'Coming back never an option' for resigned football head coach

Pat Sheahan’s tenure at Queen’s ends after 19 years with the program

Sheahan said he knew this season was important to keeping his job as head coach.
Sheahan said he knew this season was important to keeping his job as head coach.
Supplied by Jeff Chan

On Tuesday, Queen’s Athletics and Recreation (A&R) announced football Head Coach Pat Sheahan had left the program after 19 years with the team.

In a press conference at the Alumni Lounge on Thursday afternoon, Sheahan told reporters he “never quit anything in his life” and the program is experiencing a “generational change.”

“The program is moving in another direction,” he said. “It’s been a great run, but apparently, it’s time for a change.”

According to A&R, Sheahan will serve as a special advisor for the team until the end of April.

Sheahan leaves Queen’s with three OUA Coach of the Year awards and one U Sports Coach of the Year award, which he earned in 2008. In 2009, he led Queen’s to a Vanier Cup title and made three Yates Cup appearances (2002, 2009, 2013). He’s the fifth all-time winningest coach in U Sports history.

An A&R press release detailing Sheahan’s resignation said the Gaels’ former coach was “turn[ing] over the reins to a new coach for the 2019 season,” but didn’t provide reason for his departure.

In an article published by the Kingston Whig-Standard, Executive Director of A&R Leslie Dal Cin didn’t directly address reasons for Sheahan’s departure. 

His resignation marks the sixth coaching change among the 13 varsity teams at Queen’s in the past two years.

“We recognize this is a significant transition for the football program. After 19 years as our head coach, we look forward to continuing to work with Pat in his new role as a special adviser over the next six months,” Dal Cin told the Whig.

Sheahan said prior to this season, he knew his team’s performance might impact his job security. Queen’s finished with a 3-5 record this season and missed the playoffs—just short of the team’s 4-4 finish last year that saw them lose in the first round of the playoffs. The Gaels haven't won a postseason game since 2013.

“I think it was made clear this was an important year,” Sheahan said. “I didn’t show it to the coaches or the players—I didn’t think it was appropriate to put pressure on them.” 

“I was ready to come back,” he later said, adding he was never extended the opportunity from A&R to return for the 2019-20 season.

“Coming back was never an option.”

Despite the Gaels narrowly losing their last three games by five points or less, Sheahan acknowledged the necessity of winning—especially this past season.

“A lot of those very close losses, although they showed great character from the team, were damaging,” he said. 

“There’s money being infused into the program and when that happens, there are expectations. I’ve dealt with that my entire career. I’ve had 30 years where they could get rid of you at any moment.”

That said, Sheahan believes he’s in the prime of his coaching career.

“The ironic thing about the whole thing is that I think I’m the best version of me that I’ve ever been,” he said. “And unfortunately, I won’t be coaching here.” The national search for Sheahan’s successor was effective immediately following his resignation. 

Sheahan said with a new head coach, he’s unsure of the Gaels’ current coaching staff’s job security or whether there will be any position turnover. As head of the program, Sheahan played a role in appointing most of the team’s position coaches and coordinators.

“[Picking the staff will] be up to [them] and I sincerely hope [they]take a good look at the [current] staff,” Sheahan said. “The coaching staff here is in great shape—some of them might even be candidates for the job.”

As for his own job, Sheahan said he’ll be pursuing a coaching opportunity elsewhere—he’s just unsure of where he’ll land.

“I’m a coach, that’s what I do to make my living,” he said. “I’m disappointed I won’t be coaching this team next year … but it looks like we’re trying to get our house in order here.”

With nearly 20 years of his coaching career spent at Queen’s, Sheahan said it’s been an emotional week for him. On Monday, he met with his coaching staff to deliver the news, and on Tuesday, he met with players on the team. 

“It was a very, very difficult time,” Sheahan said of his meeting with his players. “I told them, ‘Regardless of what you feel right now, you need to embrace the change. There’s going to be a new walking boss … you’ve got to go out and impress him.’”

Shortly after, Sheahan paid a visit to an old friend.

After the meeting with his players, he drove to Gananoque to visit the grave of former Queen’s assistant coach, Hal “Moose” McCarney. The late McCarney was on the storied Queen’s Head Coach Frank Tindall’s staff when the Gaels dominated in the '50s, '60s and '70s—Sheahan called him “Mr. Queen’s football.”

“[McCarney] challenged me. He said, ‘You better stay here longer than I did.’ And that was 22 years,” Sheahan said. “I said, ‘Moose, it ain’t happening. It’s not going down that way.’”

“I was waiting for him to answer, but he didn’t.”


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