Upon announcing his plan during fall camp to retire at the end of this season, Bishop Verot coach Bill Shields joked maybe the news wouldn’t be such a big deal if the Vikings got off to a poor start. Maybe instead of begging him to stay one more year, the administration, alumni and fans would be calling for his ouster.
It would make leaving behind 40 years of coaching and teaching a little easier.
Well, Verot is 1-2 thus far, having lost to rival Sarasota Cardinal Mooney by 31 points and Class 3A powerhouse Lakeland Christian. Yet Shields is reminded each day he can coach for as long as he wants.
However, after two stints with Verot, including a state final appearance in 1990, Shields, 62, is ready to call it a career. One of the most respected coaches in the area, he wants to go out on his own terms while he is still physically able to travel the country to see his family.
“I’ve carried enough water uphill,” Shields said. “It’s time for someone else to do it.”
He informed his players during fall camp, but waited to confirm his plans to the public so focus would be on the team rather than himself.
Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive disorder of the nervous system affecting movement, in 2008, Bill started to feel the effects the last couple of years. At times it is hard to walk and bouts of freezing where he can’t put one foot in front of the other are unpredictable.
Players are always willing to lend a helping hand in the few instances where they see Bill struggling. They are usually rebuffed.
“He fights,” senior offensive lineman Vikto Beach said. “If he has to get somewhere, he’s going to get there whether he has to crawl, ride a horse or take an airplane. That’s just who he is.”
However, Bill and Becky know there will come a day where every day tasks will become tall orders.
“There are some bad days, but right now, he has a lot more good days than bad days,” his wife Becky Shields said. “It’s hasn’t changed the person he is. It’s just put some things into perspective.”
For Shields, coaching interscholastic sports has never been about wins and losses. Although his successes are worth noting.
From 1987 through 1992, Shields led the Vikings to a 38-10 record and the program’s last two district titles in 1990 and 1991. Before returning to Verot in 2014 and pushing it to back-to-back playoff appearances, he had stints at Titusville Astronaut (1992-97), Jacksonville Orange Park (1997-2000) and Duluth in Georgia (2000-2004).
During his time coaching sports other than football at Brookwood in Snellville, Georgia, he guided the tennis team to state titles in 2013 and 2014 and the track team to one in 2010. In addition, he coached Brookwood’s offense during a run to the Class 6A football title in 2010.
Shields’ legacy is based on the time he spent building relationships with his players.
“Football is on his mind every second of every day,” Beach said. “But he’s always willing to talk about what’s going on in our lives, whether it be about our personal relationships or stuff that’s going on outside of football.”
Southwest Florida Christian Academy coach Mike Marciano, who played at Verot from 1988 through 1991, considers Shields one of his two living role models alongside his father.
“Nobody trumps Jesus, but my father and Bill Shields are right up there,” Marciano said. “I couldn’t wait to play football in high school and at that time the coach’s words were like the Bible. Coach Shields had that authority, but he wasn’t a yeller.”
A 135-pound freshman, Marciano’s goal was to play quarterback. Shields promptly told him the only way he was getting on the field was if he gained 50 pounds and played center. Marciano never questioned him and went on to a successful varsity career.
Everything started for Verot in the weight room. The team’s success was predicated on the work the put in during the week.
“We always used to say practices are for coaches, games are for players,” Shields said. “On Friday, we’ll see how good of a job we did.”
The backbone of the 1990 team which knocked off Frostproof in four overtimes during a Class 2A semifinal were the offensive and defensive lines. The 17-14 loss to Jacksonville Bolles the following week in the final still stings Marciano. He’ll never forget the lead up to it, though.
“The police escort and charter buses all the way up to Daytona, (Shields) took care of his players,” Marciano said. “He made us feel special. He did things the right way.”
Shields said he never accomplished anything by himself. He credits a long list of coaches and administrators who shared his vision.
“There are certain things that are always said and one of them is being a team is all about working together,” Shield said. “It’s all true. I wouldn’t be where I am today without a lot of different people.”
Atop that list is his wife of 34 years.
Living the life of a coach’s wife isn’t glamorous at all. Throughout the years, Becky was the one spending 5 to 6 hours each Saturday scrubbing and soaking uniforms. Thursday night meals for players at the Shields household were cooked by her. Recently, she baked 125 banana muffins for players before an early morning practice.
She wouldn’t choose to spend her life any other way. The admiration she has for her husband the coach is nearly equal to the love she has for husband the man.
“I’m so blessed someone like him has been a part of my life,” Becky said. “He just gets it. He knows how to treat kids.”
At times, coaching came at a cost to Bill’s three kids — Jennifer, Bryan and Lauren. There were times football conflicted with ballet recitals, Little League and cheerleading.
It’s time Bill will never get back. However, all is not lost.
Jennifer and her husband Jason Rigdon live in Oklahoma and have three children of their own — Branson, 4; Cason, 3; and Dawson, 8 months. Bill cherishes being a grandfather more than anything and wants to spend as much time as he can with them while his is still physically able.
During a family vacation in Daytona Beach in August, there was a discussion about Bill’s future. He decided he was tired of seeing his grandchildren solely through pictures and video chats during the fall and he wanted to spend more time with Bryan and Lauren and their spouses in San Francisco.
“Lord knows (Parkinson’s) isn’t going to get cured any time soon. It is what is,” Bill said. “I have to make the most of the time I have and I want to spend that time with my family.”
The Shields bought a motor home over the weekend. They plan to spend 2017 travelling across the country. He’ll do so with the blessing of everyone involved in the Verot football program.
“He’s raised enough people’s kids,” Marciano said. “Now it’s time to see his own.”
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