BROWNSVILLE — When McAllen High head coach Patrick Shelby took the field with his new team for the first time Saturday night, it was the culmination of a long journey for the coach and the beginning of another for the Bulldogs.
The first-time head coach ran out of the purple and gold inflatable helmet-shaped tunnel with his team. He was at the center of every pregame huddle, jumped around the line of scrimmage during warmups and stood between his quarterbacks and receivers practicing routes, focusing on their eye movements like an eager defensive back.
Without the headset and white cap, Shelby could have easily been mistaken for one of his players given his involvement in every minute detail of preparation and palpable excitement before kickoff, which trickled down to every player and coach on the McHi sideline.
“The kids were extremely excited,” Shelby said. “We had to calm them down a little bit and told them, ‘Don’t be surprised if something big happens early.’”
Something incredibly big happened early — 8 seconds into the game to be exact — when the Bulldogs’ defense walloped Brownsville Lopez quarterback Jose Cruz and jarred the ball loose before defensive end Juan Corpus scooped up a fumble and returned it 30 yards for a defensive score.
The sideline, and hundreds of supporters who made the trip from McAllen, erupted with excitement. But Shelby was the outlier, trying his best to temper his emotions and remain stoic and composed.
He thought back to some of the guidance he had received from former colleagues and head coaches in the lead up to his first game in the position.
“The best advice I got was that you’re always going to have some sloppy stuff in the first game of the year, but just make sure you stay calm, cool and collected,” he said. “Coach them up; don’t coach them down. Be extremely positive with your guys, just stay relaxed and do your job.”
Shelby’s lead-by-example approach worked like a charm as the Bulldogs went on to trounce the Lobos 49-7 at Sams Memorial Stadium, notching the first win of his career and marking the beginning of a new era in McHi football.
More than a new offensive or defensive system or a new coaching staff or terminology, though, what Shelby has worked hardest to instill in his short time at McAllen High is a winning, team mindset. And it’s what has surprised him most between his new position and some of his former stops as a coordinator and assistant coach.
“From a coaching standpoint, yes. From an administrative standpoint, no because it’s not just about football,” Shelby said. “I think that was the biggest part in the transition — understanding that it’s not just about football, it’s about everybody else. At the end of the day, it’s the same mentality that we tell our kids: It’s not about you. It’s about the team and we’re all one team here at McAllen High School.”
Before taking the head coaching gig at McHi, Shelby coached as the offensive coordinator at Weslaco High for two seasons and prior to that, three years as the OC at Edinburg Vela.
He played a big role in multiple coaching staffs that propelled the Panthers and SaberCats to deep playoff runs. Shelby has said that what set those two programs apart from others was their expectation to win and do so consistently week after week.
He acknowledges he’s used some of those relationships to help him get the Bulldogs’ program off and running.
“You always look back to some of the guys you’ve worked for in the past. You reach out to them for a little more knowledge and insight on how everything operates,” Shelby said. “You always turn back to guys and find people who you’ve networked with and you lean on them a little bit.”
Since he arrived on campus in early 2019 — through spring ball, summer 7-on-7 and preseason camp — Shelby has worked hard to instill that same mindset and set of expectations in the mind’s of his players, telling them they have an obligation to live up to at McHi.
“I think it was a mindset change. We want these guys to be able to experience that success, not only our players but also our community here in McAllen,” he said. “There’s a lot of tradition and there’s high expectations. The kids have got to understand that we’ve got to meet those expectations that have been laid out for us, and I think that (Saturday) night was a great start.”
After the team’s biggest victory in recent memory, Bulldogs’ players too acknowledged that the program was beginning to have a different tone under Shelby and that they could feel it already.
“It just feels amazing. It’s something that we haven’t really experienced at all for the past couple of years and now it’s just like everything came together,” senior quarterback and punter Robert Amador said. “The culture, the way the coaches are, the people, the players they want to actually play this year and go for a district title and win.”
Many players said after the game against Lopez that it was the most fun they had had playing football in years. But the message from their head coach was clear: This is the new normal at McHi.
“It’s one of many,” said senior defensive end Cirr Arredondo, referencing his coach’s postgame speech. “You get that taste of winning in your mouth and it’s on to the next one. We’ve got another opponent next week, so this game is good for tonight but tomorrow we’ve got another to look forward to it.”
Shelby was excited for the first win of the new era too, although his reaction was a bit more subdued than those of his players. The first-time head coach was just happy to see the buy-in from his players, coaches and the community, and relieved to have the first of many out of the way.
“I think it helped the kids out a lot. It showed the kids that there are a lot of people behind them that are supporting them to go out and do a great job,” he said. “It felt really, really good, but at the same time, like I always say, you can’t dwell on that first one.
“You’ve got to move on and got to get ready to go. We want our kids to experience more of that success. All the work and everything that happened, I attribute that to our kids. I’m just a ball coach like the rest of them.”