Jim Harris: Sun Shines on Razorbacks, Thanks to Randy Shannon


Randy shannon razorback practice

When defensive line coach Charlie Partridge departed the Arkansas football coaching staff for the head coaching position at Florida Atlantic University, it was a jolt to the Razorbacks’ recruiting efforts in the state of Florida. When defensive coordinator Chris Ash jumped ship to share a similar position at Ohio State a few weeks back, it likely left questions in the minds of high school prospects about the Hogs’ future defenses.

It appears, however, that UA linebackers coach Randy Shannon has come to the rescue and then some. Just the name “Randy Shannon” makes Florida high school stars perk up. The onetime Broyles Award winner as Miami’s defensive coordinator and later the head coach at “the U,” Shannon carries a lot of weight with high school coaches all over Florida, and that reputation stretches along the Gulf Coast too.

It’s one reason nearly everyone expects Shannon to have a new title — defensive coordinator, perhaps, or assistant head coach? — at Arkansas in the coming days. It’s become well-documented that Shannon had an agreement with Miami upon his departure from the Hurricanes in 2011 that he couldn’t have a job above regular assistant coach level and still get the full amount of his settlement with Miami administrators. That deal they struck reportedly expires today (Jan. 31, 2014).

Shannon’s been recruiting like he has a defense to run now. It’s a defense that needs his full attention, as well as a serious influx of talent.

No defensive recruit, if they’ve even been told this by the UA staff, has managed to leak to the Arkansas media that Shannon will be their coordinator, but there seems to be a lot of interest from big-time players to indicate something good is up for the laid-back linebackers coach.

No one has ever said before now, though, that Shannon couldn’t be a defensive coordinator before Jan. 31, 2014. He’s been rumored to be in line for just about every defensive coordinator opening the past two years, including in 2011 when Bobby Petrino parted with Willy Robinson after four seasons following LSU’s 41-17 romp over the Hogs in Baton Rouge. Message boards and other rumor mills had reports of Shannon being seen in Fayetteville walking around the square by himself while Petrino was trying to fill the position.

Last February, having actually become a Razorback coach by joining Bret Bielema’s, he laughed about those rumors and other speculation about jobs for which he was mentioned, and he said he never discussed the coordinator’s job with Petrino, nor had he been in Fayetteville or dined at Powerhouse Seafood with Jon Gruden, Butch Davis and John Tyson.

Nevertheless, the same rumor factories this December had Shannon headed to Oregon, and later atop Petrino’s list for defensive coordinator after Petrino was hired at Louisville, but that job eventually went to Georgia’s Todd Grantham ($1 million for 5 years GUARANTEED, to boot). Whether there really were offers to move, Shannon stayed put with Bielema while Partridge got a well-deserved promotion as a head coach and Ash bailed to work in more familiar territory of the Midwest.

The Florida pipeline didn’t dry up with Partridge’s departure. Instead, Shannon’s name associated with a slew of talented athletes, several who visited Fayetteville in the past three weeks. Four Floridians are currently on the commitment list:

  • cornerback Cornelius Floyd from Miami, Fla., a real “football player,” as we’d term him, based on his recruiting film.;
  • linebacker Randy Ramsey, long arms and lean, just waiting to be transformed in the weight room to become a typical Miami type defender;
  • Anthony Brown, a raw project of a lineman, bigger by far than anybody on the field in his high school league, but with the speed to run down a running back with a 25-yard head start;
  • and Kendrick Edwards, tall with great hands for a receiver, who turned down Petrino’s overtures to attend Louisville.

The Hogs still have a chance at difference-making cornerback Lamont Simmons out of Florida, who may be headed to Southern Cal. No one can seem to figure out what defensive end Demetrius Jackson has up his sleeve; he appears to be Miami-bound but Arkansas doesn’t seem to think it’s out of it. Shannon spotted Jackson last summer, before anyone had known about him, but reportedly the Hog brass wasn’t ready to give him a committable offer at the time, and then — in recruiting terms — Jackson “blew up.”

Partridge and Shannon last year brought in four Floridians, including freshman stars Alex Collins and Denver Kirkland. Arkansas will have signed eight from the Sunshine State in two years, or more than they signed in the previous decade before Bielema arrived.

Plus, 4-star linebacker Kenny Young from talent-rich John Curtis High outside New Orleans recently cited Shannon as his main interest in the Razorbacks. Young may end up at UCLA, LSU or Texas A&M, but he’s given the Hogs a look.

So has 4-star defensive end Solomon Thomas from Coppell, Texas, who must like the direction the UA defense is headed as he’s choosing between Arkansas and Stanford next week.

With the recruiting work of offensive line coach Sam Pittman for the second year in a row, and Shannon’s effect in Florida and his reputation as a coach causing interest from other prospects, Arkansas has a chance to finish with a decent recruiting class after things looked shaky in the fall, to go along with a season that went in the dumps.

Don’t discount the effects a 3-9 regular season record and 0-8 SEC season had on recruiting the higher rated prospects. It gave foes plenty of negative-recruiting ammo. Also, the typical “fan” line about recruiting after a year like that is “these players ought to see they can play immediately here.” Truth is, the majority want to play for a proven winner. That’s why it’s not so surprising to see Alabama stockpile top 5 classes on top of each other, or why Springdale’s Josh Frazier, bound for ’Bama, tweeted recently that “the time wasn’t right” to choose Arkansas.

Luckily for the Razorbacks, they have coaches like Pittman and Shannon and a head coach like Bielema to make some talented prospects think otherwise, that this is the best time to jump on board the Hog Express. Rest assured Bielema and UA athletic director Jeff Long will do whatever’s necessary to keep both assistants happy and home in Fayetteville.

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