Continuity in coaching holds value

A former player in support of Pat Sheahan

Pat Sheahan was head coach of the football team for 19 years.
Pat Sheahan was head coach of the football team for 19 years.
Journal File Photo

When Pat Sheahan said he was the best version of himself he's ever been at his resignation press conference last week, I didn’t doubt him. It made me wonder why Queen’s decided to cut ties with one of its all-time great coaches when he’s still got gas in the tank. 

At Queen’s, Sheahan coached one of the most storied collegiate football programs in Canada for the better part of 19 years. He led the Gaels to a Vanier Cup victory in 2009 and an undefeated regular season in 2008. He’s a three-time OUA (2001, 2007, 2008) and one-time U Sports Coach of the Year (2008), and he’s third on Queen’s all-time wins list behind legendary coaches Frank Tindall and Doug Hargreaves.

I’ve known the Sheahan family for the better part of my life. Pat’s brother, Tim, was my coach and role model throughout minor football, and I was good friends with his nephew and future teammate of mine, Brendan. Because of Pat and his family, my transition to Queen’s was automatic when I decided to play football for the Gaels.  

I played under Pat my first year, and despite all the time I spent around him, I feel like I hardly scratched the surface. When talking with him on the sidelines, in meetings, and over the phone—his personality was always even-keeled and strong, yet elusive. 

Playing for Pat, you learn to pay attention to details. He’s calculating, and he gives the impression he knows exactly what you’re going to say before you say it. Even for a man with such an intuition, I can’t help but think that he was taken aback by the school’s decision to find a replacement for him.

Between his time at Queen’s and his tenure with Concordia (1989-99), Sheahan’s been around collegiate football longer than most U Sports athletes have been alive. His offensive schemes have been appropriated by coaches across the country, and his assistants have gone on to lead a host of prestigious programs. Dozens of his players have found success in the CFL.

In the nine seasons since winning the Vanier Cup in 2009, Sheahan’s teams have a cumulative regular season record of 40-30. They’ve made six playoff appearances, including a trip to the Yates Cup Final in 2013. 

Sheahan has a proven track record of success. Relative to his career, the Gaels’ past few lackluster seasons—they’ve made the playoffs twice in the past five years—are a blip on his radar. 

Coaching continuity can be a huge asset to a team—players master one system, recruits build a consistent rapport with the same people. On the other hand, this shakeup means everyone has to prove themselves all over again, which might reinvigorate the program. 

We’ll have to wait and see who takes over the reins before we can judge whether Sheahan’s departure was the right move. Statistically speaking, and over a long period, it’s going to be extremely difficult to find an upgrade. And when the dust settles, Queen’s will likely have taken a lateral step with the coaching position.

Indirectly telling Sheahan to walk is a big gamble by Queen’s—one I’m sure they calculated. I’m just not convinced their math was right. 

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