Thirty years as a head football coach taught Pat Sheahan the importance of preparation, but he couldn’t have predicted the bizarre twist his U Sports career would take this off-season.
Sheahan joined the Calgary Dinos as their offensive co-ordinator last week after an abrupt end to his 19-year tenure as the head coach at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. What’s more, the Brockville, Ont., native succeeds his son, Ryan, who left Alberta to become the head coach at Guelph.
“It seems a little bizarre … but my son owed me,” Sheahan said with a chuckle recently via telephone from Calgary. “He’s been following me for many years so it’s time he blazed a trail for me.
“I think that’s just payback.”
Pat Sheahan’s arrival in Calgary came after a peculiar departure from Queen’s. On Nov. 22, the school announced Sheahan, who led the Gaels to the ’09 Vanier Cup title, was stepping down after the team’s 3-5 record in 2018.
But Sheahan disputed that claim. Two days later during an on-campus news conference, Sheahan — the top coach in Ontario University Athletics three times and Canadian university football’s outstanding coach in ’08 — said he was asked to resign and effectively shown the door by the school.
In December, Queen’s hired former Western offensive co-ordinator Steve Snyder as its head coach.
“Let’s face it … there’s always somebody counting wins and losses,” Sheahan said. “At this particular time someone had to fall on the sword and as we all know, the buck stops at the head coach.
“Listen, I look back at my 19 years at Queen’s very fondly. We had many great seasons, many great kids. Change is good. I’ve moved on, they’ve moved on. I’m going to enjoy this chapter of my life and I’ll enjoy being a Dino. I already am.”
Calgary head coach Wayne Harris Jr. couldn’t be happier to have a coach with Sheahan’s experience on staff, even by strange circumstances.
“Certainly, my first-ever conversation with coach Sheahan was to request the opportunity to speak with his son (then an assistant coach at Queen’s) about becoming our offensive co-ordinator,” said Harris Jr., the son of former Calgary Stampeders standout linebacker Wayne Harris. ”And I’m sure he wasn’t necessarily pleased with me at the time, either.
“You don’t see the father replacing the son too often in any business, let alone football. It certainly is a unique situation but it was something we’d always discussed that when coach was looking to retire or move on, there’d be a door open here for him to come in some capacity. It just happened in a slightly different manner than we originally expected.”
Sheahan said following his son to Guelph wasn’t an option.
“I think the best thing for my son is he take this new adventure on his own,” Sheahan said. “I don’t think that would’ve been a good thing at all for him to take an all-important next step in his career and have this shadow looking over his shoulder.
“It’s understandable to see why a young man would want to advance himself. I’ll tell you what, he was only on the job a couple of days when he contacted both me and coach Harris. Now he realizes the buck stops at his chair, but he’s ready to take that on.”
Pat Sheahan began his collegiate coaching career at McGill as the assistant head coach (1984-88), helping the Redmen win the ‘87 Vanier Cup. He served as the head coach at Concordia (1988-99), taking the Stingers to the ‘98 Vanier Cup before heading to Queen’s.
Sheahan assumes a potent Calgary offence featuring Hec Crighton Trophy-winning quarterback Adam Sinagra and receiver Tyson Philpot, the top rookie in Canada last year. The unit averaged 44 points and over 570 yards per game as the Dinos (8-0) finished atop the Canada West standings before losing 43-18 to Saskatchewan in the conference final.
It’s an offence Sheahan should be very familiar with. Ryan Sheahan spent six seasons as Queen’s offensive co-ordinator/quarterback coach before heading to Calgary.
“This is no rebuild here. The cupboards aren’t bare, there’s no question about that,” Pat Sheahan said. “There’s going to be a transition time, so I’m trying to make that as easy on the kids as I possibly can.
“This is a great time of year for that and by the time we hit spring camp, we’ll have all of that ironed out. It will be laying the foundation for what I hope is going to an outstanding season.”
Added Harris: ”He already knows our offence because he was architect of it all. That’s my new nickname for him, ‘The Architect.’”
Sheahan said his transition at Calgary has been smooth.
“Over the years I’ve gotten to know Wayne well, so I knew it would be an easy transition,” Sheahan said. ”I think in the wonderful world of student athletes, the more experience you have the better you can deal with them and understand them and, first and foremost, understand this whole adventure is about the kids.
“Being a football coach is kind of like being a parent. You find out at a very early stage it’s not about you, it’s about the kids and Wayne recognizes that. We’re going to help these young men through a very important developmental phase of their lives and football is the medium. They’re going to learn about themselves, competition and teamwork as well as success and failure and I think having someone around who’s been through some wars can be of assistance.”