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Football coaches grapple with gun policies

Miami's Randy Shannon hasn't received a phone call from a single coaching brethren, a single athletic director, to chat about his zero-tolerance policy toward guns.

While his university bans its students from possessing legally owned guns on campus (not off of it, however) — a rule similarly imposed at Florida, Florida State and USF — the Hurricanes' second-year coach has gone a step further:

Have a gun and you're done.

The Second Amendment, the NRA, be darned.

"Everybody deals with things differently," he said. "It may be wrong or it may be right, but that's just the way I feel."

It's an approach born from his experience growing up in a tough neighborhood in Miami.

"A lot of times, the modern athlete thinks he needs to have a gun to protect himself," Shannon said. "We have guys on the team that have kids. You could have a gun lying around in the room, under the bed, anywhere. Kids can find anything. Are you willing to take that chance that somebody gets injured or your kid gets injured because of the gun?

"Most of the time road rage comes from getting cut off, guys taking your parking spot, and the first thing you want to do is reach under the seat and now you're going to have problems. Don't do it."

Shannon sends the parents of prospective players a letter that explains his policy. Junior offensive lineman Jason Fox said he has no problem with it, especially after living through a gun-related tragedy in November 2006. Teammate Bryan Pata was shot and killed outside his apartment complex. (That followed a summer incident with Willie Cooper being shot in the buttocks and Brandon Meriweather returning fire with his legally owned semiautomatic. Meriweather didn't hit the assailant, and Cooper was okay.)

"I really like the rule," Fox said. "If we were in the country, it might be different. I'm from Texas and I love to hunt. But I remember my freshman year with the Bryan Pata situation. My heart goes out to his family. Your heart gets taken away when you're thinking about situations like that."

Shannon said he hasn't had a single player-gun incident.

Here's what other coaches are saying on the subject:

Bobby Bowden, FSU

Bowden, for one, doesn't believe in banning his players from lawfully owning guns off campus.

"I've got one," he said.

But he did have a player, star receiver Preston Parker, arrested by Palm Beach Gardens police in April for carrying a concealed handgun in his car and possession of marijuana. He eventually pleaded to a pair of misdemeanors, including a reduced count of carrying a concealed weapon. In addition to court- and team-ordered sanctions, he was suspended for the first two games of the season.

Bowden hasn't defended Parker, but he offered this sober take on why someone might want a legally owned firearm:

"I hate to say this, there are some neighborhoods, you better have a gun," Bowden said. "I hate to say that. Our country has gotten that drastic, but there are some neighborhoods where you nearly have to have a gun just to protect yourself and your family."

Urban Meyer, UF

After the campus shootings at Virginia Tech in April 2007 that left 33 dead, Meyer said the mother of "one of my best guys" bought her son a gun. That took him aback.

"I'm a parent. My daughter (Nicole) is going to college and a college campus is supposed to be the safest place in America," he said. "That made me think. Certainly, if they're going to play on our team, there's no place for them. If you have to have a gun, the Constitution says you're allowed to have one, but not at the University of Florida. I'm old school. I don't believe in that."

He indefinitely suspended offensive lineman Ronnie Wilson in the summer of 2007 when he was formally charged with firing a semi-automatic rifle in the air during a dispute with another man, a misdemeanor. Wilson eventually pleaded no contest and was ordered to perform 100 hours of community service and surrender his guns, for which he had permits.

Wilson didn't play last season and wasn't allowed to practice or work out with the team. He remained in school, paying his own way in the spring and summer, and returned to practice last week, during which time Meyer said he would continue to evaluate his situation. Wilson is not listed in this season's media guide.

Jim Leavitt, USF

Leavitt said he has had players who enjoy hunting when they go home on a break or bye week but is unaware if any have guns with them in their off-campus residences. "I don't want that," he said. "I just don't understand it."

Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech

Though his school's tragedy sparked debate about whether law-abiding students should be allowed to bring legally owned guns on the Blacksburg campus, Beamer doesn't want to go there. He also insists that those who live off campus and own a gun, including for hunting, must register them with police.

"At our preseason meetings, I make sure they know what the rules are and that they're expected to abide by the rules," he said. "But it seems like guns have been more involved the last couple of years across the country. It's scary. It's scary. And parents shouldn't be sending kids away to college worrying about them getting shot."

Brian Landman can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3347.

Football coaches grapple with gun policies 08/09/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 11, 2008 3:32pm]

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