BAR HARBOR — Mount Desert Island High School football team Head Coach Mark Shields resigned in a team meeting Tuesday morning, the school announced in a press release. The announcement marked the end of his 15-year tenure in the role.
“It’s tough, but I felt it was the best time to move on,” Shields told the Islander. “I’ve made a lot of memories here and have loved every bit of the time I’ve spent with the players, coaches and parents who have made this program so special.”
Shields, 44, came to MDI in 1996 after graduating from the University of Maine at Presque Isle. He accepted a job as a physical education teacher and soon joined the football team as an assistant coach under George “Toog” McKay.
After McKay’s final season in 2002, Shields took control of the program. The first few years weren’t easy, but Shields kept at it. The team was 74-68 during his tenure and made the playoffs every year from 2006-17.
“It’s hard to be a high-level coach for so long because it’s not just something you do in August for a few months,” Athletic Director Bunky Dow said. “It’s a year-round job, and Mark gave so much to his players and their communities by doing it for so many years. He’s the epitome of what a successful football coach is.”
Shields originally told Dow and his assistant coaches of his decision Monday evening. The school waited to hold a meeting until the students returned from winter break the following day so his players could hear about the change directly from him.
The meeting, Shields said, was an emotional one. Although he was confident he was making the right decision, that didn’t make doing it in front of his team any easier.
“It was mostly me crying,” he said. “The people here mean a lot to me, and the relationships I’ve built here will last me forever.”
MDI enjoyed success throughout Shields’ time as coach, but his most recent years were particularly special. The Trojans finished 7-3 or better in four of the past five seasons and lost only eight games over the past three seasons.
As a result of his success, Shields was named Big 11 Coach of the Year in 2013, 2015 and 2017. He also was named Maine Football Coaches Association Coach of the Year in 2016 after MDI reached the state championship game for the first time in program history.
Shields, Dow said, had been pondering the decision to step away from coaching for “at least a couple years.” Instead of doing so at the first opportunity, he stuck around to see the current senior class finish off the 2017 season.
“I knew that group of players was going to be really special,” Shields said. “They had strong leadership qualities right from the start. It was a good group to go out on.”
Shields has three children, 19-year-old Madalyn, 17-year-old Delaney and 12-year-old Jacob, and after spending half of his life coaching at MDI, he felt it was time to make a change.
“I love coaching, but it’s going to be nice to just be a dad,” he said.
Dow said he hopes to name Shields’ replacement by March 1. Whoever that might be, Shields has a message he wants the next coaching staff to take to heart.
“The wins and losses and points you score matter, but what matters most is that the people who come into your program are better because of it,” Shields said. “Doing that is going to make you successful more than anything else.”