Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sheehan's First Year a "Learning Experience"

When Baltimore Oriole president and general manager Andy MacPhail was asked recently about the challenges of trying to compete in the tough American League East, he responded, "Don't look at the height of the mountain. Just climb."

That could well describe the philosophy of Triton Viking head coach Pat Sheehan during his trying first year as a head football coach.

Sheehan, a Lynnfield native and former Pioneer captain as well as offensive coordinator of the Pioneers' 2009 championship team, struggled through an apocalypticly difficult first year leading the Triton program. It just wasn't that the Vikes battled through a winless season. It was the incredible way the season unfolded for Sheehan and his charges.

The Vikings faced a tough schedule with seven of their opponents finishing the season with a winning record. Of Triton's 11 losses, seven came by a TOTAL of 30 points. That's an average margin of defeat of 4.3 points. In five of the losses, the Vikes were tied or ahead going into the final quarter. They lost two in the final minute of play (one with 10 seconds left) and one in four overtimes. As I told Pat, if a fiction writer penned that type of epic scenario, no one would buy it.

 "It was unbelievable to tell you the truth," Sheehan said. "Each week was the same old story. It was one thing or another. You think you have it. We were tied. We were up. We were driving. Then came a costly turnover or just a fluke thing."

Sheehan noted some sage advice he received from longtime Austin Prep head coach Bill Maradei  following the Cougars win over the Vikes in the FOURTH overtime.

"He said 'coach you can't go out there and win and you can't go out there and tell your kids you're going to win. You just have to go out there and play as hard as you can and let the chips fall where they may,'" Sheehan remembers. "he said 'those are hard loses and those are going to pay off in the long run.' I believe that and I hope they do."

So how would Sheehan describe his first season?

"I would definitely describe it as a learning experience," said the young coach who had barely turned 28 when he began his first training camp last August. "I'm a young head coach but I don't know if there is anything that can prepare anyone to be a head coach. I tried to take on as many responsibilities with (Pioneer head coach) Neal (Weidman). I asked for the responsibilities and he trusted me with them but it doesn't compare because now you are in charge of everything.

"It was fairly overwhelming at first," he continued. "I started to get the hang of it midway through the season with the administrative and communication piece of it dealing with the players, coaches, parents and administrators."

Sheehan said dealing with the non football aspects of things was the biggest difference in making the jump from assistant coach to head man.

"At Lynnfield, all I thought about was offense and the defense we were playing that week. In the position I'm in now, I was thinking about offense and defense and special teams and the opponent and the freshmen team and the JV team and the students' grades and the parents and the pasta parties. It was overwhelming at first. Once we really got into the season, after camp and after all the paperwork was in it became a lot more like I was accustomed to. It became more about football, going out to practice ever day and trying to get better."

Despite the frustrations of the trying season, Sheehan never lost his composure and put out a positive spin every week.

"By nature I'm a positive person," Sheehan explained. "I take that probably from my father. As far as being cool, I've always been more cerebral as a player and a coach. I wasn't necessarily into the big 'rah,rah' and banging helmets and things like that. I see football as a tough physical game but  as Vince Lombardi said the game is 80% mental and 20% physical and I truly believe that. I think it's a very mental game and you have to have your wits about you at all times through the ups and downs. I try to approach it in a very business like manner."

Sheehan is looking forward to putting last year behind him and getting on to the 2011 season. The merger of the Cape Ann League and the Northeast Conference moves Triton from the tough CAL Large into a much more competitive CAL/NEC Tier Three with Pentucket, Saugus, Winthrop, Newburyport and Amesbury. The Vikings will no longer have CAL Large behemoths like North Andover and Masco standing in the way of their title hopes.

"We're really excited," Sheehan said about the upcoming season. "We had a difficult schedule last year. The realignment really suits us. We're going to miss having the league games against Masco, North Andover and Wilmington because they present challenges that are exciting and I'm always up for a challenge.. Having said that, I'm also excited about the new challenges. I think there's a little bit more parity and the games will be very competitive. We lost to Amesbury by a point and to Newburyport by two points. Pentucket was a great game. It was 21-21 in the fourth quarter. And Saugus and Winthrop will pose new challenges.

"We have a really committed junior class who are going to be seniors. We're working really hard in the weight room. The kids are starting to buy into it. This is the first full offseason where we can start to implement our programs."

Sheehan also has a couple of standout skill players returning in quarterback Blaise Whitman and running back Derek Paquette. The pair heads a list of 16 returning seniors.

"Blaise has a year with the offense under his belt and understanding it. I think Paquette is going to be the best back or one of the top backs in the league. We have some receivers  and offensive linemen coming back. We are losing a lot of our defense but we're excited about the guys we have coming back and the commitment they've shown this offseason."

In another local connection, one of Sheehan's assistants is Mike Geary, another former Pioneer captain and assistant coach. He made the move north last year and will be back for another season with the Vikings.

"He'll be with me," Sheehan said. "I told him he's not allowed to leave until we win a Super Bowl."

Speaking of the postseason, in an interesting twist, Triton's league will be in Division 3A, which is the same as the Pioneer's CAL/NEC 4. At some point in the future, should both the Vikings and Pioneers win their leagues, they would face each other in the post season semi final playoff.

"That would be epic, wouldn't it?," Sheehan said. "I talk to Neal three or four times a week. We're still very close. I think that would be quite a story."

Although that matchup may not happen this year, look for Sheehan's Vikings to be must improved this season. Clearly the young coach has paid his dues, and here's hoping for a more successful second year for Pat and the Vikings.

That's it for now. Check back on May 6th when we'll take a look at the Pioneer's 2011 schedule.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Haberland Moving On

Greg Haberland, the Pioneers' outstanding defensive coordinator for the past four seasons, will not be returning to the Lynnfield sideline this fall. Haberland, looking to make a change in both his coaching and professional careers, will be rejoining the staff at North Shore Vocational High.

Haberland will be reconnecting with Paul Worth, his high school coach, and will be the assistant Head Coach and defensive coordinator. He will also be looking to join the school in a teaching/instructional position.

Greg Haberland
"It's a tech school," said Haberland, "and it will be a lot easier for me, knowing I haven't quite fulfilled my college goals, that I can get a teaching job there with a certificate because I'm in the trades. I have an associate's degree in computing, I'm a certified welder and I own a restaurant so I'll take the hospitality certification test as well. When the new school opens, they'll be more teaching/instructor positions opening."

Haberland will be joining the school at an opportune time. North Shore is combining with Essex Aggie and Peabody Vocational School to create what they are calling a megavoke school officially named Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School.

"They are going to be building a brand new facility in Danvers that will house 1400 kids," Haberland said. "The field is going to be all turf with lights, all state of the art. It's a $133 million school they're building.

"I've coached with Paul Worth before. We won a Super Bowl in 1997. He's going to be retiring in three or four years and basically said once I get in the school I could be the head coach in four years," Haberland said. "My opportunities now to get a head coaching job are limited because I'm lacking that college degree. I had a couple of shots last year but it didn't pan out. This could be a career change for me and also could mean a head coaching position which I really want to give a shot. This opens those doors for me. It's a great opportunity to be part of a brand new beautiful school system and build a real good football program."

Haberland was a big part of the resurgence of the Pioneer football program since joining the staff of Bill Adams in 2007. Haberland's defense improved in each of his four years as coordinator. In his first year as defensive coordinator, Haberland's defense allowed 25.7 ppg. It only got better from there as the Pioneers improved to 20.4 ppg in 2008, 11.9 ppg in their championship 2009 season and then to an impressive 9.5 ppg and four shutouts last year.

"Greg did a nice job for us," said Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman. "He worked hard and he's a good coach. We'll miss him."

I asked Haberland  what one moment stuck out in his four year tenure and he came up with several but one of them clearly stood above the others.

"The Newburyport game the year before when they came down to our place and we beat them 27-14," he responded recalling the game that effectively clinched the 2009 championship.

"I can remember we were sick that week," Haberland went on. "They were favored to beat us. They were favored to win the league. We were up against a lot. There were a lot of injuries. A lot of people hobbling around. It was a rainy week and we had only two practices. Then we came out and we completely destroyed them. If you look at the stat sheet, it wasn't even close. It was 27-0 and we got soft. I just backed them off on defense and we gave them  all the passes. I said if you want to whip the ball around with eight minutes left you're not going to beat us. That's the game right there. Absolutely."

"There's a lot of things," Haberland responded when I asked what he was most proud of in his Lynnfield coaching career. "I think just seeing the development and the kids buying into what it takes to build a real good football program. The hard work that these kids put in and everything that encompassed Lynnfield football over the past four years. Even when we were 3-8 the first year I was there you could see that the kids were buying into what we were selling them. Seeing the change from accepting losing to not accepting losing. We're a program now and people are going to have to pay attention to us. The transformation from "push around Lynnfield" to "pushing around people."

"Watching these kids grow from freshmen into fine young student athletes," he summed up. "Just watching the whole thing as it came together. It was a nice thing to see."

"A lot of people that I had talked to prior to going to Lynnfield said you're going into a program that is completely terrible," Haberland went on. "And I said if you can get the kids to work hard and believe in what you're doing and make them understand that as long as they give 100% effort 100% of the time good things are going to happen. And I don't think there was a time when I was there that I didn't get maximum effort out of the kids."

"I'm most proud of the hard work and determination and how the community came together," he continued. "Going from a losing program to people fearing us. I recall after the Hamilton Wenham game last year (General head coach Andrew) Morency said in the newspaper 'you look over at Lynnfield and we want to strive to be like them.' It wasn't like that when I first started."

"It took a lot to drag me out of Lynnfield," Haberland summed up. "I've had a great experience. Neal is a heck of a  coach who I've enjoyed working with. We did some special things at Lynnfield. This is a hard decision for me to make. I just want the kids and parents to know that I appreciate their efforts and their hard work and their commitment to the program. It was an absolute joy to be part of Lynnfield football. I'm going to miss it. But it's a new adventure down the road."

As for Weidman, it's back to the drawing board as he looks to replace his second coordinator in two seasons. Offensive coordinator Pat Sheehan left for the head job in Triton following the 2009 season.

"I hate to lose him," Weidman said of Haberland. "Losing two coordinators in two years makes it difficult. I'm not sure what we're going to do. I'd like to keep the same scheme. If someone comes in and wants to change it they'll have to be pretty passionate to convince me."

Weidman didn't rule out naming a current member of the coaching staff to the coordinator's position.

"I'm keeping all options open," he said.

Once a decision is made, I'll have it here. And check back on April 1st for my next regular post.