About two weeks ago, during Randy Shannon’s first day as interim coach of the Florida Gators, he began to explain how he would — and would not — be approaching the remainder of UF’s season.
“I don’t look at it as an audition,” Shannon said.
He was talking about his future, about the possibility of staying at Florida as a coach in the next regime — either as the man in charge or in an assistant position — or finding a job elsewhere, at a school that will surely judge him on how he handled the situation at UF after it parted ways with Jim McElwain. A school that will judge him on how many games he won as the interim coach, how well Florida played on offense and defense, and whether its players gave up and quit or played hard and with passion.
So, coach Shannon, you’re saying this isn’t an audition?
I’m not buying it. And not only that, Shannon’s audition is likely hurting redshirt freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks’ development.
And here’s the proof.
On Monday, Shannon announced that he would be sticking with graduate transfer Malik Zaire as starting quarterback against South Carolina on Saturday instead of Franks.
Recently, a colleague of mine wrote a column entitled, “Gators have nothing to gain from playing Zaire.” In it, he argued that playing Zaire for the rest of the season would be pointless — Zaire will be gone after this season, and the three remaining games would be best used for developing the players whom Florida will return next year, such as Franks.
Sound logic. Can’t really dispute that.
But what my colleague failed to take into account is the person ultimately making that decision. It’s not athletic director Scott Stricklin, who may have agreed with that logic and preferred to continue developing Franks. And it’s not the fans, the most die-hard and uncompromising of whom would gladly slam the door on Zaire’s exit tomorrow if it meant that Franks could continue to improve over the final three games and return as a better player for next season.
No, the decision-maker is Shannon. And whether Shannon wants to admit it or not, the rest of the season is his audition for his next job. So he will stick with Zaire.
In a story published on Nov. 2, in an interview with the Associated Press, Shannon said this:
“You never know what’s going to happen, but the only thing people are going to remember you by is what you did over the last four games,” he said. “You tell the staff, ‘Hey, we’ve got four games left. Everybody in the country is going to be looking at what we are as a staff. We win these four games, there’s going to be a lot of guys in this room that get jobs.’”
Hmm. Sounds awfully like an audition to me.
But let me make one thing clear: I don’t blame Shannon at all for this. I would be doing the same exact thing, as would every single person reading this. It can be argued that life is all one big audition — you're constantly looking for your next stop, your next job, your next paycheck and your next reward.
And for Shannon, this is that time. This is his stage. And so he will play Zaire, not because it is in the best interest of the future of Florida football — who clearly needs some development from its returning quarterbacks — but because it is in his best interest. It’s in his assistant coach’s best interests. They believe Zaire gives them the best chance to win right now — not next year or in two or three years — and, for Florida’s current coaches, winning now could mean a better job later.
So, whether he will say it or not, this is Shannon’s audition.
The proof is in his actions.
Ian Cohen is a sports writer. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him @icohenb.