Miami, Pitt coaches share plenty of common bonds

Randy Shannon learned plenty about coaching from Dave Wannstedt,

which means the two will be at a delicately ironic crossroads this

week.

One of them is about to send the other below .500.

A friendship that dates back more than two decades will get put

on hold for about three hours Thursday night, when Shannon and No.

19 Miami (1-1) visit Wannstedt and former conference rival

Pittsburgh (1-1). Miami has won the last six meetings between the

schools by a combined score of 205-76.

”Randy’s done a great job of getting talent in there, staying

on the kids, graduation is important to him, all the things that

someone from the outside might take for granted,” Wannstedt said.

”He’s doing all those right things.”

Says Shannon, when asked about Wannstedt: ”He’s a good football

coach. He’s in it for the kids. He’s done a great job at

Pitt.”

That’s more than typical coachspeak from the two men.

Wannstedt was one of the first to see Shannon’s potential.

He was Miami’s defensive coordinator under Jimmy Johnson when

Shannon played for the Hurricanes. Wannstedt liked Shannon right

away, yet remembers telling Johnson he didn’t know where to play

him, thinking he was too small to play linebacker and too slow to

play safety. Shannon added some bulk, and Wannstedt turned him

loose as a linebacker.

”Once I was around him and seeing how football-aware he was,

how smart he was, there was no question he was going to help us,”

Wannstedt said.

With Wannstedt calling the defenses, Miami went 34-2. Shannon

was a starter on the 1987 national championship team. And once he

graduated, he and Wannstedt saw their relationship continue

evolving.

”He went to Dallas and I was a player there,” Shannon said.

”Just by me being in Dallas, I learned a lot of football.”

Good thing.

Shannon returned to Miami as a graduate assistant under Dennis

Erickson, then coached the defensive line, then eventually Miami’s

linebackers. Johnson lured him to the Miami Dolphins as an

assistant after the 1997 season, and when Wannstedt became head

coach there, he promoted Shannon again.

”I made him a linebacker coach,” Wannstedt said. ”It was

never even a thought process. Number one, you want to surround

yourself with assistants that you know are going to be loyal, that

understand your philosophy and are going to send the right message

out to the players. And then you want them to be smart enough to

come up with ideas and add to the package. With Randy, it was an

easy one.”

Football is king in South Florida, especially Dolphins football,

though it would seem Miami’s loyalties will be tested now by the

arrival of LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join Dwyane Wade as NBA

title-contenders with the Heat. Nonetheless, passions always have

run deep with the Dolphins’ fan base, and Wannstedt – who went

42-31 as coach in Miami – was often a lightning rod for

criticism.

Shannon didn’t think it was always fair.

”Miami’s a tough place,” Shannon said. ”Miami fans always

want the best, no matter if it’s the Heat, Marlins, hockey,

Hurricanes, it doesn’t make a difference. You just deal with it and

try to do the best you can and accept it.”

Wannstedt hasn’t always had an easy time at Pitt, either.

He lost 19 of his first 34 games at his alma mater, and was on

one of the hottest seats around when second-ranked West Virginia

hosted the Panthers on Dec. 1, 2007.

Pitt pulled off a massive upset, 13-9. And down in Miami, at

least one person was thrilled.

”Since then, his program has skyrocketed,” Shannon said. ”I

think that anybody that has an opportunity to coach football, no

matter pro or college, you always have respect for what they do

because you’re depending on other people to make your job

successful.”

Wannstedt and Shannon have another link: They basically have the

same story.

Both find themselves now coaching in the city they’ve always

called home, at their alma mater, at the place where they could

possibly be happy for the remainder of their careers.

So late Thursday night, after that final horn, both men will be

conflicted. For the winning coach, both men will be happy. For the

losing coach, both men will be anguished.

”It’s not a job for us,” Wannstedt said. ”I can speak

first-hand, and I’m sure he feels the same way. I don’t look at

this as a job. I’m doing this because I care so much about Pitt and

these kids and you want to see them have success and see the

program have success. There’s nobody that’s more qualified to know

the ins and outs of the Pitt football program than I am. And Randy

is the same way.”