Iron Man: After all these years, former Utah head coach Ron McBride still loves coaching football
Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — At age 73, after a highly successful, hard-working career and a long life well-lived, a guy should get to do pretty much whatever he wants — within reason, of course — with his time.
After all, you're retired, right?
So spend that time fishing, golfing, traveling or playing with the grandkids. Park your keister on the couch and read every book you never had time for, or watch every old movie and TV show that your heart desires.
If you get bored with all of that, go get a part-time job greeting Wal-Mart shoppers, shoving a grocery cart their way and telling 'em to "Have a nice day."
Or, if you're Ron McBride, you just keep doing what you've always done — coach football.
And retirement? Well, as they like to say back East in New York and New Jersey, "Fuhgeddaboudit!"
No, retirement didn't set too well with the former University of Utah and Weber State head coach. So, after taking little more than three months off, he went back to work in 2012 as the offensive line coach for the Arena Football League's Utah Blaze.
Now finishing up his second season serving in that capacity, coach Mac — one of the most beloved sports figures this state has ever known — still shows no signs of slowing down.
"I thought it would be good to take time off and see how the other half lives," he said of his short-lived retirement, which started in November 2011 when he resigned at Weber State and ended just 93 days later when he took the Blaze job. "It wasn't very long. After about two weeks, I said 'I've gotta find me a job.' So I started kinda looking around and seeing what could I do to keep me in town and still be involved in coaching.
"I was on a radio show with Ron James, the Blaze head coach, and I'd heard that they were looking for a defensive line coach or maybe an offensive line coach. So I said to him, 'I understand you're looking for a coach, and I've got a couple guys that might be interested in that. And if you're interested, I might even be interested.' And he said, 'If you want the job, it's yours. I'll draw up the contract tomorrow and you come down and sign it.' And I said, 'OK, I'll call you tomorrow.'
"So I went home and told my wife (Vickie), 'I think maybe I'll coach with the Blaze.' And she said 'Do what? The who?' And I said, 'You know, the Blaze, the indoor team. It's not gonna take too much time,' which of course was a lie," McBride said with a wry smile. "I knew it would, but I just told her that. So then I went down and signed the contract the next day and started working for them."
McBride said he's just never been one to do much sitting around the house. He's always got to stay busy, got to have somewhere to go and something to do. "I get bored easily," he said. "I don't like hanging around the house too long. I've been that way ever since I was a little kid.
"When I was a kid, I'd get up early in the morning — it didn't matter if it was for school or for something else — and as soon as I'd get up and ate breakfast, I was gone. And I didn't come back until dinner time. I didn't want to hang around the house, didn't want to mow the lawn, just wanted to go and do something. Around 5 o'clock, my mom would holler out the door, 'Ronnie, time for dinner.' And I'd come home.
"I like staying pretty busy; I can't just stay home and sit around," McBride said. "I just figure that as long as I have a reason to get up in the morning and have got a place to go, that way I'll keep myself doing something positive."
The Blaze gig has been a good one for him because it doesn't entail all the exhausting rigors — constant recruiting, 18-hour work days, off-the-field commitments — that college coaching requires. And he really enjoys working with James and the other members of the Blaze coaching staff.
But after coming within a win of reaching the AFL championship game last year, the Blaze have stumbled through a disappointing season in 2013. With Friday's loss at Philadelphia, they're 5-11 and have long since been eliminated from playoff contention.
"They handle all the personnel decisions. I just have to coach those guys I coach," he said of his Blaze duties. "So as far as that goes, it's a good deal for me. The coaching staff are all really good guys to work with; they know the game; they know what they have to do; so that's all a plus.
"But the way it's going for us right now, it's obviously very frustrating. It seems like we're recycling the mistakes we make and just keep making them over and over again.
"They went out and got a lot of new players this year with the idea that we would upgrade the team from the previous year, and obviously it didn't work out for us," he said. "Some of the guys who were leaders for us are not there anymore.
"It's a long season — it's six months long — so it takes a lot out of you. I'll just get through this year and we'll see how I feel next year. When the year ends, I'll see what the ownership is doing and then if they feel like I'm being productive for them and I can see what they're doing, then I'll keep coaching."
And if anyone ever doubted whether McBride's still got what it takes from a coaching perspective, here's a ringing endorsement from one of his more recent prized pupils, Blaze O-lineman Shannon Tevaga.
“My strength coming out of college was run blocking," Tevaga, a four-year starter and three-time all-conference selection at UCLA, told Mike Dijulio, the Blaze's director of communications. "When I came to the Arena League, my pass blocking wasn’t as good as my run blocking.
“I had three O-line coaches in college but I’m still learning from Coach Mac. It’s made a tremendous difference from previous times. My pass blocking has grown amazingly. Coach Mac has so much knowledge of the game and it’s a blessing.”
Coaching for the Blaze is just one of many ventures that keeps McBride awfully busy for a guy any age, much less 73 years young.
He has worked as a pitchman for Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse restaurants and will soon begin serving as a spokesman for a group of Salt Lake-area doctors.
He also spends time at various football camps, with another one for youth coaches scheduled July 27 at Alta High School. He'll be joined there by legendary former BYU coach LaVell Edwards and numerous other current coaches from BYU, Utah and Utah State.
In early August, he'll go to the University of Wisconsin and spend a couple weeks as a guest coach during two-a-days for the Badgers' first-year head coach, Gary Andersen, one of McBride's former players.
McBride and Edwards, his longtime coaching rival-turned-buddy, participate in numerous charitable functions and speaking engagements together. And on Aug. 23, they'll begin another weekly series of radio shows on 1280 AM, moderated by the station's Scott Garrard.
"He's such a great guy," McBride said with such sincere respect and admiration for Edwards. "We've done a lot of stuff together for different causes and charities over the years. He never turned down one and I never turned down one, either. There's not one I can remember that he ever said no to."
If all of that's not enough, the ol' guy — Mac, not LaVell — works out every day, swimming laps for more than a mile in the saltwater pool at the Lifestyles gym.
And if time allows, he accompanies his wife, Vickie, on her visits to see their seven grandchildren — three in Utah, two in Arizona and two more in Southern California.
After almost 50 years in the coaching biz — including 13 years as Utah's head coach, six seasons at Weber State and assistant coaching jobs at Utah, Wisconsin, Arizona, Kentucky, San Jose State, Long Beach State and UC Riverside along the way — you'd think McBride might've had his fill of blocking sleds and schemes.
But it's all he's ever done, and all he ever really wanted to do. And though the Blaze have struggled through a disappointing season, Dijulio says the offensive line, under McBride's guidance, has been the strongest and most consistent part of the team.
"I like coaching the O-line guys," McBride said. "They're good athletes from good programs and have got good experience. "They're playing good and I'm happy with them. I've got good players, too, and they've been very productive wherever they've been. They're tough guys and they take pride in their work.
"In arena football, it's all about pass protection and they've got to play together as a unit. Everybody's got to be on the same page," McBride said. "I'm trying to make it fun for them, and those guys have all got goals for themselves, too."
Goals like maybe still coaching football more than 40-something years from now?
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