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Voice of a new generation
COOK TOP CANDIDATE TO REKINDLE PASSION LIKE SAPP, OTHERS
NEED: Randy Shannon, taking the field in November against Virginia Tech, laments that he did not have a vocal team leader last year. AL DIAZ / MIAMI HERALD STAFF
Randy Shannon likes to say he has forgotten the failures of last season, his first as UM's coach.

Yet he openly offers this memory: "This team was kind of spread out when I took over." An indictment of predecessor Larry Coker? Probably.

But it's just as much a statement on what has been missing from the UM roster for the past several seasons.

The actual, tangible value of a leader -- a voice on the team other than the coach's that inspires and teaches and sets a tone -- can be debated, but it's hard to argue that the Hurricanes have had a history of influential ones.

Whether it was the mouthy Warren Sapp or the impassioned Ray Lewis, the direct Edgerrin James or the insightful Ed Reed, the self-assured Willis McGahee or the refined Jonathan Vilma, the Hurricanes have a history of players whose presence was unmistakable.

That presence has been missing of late. It could simply coincide with the team's decline over the past five years. It's probably difficult to inspire when the players responding simply aren't as talented as some of the competition.

But it's still a role Shannon wouldn't mind someone filling. Maybe it just eases some of the pressure off the second-year head coach. Or it could actually result in a more united team, one with actual on-field direction that translates into real success.

The candidates? There are a few. But so far, sixth-year senior linebacker Glenn Cook appears to have claimed the long-vacant position.

Cook's injury-plagued career has allowed him to witness the unfortunate transition from intimidating team to rebuilding program. And it was he who conceptualized this year's "No Excuses" campaign, designing and distributing the wrist bands that feature the slogan, UM logo and team colors.

"I was an idea I had," he said. "Every great team you see, it's always something small. It's something within our group that we wanted to implement. The last couple of years, we've been giving a lot of reasons. But there's no excuses. We just have to get it done. That's what Miami's about, just getting it done, whatever it takes."

It has been Cook, who, whether viewing as an injured spectator last season or as an active participant this year, has been blatantly honest with his teammates about their performances and offering advice.

The tone doesn't concern Cook, just the message.

"I'm going to tell them the truth," he said. "A lot of people tell me sometimes it may come off as rude. But I just want to be honest with them so they know I'm looking out for their best interest.

"I think they trust me. I'm not going to tell them anything that's completely out there or wrong. I want us to be the best."

Cook might not have the on-field résumé of a Lewis, Reed or Vilma, but his coach says on-field success isn't required to fill this particular spot. The senior's actions simply must remain genuine. The Hurricanes' immediate recovery from a 5-7 season is his only motive, the same way Reed and James were determined to spur the 1998 Hurricanes to an instant resurgence from a losing 1997 season.

"I won't put myself in their category," Cook said. "I'll just say maybe my presentation isn't the same as them. But maybe the effect is."

Shannon wouldn't put that pressure on just one player. After watching something of a fractured group last season, he encouraged his players to become more of a united group. Maybe then a leader or two would emerge. If nothing else, there would be more of an internal support system than there was when he was hired.

"[The coaches] recommended that we do more things together," said offensive tackle Jason Fox, who has hosted his share of offseason team events. "I was on the same page. I think that's a very important part of how close your team can be. If you only see each other when you're on the field together, you're just there for football most of the time. But if those are your boys, if those are your close friends, when you're out there and it's fourth down and you've got to get it, you're laying your heart on the line for everyone else out there, not just yourself."

Maybe that translates into on-field success. Or maybe the talented freshman class will be what actually catapults the Hurricanes back into the postseason.

After last season, Shannon isn't assuming anything. He wants to ensure more memorable results and far less forgettable failures.

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