Story by Dan Mohrmann/CHSAANow.com
Photo by Discovery Canyon High School
Shawn Mitchell was not having a good day last Thursday. Between snow days on Monday and Wednesday and District 20 deciding to cancel all afternoon activities on Tuesday because of an incoming storm, Mitchell's team hadn't seen the practice field all week. All that was looming was a game against a top-10 opponent in Lutheran and major playoff and RPI implications. To make the situation even better, Discovery Canyon's practice field was covered with snow. He and athletic director Ron Sukle jumped into a truck and moving slowly and methodically, plowed the entire grass practice field so that the team could at least get one practice session in. Thursday's practice seemed to go well enough as the Thunder beat Lutheran 20-7 and will play for a league championship on Thursday. A go-getter by nature, Mitchell wasn't about to wait around for the sun to solve his problems. His willingness to spend hours removing snow so that he could get his team ready is the very attitude that is required in the world of high school athletics. For that and the big win over Lutheran, Mitchell has been named the Denver Broncos High School Coach of the Week. The Broncos High School Coach of the Week is selected in partnership with the Broncos and CHSCA.
Shawn Mitchell bio
Years as head coach: 20 (129-86)
Years at Discovery Canyon: 13 (8-1 this season)
Previous stops: Harrison assistant (1995-99), Harrison head coach (2000-06), Discovery Canyon head coach (2007-present).
Dan Mohrmann: Why did you get into coaching?
Shawn Mitchell: I fell in love with football in seventh grade, that was the first year I ever played football, and I’m still in love with it I think for all the reasons that anybody falls in love with football. I loved being around my teammates and I loved the competitive part of it. I loved the physical part of it. But the added part to that is that I just always admired these coaches. You know what I mean? I think back to the guys that were my middle school coaches and my high school coaches and then eventually my college coaches. I really admired what they did and I look up to them and they were role models. When I think back to my high school days and how much time I wanted to spend with those guys, those are the guys I'd go back and visit when I was in college. Those coaches just made a real impact on me and I think that just stuck with me. Later on, as I'm thinking about what I want to do and I start thinking about those guys as role models, I think it just was a natural fit.
Mohrmann: From your player's perspective, what do you think it's like to be coached by you?
Mitchell: The joke is that I'm intimidating and unapproachable. But I would hope that that's more of a joke than it is the way they really feel. I've had former players come back and coach with me at both places, Harrison and Discovery Canyon. When I moved up here to Discovery Canyon, I had at least two former Harrison players come in and coach with me. So I think that there is a relationship that has been built there. And of course they have a lot of funny stories. They always want to talk about how mean I was to them or how I'm so soft on these guys now when I was tough on them. I've been in a former player's wedding, I had former players at my wedding, so I would say that there certainly is a strong relationship that develops.
Mohrmann: Let's go back to last week… you're approaching the playoffs and the weather kind of disrupts everything. What was it like going into Thursday, which was going be the first day that you were going to be able to practice for that Friday night game?
Mitchell: I was anxious. I was feeling that pressure. We are trying to protect a legacy. Prior to this year, we've been a playoff team for seven straight years. Certainly you're trying to protect that legacy. I am certainly a system guy. You have a system and this is how we practice and this is how many days and how many minutes. I like my systems, and I like my approach. When that gets disrupted, that bothers me and I become anxious. But I'm also realistic. This is what we get and so we need to make the most of this. And so, as coaches, we did some things for our kids that we don't normally do. We used some Hudl applications that we don't normally use with those guys to hopefully get them information that we couldn't give them. When we came in on Thursday, we had some business to take care of, but we also had to bring some calm to this. If we come in anxious and there's a lot of anxiety and whatnot, that's not going to do much for your guys at practice, right? We don't want people to be stressed and nervous. We want to commit and whatever time you have, let's use it and get better and prepare as best we can.
Mohrmann: Was there ever a point when you're riding on a snow plow on a Thursday afternoon to clear off the field for your first practice of the week that you're ever thinking you didn't sign up for this?
Mitchell: Well, I'll tell you this, that was a first. In 20 some years of coaching, I've never had to do that. It ended up being therapy. Ron and I were joking about that because we were both kind of grumpy about this and you were both bothered by the fact that we couldn't practice and we had to come and do that. Certainly we're both feeling that. But for the two of us to sit in that truck for a couple hours and tell stories and tell jokes and complain about the situation, but when it was all said and done, it was exactly what I needed on that day.
Mohrmann: What is this whole journey for you been like overall, whether it's this season, whether it's last season, just the whole experience at Discovery Canyon and building this consistent program that you've found yourself with?
Mitchell: It's been one of the most rewarding things that I've done in my career, at all levels. To start the program, but to also open a building and to be part of that culture. I'm also the department chair for the social studies department. I've been responsible for hiring the members of the social studies department and the football staff. I've been a part of this campus growing up together. We started with this tiny little freshman class, so I've been there through all of this and it's rewarding. But it's also been a lot of work. You always expect with coaching, this is going to be a lot of work and this is going to take some time. I don't know if you fully understand that until you have that first day of football practice and when you open this new building and there are 15 kids and I don't even know if we can put together a team. And then eventually we got up to like 19 kids. Okay, yeah, we can play a game. That was one of those moments that I don't know if this is what I signed up for. I had a different picture in my head and then we struggled early on. We had some ups and downs and you start to wonder, are we ever going to get this thing rolling? Now, I wouldn't trade it for the world and, if I could do it all over again, I would absolutely do it again.
Mohrmann: What's the biggest challenge this time of year? You're looking like a safe bet for the playoffs, but what's the biggest challenge in making sure that the boys continue to show up, know their assignments and do what needs to be done in order to come away with a win?
Mitchell: Like everybody in the state at this time of year, you're battling things like injury. Guys get banged up and some of them make it back and some don't. You're definitely battling injury. And even if guys aren't injured, they're banged up. They have aches and pains and the thing that was nagging them in week two or week three. Now it's really bothering them and you never really get a chance to heal up. You have to keep them motivated, right? Some of these drills that we do that we think are a necessity to be successful after 14 weeks of it or 13 weeks, whatever we're in right now, that can be a little monotonous. So you have to find a way to get through the monotony, whether it's shortening the amount of time that you're on the field or whether it's mixing in some new things to keep them engaged, but that's a battle too: keeping their focus. You would think that this is an exciting time in the season, and we're playing for a league championship on Thursday and there's a more-than-likely chance we're going to make the playoffs again the following week and that's exciting, but they're tired and they're mentally tired and they're physically tired and they're beat up. You need to find a way to keep them motivated. And that's a challenge.