Well, it happened again.
Dan Shaughnessy was five minutes into a conversation with an aspiring college football player before the longtime head coach at St. Mary’s College High School realized that, for the umpteenth time, someone had mistaken him for the coach at St. Mary’s College.
“That’s OK, it happens quite a bit,” jokes Shaughnessy, now in his 16th year as coach and athletic director at St. Mary’s after holding the same position at Richmond’s Salesian High for 17 seasons. “They see I’m older and think ‘he can’t be in high school! Not that old goat!’”
And when Shaughnessy – or “Coach Shag” to his players and fellow coaches – said the little misidentification was OK with him, he wasn’t kidding. He continued his discussion with the player – one of the many now attending Cal’s summer football camp – for some time, offering advice about a variety of small football programs that some of the many high schoolers he’s coached have gone on to play for.
“The whole point of this camp is self-improvement,” says Shaughnessy, who began working with the summer program 16 years ago, all the way back when Joe Kapp was Cal’s head coach. “A lot of guys don’t have Cal or the Pac-10 in mind. They know themselves pretty well, and Division III is OK. There’s nothing wrong with Division III.”
And, for Shaughnessy, there’s nothing wrong with high school either. Now in his 41st year of coaching, the Bay Area fixture doesn’t buy into any phony notions of progress, and certainly doesn’t feel the lure to scramble up the rungs of the coaching ladder.
“At the high school level, the thing I like about it is it’s 100 percent pure,” says the coach. “All the kids are out there because they want to be out there. Nobody signed them to a bonus, there’s none of that professional nonsense you see now. I’ve coached at the JC level and the college level, and I’ve settled at high school because – and I hate to sound corny – it’s the most genuine. All the kids are out there because they want to be. Nobody asked them. I don’t think I’ve ever asked a kid to play ball in my life.”
Shaughnessy carries the same utilitarian attitude into his work at the Cal summer camp. Though he’s seen more than his share of top-notch players – including recent Cal departees Sekou Sanyika and the Panthers’ own John Romero – he measures his coaching success one kid at a time.
“The best measurement of this camp might be the incoming freshman or JV player,” says Shaughnessy.
“How much has that kid improved? What did he pick up, what can he take back to his own school? How has he progressed? That’s the real measurement – not the Chuck Muncies but the little guys.”
Working primarily with the linebacker corps, Shaughnessy says the summer sessions help “jumpstart” him for the next fall’s upcoming football season, where, as he has for the past four decades, he continues to “teach at the highest level.”
“Some of my academic colleagues have trouble with this, but I always say that coaching is teaching at the highest level,” says the coach. “I don’t think we give kids enough credit. They’re very smart and very intuitive. They’ve got you figured out in the first five minutes. They’re either going to tune you out or pay attention.
“With football, you’ve got to think on your feet,” continues Shaughnessy. “There’s film studies and book review like in any academic class, but you’ve got to make the right decision, in a split second, right now. And it’s got to be the correct decision. That’s tough to do. If you can teach these skills solidly, as far as I’m concerned, that’s teaching at a high level.”