MICHIGAN CITY — A cloud of uncertainty has shrouded Brett St. Germain's coaching career in the time since his three-week, in-season leave at Lake Central during the 2016.
For those not close to him who didn't know the reasons he stepped away, the questions remained.
"From a professional standpoint, there was a stigma attached to me," St. Germain said before Friday's practice at Ames Field. "There was a lot of speculation. What's wrong with this guy? It's the last thing people remember. Nothing happened. There was no scandal. There's no mystery."
What happened to St. Germain isn't uncommon in the coaching profession. The demands he put on himself took their toll on him — inability to sleep, light-headedness at practice — to the point he had to do something about it.
"I had a couple-week stretch, physically, mentally, where I felt something was wrong," he said. "I was fearful something bad was going to happen. I know what the normal stress is. We all go through it. I worked extremely hard, at a frenetic pace. It's the fanaticism of coaching, the stress of always keeping it up. That mentality, wanting to be the best at what you do, can get the best of you. I pushed myself to the limit and put myself in a bad spot physically. Your greatest strength can also be your biggest weakness."
After three weeks, St. Germain returned with his doctor's OK, and finished out the season. He subsequently resigned, something he said he intended to regardless, in order to watch his son, Bryce, play his senior year at Valparaiso.
"Personally, that was the best thing to ever happened to me," he said. "The first person I talked to about it was (Andrean baseball coach) Dave Pishkur. He went through it but people didn't know because he's a baseball coach. For one time in my life I had to think about myself and my family, put them ahead of everything else. They've given up so much. I feel no shame in that. Sometimes, that's just what happens. It was really that simple. My wife told me when it was all done, I'm glad I got my husband back."
St. Germain taught the last two years, also serving as the Director of Athletics at Clark Middle School in 2018-19.
"The job was perfect for me. It kept me busy," he said. "The first year, being off was great, watching my son, just being a dad. I got into the second year, I had to do something."
As major administrative changes unfolded at Michigan City, Mason let Associate Superintendent Wendel McCollum know about St. Germain. He also put in a good word for his old friend from the coaching side of it.
"I had no concerns. I knew what was going on," Mason said. "We all go through that in this profession. We've always stayed in touch. In 2011, I needed a lot of people to lean on, Brett was there for me, Roy (Richards) was there for me. I've always used him as guidance through the process. He's always been very supportive. I stay loyal to those guys. In coaching, you look at the NFL, guys take care of each other. When you're close in this profession, you always find ways to take care of those guys who help each other out. It's an unbelievable staff they've allowed us to put together here. It's going to be a lot of fun."
Before addressing anything related to football, St. Germain emphasized that job one in M.C. is assistant principal.
"That's the main focus of what I'm doing," he said. "I'm excited because I get to utilize some skills in that endeavor. There are a lot of similarities to being a coach, but there are differences, too. I'm definitely thankful for the opportunity to do both. Being a head coach for so long, having taken two years off, sometimes you realize ultimately what you want to do. When I get out, I didn't know when I would get back in and in what capacity. This just kind of came along and it's perfect for me."
On the football field, St. Germain is working as the receivers coach and an offensive consultant.
"I'm taking on a different role, but I've been in this position before," he said. "I was head coach at Andrean and I went to Crown Point as an assistant. I know what that's all about. I'll collaborate with Phil on offensive stuff, share ideas. It's up to him what he wants to use or not use. I knew what I was getting into it and pretty much how it's going to evolve. It's been a smooth transition, slowly bringing in my ideas to what they're doing to help accentuate some of the skill kids we have here."
With the addition of St. Germain, Mason has three former head coaches on his staff, the others being Richards and Ken Bye.
"The key of that he's got to be comfortable with the people he's with," St. Germain said. "Phil has a long history with Roy and me, and Ken's been around for years. From Phil's standpoint, it's a good situation. He knows us beyond the field. We've been friends for years."
Mason and St. Germain were a part of Wheeler's first staff in 2000 with Chip Pettit. Mason took over the next year and stayed through 2005. St. Germain coached Andrean from 2003 to 2007 with Mason joining the 59ers staff under him before becoming the 59ers coach in 2008.
"It was a great experience, to go back and be an assistant. You see things differently," Mason said. "This is a great opportunity for him. We're all in our 50s now. We're not in our 30s anymore. There are a lot of guys who just want a shirt, to look good on the sideline. I'm dealing with guys who don't ask me for anything. They come out here and go to work, go through the grind because they're competitive, they respect the game, they respect the profession. That's where the friendship's evolved from, supporting each other throughout the years, the things we've done, the places we've been. We're going to do our kids the justice they deserve. They're going to get coached well."
St. Germain said the time away allowed him to gain a new view of football. While he didn't go to as many games, he remain studious, watching more football than he ever had as a coach.
"When you're a head coach, football consumes every minute of your life. The last thing you want to do is watch a football game," he said. "I continued to study the game, the trends. It was a lot of college, a lot of film study. I built up a library of knowledge where, OK, if I get back into it, what can I bring to go along with what I've already done?"
At 52, St. Germain won't say no to the idea of ever being a head coach again, though it's a proposition he'd strongly re-think were it ever to be back on the table.
"It's always possible. It's something I love, that I think I'm good at," he said. "(My wife) was a little concerned that the crazy man was coming back, but I told her, I'm not the head coach. They have to have their 'A' game every day. I'm a type 'A' person by nature. I want to be the best. I'm going to constantly be in that mode. There's no doubt I want to be in a situation where I can do some things and be extremely successful. Phil has built it up to where this is what the expectation is now. It's good to be a part of that. The competitive juices, the drive, the desire, wanting to be as good as you can, that's never going to change. If that changes, I won't be coaching anymore."