It wasn't that long ago that Shann Schillinger was sprinting down the fields of NFL stadiums trying to corral some of the most elusive athletes in the league. A former All-Big Sky first-team safety at Montana, Schillinger spent four seasons with the Atlanta Falcons and Tennessee Titans, mostly as a special teams player.
He is now trying to teach college football players at Nebraska the same things he learned in the NFL. Schillinger nearly joined the staff at Tennessee as a defensive graduate assistant, but the opportunity to coach with former longtime Montana assistant Bruce Read was too good to pass up.
In the pros or in Lincoln, Nebraska, Schillinger's Montana roots have followed. A standout at Baker High and the next in a long line of Schillinger coaches, he played with former Grizzly defensive end Kroy Biermann in Atlanta. Now, he says he will join up with Bruce and his father, legendary Montana coach Don, somewhere in Lincoln on Saturday to watch the Griz play North Dakota State.
Q. Did you use some Montana connections to go down to Nebraska?
A. I guess how it kind of came down -- I was about to go to Tennessee -- and coach Kraig Paulson, who was the defensive coordinator when I played at Montana is very close with coach Bruce Read, the special teams coordinator here, so he called me and said there is a special teams assistant at Nebraska with coach Read. I talked with coach Read and coach (Mike) Riley and thought it would be a great opportunity. That’s kind of how it all happened and I guess the rest is history.
Q. How has the new staff acclimated itself to the football-crazy atmosphere that is Nebraska?
A. You don’t realize how passionate they are around here. Very passionate fan base that expects and wants to win, but that’s a good problem to have because there are some programs out there that quite frankly don’t care as much. I feel like the staff has done a really good job of getting out and getting to know people and understanding the tradition the best they can. It’s been good. I feel like it’s been a pretty smooth transition. A lot of it was done before I was there so I can’t take credit for it.
Q. How have those four years with the Falcons translated to your role with Nebraska?
A. It’s been good. I think obviously there are times where ... coach Read is obviously a very brilliant guy and very smart and sharp so to bounce ideas off him has been great. Also, I’ve lived the good and the bad and I understand what’s easy and what’s not easy as a special teams player, so to be able to relate to the guys is nice. In four years in the NFL you learn a lot of stuff so that’s been very beneficial.
Q. Did your four years impact your perception of what goes on within the NFL?
A. It’s a business, it’s truly a business. I knew it going into it and you can’t blame it, it’s what makes it a great place to work, a great place to be. But it’s a dog-eat-dog business. You’ve got to perform and if you don’t the next man up is going to come take your job. I think they say only 2 percent of college football players play in the NFL and there are a lot of them trying every year. It’s extremely, extremely competitive, but obviously I wouldn’t trade any of those memories that I have from my four years. The people I’ve met, the experiences and all the stadiums, it was an awesome experience. I’ve very thankful for that opportunity.
Q. You graduated Montana with a degree in business administration, do you want to go into coaching or the private sector?
A. I would prefer coaching. I like to be around the players. Obviously, I would like to help them out when I can. I know my college coaches really helped me become who I am today and I hope I can help transform young men into being good citizens in this world we live in.
Q. How did you come to the conclusion that you wanted to leave the playing field and go into coaching?
A. It’s something I’ve always been interested in. My family -- my brother, my dad and my uncles -- they’ve all coached. I grew up around it and I always wanted to try it. I always said I don’t know if I’ll do it forever, but talking it over with my wife, it’s always been my passion and something that I’ve always wanted to do. I felt like I’ve got to go try it and see if it’s what I want to do. I’m in that stage right now and it’s been great so far.
Q. Is there a level you think you would prefer?
A. I’m pretty open. This sounds very boring and redundant, but we just take it day by day. Me and my wife like it here in Lincoln. I really enjoy working with coach Read and he’s phenomenal to be around. Wherever the right opportunity comes I’ll consider. But I’ve thought there is nothing wrong with being at a small college either because the time is a lot less and you can still help develop players and all that. I’m not really big into any level. I just want my family and myself to be happy and I want to work with good people.
Q. Montana and Nebraska are similar in the way that they are the biggest thing in the state. Did being from Montana and going through the program help prepare you for what you can expect at Nebraska?
A. I think that’s a really good comparison. I think Montana is obviously a smaller program than Nebraska, but very similar in that we’re the biggest show in the state. Each week the stadiums are full, the fan bases want to win. Each year you’re competing for a conference championship and the national championship and both programs are very similar in that. Both programs are very similar in that they both have a lot of local kids, they want to win with local kids. All local kids grow up going for the Grizzlies in Montana or going for the Cornhuskers in Nebraska. They’re very different levels, but very similar in the types of programs they are.
Q. How closely do you follow Montana and have you been back for any games?
A. I haven’t been back since maybe it was my third year in the league when we had a bye week and me and my wife went back for a game. But it’s been tough so I haven’t been back. I keep track of the program very closely and read each week and follow how they do. I grew up a huge Grizzly fan and obviously that is my alma mater. I’m very indebted to the school and will always support Grizzly football and for that matter Grizzly athletics.