Ryan Sheahan, the newly-hired 17th head coach in Gryphon football history, has pledged that the team will be the best it can be both on and off the field.
“Tom Brady told Mr. Gillette once upon a time that you haven’t made a mistake, you chose the right guy and I won’t let you down,” Sheahan told the news conference to announce his hiring. “I’m here to stand in front of you all and say I won’t let you down either. We’re going to get this thing done.”
That statement is also not intended solely for the performance in games. With all the players being student-athletes, the team will not lose its focus on the academic side of things.
“The intention to come here was to win championships, but like I say to the student-athletes in this building, often we can get wrapped up in football talk,” Sheahan said. “Really, it’s about putting together a well-rounded program so that everybody who attends the University of Guelph and plays football here leaves the program a success story having the ability and capacity to go into the world and chase their dreams.”
And the 38-year-old also made a promise to his parents who were watching the internet livestream.
“Thanks for everything. I’m here because of you and I won’t let you down.”
Sheahan is the son of Pat Sheahan, a long-time coach in U Sports football who wrapped up 19 years at the helm of the Queen’s Gaels following the 2018 season. Under his leadership, the Gaels won both the Vanier Cup national championship and Yates Cup OUA championship in 2009 and 156 regular-season and playoff wins.
While his father was at Queen’s, Ryan was quarterback for four seasons from 2001 to 2004, assistant offensive coordinator and quarterback coach from 2008 to 2012 and offensive coordinator in 2013 and 2014. That conection with that program might make the Gryphons’ game at Queen’s just before the Thanksgiving weekend extra special for him.
“Every game here for Gryphon football is going to be important,” he said. “We have to chalk up enough wins to put ourselves into a prime position to be a playoff contender. The contest on Oct. 10, it’s just going to be a football game between two football schools and we’re going to see where the chips land.”
Ryan did say that he didn’t apply to be his father’s successor at Queen’s.
In becoming the 17th head coach in Gryphon football history, Sheahan becomes the first one to be named to the position from outside the Gryphon football program in more than 30 years. Every head coach since Dan McNally in 1987 – Tom Arnott in 2001, Kyle Walters in 2006, Stu Lang in 2010, Kevin MacNeill in 2016 and Todd Galloway last year – had been on the Gryphon coaching staff the year before getting the top job.
Sheahan joins the Gryphons after four seasons as associate head coach and offensive coordinator with the Calgary Dinos. They played in the Canada West Hardy Cup championship game all four seasons, winning it in 2016 and 2017, and they also played in the 2016 Vanier Cup game.
Although he’s been outside the OUA the last four years, he hasn’t lost touch with it.
“I think the football community in Canada, especially in U Sports, is a small fraternity so you’re never really too far removed. Having my father as a head coach occupying one of the 27 jobs, I definitely had my finger on the pulse. That’s important to do when you’re playing in another conference because you never know when you’re going to have a crossover game when all the chips are down.
“The OUA’s always been a bit of a two-tier conference and this program has found itself in the top tier. Hopefully we can push it up to be the top of the top tier in short order.”
Each of the four conferences (OUA, Canada West, Quebec and Atlantic) have their own playing style and Sheahan will incorporate a bit of the Canada West style into the Gryphon play book.
“I would say Canada West is a very high-paced, high-octane conference. It’s very similar to the pro ball you see in the CFL and we’re going to bring some of that brand here to the University of Guelph. (It has) wide-open passing offences and very different schematic defences with various fronts and good use of personnel. Football is coached at a high level in multiple conferences here. Is it really extremely different? It’s not. I just found that the pace was a little quicker and it was a little more wide open out there which made the passing game a little more attractive.”
Sheahan will run the Gryphon offence which has been without an offensive coordinator since Jean-Francois Joncas left the program late last year to return to the Champlain-Lennoxville Cougars in Quebec. He had taken a two-year leave of absence from that CEGEP school to join the Gryphons in 2017.
“I’ve already told the players so it’s no secret, I’m going to run the offence here and be the head coach,” Sheahan said. “I am looking at that vacant position. As well as integrating myself into the staff and doing a lot of discovery, I still need to meet with everybody so it’s impossible to know exactly what’s going to happen, but I’m looking forward to having those individual meetings with coaches and find out where we need to go from there.”
During the last couple of years the Gryphons increased the number of players with a CEGEP background on their roster. They now have a head coach with a CEGEP background. Sheahan was born in Montreal and attended John Abbott College.
“I think all the CEGEP players have shown a bit of excitement that I’m cut from the same cloth as them, but they’re not above or below anybody else on this team,” Sheahan said. “If you wear one of our uniforms, everybody’s equal. It’s all about effort and it’s all about competition. But I’m thrilled that we do have CEGEP players because the team (Laval) that has done the most winning over the past 20 years has all CEGEP players. Having a few more experienced athletes on our roster will bode well for us down the road.”
All the returning Gryphon players will start Sheahan’s tenure as head coach at the same level. All start with a clean slate.
“Clean slate is exactly the way to put it. I hope everybody spends the off-season working their tail off. We’re going to spend lots of time in the film room and on the board with lots of meetings to be able to get them ready. Basically, it’ll be like teaching a class here in this facility in the off-season. It’s all about discovery right now, finding out who we are, what we have and where we need to go.”