Coach Mac's energetic style suits PSU O-line
Asked how he was doing on a warm October morning, Mac McWhorter's answer tells you everything you need to know about his folksy persona. Even if it gives an entirely contradictory impression of his laid-back demeanor.
“I'm just bitin', scratchin', clawin' and kickin',” the man known simply as “Coach Mac” said Thursday. “Just like every day.”
Make no mistake, McWhorter, Penn State's 63-year-old gregarious offensive line coach, is tirelessly committed to his craft. But save for seeing him dive into the pile of a scuffle between 300-pound men like he did during a practice last season, there's nothing biting about McWhorter.
“Coach Mac really is just one of us,” guard Miles Dieffenbach said. “He really likes to have a good time. He's out there like he's 25, running around, screaming, jumping around.”
Two autumns ago was McWhorter's first out of football in more than 50 years. After 37 years of coaching, McWhorter retired following the 2010 season, his ninth at Texas.
He retreated to the Athens, Ga., area — about 90 minutes from where he was born, nearby where he played for the Georgia and within a few hundred yards of his grandchildren.
Mac and his wife, Rebecca, enjoyed the retirement lifestyle of spoiling grandchildren and relaxing.
“There were some things I'd never done in 37 years at that time that I really enjoyed,” McWhorter said. “I mean, I got to experience tailgating. Man, I liked that. That tailgating stuff is fun.”
McWhorter was lured back inside the stadium after Bill O'Brien was hired as the Nittany Lions' coach in 2012. The two had worked together at Georgia Tech in 2000-01 and “really hit it off.”
McWhorter, at the time content in retirement, planned to politely decline any job offers. Respect and admiration for O'Brien and the Nittany Lions' program coaxed him to move north of the Mason-Dixon Line for the first time.
“Penn State I'd always been enamored by because of what coach (Joe) Paterno did there in doing things the right way, winning football games and graduating players,” McWhorter said.
McWhorter and “Mama Hog” (what Coach Mac and his players affectionately call Rebecca) spend part of what little free time Mac has driving aimlessly through the pastoral hills of Central Pennsylvania.
“We call it ‘road-dayin,'” McWhorter said. “Riding around until we find some place to stop and eat at and just enjoy the scenery here.”
McWhorter has enjoyed the camaraderie with Penn State's eclectic group of linemen. Dieffenbach's the jokester, guard John Urschel the scholar and McWhorter's nickname for center Ty Howle, a North Carolina native, is “Swamp Man.”
“He's a little more down home,” McWhorter said. “One of the few who can understand my dialect through and through.”
If McWhorter had his way, he'd get rid of one of the distinguishing characteristics of “Penn State Sasquatch,” tackle Adam Gress.
“I'm trying hard to get Adam to cut that hair,” McWhorter deadpanned. “I'm not having success.”
There's a method to Coach Mac's madness. He believes chemistry and trust make the best offensive lines.
“We're fortunate to have kids who although they might have a lot of different personalities,” McWhorter said, “they all share the same values.”
To a man, the linemen return the respect McWhorter shows them — and not just because of the “Hog Treats” that Mama Hog makes for the players on the eve of game days.
“There's magical powers in those that really enhance their play,” McWhorter says.
“Coach Mac, you've gotta love him,” tight end Jesse James said. “He has a great attitude. He comes to practice every day ready to go and gets his linemen fired up to go. We all love Coach Mac.”