Catching Up With… MAC McWHORTER
By Patrick Garbin—Twitter @PatrickGarbin
Following a distinguished football career as a linebacker at Atlanta’s Therrell High School, MAC McWHORTER arrived at Georgia in the fall of 1969 as the eighth McWhorter to play for the Red and Black. He was promptly moved to offensive guard where he eventually twice earned academic all-conference (back when only 20-25 players annually received the honor), and was First Team All-SEC in 1973. Still, McWhorter’s proudest honor was being voted by his teammates offensive captain as a senior that same season. From there, he remarkably coached for 39 seasons, making 13 stops along the way—three high schools and 10 colleges.
I recently caught up with Mac from his home in Bogart, Ga.:
PG: Mac, first off, I naturally have to ask about you being part of the lineage of McWhorters who played football at Georgia…
MM: It was kind of a family-like tradition. I think there were eight McWhorters, and I was the last of them to play at Georgia. Bob McWhorter who, I think, was the third McWhorter, was by far the most famous. He was a great uncle of mine, and Georgia’s first All-American in 1913.
PG: So, with seven McWhorters before you attending Georgia, I guess you had little choice but to become a Bulldog?
MM: Well, what’s interesting is I grew up in Atlanta and, on my mother’s side of the family, I had two uncles play for Georgia Tech: Bobby North (Tech’s all-time leading rusher upon the completion of his career in 1950) and Jack Peek (Tech’s starting fullback in 1945). Growing up, although I was primarily a Georgia fan, I went to a lot more Georgia Tech games than Georgia. So, there was maybe some thought of attending Tech. But, after Bobby Dodd retired as their head coach, Bud Carson had replaced him and wasn’t nearly as successful, and Tech was kind of in shambles at the time.
PG: Tell me about your arrival to the UGA program.
MM: I was recruited as a linebacker—that’s basically all I played during high school except a little on the line. As a freshman, I was 6-foot-0, 210 pounds—pretty good size for a linebacker back then, but undersized for a lineman. Still, Georgia already had plenty of linebackers on the team, so I was moved to offensive guard as a freshman in 1969.
PG: And, I’ve read this is when former long-time UGA assistant John Kasay got involved, so to speak, in your playing career—right?
MM: Yes, Coach Kasay was the strength coach and freshman line coach. He took me under his wing, and said, “Mac, if you think you’re going to play in the SEC at guard at your size, you better come ‘live’ with me.” He meant “live” by me being with him constantly in the weight room, staying under his tutelage as far as the strength and conditioning program. Basically, that’s what I did for the next four years after that. After redshirting in 1970, I ballooned up pretty good, playing primarily around 225-230 pounds.
PG: Mac, you played high school and college football during a historical time, as most prep and college programs in the South were integrating around then. From what you observed, what was that like?
MM: It was an interesting time. I was at Therrell [High School] when it was racially integrated. And, although it was a turbulent time in the South, I really think the integration went smooth—and, maybe amazingly so—at my high school. Some black kids came to the school, and I believe they were pretty well accepted. In 1971, my third year at Georgia, we were integrated with Horace King, [Richard] Appleby, Larry West, [Chuck] Kinnebew, and Clarence Pope—all good players. And, I thought that went pretty smooth as well. Of course, outside of football, there were riots, and that kind of mess. But, to me, Patrick, that’s the beauty of football. A group starts working together, and nobody recognizes or thinks about any differences as far as racial, political—or any other way. You all have one common goal: to play together to win.
PG: During your varsity career at Georgia, what one game personally stands out to you the most?
MM: The first one that jumps out to me was the first game I started. As a sophomore in 1971, I was the second-team left guard behind John Jennings. Royce Smith, who was our starting right guard, got hurt versus Auburn. Royce, who eventually would be a first-round pick in the draft, was Godzilla, Greek god-like, a 250-something pound freak of nature who could bench press the gym. I weighed only 218 pounds, and started against Georgia Tech at right guard in place of Royce. We were down by a few points [24-20] with only so many seconds remaining, were on Tech’s one-yard line and had enough time for just one play. All season on short-yardage plays, we often ran “44 Lead” isolation over right guard. And, that night at Tech on Thanksgiving, we ran it again with Jimmy Poulos over the top for the game-winning touchdown. To this day, I believe Coach [Vince] Dooley forgot Royce was on the sideline, and it was me at right guard. Still, thank gosh, the play worked—Jimmy got in!
PG: How did you get into coaching?
MM: Well, you know, I actually thought about going into real estate. But, I’ve always loved football, and my dad, who worked for Reeder & McGaughey (now defunct, a sporting goods business on Broad Street in Atlanta), knew all the local high school football coaches. In 1974, I got a call from Cecil Morris of Duluth High School who said he needed a line coach, and knew I had my teaching certificate. I told him, “Coach, I’m thinking about getting into real estate.” And, he said that was fine but how about if I try this coaching thing for a while, and if I didn’t like it, I could do real estate. So, I thought I’d try coaching out.
PG: So, you got your start at Duluth High School?
MM: Yes, at the time, it was Class B football—the smallest classification in the state. There were only around 250 students in the entire school. But, one of them was a sophomore running back, George Rogers (the 1980 Heisman Trophy winner for South Carolina). He ran over our opponents’ linemen, and over my linemen, so I must have thought that maybe I was a heck of a coach! From there, I was an assistant at Douglas County, where my family was from, for four years before becoming the head coach at Villa Rica High School for one year. I then went to Georgia Tech in 1980. That’s where it all started.
PG: How long were you at Tech?
MM: Seven years (1980-1986). And, I caught a lot of flak from my Georgia buddies. They said, “Why did you go to Georgia Tech?” Well, to me it was pretty simple. I always replied, “I wanted to coach in college football, and Georgia didn’t offer me a job!” Back then, there were part-time coaches, which meant you worked full time, but they paid you part time. Coach [Bill] Curry (Tech’s head coach) wanted to hire a Georgia high school coach with ties in the state. Barry Wilson, who had been a Georgia freshman coach when I was a freshman and was an assistant for Georgia Tech at the time (1980), recommended me. Coach Curry was a great influence on my life. I love him to death. We went from there with him to Alabama [in 1987].
PG: And, after two seasons at Alabama with Coach Curry, you were the head coach at West Georgia in 1989, the offensive line coach at Duke under Barry Wilson in 1990, before becoming an assistant at Georgia in 1991. What was it like, nearly 20 years later, to come back to UGA to coach?
MM: It was one of my highlights in coaching. It was a great thing to come back and coach at my alma mater. I worked with [offensive coordinator] Wayne [McDuffie], where I coached the tight side [of the offensive line], he had the split side, and I worked with the tight ends too. It was a good time that unfortunately came to an end. When I came back to Georgia in 1991, I had come back to stay. But, coaching often doesn’t end up like you want it to. In 1995, Ray [Goff] was let go after a season when we had a ton of kids get hurt—from [quarterback] Mike Bobo to [running back] Robert Edwards (Georgia finished 6-6 in ’95).
PG: What are other memorable coaching moments for you—ones other than at UGA?
MM: (Laughing) Well, do you know that I’m the winningest head coach in Georgia Tech history? (McWhorter filled in as the interim head coach of the Yellow Jackets for the 2001 Seattle Bowl—a 24-14 upset win for Tech over Stanford.) But, sometimes the ball just doesn’t bounce the way you want it to. At Texas (where he was the offensive line coach from 2002-2010), we had a phenomenal run. We won one national championship (2005) and played for another (2009) and, other than the last year, the worst record we had was 10-3. After we left Texas, I moved to the Athens area to retire. But, I got a call from Bill O’Brien who had coached with me at Georgia Tech (2000-2001). He said he thought he was going to get the head coaching job at Penn State, and wanted me to coach the offensive line. I told him that I’d do it for two years.
PG: Around that time, 2012, wasn’t that when all that Jerry Sandusky “stuff” (the child sex abuse scandal) was going on?
MM: Yes, and I was assured that what went on was strictly criminal; it had nothing to do with the NCAA nor would it affect the program—which is what you’d expect. I mean, the last time Sandusky had coached was 1999. We went through the spring and summer at Penn State, and everything looked good—that is, until one week before we started fall camp. They read the Freeh report, put us on probation, the sanctions, and suddenly our players could go wherever they wanted to with no penalty. We lost around 17 players, including five starters a week before we started camp.
PG: Where did you go from there?
MM: The kids that stayed—I’m telling you, Patrick… We opened the 2012 season by losing to Ohio—not Ohio State—but Ohio University (chuckling). We then lose at Virginia by one point. But, you want to talk about bonding and playing our tails off, we wound up winning eight of our final 10 games. The next year, we only had 50-something scholarship players and we won seven games. It was so inspiring and rewarding to watch those kids play because they played so hard. It reiterated to me that, besides athletic ability, intelligence, and everything else, the heart of a player is the most important part.
PG: Please tell me about your family.
MM: My wife, Becky, and I have been married for 34 years. Our oldest, Kasay (named after Coach John Kasay), she went to UGA when I was coaching there. She lives in Athens and has three children: Mercer (10), Morgan (8) and JP (4). My second child, Katie, went to Texas when I was coaching there. She lives in Houston, and has a three-year old, Ansley. And, our youngest, Mac, played at Texas when I was coaching there. He lives in Dallas. With Katie and Mac living in Texas, Becky and I spend about 60 days a year there. About four-five times a year, we take two-week trips out to Texas and stay with them.
PG: All those coaching jobs must be taxing on a family?
MM: Well, I had 13 jobs in seven different states over a 40-year period. And, you know how moving goes, some of the jobs had multiple moves. Basically, my wife raised the family. Most of my career, I’d get up at 4:30 every morning and wouldn’t get home until around 9-10:00 every night. And, essentially it’s a year-round deal.
PG: What do you do now that you’re retired?
MM: When we thought I had retired in 2011, we bought a house in Bogart. Then, knowing I’d be at Penn State for just two years, we kept the house and it’s the one we live in today. You know, I recently told my wife that I don’t know how I’d work with all the extra stuff I do now. I stay really busy. I spend a lot of time with grandkids, and I play a lot more golf than I ever have. I go on a lot of two-three day golf outings with my retired buddies, including my former Georgia teammates Chris Hammond, Jim Curington, Robert Honeycutt… I’m not a great golfer, but I like the camaraderie. I also got a couple of acres of land, and I thought I’d really like having that, but it takes so long to cut it! I’m also a professional piddler too. I like piddling and building stuff around the house. I’m also on the board of our HOA and active in the UGA Lettermen’s Club.
PG: Speaking of which, how are you currently associated with the UGA football program?
MM: For all those decades, we’d drive into those stadiums, and I’d see all those people tailgating. And, I would always think, man, that looks like fun! So, I now have a lot of fun tailgating at Georgia games, and with my former teammates. You know, other than my family, the best friends I have in this world are my teammates at Georgia. I mentioned a few before… There’s also Dick Conn, Jerone Jackson, Andy Johnson, Jim Baker and others—those guys I bled with all the way through school. They’ve always been real supportive of me, and they’ve stayed in touch. And, that’s the main reason why we came back here to the Athens area—to be near my family and Georgia teammates. I really like being with all of them, and following and supporting Georgia football.