Mark Shields, pictured giving instructions during a practice session in 2015, has stepped down as the head football coach at Mount Desert Island in Bar Harbor after 15 seasons. Credit: File

Mark Shields, who has guided the Mount Desert Island High School football program to the upper echelon of the Class C North standings in recent seasons, is ending his 15-year tenure as the Trojans’ head coach.

Shields served as an assistant coach under George “Toog” McKay at MDI for seven seasons before taking over as head coach in 2003. Under his leadership MDI compiled a 74-68 record overall, including a combined 18-4 the last two seasons.

“It’s funny,” said Shields. “Going into it I thought if I lasted four or five years I’d be doing well, and 15 years later as the head coach I was still doing it. I just felt it was time for somebody else to take the reins. I’ve given all I can to the program and had a blast but just felt like this was the right time for me to step down.”

Shields’ first two MDI teams combined for just one victory, but by 2008 the Trojans finished 8-2 after reaching the Eastern Maine Class B championship game.

More recently, Shields and the Trojans captured the program’s first regional title by winning the 2016 Class C North crown, then returned to the C North championship game last fall.

“Our goal every year was to get to the playoffs, and we did that the last 12 straight years,” said Shields. “We felt we were able to compete most nights with most teams, and we were fortunate to have (three) years when we played in some championship games.”

The 44-year-old Shields, who grew up in Mercer and played his high school football in Skowhegan, was named conference coach of the year in 2013, 2015 and 2017. He was selected as a Maine Football Coaches Association coach of the year in 2016.

“For me it was all about the relationships with the kids more than the wins and losses,” said Shields, a health and physical education teacher at MDI. “I t has been a true honor coaching for this amazing school and community. I have made some lifetime friendships with players, coaches, families and community members that I will cherish forever.

“The only advice I would give to fellow coaches is love your players more than you love the scoreboard. At the end of the day it is the only thing that truly matters.”

MDI, which finished 9-2 last season, graduates 15 of the 34 players on its 2017 roster, and Shields said his successor will inherit a challenge faced by many head coaches around the state — developing enough players to maintain a strong foundation for the program.

“We do have some good players coming back,” he said. “I think we’ll have a real strong offensive line and some decent skill guys coming back so this team could definitely be competitive next year.

“The concern like a lot of programs have is the numbers game. We haven’t been getting a lot of numbers from our middle-school team the last two or three years but we’ve been fortunate that even though our numbers have been low we’ve had some real quality football players and have been able to compete. I hope that continues.”

MDI athletic director Bunky Dow said the process of filling Shields’ coaching vacancy will start within the next couple of weeks.

“As the athletic director at MDI I’m very sad to receive his letter of resignation but fully understand and support his reasons,” Dow said in a statement. “Mark is a true professional and an athletic director’s dream coach. Coach Shields was always looking to improve each season as a coach and was an excellent role model for the students in the MDI communities. He will be missed.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...