MISSOULA — Shann Schillinger is one of the most decorated football players in Montana history.
He had a standout high school career at Baker, helping the Spartans to a 49-1 overall record and three Class B state championships in four years. Schillinger followed that up with an impressive career at the University of Montana, where he became an all-Big Sky Conference player as the Grizzlies racked up a 51-6 record during his career.
When he was done playing in the maroon and silver, Schillinger was fortunate enough to be selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
After a four-year NFL career, Schillinger entered the coaching ranks. He had stops at Dickinson State and Nebraska and has been on the UM staff since 2016.
The Baker native sat down with MTN Sports to discuss draft day, his playing career and the transition into coaching in this week’s Sunday Conversation.
MTN Sports: Take us back to that year when you heard your name called from the podium up there. What was that like?
Shann Schillinger: “It was a pretty unbelievable feeling. Obviously a lot of emotions go into that. You speak to a lot of teams and every team has a different grade on you, so you don’t know, you could go from the fourth round to undrafted. A lot of uncertainty. But going back to the day, I was with my mom and sister and a friend and at that time my fiancee. Got the call, it was pretty exciting. It was relieving. Something, I consider a special day along my football career to go back to that memory. Pretty fortunate to have that opportunity and to be a part of that.”
MTN Sports: To start in little Baker, Montana, have a solid career here at UM — not an all-American, which we were surprised when we were looking back through the accolades there — but what did it mean to you to see all that hard work and perseverance kind of pay off with getting that phone call?
Schillinger: “Yeah. I say the reason, I always go back to, the reason why I got the opportunity to come here, I believe, is we won a lot of games at Baker. I was surrounded by a lot of good players and coaches. When you win, people come and recruit the school. Obviously coach (Bobby) Hauck was very aware of Baker, so I had an opportunity to come here and play. And then the same thing here. A lot of the guys before me had gone on and done really well, we won a lot of games, so with that come a lot of NFL scouts. I look at as more of I was a part of some really good teams and some really good players, and that’s how I got noticed. So, I consider myself pretty lucky and fortunate to be surrounded by some good players that really helped me get an opportunity to go to the next level.”
MTN Sports: What was your welcome-to-the-NFL moment?
Schillinger: “My first game we played at Heinz Field versus the Steelers. Opening day there and seeing Troy Polamalu, all those guys and that stadium with the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I just kind of remember before the opening kickoff just looking around, going, ‘Wow, this is the real deal.’ Kind of that first surreal moment of, ‘This is really happening.’ Unfortunately we lost in overtime. But it was kind of a neat deal, neat moment to be able to play in that stadium versus the Steelers, first game. That was something I’ll never forget.”
MTN Sports: To go from Baker to Missoula to Atlanta, kind of different dynamics with those cities. What was that transition like, maybe off the field more than anything as you were trying to get used to life in the South?
Schillinger: “Right. Oh yeah, definitely a little different than eastern Montana to here, even. I enjoy going different places, meeting different people, seeing how lifestyles change. From Baker to Missoula wasn’t a huge change, obviously. The schedule, the demand was different. Moving from Missoula to Atlanta, it was a little different twist. I was fortunate, Kroy Biermann was with the Falcons at the time. He kind of, when I got there, he let me borrow his car to kind of get my feet under me and kind of direct me where to go. I really enjoyed my time down there, I liked living in the South. Obviously the climate has its ups and downs, but certain times of year it was nice. The thing that I’ve realized is, there’s good people in small communities, in communities like Missoula and people living in Atlanta, there’s good people everywhere. Just got to surround yourself with them.”
MTN Sports: You mentioned earlier the success that coach Hauck had in his first tenure here coaching you as a player. Now that you’re on his staff, what’s it like having him back here and having a different relationship rather than that coach-player relationship with him?
Schillinger: “It’s been special for me. Obviously I’m really close with coach, recruited me. From my last playing day here in ’09 til this last year, we would talk on the phone or get together every once in a while, but I didn’t get to spend much time with coach. Obviously seeing how he does things on a professional level has been really good for me, really smart guy, and I see how he does it. But it’s also been nice for me to be able to spend time with him on a different level on a daily basis, so I’ve enjoyed that, spending time with his family. That’s been pretty neat for me to be able to be a part of this with him.”
MTN Sports: How about coaching with your brother? You guys have any butting heads, any knock-down, drag-out fights?
Schillinger: “Not as much anymore. We still have our arguments, our disagreements. Obviously his office is right across the hall from mine. That’s another thing that’s been special about this, is being able to do this with my brother. Our families get together a lot, our kids are always together. Not a lot of people get that opportunity to be on staff. It’s hard to get jobs in college football, let alone at the same place and let alone at a place like the University of Montana. It’s pretty neat, so I’ve enjoyed getting to spend more time with him, as well. Kind of goes back to what I just said with coach: You talk on the phone a lot with him but never really got to spend a lot of time with him over the last recent years, so to be around him has been a lot of fun.”
MTN Sports: What’s been the hardest part of the transition from player to coach for you — because you’ve had a lot of different coaching stops already and it doesn’t seem like you’ve been in that part of the industry for too long — but what’s been kind of the biggest transition and some of the challenges you’ve faced over the past few years?
Schillinger: “That’s a good question. I would say, the schedule demand is different as a coach than a player. As players, you go home after practice. As coaches, you’re up getting ready for the next day and the organization, the structure, getting the meetings ready, all those things. It’s just a little different, takes time to get used to those things. As a player, you get yourself ready to go for practice and workouts and all that. When it’s over, you’re done, you’re out for the day. But as a coach, you got to get ready for the next day and kind of get everyone directed where it needs to go, I guess.”
MTN Sports: Your playing career’s not that long ago. How often do you have to get out there, throw the pads on, show those safeties how to do it?
Schillinger: (laughs) “I’m washed up. Some coaches say they have one play left in them, I have none. But what I do try to take from it, I try to be able to relate to the kids in a sense that, try to remember there’s some things you’re going to ask them, in particular as a safety, that are difficult. We’re asking, this is hard, I understand what I’m asking is hard, but we need to get it done. I try to be able to relate to them in a sense, be real with them. I think sometimes some things we ask are hard, and you go back to your playing days, you remember what it was like. Try to keep those moments fresh, I guess, as a player. But I have no plays left in me. Like I said, I am washed up.”
MTN Sports: When you do go back and reminisce about your playing days, what are some of the things that stick out to you?
Schillinger: “Had a lot of good moments. High school, like I said, you play with some of your best friends. I was fortunate to be on great teams, one some state championships. Here, a lot of good moments here, as well. I think you go back to, a few games that stick out to me: the 2008 rivalry game in our stadium, we wore the throwbacks and we won. That year we had went to James Madison and won a semifinal game on a Friday night, ESPN, that moment sticks out to me. Beating Appalachian State in this stadium right out here back in 2009, arguably one of the best FCS games ever. A lot of really, really good moments. In Atlanta, I was fortunate to be a part of two divisional titles, play in playoff games. I’ve been really lucky, I’ve been really lucky. A big part of it has been around a lot of good coaches and players.”
MTN Sports: Let’s go back to one of your first ones, your uncle, Donny Schillinger back there in Baker. What was it like playing for a Hall of Fame coach at the high school level?
Schillinger: “It was neat. Obviously those that know Donny, he’s a great guy, got a sense of humor that’s unlike any. I consider myself lucky to be around him. Still fortunate to talk to him on the phone a lot. He gives his input when he needs to. But the thing that I took away from him is the respect he had from players. I always say this, he found a way to get average players above average, to get good players to play great, to get not-very-good players to play good. He got the most out of his guys, and I believe it’s because the players there really respected him and put it on the line for him. Obviously he had a really good career there.
MTN Sports: And then a coach that we haven’t mentioned yet that you have a relationship with, Pete Stanton and that family. They’re a bunch of Baker guys, and he’s obviously at Dickinson State, Rob at Billings West and Jim at Billings Central. What’s your relationship like with the Stanton family?
Schillinger: “Really close with the Stantons. My dad went to Circle High School and his high school basketball coach was Jim Stanton Sr. So, Jim Sr. coached my dad, then my dad comes and plays at the University of Montana and gets into teaching and coaching. He goes to Baker and he’s a teacher there, and there’s a superintendent job open and the first name he brought to the board was Jim Sr. They moved to Baker and then it was kind of neat that my dad got to coach a lot of the boys along the way. Stay in touch with them all a lot. Really proud of what they’ve done. It’s kind of neat to see them go on and have the success that they have. Another thing is, what they all do is they treat kids the right way. They do it the right way, and I consider myself pretty lucky to know them and be good friends with them.”
MTN Sports: I think we hear this a lot, but there’s just something about eastern Montana and the people there. To you, what does eastern Montana mean to you?
Schillinger: “It’s kind of become who I became, I guess. All my moments, thinking of growing up in eastern Montana, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I think people are out there are tough and work hard, blue-collar. I follow eastern Montana — like I told you guys, you guys do a great job of covering the state — but eastern Montana sports, I always find it really intriguing. I think it’s a really, really special place to grow up with special people out there.”
MTN Sports: You’re also into another phase of your life, marriage and fatherhood. Take us through some of the highs and lows of that so far for you.
Schillinger: “My wife has been awesome. During the season our schedule is demanding. We’ve got three little girls. Lenex is 5, Malloy is 3 and Indie is two months now, so we’re busy. She does a great job of keeping it going, directing the ship where it needs to go. I wouldn’t want it any other way. They’re awesome. They give me a different perspective. Some days you have a tough day at work or a tough game or whatever, and you come home and they brighten your day up, and I really enjoy being a husband and being a father.”
MTN Sports: Are those little girls picking your brain when it comes to coaching football yet?
Schillinger: “My oldest says she wants to be a football coach, we’ll see. They enjoy being a part of this family, around the guys, around the other coaches. They’ve become close with all the other coaches on staff and the players. I think it’s neat for them to be able to come to games and be behind the scenes and get to see things a lot of kids don’t get to see. We spend weekends up here, let them run around the weight room and in the gym and do those things that I was fortunate to do as a kid, at a different level, but they enjoy it.”