When Shannon Currier was named new football coach at Concordia (St. Paul) last December, several players admitted to having concerns. Currier had been Golden Bears coach previously from 2000 to 2003, but his past seven years were spent as a sales manager.
Many players had the same questions: Had school officials taken the easy route, appointing someone they were familiar with rather than someone resulting from an exhaustive nationwide search? And what about the past seven years, what did that say about his passion and desire to coach?
"I think for everyone, that was a concern," senior running back Darius Chapes said. "But that's not even a thought anymore."
Currier's players have learned quickly that he is nothing if not passionate about his profession, despite that seven-year detour after being fired at Truman State in 2008. Currier said the years after leaving Concordia in 2003 have left him a changed man and coach, although school officials will gladly take the 32-12 record he posted in four seasons during his first tenure at the NCAA Division II program.
Currier said he went through a period at Truman State where his life "didn't have balance." He went through a divorce, and then lost his job at the Kirksville, Mo., school when, after two 6-5 seasons, his team went 4-7 with a veteran roster.
"My life was out of control in terms of time commitment," Currier said. "You can say your family's most important, but the time you're committing to your day then has to show that. And my time was all about football."
The firing, he said, was in retrospect a blessing. He admits now that he was burned out by his all-consuming desire to win football games. So he took a job in sales for an athletic streaming company, moved to the Twin Cities to be near his three children and searched for that elusive balance. He found it at least in part by doing what had always come naturally to him — coaching, in this case his children's youth sports.
Pondering his future
Currier said about a year ago he started to wonder, "What am I supposed to do in life?" And the more he pondered that, the more it struck him that he was a football coach, the same job his father had, and the one Currier had decided as a seventh-grader would be his life's vocation.
When Ryan Williams departed after 2015's 1-10 season, Currier contacted school AD Tom Rubbelke, an old friend, to inquire about the job. Rubbelke said he had the same questions that Golden Bears players did, namely whether Currier could rekindle the passion he had shown during his earlier stint at the school.
"We ended up having lunch once or twice and talked about that," said Rubbelke, who retired at the end of last season. Rubbelke said about 40 candidates applied, and he brought five to campus last December.
As Rubbelke wrestled with his decision, Currier said he prayed for guidance. He said his religious faith has grown in recent years — "Who else do you rely on when things are going south for you?" — and he prayed now for an answer as to whether returning to Concordia was the right decision. In the end, the answers found by Rubbelke and Currier both led to the same result.
"He's a great guy, a great coach, someone who will never lie to you," Rubbelke said. "Our kids needed some leadership and some discipline, and they'll get that with Shannon. And they're going to get a coach."
A reformed coach perhaps. Currier said one of his goals is "to enjoy the journey more, enjoy the great relationships more" and be less consumed by wins and losses.
Concordia players say they already have seen that side of Currier. The new coach, they said, goes out of his way to be involved, whether it's academics, helping land internships or just in casual conversations.
"He cares about us a lot — you can tell that," senior linebacker Sam Johnson said.
About that balance
Currier does admit the balance he wants in his life remains a difficult goal, at least at this time. He points out that when he was hired in December, the program didn't have a single high school commitment. So in a matter of months he totally recruited his first class, started recruiting his next class, met returning players and instituted new offense and defensive schemes in spring practice.
"I'm not convinced," Chapes said when asked about balance in Currier's life. "I don't want to go against Coach's word, but … everything he's done from when he came to this point could have taken a year and a half, two years. He's done it in a spring and fall."
Currier said the balance in his life shows in other ways. His daughter is a Concordia freshman and will work in video recording for the program. His younger children are often with him on campus. And as for those long hours, well, he points out he's single now, and once he gets the program established, his hours should reduce.
"I hate to say it, but I may be more driven," Currier said. "I'm 45, and want to accomplish as many things as I can."
And do it all at Concordia, he says.
"The last time I was here I wasn't sure where my career was going," he said. "You want to win and see what happens. But now I know this is where I want to be. I left once and was lucky enough to get the chance to come back. It's a good feeling to be some place you know you want to be the rest of your life."