AP Sports Writer
CORAL GABLES — His voice nearly cracking, University of Miami Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt somberly laid out some of the many reasons why Randy Shannon was right for the Hurricanes.
The academic success. Improved recruiting classes. His decades as part of the Miami family.
Then there were 22 reasons that Hocutt couldn’t ignore: the games Miami lost under Shannon. In the end, those carried more weight than anything else.
A coach who left an indelible mark on Miami’s past will not be part of its future and the Hurricanes started the process of moving on Sunday, with former offensive line coach
Jeff Stoutland taking over on an interim basis and players gathering for a tearful meeting.
“Change is difficult and change is hard,” Hocutt said Sunday. “But change, sometimes, it’s necessary. And, this time, this change was necessary”
Hocutt’s firing of Shannon surprised some Miami players. His next move might be even more shocking.
A person with knowledge of Miami’s search told The Associated Press on Sunday night that Jon Gruden received “parameters” of an offer from the Hurricanes. The ESPN analyst and former Tampa Bay and Oakland coach is atop Miami’s wish list, according to the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because university officials did not authorize the release of search details.
Gruden, who signed a lucrative extension with the Buccaneers through the 2011 season and is still collecting an estimated $5 million annually from that deal, issued a statement through ESPN late Sunday, saying, “I am committed to Monday Night Football and to ESPN.” He added that he enjoys being in the booth with Mike Tirico and Ron Jaworski and that he’s “just trying to get better at this job.”
The Miami Herald reported Gruden was cool to the idea of coaching the Hurricanes.
Hocutt fired Shannon on Saturday night, hours after Miami lost to South Florida in its regular-season finale. The Hurricanes fell to 7-5, still have yet to play for an Atlantic Coast Conference title and lured only 26,369 fans, many of them rooting for the visitors, to Sun Life Stadium on Saturday, the smallest home crowd since Larry Coker’s last home game in 2006.
Neither that crowd nor that loss was the final straw. The sum of the parts – no ACC titles and no bowl wins – helped Hocutt make his decision.”It was not made
on 60 minutes of football,”Hocutt said. “It was made with the total body of work in mind.”
Miami moved swiftly, with Hocutt already enlisting the help of Chuck Neinas — a consultant who specializes in finding the coaches for schools — and giving him an initial list of candidates. Hocutt would not divulge who the initial targets are and stressed that Miami will take as much time as it needs to make the right hire.
Speculation has centered on Mike Leach, Mark Richt, Tommy Tuberville and Gruden, each of whom would be a splashy get.
“We need somebody that’s experienced and understands what it takes to win and understands the great tradition around here,” defensive lineman Adewale Ojomo said.
Shannon left with three years remaining on his contract and even until his final day had plenty of support from many top university officials, President Donna Shalala included.
“Better days are ahead. Great days are ahead for this program” Hocutt said.
Shannon went 28-22 in four years. No assistant coaches were fired and Hocutt says all have committed to stay through the Hurricanes’ bowl game, although, with a new regime coming in, their Miami future is shaky at best.
“I’m very disappointed,”quarterback Jacory Harris said.”Coach Shannon is like my father figure.” Players were told formally Sunday morning by Hocutt, although they all learned of the shakeup when the news broke late Saturday night.
The Hurricanes expect to have a bowl destination, possibly the Sun Bowl, by week’s end. “We are in a tough situation,” Stoutland said. “There is no doubt, but that does not change our commitment to the young men on this team. Everyone on this coaching staff remains fully committed to this program and finishing this season the right way.”
Since the start of the 2007 season, 47 teams have more wins than Miami, including four from the state of Florida. The Hurricanes were 16-16 in the ACC under Shannon, the sixth-best mark in the 12-team league. And barring a wild turn of events, Miami will finish out of the Top 25 for the fourth time in five years.
The truest consistency was inconsistency.
Miami’s longest winning streak under Shannon was five games during 2008 and three of those victories came against teams that finished the year with losing records. The Hurricanes went 1-7 away from home against ranked teams since the start of 2007. The only win over a top-10 team was last season, when Miami beat Oklahoma, a game Sam Bradford sat out with a shoulder injury.
“Randy Shannon is and always will be a part of this family and will always be a Miami Hurricane,” Hocutt said. “However, we must move forward at this time.”
Shannon released a statement through the university saying he believes he left the program on better footing than it was when he arrived.
“I am proud of the last four years at the University of Miami and what we have been able to accomplish,” Shannon said. “I have a deep respect and appreciation for the young men who have played here during my tenure.”
Shannon is expected to receive a buyout of about $1.5 million.
The Pioneer Press in Minnesota reported the Vikings were interested in Shannon as their new coach.
Miami is a private school without the deepest of pockets when it comes to paying coaches but it has had a fundraising drive to support athletics for several years. Hocutt said finances would not limit Miami’s search.
Photo: Randy Shannon