"Nobody ever knew about my life. I just didn't tell them. The less they know, the better off you are. I'm a loner, and I've been successful being a loner. People will interfere in your life if you let them. I confuse people. It's an advantage when people can't figure you out. A lot of people think I'm cold. I care. I just don't show it. I knew that if I got too involved with my siblings' problems, I could fall apart too. People have to live with the decisions they made. Sports saved my life. It was the only light.
"I don't get mad at myself. I don't beat myself up. I don't feel remorse or regret. Death is death. It's normal where I come from. Nothing fazes me anymore. I saw it all as a kid. But I don't use the past to motivate me. I just move on. I just think of something I've got to do. I just want to sleep good at night. I tell players, 'Don't tell me, I can't. I hate that. Don't tell me, I'm tired. Everyone's tired. Everything has to be done right. There are no little things. Little things add up to one big pile of crap. Do what you got to do to sleep right.'"
His message simplified a world that bewildered many of his players. His words were authentic, and players such as Clint Hurtt—who heard them as a Hurricanes defensive lineman and now as an assistant coach—sensed it. "It's just a different deal, growing up as an African-American male," Hurtt says. "The only one who can really teach you what you need to know is an African-American male, but you don't get a chance to hear life experiences from older black men. They get closed off and don't communicate. Randy doesn't go into many details about himself with his players, but he doesn't have to. He gets it across. The relationship is deeper, and the passion's different, playing for someone who's been through the same fire that we have."
Paul Dee watched Randy depart from the interview. Never had he heard the tunnel from boyhood to manhood charted so narrowly or efficiently. Rarely had he seen a candidate so well prepared. But, damn, could he fill a position of such prominence with a man from that past? A player might arise from such turmoil—he could bottle it and use it as fuel to explode on a field. But a big-time head coach, who had to be a corporate executive officer, a tactician and a recruiter, an alumni-massager, a marketer and media manipulator? Could Dee give the job to an assistant of the head coach he'd just axed, when such chaff usually got flung to the wind with the wheat and when some might ask, Where was Randy Shannon last season when those 13 Miami players—six of them defensive players—were swinging helmets and fists and kicking during the melee with Florida International?
Well, he was 100 feet above ground zero, in the defensive coaches' booth, and wasn't allowed to partake in the disciplinary decisions that ended up on the desk of university president Donna Shalala and resulted—to howls from all across the culture—in only one-game suspensions for virtually all the Hurricanes involved. "I wanted to come downstairs from the booth and start telling the guys involved, 'You're done, you're done, you're gone,'" Randy says. "But I couldn't."
Jimmy Johnson began pounding the drum behind the scenes, insisting that no coach in the country, not Schiano or Spurrier, was better suited to Miami than Shannon. Shalala, an underdog's best friend, and Dee agreed. But the trustees—the bankers and land developers and big donors for whom campus buildings were named—would they go for this?
Randy stepped before them, began to introduce himself ... and halted. A trustee's cellphone was ringing. "O.K., whose is it?" he demanded. "Give me your cellphones. That's one thing we won't have."
The room fell silent. Holy cow, the coaching candidate was dressing down Miami's movers and shakers as if they were 18-year-old bench warmers.
Then Randy realized where he was, smiled, and the trustees relaxed. But they loved what they'd just glimpsed. They yearned to root for good, disciplined kids on autumn Saturdays. One awed trustee approached Shalala after the meeting. "Is there any other job Randy would like to have?" he asked.