You don’t do anything consistently for 50-plus years unless you truly love it. Even at 80 years old, Coach Ron “Mac” McBride is still passionate about football and is coaching another generation of players.
Transform Them Into Winners
Ron, or “Coach Mac,” is best known as the head football coach at the University of Utah (1990 – 2002) where he turned a below-par program that existed in the shadows of Runnin’ Utes basketball into a winner in his second season and took the Utes to their first bowl game in 28 years in his third season at Utah. He led the Utes to a top-10 finish in the national rankings in 1994. McBride’s success laid the foundation for Utah football to rise to national prominence under Urban Meyer and his former defensive coordinator, current head coach Kyle Whittingham. Whittingham was an assistant to McBride for nine years. Now, most of the current football coaching staff at Utah played for McBride.
When asked the one word that characterized a Ron McBride team, he quickly replied, “Physical.” Not surprising coming from a linebacker. Coach Mac used his physical brand of football as a quick way to get the respect of opponents and to focus his teams.
Transforming mediocre teams into winners is a McBride trademark. He described six different instances where he arrived at losing programs and within a few seasons turned the program into a contender. A clear and simple plant that every coach and player could follow is to what he credits his success. He would tell his teams, “Just follow the plan.” McBride also invested time and care into players where he saw potential but who had trouble or struggles in their lives. Grit and fight where natural characteristics in his players, and he challenged them to direct those characteristics towards football success.
Creating a Worthy Opponent
At the University of Utah, McBride inherited a program that had only had five winning seasons in the previous 16 years and had not posted a winning season in the conference for five years. While the Utes had qualified for just three bowl games in the previous 97 years, during his tenure as head coach, he took the Utes to six bowl games. Several standout players under McBride went on to make an impact in the NFL.
Bowl games, “shmowl” games. University of Utah fans revere McBride because he changed the balance of power against rival Brigham Young University, which had dominated the Utes by handing them losses in 16 of the previous 18 games before McBride arrived in 1990. Coach Mac led Utah to a 6-5 record against the Cougars and credits his first win against BYU in 1993 as the turning point for the program.
Even today, he can’t leave football alone and it can’t leave him alone, either. He works with the defensive linemen at Juan Diego Catholic High School in Draper a few times a week. He also supports former players and staff who are coaching by working with their offensive lines during two-a-days and spring football.
McBride loves the state of Utah and the state loves McBride. He has left the state to coach at Arizona, Wisconsin, and Kentucky but has always returned to Utah. He said, “Utah by far is my favorite place to live.” He returned for good when he took the head coaching job at Weber State in 2005. Over six seasons he amassed a Big Sky Conference record of 34-22 and won the conference title in 2008.
It’s In His DNA
Leadership is in the DNA of McBride. He served as football team captain at San Jose State, where he played linebacker. He started his career as a high school math teacher and coach, helping students navigate their education, athletics, and life. In our conversation, he talked about players he coached across five decades and easily remembered them by name. His success in transforming losing programs is evidence of his unique ability to instill belief and commitment in his players. Coach Mac built trust in his teams. His core belief remains: “If you give to them and have their back, they give back to you.”
Player loyalty and connection are evident in his work leading the Ron McBride Foundation, where he spends most of his time these days. “A big part of donations are guys that played for me and they come from across the country to play in our annual golf tournament,” McBride enthusiastically related. McBride created his foundation in partnership with legendary BYU coach Lavell Edwards. Despite the rivalry between Utah and BYU, McBride and Edwards were great friends and joined together to serve the community. The foundation provides grants to Utah’s Title 1 Schools in support of quality afterschool programs that stretch beyond sports for at-risk youth and children. McBride hosted the fourth annual “Love You Man” Golf Tournament in August at Talon’s Cove in Saratoga Springs and honored Jerry Sloan, the legendary Utah Jazz coach who recently passed away. Coach Mac’s impact in lifting others is his legacy.