Gridiron grinders

Pennsbury head football coach, Dan McShane, talks training, research and the philosophy that created his winning team

By Al Thompson

The Times

There are coaches who, when discussing the offseason training techniques they use to get their team ready for the upcoming season, will try to impress you with high-tech terminology you might need a sports thesaurus nearby to find out what they’re talking about.

Some, like Pennsbury head football coach Dan McShane, just tell it like it is. No frills. He’s a coach who looks like he is enjoying the process almost as much as he does the regular season.

Work hard, play hard: Pennsbury High School football coach Dan McShane has been part of the Falcons program for seven years. Last year was his first as head coach. One of his first orders of business was talking to the school’s athletic director about expanding the weight room equipment to coincide with his training philosophy. AL THOMPSON / TIMES PHOTO

In a recent interview on the Bucks County campus, when talking about his passion and the passion his assistant coaches have for the high school game and the fact that no one is getting rich doing this work that takes up so much time, he laughed.

“My wife’s a CPA, she does the math,” McShane said. “It’s like five cents an hour.”

Before joining the Pennsbury staff seven years ago, McShane was the head coach at Bensalem High for 10 years. McShane grew up in Southwest Philadelphia, attended West Catholic High School and played football at West Chester University.

McShane says when it comes to training, he is versatile while sticking to basics.

“We offer, I wouldn’t call it cookie-cutter, but I believe in basic strength at this age,” McShane said. “You can get into 17 different ways of doing curls and ‘beach work,’ I call it. The reality is they should be working on basic strength: squat, bench, deadlift, maybe overhead press and pull-ups.”

McShane said he likes Olympic-style movements but getting involved with platforms and bumper plates and teaching what is essentially a sport in itself can get complicated, which is not his style.

“Olympic lifts are kind of expensive to teach,” McShane said. “There is speed involved and when there’s speed involved, there is a high degree involved of poor technique and injuries. We teach Olympic lifts sequentially…we may not do a full clean to start. We may do like a jump shrug, then a high pull…we use these movements step by step by step.”

McShane is not afraid to learn from the best in the field of football training.

“Some of the research I’ve done, you look around the NFL and college football, there seems to be a lot of ties to the Nebraska weight-training program — Boyd Epley — and those type of people,” said McShane, referring to the Cornhuskers’ Hall of Fame strength coach. “They talk about the direct relationship between your vertical jump and being a good football player, specifically. Usually the guys who have a good vertical jump, usually are pretty explosive football players.”

McShane said he talked to the athletic director when he first arrived at Pennsbury about expanding the weight room equipment to coincide with his training philosophy.

“The king of their exercises is the squat,” McShane said. “When I first came here, we had three squat racks. Now we have nine. The AD, they were kind enough and some of the people in the community were kind enough to get behind it. So we can train a lot of kids with the squat.”

McShane says players must stick to a program to hit every muscle in the body, stimulating their slow and fast twitch muscle fibers.

“We start our winter workouts where there is no football,” McShane said. “It’s just pure strength development. That’s about a six-week period. Every six weeks, we give the kids a week off. Then we come back. The last six-week period we had was ‘spring football.’ We still lifted twice a week instead of three times a week, but we had two other nights a week where we were installing plays.”

Daily devotion: Pennsbury High School football coach Dan McShane trains with his squad during a recent practice. AL THOMPSON / TIMES PHOTO

Today is what McShane refers to as the start of the “summer one” session.

“It’s another six-week cycle,” he said. “Three nights a week of lifting but we review on Monday what we installed during ‘spring football’ just to keep it fresh in the kids’ minds. We’ll incorporate an agility component to it. We’ll incorporate speed development…it’s pretty comprehensive. I spend a lot of time with strength coaches, buddies I know out at Villanova and Delaware. We kind of pick their brains, and they were kind enough to share.”

Like many coaches, from high school to the pros, McShane says he attends college practices in an effort to pick up some tips for new drills and strategy.

“I know a lot of nice people who let me steal from them over the years,” McShane said with a laugh. “Like I said, I’ve got some buddies at Villanova, Delaware and Penn. Anything from football concepts to weight training. It’s the highest form of flattery, right? Copying what other people do.”

McShane keeps beating the drum for his players to stick to a program.

“Squat, bench, deadlift,” McShane said. “I tell the kids if you’re bench pressing all the time, you’re never going to get better. Training isn’t just coming in and pushing weights around. Training is resting when you’re supposed to rest, eating when you’re supposed to eat…sleep…the whole thing. These kids, they just want to bench press every day. I say, ‘Nah, that’s an overuse injury waiting to happen.’

“We believe in keeping healthy,” McShane continued. “Physically healthy and especially emotionally healthy. That’s why every six weeks, we give our kids a week off. We say it’s active rest. Don’t sit around, go play basketball. You want to shut yourself down and take a little bit of a break from it (football training).”

Some coaches detest players going to outside personal trainers, some don’t.

McShane is one who has no problem with student-athletes or their parents looking into another opinion about how to train. There is a never-ending race to grab an athletic scholarship and save the student or his or her parents up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in college tuition. So in McShane’s mind…go for it.

“We tell our kids, they can train with us or they can train with their own personal trainer, they’re going to train somewhere.”

McShane said he has an assistant coach who trains his and other players on the side.

“We do have a couple good ones in the area,” McShane said. “In fact, one of them is one of my coaches, Brandon Hughes, who owns a gym in the area. He played for the Eagles. Our guys are required to be at all football-related things. But if it’s just about training, and you want to do that, I have no problem. I think you can get a little more specialization, more individualized training, and that’s fine. There’s lots of ways to skin a cat. It’s paid off for some of our kids, I’m not going to try and outsmart myself.”

Hughes was signed off the Giants’ practice squad by the Eagles on Nov. 23, 2010, to fill the slot vacated after cornerback Ellis Hobbs was placed on the injured reserve. He played for the Birds on and off until September 2013.

“Another thing we believe in is multiple-sport athletes,” McShane said. “As you saw at the NFL draft, a high percentage of all the players were multiple-sport athletes. We tell our kids…go throw the shot put, play baseball, go play lacrosse…please. The more you can do that, you put yourself in a competitive situation. You are also working different muscles, that type of stuff.

“John Wooden used to say the greatest asset you want your player to have is competitive desire,” McShane continued. “Whether it’s basketball or football, you’re in that competitive atmosphere. You may not be the best basketball player on the field, but you want to be the best competitor.”

In 2014, as the defensive coordinator under head coach Galen Snyder, McShane helped Pennsbury make it to the PIAA Class 4A semifinals, where the Falcons lost to eventual state champion St. Joe’s Prep, 37–7, finishing with a 14–2 overall record.

In 2015, again as defensive coordinator under Snyder, the Falcons went 9–3 in the regular season then lost to Upper Dublin in the first round of the District One playoffs, 24–14.

In 2016, the first under McShane as head coach, Pennsbury finished 5–5, its worst season since 2010, when Snyder’s team also finished 5–5.

The 2016 team had a lot of underclassmen playing key roles, including team MVP Mike Gobora, a junior defensive end; Matt Rosso, a 6–6, 260-pound lineman; Diante Wiggins, a junior linebacker; and Nika Wright, a 250-pound junior tackle. McShane also said he was looking for big things from Kieren Saunders, a lineman transfer from Father Judge.

“We have some skill players who are finding their way,” McShane said. “They have waited a long time for this, so they’re hungry.”

At Pennsbury, winning is the norm. McShane talked about what went wrong and how he expects his team to rebound.

“Since I’ve been here, we’ve won a lot of football games,” McShane said. “Coach Snyder did a great job, we play really good offense and really good defense plus special teams. I just think we had a lot of kids on the field for the first time last year. They’ve got a nice year’s experience, a little baptism under fire. We had to replace 18 starters (from the year before). That’s not crying the blues…we had a new system in offensively…but I think the year’s experience will turn it around. It’s that simple.”

It’s a simple philosophy that has kept Pennsbury on top for decades and will no doubt continue for many more years to come. ••