This weekend’s football Homecoming is a game steeped in tradition, a celebration for students and a moment to reunite for alumni. For father-and-son University of Guelph football coaches Pat and Ryan Sheahan, it takes on extra meaning.
This is the first football season in which the two are coaching together, but it isn’t the first time they’ve worked on the same team.
At Queen’s University – the school U of G will play at this year’s Homecoming game – Pat was the head coach and Ryan an assistant to the team who helped the staff, the quarterbacks coach and the video coordinator.
Several years later at U of G, their roles are reversed: Ryan is now head coach, with Pat the offensive line coach.
“We wear these shirts, and for me, they say family,” said Pat, referencing the Gryphon on his and Ryan’s U of G Athletics tops. “And it means a little bit more because it really is my family that’s running the program here.”
An ode to past Homecomings
The Homecoming game in 2019 was Ryan’s first as head coach.
“It was an overcast day. We put on the retro uniforms with the gold pants to kind of look like the teams of old,” he recalls. “When you see everyone fill the hill and the grandstands, it’s just an electric environment.”
In 2020, when the pandemic hit, the football season was cancelled. Last year, the football season went ahead, but with no Homecoming due to pandemic restrictions.
The 2020 Homecoming game was expected to mark the 50th anniversary of the first game played at Alumni Stadium as well as honour the 1970 Gryphon Football team. This event will now be commemorated at this year’s celebrations on Saturday.
It’s unsurprising then that both the Sheahans are hoping for the excitement and nostalgia of past Homecoming games to return this year.
“The older people get, the more important memories of going to university are,” said Pat. “Rekindling relationships with old friends and going to the stadium and being part of the hoopla, it starts to mean more. It’s just got its own magic to it.”
This year’s game is also a chance for young Gryphon Football players to experience Homecoming and to “realize for the first time that they’re a part of something much bigger than their own hopes and dreams on the football field,” Ryan said.
“They’re a part of a larger community that’s lived it, experienced it. They can take a small glimpse into the future and see what affinity former Gryphon football players have for U of G.”
An opportunity to teach and learn
Coaching, says Pat, is a mentor-student relationship. For every situation a player is in, there’s an opportunity to pick and choose what they’ll incorporate into their own personal philosophy – something Ryan learned throughout his career.
“I think if you put me under the microscope, you can see the DNA of my coaching style is definitely something that stems from my father and a couple of others who I’ve had the privilege of learning from along the way,” said Ryan.
Adding his father to the coaching staff this past spring was an obvious choice, said Ryan, who aims to surround his athletes with the best possible coaches. Pat brings to the Gryphons a distinguished 40-year coaching career, five trips to the national championship and three Vanier Cup victories.
Pat has had a chance to learn from his son too, with Ryan in charge for the first time in their history together. Coming into the role, Pat knew his job was to continue to be a great assistant for his son.
Joining the Gryphons ultimately came down to his personal philosophy of faith, family and football, said Pat, aspects that come into full display during games – especially at Homecoming.
“Faith is all about believing,” said Pat. “Family is all about the people who are important to you. Then, of course, there’s football – which brings it all together.”
The Gryphons host the Golden Gaels on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Alumni Stadium.
Tickets are available via the Gryphons Box Office.
Michelle Pino, marketing and communications
Department of Athletics
Ryan Sheahan, head coach