Posted by Adam Jacobi
Former Miami head coach Randy Shannon isn't listed in the exhaustive Yahoo! Sports report* on Nevin Shapiro's extensive expose on impermissble player benefits, unlike the numerous assistants and contemporaries of his. That's not by accident; Shannon is by-the-book to a fault, and it's ironically that disdain for shenanigans that led to the Miami fanbase abandoning the 'Canes by the droves in the weeks preceding Shannon's firing after the 2010 season.
Imagine then, if you will, an alternate reality where instead of straight-laced Shannon running the Miami program, the head coach is current Arkansas coach Houston Nutt. Heads are now exploding nationwide. And according to the Orlando Sentinel, it came closer to happening than you would expect:
As the Sentinel reported late Sunday, Nevin Shapiro was personally involved in trying to recruit Nutt to coach the Hurricanes -- and his contact with the coach preceded several discussions between Nutt and university brass:
According to Nutt’s cell phone records obtained by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette through the Freedom of Information Act, Nutt spoke with Shapiro, in addition to UM assistant AD Tony Hernandez.
According to records, Nutt called Shapiro at 10:17 a.m. on Dec. 7, 2006 and the call lasted 30 minutes. Nutt then hung up and called his agent, Jimmy Sexton, before contacting Shapiro again that same day. Nutt also called Hernandez four times in a span of four hours that day.
That alternate reality almost came true! The theoretical NCAA violations are almost certainly even worse, aren't they? That's not an attack specifically on Nutt, who was head coach of Ole Miss at the time of the report, but Shannon brought a deep and abiding respect for the University of Miami and the rules it (ostensibly) operates under, and Insert Any Big-Name Coach With No Miami Ties Here almost certainly wouldn't bring that same approach. Get that same coach from the SEC, and the rules are going to get bent beyond recognition, like so many flat sheets of paper turned into origami swans.
Still, it's worth noting that Shapiro's influence did not get Nutt the Miami job. Not only that, Miami hired the most anti-Shapiro coach fathomable, and Shapiro was so angry at the Hurricanes' new adherence to the rules that he tried to pick a fight with Miami's director of compliance during a bowl game. If anything saves the program during the impending NCAA bloodshed, it's the fact that in the middle of Shapiro's influence on the program, it ignored Shapiro's contact with an in-demand coach that flirted with multiple BCS programs before eventually landing at Arkansas, where Nutt has since led the program to a BCS bowl game.
So imagining Houston Nutt as the Miami coach post-Larry Coker is nothing more than a thought exercise, because absent some evidence that not even Yahoo! could conjure up -- and lord knows they tried -- there's nothing the NCAA can point to that would suggest the Miami administrators valued anything about Shapiro or Nutt over what Shannon and his compliance-centric approach offered the program. That's small comfort for a football program trying to distance itself from the excesses of Shapiro and his well-documented interaction with the team, but it's also a fact that just might save the Hurricanes' program from the death penalty.
*For the record, Shapiro's lawyer, Maria Elena Perez, said in a phone interview that she believed Shannon had direct knowledge of Shapiro's dealings, but even her statement was phrased in a way that it wasn't entirely credible; it seems much more likely that Perez misremembered the facts than that Yahoo!'s 11-month investigation missed or omitted evidence that Shannon was directly involved, doesn't it?