When the Guelph Gryphons take to the Alumni Stadium field for their Ontario university football season opener Sunday afternoon, they’ll do so under the guidance of their fourth head coach in five years.
Ryan Sheahan was named the 17th coach in the program’s history dating back to 1928. The Montreal native who is the son of OUA coaching legend Pat Sheahan, joined the Gryphons after serving as the assistant head coach and offensive co-ordinator of the University of Calgary Dinos for four seasons. During that time, the Dinos twice won the Canada West conference championship.
Now in Guelph, Sheahan has found there are different things to deal with here.
“It’s completely different because the rules have changed in this conference and I can’t do anything about that,” he said. “I spoke to my father today and Calgary is on Practice No. 14. This was Practice No. 9 for us and we’ve been doing a lot of two-a-days. It is what it is.”
In a twist of fate, Sheahan’s father was Sheahan’s replacement with the Dinos after he was let go by the Queen’s Gaels.
Ryan Sheahan took over from Todd Galloway who served as the interim head coach last year after Galloway had replaced Kevin MacNeill who was in the position for two years following Stu Lang’s retirement from the position after the OUA championship Yates Cup-winning season of 2015.
This year the length of OUA training camps was reduced to 10 days.
He’s also found he’s had to deal with the weather in Ontario. Two practice sessions have been changed or cut short by thunderstorms.
“There’s a lot more heat and humidity out here in the east and that’s an issue also, but there’s nothing you can do about it,” he said. “You’ve just got to power through. Training camps are supposed to be difficult so you can see who’s got the mental toughness when it counts.”
During Sheahan’s time with Calgary, Dinos’ quarterbacks set national records for passing yards – Andrew Buckley with 3,162 in 2015 and Adam Sinagra with 3,233 last year.
Being named to the top coaching position on the team midway through the off season meant that Sheahan had a lot of catching up to do.
“I sat down with the athletic director (Scott McRoberts) the other day and it seems like yesterday he invited me over to his home for a bowl of chili and we watched NFL playoffs and now here we are. It’s just been so busy and so much catch-up. The staff has really done a good job recruiting to make sure we have lots of great players in here to compete for jobs.”
Part of the work was assembling his coaching staff. Back from last year are defensive line coach Brian Cluff, offensive line coach Mike MacDonald, linebackers coach Joe Sardo and kicking coach Daniel Ferraro while the newcomers are defensive coordinator Dennis McPhee, offensive coordinator Mark Surya, special teams coordinator Donnavan Carter, quarterbacks coach Stevenson Bone, running backs coach Bryce Harper, receivers coach Devan Sheahan, defensive backs coach Richard Karikari, assistant offensive line coach Tom Sterling and offensive assistant Rob Kitching. Adam Kania has also joined as strength and conditioning coach.
“It’s been very busy, but I don’t ever want to make busy sound negative,” Sheahan said in March. “It’s good. If you’re sitting here twiddling your thumbs, you know you’re not doing something right.
“There’ve been challenges and organization to the nth degree and what’s taken up the majority of my time has been recruiting – not just players, but staff as well. It’s been exciting.”
With the shortened training camp, Sheahan and the players both knew that the off-season workouts the players had to do were of vital importance. And he could also peer out on the stadium’s field from the Gryphon Football Pavilion to see the players going through their weekly captain’s practices. That only made him wish for training camp to arrive sooner.
“Sitting in my office looking out the window watching them run and watching them lift with the strength coach, I just couldn’t wait to get out here and now we’re here,” he said following the end of the final on-field session on the first day of training camp last week. “I thought today was a good start. Rome wasn’t built in a day and there are so many levels to this that we have to continue to climb.
“There’s just so much information we have to digest and get really good at in a short order.”
Things have been falling in place for the Gryphons, although Sheahan is seeing the usual happen at the Gryphon training camp.
“I’d say we’re progressing,” he said this week. “What typically happens in a fall training camp is happening here. The defence is way ahead of the offence because they’re all flying around and making plays. The offence is slowly catching up.
“We’re still doing a lot of learning here and learning what we’re good at. Some plays we’ve got to throw out and some plays we’ve got to call more often because that’s what the quarterbacks and the receivers do really, really well. I’m not displeased.”
Sheahan has always been in almost daily contact with his father since arriving in Guelph, but the conversations haven’t always been about football.
“I think in the last month I probably had a few last-minute questions for him just based on organizational stuff sitting in the head chair, but really the conversations have been more father-son like. My sister got married this summer and I got engaged so it’s just been fond memories.
“I’m happy for him. He’s in a great place with a very good organization and good people and I hope he enjoys however many years he wants to give it out there. It’s been super positive. He’s been excited for me and I’ve been excited for him because we both believe we’re in good spots.”
Of course Ryan doesn’t pass any opportunity to pick the brain of the man who has 156 career wins during 30 years as a head coach in Canadian university football.
“I say it at every turn I get a chance to, he’s my favourite teacher and he’s my best teacher. I’ve seen him do so many great things with so many great young men. If I’m half the coach he was, I did a good job.”