Tough as nails, soft as pudding

Soccer: In compiling an almost-unequaled record, Don Shea of Oakland Mills has gained a reputation as the epitome of the fiery coach -- but there's another side to the man.

November 18, 1999|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

His players admire him; opponents vilify him.

Certainly, few who encounter Don Shea feel ambivalent toward the passionate and unorthodox Oakland Mills boys soccer coach, whose 243-65-19 career record and six state titles mark him as one of the two most successful public-school soccer coaches in Maryland history.

The No. 2-ranked Scorpions (16-1-1) will seek a state-record 10th state title Saturday night against Williamsport in the Class 1A final at UMBC.

Shea's coaching style is described by former player Brian Boussy as "an 80-minute monologue at 100 decibels that intimidates players and annoys opponents."

His trademark expressions, such as "Go to goal," or "You're in," or "See ya," reverberate across the soccer field at Oakland Mills and into the parking lot.

Beyond the decibels, however, is a man so compassionate that one former player named his son Shea.

"He'd give you the shirt off his back," said River Hill soccer coach Bill Stara, a longtime friend.

Shea, 47, has served as adviser or surrogate father to numerous players during his 26-year coaching career. He has shared his home with some in need and loaned money to others. Thirty-one former players are now coaches; 10 played professionally.

One player he befriended was Boussy, whose father died during Boussy's senior year. His mother had died five years earlier.

"He offered me a place to live, but I didn't take it. And he pointed me to Boston College, which turned out to be the perfect place for me," said Boussy, an All-State goalkeeper on the 1988 state championship team who is now a teacher and boys soccer coach at Howard High.

"He's the kind of person people either love or hate," Boussy said. "He's aggressive and verbose. But he's a lot of the reason I ended up teaching and coaching. I was going to be Shea and win state title after state title. Then I realized you can't be him. There will never be another one like him.

"Some coaches just do soccer. He focuses on bonds with his players. He teaches you how to grow up, about right and wrong. And I never played for a coach who could get you so excited and ready to play.

"He could convince you that the fate of the world depended on the outcome of a game. And we never thought we'd lose, even if we were trailing 3-0 with five minutes to play. We'd tell ourselves that Shea would come up with something to help us pull it out."

As if to prove Boussy's point, Oakland Mills trailed Boussy's Howard squad 2-0 this season with seven minutes left and pulled it out, 3-2.

Oakland Mills principal Marshall Peterson praises Shea, partly because he stresses academics ahead of soccer.

Last season, 37 of 40 players in the Scorpions' soccer program were honor students. This season, with his team ranked No. 1 at the time, he canceled practice so seven of his varsity players could help a struggling math club win its first competition in three years.

"Both my sons are Shea disciples," Peterson said. "I'm just sorry that only one of them got to play for him."

Shea's players have study hall before practice every day from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. He monitors grades closely. And if you do something wrong, don't let him find out.

"We'd beg for detention or a research paper instead of a teacher telling Shea," Boussy said.

Shea didn't start two of his top players in a state championship game because they were late for school. Years ago, when several of his players were caught with alcohol on school grounds and he was forced against his wishes to take them back on the team, he pushed for and got a stricter rule that suspends such students from extracurricular participation for the rest of the season and one season beyond -- the toughest rule in the state.

Shea yells at and criticizes players during games and practices, but they remain loyal. He says it toughens them up. His critics call it humiliation.

Shea recognizes that not everyone cares for his style.

"I know I'm perceived by those outside our program as negative," Shea said. "But they don't hear the 10 positives for every negative. I believe in really telling you what I think. There's times I rip every player on my team. You give up your individual identity when you come into our program. We emphasize that you should not disappoint the program."

He also is criticized for coaching "ugly" soccer that emphasizes long balls and quick counterattacks, corner kicks and throw-ins.

"It may not be the prettiest soccer," said Oakland Mills graduate Dante Washington, former U.S. Olympic team member who is now a pro with Major League Soccer's Dallas Burn. "But for years, the English played that way, because they had small fields, like he has. Short passing doesn't work on them."

Shea has plenty of defenders.

"What you see on the outside is not what's inside," said Stara, the only active coach with both more wins and state titles than Shea. Stara is 274-29-10 with nine titles.

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