Murray alum instills character in players

Head Coach Rob McDonald has Murray State in his roots.

“When the Murray job came open, I just loved Murray,” he said. “My parents both went to Murray State.”

McDonald’s mother, Billie Jean, was named Miss Murray State. His father, Gene, was a member of the Tangerine Bowl team-the last bowl game in which Murray State competed. He served as the team’s quarterback and captain. His wife went to school at Murray State as well as both of her parents.

Head Coach and former ‘Breds player Rob McDonald has coached 20 players to All-Conference Honors, including eight who earned First Team Honors. ||Melissa Ruhlman/The News

Head Coach and former ‘Breds player Rob McDonald has coached 20 players to All-Conference Honors, including eight who earned First Team Honors. ||Melissa Ruhlman/The News

“I went a year and a half to the University of Illinois and it was just huge and very impersonable,” McDonald said. “I came down to Murray and thought it was just great, you could walk down the sidewalk and it seemed like I knew most everybody. It was friendly and the people who worked at the University were very helpful. There is a family atmosphere about Murray State and the whole community.

His dad was a football coach and he grew up wanting to be the next Dick Butkus, McDonald said.

“I played baseball in baseball season, football in football season and basketball in basketball season,” he said. “I enjoyed them all but was much better in football and baseball than basketball. I started playing baseball when everybody else did and played ball in the backyard with my dad and friends. I started with T-ball and I just played it all the way up as a young kid.”

McDonald went to the University of Illinois his first three semesters out of high school. He then transferred to Murray State to major in physical education.

“Coming out of high school I had a decision to make about whether I wanted to play football or baseball or possibly both,” he said. “It just seemed like baseball was the better choice. I came out here and played for Coach Reagan who, no question, was very influential in my decision to become a coach. The class in which he handled himself, I just really enjoyed baseball down here and my teammates.”

When McDonald was a senior in college, he started contacting the top baseball programs in the country, checking into graduate assistantships and other jobs.

“I coached for a long time before I came to Murray,” he said. “When I first got out of college I coached as an assistant coach at a junior college Lincoln College in Lincoln, Ill. for three years and then I spent two years at Mississippi State University getting my masters and coaching baseball there. Then I spent eight years at the University of Memphis, and then three years at a high school in my wife’s hometown.”

He finally came to Murray State in 2003 where he became seventh head coach in ‘Breds history.

McDonald said pride in doing his job well is what motivates him.

“I care about the guys in our program,” he said. “I want them to succeed, I want us as a team to succeed. I try to set a tone every day of enthusiasm. I think we definitely treat our guys like men and allow them enough freedom to thrive.”

McDonald said it is hard to pick out the one thing he is most proud of.

“I am proud of Murray State,” he said. “I am proud of Murray State baseball and the program. I am proud of our players individually. They have done a lot of great things. I am proud of them collectively as a team. We get a lot of comments from people on and off the field on the way our guys handle themselves. Whether it’s in hotels and restaurants or it’s on the field, the way our guys play and compete, I am proud of that.”

He said he knows sometimes it is not always easy for the guys to go about things right and to compete with great intensity if things are not going well, for example. However, the coaching staff tells the team that is when you really show your character.

“In a baseball season there are always going to be ups and downs and you try to stay as even keel as you possibly can,” said McDonald. “It’s easy to be a good teammate and have a good attitude when things are going great. It shows a little bit more what a guy is made of how he handles himself when things don’t go well. You have to weather the ups and downs of a season. Baseball is called a game of failure because a great hitter, someone who bats 400 still fails 4 out of 6 times. A guy has to be able to handle ups and downs.”

There are field goals and off the field goals, McDonald said. The off the field goals are very important. The team tries to recruit great character kids.

“Academically we want them all to graduate and do well in school and be good citizens on campus; we have accomplished that,” he said. “Our team grade point average overall this past fall was 3.33 and we had 18 guys on the dean’s list. Which I think is pretty remarkable for 34 guys.”

On the field he wants to have guys who can compete and play the game well, he said. The goal every year is to win the regular season OVC title and then to go into the tournament and win the NCAA tournament.

“We would like to win more games than we have at this point but our guys are fighting and battling well,” McDonald said. “We are ready to make a strong push at the end of the season. Its an awful lot of fun when you win championships and play in post season play.”

McDonald has had several memorable moments. He said it’s always a great memory anytime you beat a rival or one of the big schools you play as an underdog.

“We beat Missouri and Ole Miss a few years ago,” he said. “I remember a few years ago at our conference tournament and we we’re playing Southeast Missouri State. Tyler Pittman hit a walk off double that went way out into the right center gap and just watching our base runners circle the bases knowing that you had a chance to win this big game. It was very exciting and Brooks Stadium went crazy.”