The test of time: Sheahan joins 100-win club at Queen's

Coach reflects on 19-year career with Queen's football

Pat Sheahan had his 100th career win with Queen's on Aug. 26.
Pat Sheahan had his 100th career win with Queen's on Aug. 26.
Credit: 
Supplied by Queen's Athletics

Pat Sheahan knows he’s a lucky man.

Now in the middle of his 19th season coaching the Queen’s football team, Sheahan is the longest-serving head coach in all of U Sports football. 

It’s something most coaches—especially in the competitive results-driven environment football fosters—don’t get to say.

“There’s no question it’s a high-risk business,” he told The Journal earlier this week. “Having that kind of longevity to stick around that long is gratifying.”

And it’s been a long time for Sheahan. Earlier this season, he hit a historic mark with his 100th combined regular season and playoffs win while at Queen’s. With the victory, he joined Frank Tindall and Doug Hargreaves as the only football coaches in Queen’s history to achieve the feat.

“I just want to do it again.”

***

In 2000, Sheahan had inherited a rebuilding Gaels team that had previously finished with a 2-6 record in 1999—a startling contrast to where he’d been earlier. 

Sheahan was the Concordia Stingers’ head coach for ten years, falling short at the Vanier Cup final in 1998, before settling down in Kingston with the Gaels.

“We started off very, very humble,” Sheahan said of his 2000 Gaels team, who ended the year with a 1-7 record. “You [have] to start somewhere.”

What came next wasn’t a rebuild but an an immediate turnaround of Queen’s football program. 

In 2001-02, Sheahan was named OUA Coach of the Year after Queen’s finished with a 5-3 record. In the next two seasons the Gaels would go on to consecutive 7-1 seasons, including a prolific 2002-03 run where they’d lose to McMaster at the Yates Cup.

But, as Sheahan knows all too well, university football is a game of ebb and flow. Following their three-year rebirth, the Gaels fell into a small lull during the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons. After that, Sheahan started to see something special come into his hands. 

In 2006, Sheahan began to build his program from the ground up—brick by brick.

“We had to reload,” he said of the 2006-07 season, in which the Gaels finished with a 4-4 record. “Then we went on a great run.”

The following year, his team would return to a winning record of 6-2 and what would be a precursor to the Gaels’ perfect 2008 regular season.

“We were 8-0, and I mean dominant,” Sheahan said. It was the first time he’d ever seen a perfect season from the sidelines.

Almost as quick as the success came, it all fell apart. In the final game of their undefeated season—a game Sheahan said was likely the most difficult of his career—the coach saw three of his top players fall to injury. 

The Gaels’ then-star quarterback, Danny Brannagan, suffered a concussion that put him on the sidelines up until their first playoff game, while Queen’s all-time leading rusher, Mike Giffin sustained a season-ending knee injury in the first play of the game.

While Queen’s would win the game, they would lose their first round playoff game to the University of Ottawa.

“I don’t think there was ever more of a devastating season,” Sheahan said. “It should’ve been us [in the Vanier Cup]”

But with the 2008-09 team’s nucleus continuing over into 2009-10, the Gaels followed up on what should’ve been the year prior’s success. 

“They were on a mission. They were determined,” Sheahan said of his players. His Gaels would go on to finish 7-1—their only loss coming in the final game after electing to sit the majority of their starting core.

The playoffs were precisely what Sheahan wanted from the previous year. 

Racing to the Vanier Cup, the Gaels played a total seven games at home and would go on to play the University of Calgary in the national championship. In a second half thriller, the Gaels came back from a 25-7 deficit at the half to defeat Calgary 33-31. Sheahan’s son, Devan, scored the first touchdown that he said ignited the Gaels’ comeback.

Recalling the championship game, Sheahan was understated in his memory of the Gaels’ most successful season in decades—though ultimately staying true to his style.

“A win’s a win.”

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A university football coach’s existence is rarely defined by consistent success—and Sheahan may be the coach most familiar with this sentiment. 

Of course, he knows the peaks of success. But he’s also seen the valleys, which more often than not follow periods of achievement.

“Success is going to be cyclical,” Sheahan said. “You’re going to get a nucleus and develop them, you’re going to get a few special individuals in every group and we’re going to see how far we can go.”

Since their 2009-10 run, Sheahan’s Gaels have only pulled off four winning seasons—they held a 7-1 season record

in 2013-14—but have never been able to push their way back into the national spotlight. 

It’s hardly Sheahan’s fault: the constant cycle of athletes coming in and out of the program gives way to years of turnover. It’s something he’s found humour in.

“The line I give the guys [is],  ‘Just as soon as you guys get good, you graduate,’” Sheahan said.

It’s this kind of humour that demonstrates Sheahan’s appreciation for the place he’s at in his career. To be among storied collegiate football names like Hargreaves and Tindall, he said, is something that’s hard to fully understand, but something he nevertheless values.

“[I’m] sitting in the same office as these two legends, taking [my] place” Sheahan said, trailing off, recalling his first season at Queen’s when he  settled into the offices under Richardson stadium.

“To be joined and to be in the same sentence as [Hargreaves and Tindall] is a treat.”

Despite currently being in the midst of a long and stressful season, Sheahan is satisfied with his time at Queen’s—whether he’s here for two more years or ten.

“If the whole thing ended tomorrow, it would be a successful thing,” he said.

“The goal of any coach is to leave it better than how you got it, [and] we’ve had our times.”

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