BILLINGS — As a player, Shann Schillinger' competitive drive was relentless.
He won three state championships as a quarterback and defensive back at Baker High School, then became a ball-hawking safety at the University of Montana during what was a ridiculously successful era for the Griz program. That led to a four-year stint in the NFL with the Falcons and Titans.
Bottom line, Schillinger was a winner.
As a coach, Schillinger's trajectory hasn't changed. In March, the 36 year old was named head coach at the University of Mary of the NCAA Division II Northern Sun Conference, just eight years after taking his first assistant job.
Schillinger inherits a Marauders program that went 23-76 in the past 10 years and last had a winning season in 2013. He's bringing that same competitive approach to the sideline in Bismarck, North Dakota, and the first steps for a culture change are in effect.
"They've had some rough years looking back," Schillinger said during a phone interview with MTN Sports. "But there is a lot of pride in the program. They've had good teams and a lot of really good players. I'm trying to instill some discipline and toughness and attention to detail.
"Football is a tough game, and a lot of times the toughest teams win. I'm trying to instill some confidence in these kids. Confidence can go a long way."
Previous experience isn't lost on Schillinger, and he won't have to look far for guidance.
At Baker, Schillinger played for his legendary uncle Don, who won 318 career games and six state championships. At Montana he was coached by Bobby Hauck and played during a four-year stretch (2006-09) in which the Grizzlies went 51-6 overall, 31-1 in the Big Sky Conference and went to consecutive FCS championship games in 2008 and 2009.
He then appeared in 36 games in the NFL with the Falcons under coach Mike Smith, who led the team to three straight double-digit win seasons and an NFC championship game appearance during Schillinger's time there.
Schillinger cited those coaches as three of his biggest influences — and as people he'll draw from as he begins the rebuilding process at Mary.
"My uncle had a very big impact on me," Schillinger said. "I appreciated his approach and his ability to get the most out of kids and put them in situations where they could succeed. With coach Hauck it was the toughness part and the structure and the organization, and the way he did things had a big influence on me.
"And coach Smith, he was organized and detailed and was able to turn around that (Falcons) franchise quickly by being one of the best coaches in the organization's history. They all are unique and different, and I can take little bits and pieces from each of them and kind of put that into my own blender and hopefully we can have success."
Schillinger began his college coaching career in 2015 as an assistant at Nebraska. He then reunited with Hauck as a Griz assistant from 2016-21. Last year he spent time as an analyst at Mississippi State under the late Mike Leach (whose sudden death last December Schillinger called "heartbreaking").
When the Mary job came open — when previous coach Craig Bagnell left for an assistant job at FCS South Dakota — Schillinger figured it was a great fit due to his knowledge of the western North Dakota/eastern Montana landscape. Location-wise it helped that his wife Ericka hails from Beach, N.D., which sits just across the state line from Wibaux. Schillinger's sister lives in Bismarck, to boot.
"As I went through the process it felt perfect," he said.
In a press release, Hauck said Schillinger "is knowledgeable, a great competitor and (an) outstanding family man. An all-around good person. I'm excited to watch the trajectory of the football program and the great things that Shann and his staff will do at Mary."
As Schillinger is working to fill out his coaching staff, his team will hold its spring game on Saturday, where observers can get a glimpse of what the new head coach will bring. For those who watched him play, it's already apparent.
A relentless drive to compete.