MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Chisholm, Minn. is a city that helped define the iron range. The homes and downtown have stood there for some time but it’s not the same as when iron ore was at a premium and the town was thriving.
There is a constant that’s seen it all — and he’s still thriving on the basketball court.
Bob McDonald is the Chisholm basketball coach and he’s into his 50th year at that position.
He grew up there and returned to become the state’s all-time winningest coach. He’s done it his way since he came onto the scene — coats, ties and crew cuts are expected.
“They have a curfew here. I don’t know how well it holds sometimes because you can’t be the CIA or the FBI,” said Bob McDonald. “They have to be shaven, well groomed, no facial hair, no tattoos.”
One recent night his team faced next door neighbor and rival Hibbing High School, a team that happens to be coached by his son and one time Minnesota Mr. Basketball, Joel McDonald.
“We still have epic battles between the two teams. And (for) me on a personal level, it’s great to go up against him,” said Joel McDonald.
He isn’t the only son that Bob has gone head-to-head with. His oldest son Mike McDonald is the head coach at Cambridge Isanti. Mike said he was inspired after paying for his father in the 1970s.
“I think the basics were given to me, ya know, the amount of work and time you have to put in to try to instill skills in your players,” said Mike McDonald.
Chisholm has a good chance to make it to the state tournament again this season, but making it there might mean a section final showdown with Ely — a team coached by another McDonald.
Tom McDonald, the high school coach in Ely, knows what could be on the horizon — a date with dad.
“I hope we get there. It would be great to be in the section final,” said Tom McDonald. “I don’t know how anybody is going to beat his team because they’re solid — the most solid team up here, I think.”
Tom isn’t the only McDonald sibling coaching in Ely. His brother Paul McDonald is the head coach at Vermillion Community College.
So many McDonalds, all inspired by one man.
“Basketball is an important part of his teaching, and teaching young people to be successful in life,” said Paul McDonald. “He uses those lessons that are taught on the court to project them when they have a family 20, 30 years down the road.”
It’s not just his sons he motivated, his first point guard at Chisholm was a gym rat named Joel Maturi.
“I learned a lot from Coach McDonald. And I’d like to think that if I’ve achieved any success as a coach and as an athletic administrator, much of it’s because of him being maybe my first mentor in the profession,” said Maturi, the current athletic director at the University of Minnesota.
With four sons coaching, two daughters who have played and coached, and four grandkids currently playing college basketball with more on the way, Bob still says his life has not been defined by the game, but by his family.
He lost his wife and best friend Darlene to cancer in the late 1990s.
“When our mother passed away, we pulled together and somehow got through that tough time,” said Tom McDonald. “And it’s good to have a network of so many people and grandkids.”
Coaching became Bob’s companion in coping.
“I think coaching helped me stay within the realm of reality to a great degree,” said Bob McDonald.
He has since re-united with his high school prom date, Carol, who lost her husband about the same time in a plane crash. She ran into Bob in church and is now his wife.
“Sometimes people say, ‘You set a standard with all the things you do here, but many kids kind of blow up because they can’t reach that or they feel they’re deficient.’ But I don’t think that’s really true because you have to have a goal for all kids to reach,” said Bob McDonald.
So many young players, over the last 50 years have reached their goals because of him.
“He’s been able to adjust. He’s been able to adapt as times have changed. You see a lot of stories about coaches that don’t make those transitions and bring a lot of that old school approach to what they’re doing,” said Joel McDonald.
And Bob has done it without compromising his team or himself.
“I’ve never had a drink in my life. I’ve never had a cigarette in my life, and I’ve never had a technical (foul),” said Bob.
It’s all part of a calling to his kids — his own and to Chisholm’s.
“As long as I’m capable of doing something in athletics that beneficial to kids, I’ll stick around because I’m fond of these fellows here.”