SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
12/09/2006 11:15:00 PM
Rising To The Occasion
Troy Smith won the 72nd Heisman by the second-most lopsided vote in the award's history.
Rich Kane/US PRESSWIRE
NEW YORK -- Jim Tressel was checking e-mail on his Blackberry on the ride back to the airport Saturday night when he saw one that moved him to read it to his fellow passengers.
"It was from a foster father in North Dakota whose foster daughter has been having some problems," said the Ohio State coach. "He said he was watching [Saturday night's Heisman presentation] and he could tell what a great influence [I'd had] on Troy.
"It was the icing on the cake on an already special night."
Troy, of course, is Troy Smith, the senior quarterback for Tressel's top-ranked Buckeyes and now officially the 2006 Heisman Trophy winner. Every player who's ever won the Heisman had his own special achievements and took his own unique path, but as anyone who tuned in Saturday night could see, few have led a more inspirational journey than Smith.
Take his own coach. No one in the country plays a better straight-man than Tressel, the buttoned-down, poker-faced guy in the sweater vest, but when Smith turned and hugged his coach shortly after his name was called Saturday night, one could see the hint of tears in Tressel's eyes.
"He stands there in 90 degree weather in a sweater-vest and a tie up to his neck," Smith said Saturday night. "If you can shake and rattle him, you know you've done something."
Tressel wasn't the only person close to Smith to be overcome by emotions. His mother, Tracy, from whom Smith was separated for several years growing up while she struggled to get her life together, let out a yelp and hugged Smith's sister, Brittany. Smith hugged both of them, and then he gave his longest hug of the night to Ted Ginn Sr., the Cleveland Glenville High School coach who became Smith's de facto father figure. Back home in Cleveland, Irvin White, the man who coached Smith's municipal-league pee-wee team and briefly served as his foster dad, was undoubtedly celebrating as well.
While Saturday night was certainly a happy moment for Ohio State fans, Smith's Heisman struck deeper than that. In a touching segment played shortly before his victory, ESPN showed images of the poverty-stricken streets of inner-city Cleveland where Smith was raised. And many of his comments afterward were directed to that community.
Asked by a reporter what he plans to do if the NFL doesn't work out, Smith said, "I'm going to go back to the Cleveland-Glenville area and try to make that place better. My passion for the mean streets of Cleveland runs so deep. I want so badly for there to be change in that community. Who better to start it than a Glenville guy?"
There are no shortage of cynics out there probably rolling their eyes at that quote, who refuse to believe that a guy who got kicked off his high-school basketball team for decking an opponent, and who just two years ago was suspended for allegedly taking benefits from a booster, could really be such a good Samaritan. They will criticize those who hold up Smith as a role model.
It's hard to remain jaded, however, when you see just how many people he's had an impact on. Back in Cleveland right now, there are kids from the worst imaginable neighborhoods, from broken homes and drug-infested families, picking up a football and dreaming of becoming the next Troy Smith. The Heisman now gives his story a tangible symbol.
"[Winning the Heisman] shows that any kid in any situation can do anything he puts his mind to," said Smith.
Smith did not do it alone. He was given a chance -- actually many, many chances -- first by White, then Ginn Sr., then Tressel. Some will argue he shouldn't have gotten that last "second chance," the one after the booster incident, from which he returned to win back the starting job, rack up a 25-2 record and lead his team to the national championship.
Smith acknowledged all those people and more -- even naming each of his starting offensive lineman -- in his Heisman speech Saturday night. It was one of the more touching speeches this ceremony has seen.
It touched a foster dad in North Dakota, for one. Who knows how many others.
Seventeen seasons as an athlete and assistant at Miami has prepared Randy Shannon to lead the Hurricanes as head coach.
Doug Benc/Getty Images
You figured Miami would want to make a splash with the hiring of its next football coach. That it did -- just not the kind most expected.
A school that’s seen the likes of Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Erickson and Butch Davis lead its program was hungry for another big name to come in and right the Hurricanes’ ship. As Miami quickly found out, however, big names aren’t exactly leaping at the chance to take over a chronically underfunded program whose expectations are larger than a lot of their home crowds. Rutgers’ Greg Schiano said no nearly before he was asked. West Virginia’s Rich Rodriguez set his sights on Alabama. Texas Tech’s Mike Leach was interested, but it’s unclear whether Miami was truly interested him.
So with Miami AD Paul Dee’s top national targets seemingly out of reach, he turned to his own backyard. Randy Shannon, defensive coordinator for the 'Canes the past six seasons, has been ready to become a head coach for years, but when the annual coaching carousel heated up each winter, his name rarely surfaced. Perhaps he didn’t campaign hard enough. Perhaps he was a bad interview. Or perhaps, as is still sadly the case, it was the color of his skin.
Whatever the case may be, it’s only fitting Shannon would finally get his break at the school for whom he played linebacker and for whom he has served as an assistant for 13 years. The circumstances under which he takes over, however, are strange to say the least. Normally when a team goes in the tank and the coach is fired, his staff goes too. Maybe one of the coordinators gets a token interview. Maybe the new coach keeps one on when he arrives. But a coordinator taking over full-time for his fired boss? Unheard of.
But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the defense was not Larry Coker’s undoing. Even as Miami slipped to the realms of mediocrity these past few seasons, Shannon kept pumping out some of the nation’s best defenses. This year’s unit ranked fifth nationally in yards allowed, last year’s fourth. While the ‘Canes offense went to shambles (87th out of 119 Division I-A teams this season), the defense continued to play at the same, high level it did when Miami played for consecutive national titles in 2001 and ’02. Its defensive coordinator back then? Also Shannon.
His hiring is already being met with grumbling from ‘Canes faithful who feel the school should have cut all remaining ties to the Coker regime. Some of the subject lines on a Miami message board Thursday night included: “Shannon as HC is a Monumental blunder that could end UM FB,” “The Silver lining in all of this is that Randy will be exposed as the fraud that he is,” “Shannon gets NO grace period” and, of course, “Fire Randy Shannon.”
Miami fans -- love their passion, but could use a little perspective.
There’s obviously no way to know whether Shannon will ultimately work out, but one thing’s for certain: He’s as qualified as anyone in the country for this particular job. Miami is a unique program with a unique history, and Shannon has been a part of it, both as player and coach, through 17 seasons and three of the school’s five national titles. He may have worked under Coker, but believe me, he will bring an entirely different attitude to that program -- intense and aggressive on both sides of the ball.
Where his impact will be felt most of all is in recruiting. It’s no secret young, black athletes gravitate toward black coaches -- look at almost any major staff in the country, and its so-called “ace” recruiter is usually black. Shannon is obviously well-known throughout South Florida, where Miami usually mines the large majority of its players. The key to his success will be assembling a staff that brings similar credibility and keen eye for evaluating talent, an area that went downhill during Coker’s latter years.
Shannon becomes just the sixth black head coach in Division I-A. Between that, his relative youth (40) and lack of experience as a head coach, he already figured to be heavily scrutinized. Add in the fact this is Miami, where the standards for success are higher than anywhere in the country, and the scrutiny is going to be absolutely mind-boggling.
Nobody had a more interesting ballot than Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger.
Denny Medley/US PRESSWIRE
For the second straight year, USA Today released the final regular-season ballots of all 62 coaches (not including Jim Tressel) who vote in its Top 25 poll. And wouldn’t you know it, the people who made the color pie chart famous crafted this nifty online graphic that allows you to scroll over every team and instantly see which coaches deviated most from the masses.
The first thing that stands out: Out of the 18 coaches who voted for their own team, 15 ranked them higher than the general poll did. The biggest deviations: Houston’s Art Briles (19th on his ballot, unranked overall), Rutgers’ Greg Schiano (10th vs. 17th), West Virginia’s Rich Rodriguez (7th vs. 12th), Tennessee’s Phillip Fulmer (13th vs. 18th) and Oregon State’s Mike Riley (20th vs. 25th). Nebraska’s Bill Callahan, who on Monday apologized to Huskers fans for his coaching job in the Big 12 title game, was the lone coach to rank his team lower (23rd) than the masses (22nd).
In terms of the Florida-Michigan debate, both teams received only second- and third-place votes (unlike the Harris Poll, where the Gators received one first-place vote and two fifth-place votes, the Wolverines four fourth-place votes). Not surprisingly, conference loyalty was strong – all SEC coaches on the panel voted Florida No. 2, while four of five Big Ten coaches (again, not including Tressel) tabbed Michigan. The one exception: Former Gators coach Ron Zook, who recruited much of the current Florida team.
Also in Michigan’s corner: Former Lloyd Carr assistant Brady Hoke of Ball State and two coaches whose teams faced the Wolverines -- Charlie Weis (Notre Dame) and Brian Kelly (Central Michigan). Similarly, Florida State’s Bobby Bowden and Southern Miss’ Jeff Bower went with Florida. Interestingly, UCF’s George O’Leary, whose team lost to Florida 42-0 on Sept. 9, voted for Michigan.
Without question, the biggest contrarian in the poll was Florida Atlantic’s Howard Schnellenberger, who is apparently much less impressed with 10-2 LSU (15th) and 11-2 Oklahoma (18th) than most of his peers. He’s higher on Notre Dame (eighth), Rutgers (10th) and Wake Forest (12th).
Wisconsin (11-1), No. 5 in the general poll, fell between fourth and seventh on all but six ballots, but failed the crack the top 10 for either O’Leary or South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier. Both had the Badgers 11th. Following its loss to UCLA, USC remained as high as fourth on seven ballots -- including those of Bobby Bowden and Tyrone Willingham -- while dropping as low as 12th on Joe Tiller’s list.
I could go on and on, but you should really peruse the thing yourself. One last note of interest, though: The highest vote for BYU came from Texas Tech’s Mike Leach (No. 15). This shouldn’t be too surprising -- Leach based his vaunted Air Raid offense on LaVell Edwards’ classic BYU teams and his former assistant, Robert Anae, is the Cougars’ current offensive coordinator.