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Coach Louis McDonald “Coach Mac”

By · April 23, 2010 · Filed in Uncategorized · No Comments »


Coach Louis McDonald “destroyed the myth that ‘nice guys finish last,'” the Mayfield Messenger once declared.  He was, the newspaper added, “one of those people who can make ordinary players great and great players even better.  He was the sort of man people wanted to be coaching and teaching their children.”

From 1958 until he died in 1990, “Coach Mac” mentored a multitude of Mayfield linemen.  He helped guide the Big Red to four state championships.  He also came straight from the enemy camp.  He’d been a star in Paducah Tilghman blue.  During the early World War II years, McDonald was a scrappy center who loved to whip Mayfield.  He earned all-state grid honors to boot.

If it’s true that great coaches are students of great coaches, McDonald learned from one of the best in college.  The Paducah native swapped Tilghman blue for Kentucky blue.  His Wildcat country coach was a gravel-voice Southern gent who hailed from Fordyce, Ark.  They called the coach “Bear.”  His name was Paul W. Bryant.  The prodigal Bryant moved on to greener pastures at his alma mater, the University of Alabama.

Coach Mac never returned to Tilghman, except as a Cardinal field boss.  McDonald helped steer the Big Red to 270 victories in his Cardinal coaching tenure.  But he never forgot his first Tilghman “homecoming” in 1958.  He was still “Buttermilk” McDonald to Big Blue boosters.  As a Tilghman teen, McDonald had worked after school at a Paducah dairy.  He swigged buttermilk to help him gain weight.

As usual, Mayfield was the underdog in ’58.  Oddmakers booked the Blue Tornado a 40 point favorite to blow the Cards out of Mayfield War Memorial Stadium.  But the home team battled the Paducah visitors to a 14-14 tie.  “I had never experienced the intensity of Mayfield fans before,” McDonald said.  “I answered the phone for an hour after I got home that day.  People called and complimented us so much we thought we had won”

While just about everybody called him “Coach Mac,” McDonald preferred the title “teacher”.  He taught biology and science.  “Football comes after school.   Teaching is the most important part of my job.”  Coach Paul Leahy said that McDonald taught him about life, “…How to handle yourself, how to win and how to lose.  He taught you how to act like a man.”  Leahy, who coached with McDonald for 20 years, added, “He was such a class person that you felt you had to be a better person just because you were around him.”

Coach Mac’s lineman are legion.  One is Mayfieldian Robert Barclay, who helps with Mayfield Middle School and grade school gridders.  “Outside of my family, Coach Mac had a more profound and positive influence on me then anyone else in my life,” said Barclay, a Mayfield lineman in the 60s.  While Coach Mac remembered the ’58 Big Red Blue Battle, Barclay recalled 1967, when the Cards took the wind out of the Tornado, 13-6.  “It was our first district championship,” Barclay said.

Leahy, a native of Rock Island, Illinois, played football at Murray State University in the 60’s.  Some of his Murray teammates were ex-Mayfield standouts who’d played under McDonald.  “It was obvious to me that these guys had a much deeper feeling for Coach Mac than most players have for their coaches,” Leahy said.  “They really seemed to revere him.”  Leahy swore that Coach Mac could shape up a kid quicker with just one look than he could with discouraging words uttered long and loud.

It worked on Leahy, too.  Not known for mincing words, Leahy was blasting a ref with both barrels over what the coach claimed was a bad call.  The ref walked away, but Leahy kept it up.  “Stop that!” Coach Mac ordered.  Leahy, a head taller and many years McDonald’s junior, silently obeyed.  “Coach Mac had a really firm but gentle way of letting you know when you had over-stepped your bounds,” Leahy said.  “He never had to raise his voice.  He made kids drill and drill until their execution was flawless.”

But McDonald wasn’t all work, no play.  He enjoyed a good joke, but seemed better at taking it than dishing it out.  McDonald used to razz Leahy about his less than fashion-minded school wardrobe.  “Then he’d go around for a week and tell me over and over, ‘I was just kidding.  You’re not mad, are you?”

Few people knew it, but McDonald had a passion for pastry.  He was a devotee of doughnuts.   When it was a doughnut day MHS, at the time Coach Joe David Smith who went on to become the principal, made sure McDonald got his share.  Smith would take a big bite out of a doughnut and send it special delivery to McDonald’s office.  Smith, a former Cardinal assistant coach, played at Mayfield in the 60’s when McDonald was an assistant under Virgil Rains.

Like McDonald, Smith played football at UK.  The were more than colleagues, they were friends.  When McDonald got diabetes, Smith found out he needed snacks to keep him going.  Smith bought McDonald a carpenter’s apron and stuffed it with an apple, cheese and crackers, and Twinkies.  McDonald got a kick out of the goodie bag and even wore it to practice one day.

He was known for wearing something else everytime Mayfield squared off against Paducah Tilghman—his lucky red socks.  Each year at MHS’s big Tilghman pep rally, McDonald would hike up his trouser legs as the students yelled, whistled and hooted.  Then Coach would reveal the crimson wool socks, which he’d wear for the game that night.  The socks are preserved for posterity in the MHS trophy case near the school’s front entrance.