In the parking lot at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday, eyes turned toward the sky. A plane flew overhead towing a banner.
According to a witness, the banner inspired quite a few cheers -- and that was before Miami kicked off against South Florida. By the end of a 23-20 overtime loss in front of about 26,000 disillusioned fans, Miami officials had a decision to make.
They made it quickly. Shannon was fired Saturday night. As the banner pointed out, Shannon made no dent in the ACC during his tenure. In fact, his teams were a paltry 16-16 in ACC play.
"Our expectations are to compete for championships and return to the top of the college football world," Miami athletic director Kirby Hocutt said in the statement that announced Shannon's dismissal.
Watching Miami warm up last week for its game against Virginia Tech, the volume of pure athleticism on the roster was shocking. I don't refer to recruiting rankings. This is about sheer talent. Put Miami's players in generic uniforms next to the players from Auburn, LSU or Oklahoma, and you wouldn't know who played for which team. Yet in Shannon's fourth season at the helm, the Hurricanes have yet to win even the ACC Coastal division.
It's a shame, because Shannon has done everything right but win. His players graduate. They behave. They represent the school perfectly everywhere except on the field. Saturday's loss to USF was a prime example. Most of the Bulls chose USF because Miami, Florida and Florida State didn't recruit them. There is no reason players Miami coaches deemed inferior to their own should be able to come to Dade County and beat the Hurricanes.
The bottom line is this: Shannon produced a seven-win season with an 11-win roster, and The U can do better.
A smart up-and-comer would walk across broken glass to get the Miami job. It won't pay as much as other marquee jobs, and while the Hurricanes have earmarked money to improve their facilities, they still don't have the palaces other major programs do. What they do have is a roster that can win the ACC next year and compete for national titles quickly. Even more important is a fertile recruiting ground loaded with exceptional athletes who aren't so young that they don't remember when national champions emerged from the smoke at the Orange Bowl.
Or maybe Miami doesn't have to limit itself only to rising stars.
Mike Leach is jobless in Key West, but Leach interviewed for the Miami job when Shannon got it. Plus, Leach's Air Raid offense is excellent for programs that don't have the talent to run a pro-style offense. Miami doesn't have that problem.
Which brings us to Miami alum Mark Richt. Richt, a pro-style guru, makes more at Georgia than Miami could ever hope to pay, but Miami could offer a fresh start for a coach who never has satisfied Bulldogs fans -- even with six double-digit win seasons in 10 years.
Mississippi State's Dan Mullen is another possibility. Mullen might also convince Bulldogs' defensive coordinator Manny Diaz -- the son of Miami's former mayor -- to come along to Coral Gables provided Diaz isn't Mullen's heir apparent at Mississippi State. Mullen may prefer having an SEC job, but Mississippi State will always chase Alabama, Auburn and LSU for players in the SEC west. Win at Miami, and the athletes will beat a path to your door.
Another name to consider is Louisville's Charlie Strong. Strong has only coached the Cardinals for a season, but he took them from 4-8 to a bowl eligible 6-6, and they were competitive in every game except a 20-3 loss to Pittsburgh. That may not sound impressive, but Strong inherited a depleted roster. Plus, his name has instant credibility in the Sunshine State because of his work as Florida's defensive coordinator. He also probably would bring defensive coordinator Vance Bedford -- a well-connected recruiter in South Florida -- and assistant Clint Hurtt, a Miami alum who served as the Hurricanes' recruiting coordinator from 2007-09.
Let's also not forget Tommy Tuberville, who served as an assistant on the Miami staffs of Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson. Tuberville may have missed his window, though. His Auburn staff got lazy on the recruiting trail and he was forced out the door. In one season at Texas Tech, Tuberville went 7-5 with an impressive win against Missouri and not-very-impressive losses to lowly-this-year Texas and Iowa State.
The name that also keeps popping up is Jon Gruden, but that sounds like a combination of agent chatter and wishful thinking. Still, some surprising names could pop up in this search because coaches are always intrigued by fertile recruiting areas. Well, they don't get much more fertile than the area surrounding Miami. If you began at the northern border of Palm Beach County and drew a line across the state, the area below the line produced 470 AQ-conference signees from 2004-09. Each school can sign just 25 players a year, and the area produced more than 18 signing classes worth of AQ-conference players in six years. Miami should have its pick of those players.
Shannon had ample opportunity to return Miami to prominence, but he didn't get the job done. It's time to give someone else a chance. If Miami officials choose wisely, the Hurricanes could return to national relevance in a hurry.