sit down and realize
that there are no more cheers from the crowds, you realize
how special academics really is.”
UM, Shannon says, “is not a football factory. We’re
an academic institution that does a tremendous job in educating
student-athletes and preparing them for life after sports.” Eight
members of the 2006 Miami Hurricanes football team, for example,
were named to the Atlantic Coast Conference Academic Football
Team, the highest in the conference.
Discipline is also a priority for Shannon. During
his hiring process, he surprised many by submitting a list
of team rules
by which his players must abide, in addition to the standard
UM student regulations. At his hiring press conference, President
Donna E. Shalala called him “tough, disciplined, smart,
caring, passionate, enthusiastic, and no-nonsense.”
Shannon also is not one to back away from a
challenge. He saw three siblings lose their battles with cocaine
die from the complications of AIDS. His father was murdered
in Miami’s Liberty City when he was 3. When he was named
the University’s head football coach in December, he
faced two of the biggest challenges of his career: assemble
a coaching staff and lure top recruits with less than two months
left before National Signing Day. Shannon, a man known for
his quiet yet strong demeanor, hired a new staff within weeks
and signed a top-20 recruiting class despite the coaching change.
Shannon is the first black head football coach
in UM history and currently one of only six in NCAA Division
I. But he downplays
any mention of breaking barriers. “I’m a ball coach.
That’s the No. 1 thing.”
Robert C. Jones Jr. is an editor at the University