Mark Thompson knows that it’s inevitable.
He hears all the gossip. He sees all the reports.
Sometime over the next month, a new head coach will be hired by UF athletic director Scott Stricklin, most likely resulting in the departure of Randy Shannon and the rest of Florida’s football staff.
It’s a harsh reality, one that Thompson — a redshirt senior running back — has come to accept.
But with just two games left before his college career comes to a close, Thompson isn’t holding back from expressing his opinion.
“I really wish they would just stop looking and give (Shannon) the head coaching job,” he said. “He’s a great coach. He knows what he’s doing.”
Shannon, promoted from defensive coordinator to interim head coach on Oct. 29 in the wake of Jim McElwain’s firing, has quickly earned the support of his team in the two and a half weeks he’s served as its leader.
While the Gators have gone 0-2 over that stretch, players have been publicly advocating for Shannon to keep his job.
“He got put in a tough spot,” Thompson said. “For people to not be supporting him and… think that he’s doing a bad job, that’s not it.”
Florida (3-6, 3-5 SEC) has been debilitated by injuries and suspensions all season long. When Shannon was promoted, UF had fewer than 55 scholarship athletes available on its roster, down from the more than 80 who began the fall.
When combining that with an offense that failed to develop under McElwain — currently ranked 13th in the SEC averaging 20.6 points per game — players are quick to admit Shannon inherited a difficult situation.
According to junior defensive lineman Taven Bryan, however, the 51-year-old coach is helping it improve.
“We’ve been clearing things up,” Bryan said. “A lot of things have been wrong, but we have… coach Shannon fixing all that.
“It just doesn’t come overnight,” he added, “coming from zero to hero.”
One aspect of the team players say has gotten better under Shannon is its attitude. Thompson said that he and his teammates feel looser in practice, while redshirt senior linebacker Cristian Garcia said morale has been on an upswing.
“Vibe is pretty upbeat” Garcia said. “There’s a lot of juice out there. Coach Shannon has done a lot of things to bring the juice.”
While helping its players regain their confidence is a step in the right direction for the Gators staff, the reality of its future remains unchanged.
More likely than not, after Florida’s final two games of the season — a pair of home matchups against UAB and Florida State — Shannon and some, if not all, of his assistants will never coach again as members of UF’s football program, something that players like Garcia are still trying to wrap their heads around.
“We’re so close to these coaches, these guys are like father figures to us,” Garcia said. “That’s really the toughest part.”
You can follow Dylan Dixon on Twitter @dylanrdixon, and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.