PCHS football: Shepherd to return to the sidelines
November 9, 2012
Every time fall rolled around, Mike Shepherd would get that proverbial itch.
For the last seven seasons, Shepherd, who led the Park City High School football program from 1997 to 2005, watched his favorite game being played by players he didn’t coach.
Now, the former head coach is ready to put the headset back on and flick on the Friday-night-lights switch at Dozier Field. On Thursday morning, Shepherd was announced as the head coach of the Park City High School football team, eight days after former head coach Kai Smalley resigned following three years at the helm.
"I would have this crazy feeling as I would be just sitting there," Shepherd said of his time away from the sideline. "It’s a special environment (in Park City). There aren’t many places where you can get those same feelings. I have the time, the energy and the enthusiasm, and I think I can make a difference for the program."
According to Doug Payne, Park City High School athletic director, the search was easy. He, along with Principal Bob O’Connor — both of whom served as athletic directors at Park City during Shepherd’s first round as Miner head coach — approached Shepherd last week to see if he’d be interested in turning around a program that went 4-17 over the last two seasons.
"We didn’t want to wait long," Payne explained. "Once the football season ends on November 19 in football, the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) has a dead-time period, and during that time football coaches cannot have any contact with football players until February 28.
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"We wanted to get someone on it as quick as we could. There was a certain amount of necessity involved."
And Shepherd has already been able to convince some of the program’s most storied coaches to join him in his second round as leader of the Miners.
Joining his staff in 2013 will be Tom DeLeone, who coached at Park City for 12 years and had a 13-year career in the National Football League as a two-time Pro Bowl center. Also part of the College Football Hall of Fame, DeLeone will be the offensive line coach and special-teams coordinator under Shepherd. Bob Burns, who was the head coach at Park City for nearly 20 years, will serve as a multiple-positions coach.
Park City girls’ basketball head coach Sam White will come on board as the freshmen coach, while Jon Evans, who played for Shepherd in the late 1990s, will serve as coach of the linebackers, defensive line and junior varsity.
Shepherd rejoins the program under circumstances similar to his first season as head coach in 1997. Before 1997, the Miners struggled mightily in region play and were looked upon as a doormat for other teams, but that changed under Shepherd. From 1998 to 2004, Park City made the postseason each year, and in 2001 the Miners reached the 3A state championship before falling to Delta 20-7. In his first stint with Park City, Shepherd had an overall record of 58-42 and had three 10-plus-win seasons.
He also enters his 17th year teaching physical education at Park City High School. Payne said having Shepherd already part of the Park City teaching staff was crucial in the hiring.
"It’s almost necessary to have someone on our teaching staff for the football program," Payne said. "We weren’t sure, with the cutbacks last year with the teachers, we didn’t know what kind of openings there would be the longer we waited. It really would have put us in a bind the longer we waited."
Shepherd said he stepped away from coaching seven years ago to follow the collegiate football career of his son Drew, who went on to play at Willamette University in Salem, Ore.
"I wanted to be part of my son’s college experience," he said. "I had been coaching other people’s kids for a long time. But I’ve been in and around the game in all the years since I’ve been coaching."
He said his first order of business is implementing his style of play and teaching the kids how to enjoy playing football.
"I’ve found over the course of time high school kids need to have fun in whatever they do these days," Shepherd said. "That’s not to say that fun doesn’t mean you don’t work hard, but I think being creative in your practices and having them be the appropriate length of time is important.
"The key to it is to make (the players) work hard without them thinking they’re working hard."
He said he will re-implement his hybrid of the fly offense that also features some spread tendencies. Shepherd said, offensively, the team will take what is given to them by opposing defenses and that plays will be made simpler to Miner players, but seem more complex to the opposition.
Defensively, Shepherd will run a 4-3 scheme that will rely strongly on the middle linebacker position. During his first tenure at Park City, he said he had four first-team all-state middle linebackers and, to be successful on defense, that tradition must carry over into this decade.
One of the biggest challenges Shepherd faces is recruiting more upperclassmen to come out for football in 2013. He said he has a number of faces he’d like to get onto the gridiron for the first time prior to next season as well as convincing former players to put the helmet back on once again.
"It’s a snowball effect," he said. "I have to take the core kids who have really stuck with it, and they need to be sold on that things are going to be different.
"Last time I came into this job I had 32 players total in the program. The following year we doubled that number and the following year we had 100 in our program."
Payne said the return to the sideline was a long time coming for the former Miner head coach, but now that Shepherd’s back, he believes he’s ready to turn things around once more.
"When you’re like Mike and football is in your blood . . . he’s just champing at the bit to get into it," he said.