By Jason Keidel
» More Columns
It seems team sports need villains, players or teams that evoke love or loathing, inspire you to burn or brandish jerseys and other sacred items that vicariously prove your superiority over your brethren. In the NFL it is the Dallas Cowboys. In baseball it’s the New York Yankees. In college basketball it’s Duke.
In college football it’s the Miami Hurricanes. In 1983, Miami lit a fire of dominance tearing across America for two decades, under several head coaches, with the implicit premise that winning justifies all conduct.
Then, after too many complaints, too much scandal, too much of everything, they hired Randy Shannon to coach the team four years ago. And then they fired him after four seasons with no bowl wins, a .500 record in the ACC, and an unacceptable 7-5 record this season.
He’s from Miami, he played for Miami and, when he came on to coach his alma mater, Randy Shannon became a hopeful symbol, proof that you can rebuild a dynasty with dignity.
Shannon represents the crossroads of conscience that beguiles college athletics. It seems every school must choose between saints and sinners, or find a happy medium with proper stealth. When Miami was at its best (or worst, depending on your view) they were clashing yearly with Notre Dame, contests billed “Catholics versus Convicts.”
The marquee was silly, of course, because it presupposes any school consists entirely of one or the other. We’ve come to learn that it’s nearly impossible to win without both.
Shannon, a gentleman, scrubbed the team squeaky clean. Now it appears he is unemployed for sterilizing it. Miami lost its rap sheet and rap persona, graduated more players, and became an incubator for the ideal of the student athlete. But Shannon could be hailed as a good guy only as long as his team’s record allowed it.
Randy Shannon will be fine. Whether the program he left behind will be fine as well is unknown and not his problem. But it makes the objective follower applaud any coach that wins consistently with any class.
Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, for instance, seems to toe the spiritual line without selling his soul, winning myriad titles without the NCAA siren blaring at his back. Perhaps we presume that Coach K does it the right way because we want to believe it. There are too many animals in the athletic jungle and not enough leashes to assume that any program is pristine. But those of us without the provincial bond of a college degree often look for other reasons to root for a school.
Perhaps the ideal doesn’t exist. Coaches like Randy Shannon, men of principle, are often proof of this, that the beauty and the sorrow of sports is that we keep score, that there are indeed winners and losers, and that those qualities are measured during a three-hour period on a patch of grass on Saturday afternoon, where moral victories are not welcome.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com