Duluth names McDonald new football coach
Veteran coach promoted from defensive coordinator

Though the slew of high school football head coaching vacancies grows seemingly every day, at least one of those openings was filled Friday.

And as it turns out, Duluth High School didn't have to look very far for its new head coach as Gary McDonald, who joined the Wildcats staff as defensive coordinator last spring, was promoted to head coach.

He replaces former coach Richard Gillespie, who stepped down after four years at the helm immediately after the 2007 season ended.

McDonald's credentials, however, go much further than last year, which is a big reason he was selected from 157 applicants.

The 61-year-old McDonald has 38 years of coaching experience, including 13 as a head coach, with an 88-53 record guiding programs at Iuka (Miss.) High School, Brooks High School in Florence, Ala., and Lee High School in Huntsville, Ala.

Before coming to Duluth last May, he was defensive coordinator at Mountain Brook High School in Birmingham, Ala., where his teams often squared off against one of the toughest regions in Alabama's Class 6A, including storied Hoover High School.

"I've gotten to know him the last year, and I'm impressed with his knowledge of the game," Duluth athletics director Denny Lytle said of McDonald. "He's a true thoroughbred."

McDonald's new task, however, may be one of the most challenging in his career.

He takes over a once-proud Duluth program that has three state runner-up finishes in its storied history, but has not posted a winning season since its 7-3 mark under then coach Mike Strickland in 1995.

The Wildcats have only posted four winning seasons since 1986 and have only made two postseason appearances during that time.

And doing so in a Region 7-AAAAA that includes 2006 Class AAAAA state co-champion Peachtree Ridge and 2007 AAAAA state runner-up North Gwinnett, plus traditional powerhouse Norcross, doesn't make that task any easier.

However, McDonald says he is not intimidated by what he faces.

"We've got an uphill battle, but I've been there before," McDonald said. "It's a tough situation, and we're in a tough region. But over in Birmingham, we played Hoover all the time, and that wasn't exactly easy."

McDonald said he looks at his main challenges being two-fold - rebuilding Duluth's youth and feeder programs and instilling confidence among the program and community.

"It's a grass roots effort," McDonald said. "The first thing is our freshman team has to get better. That's where it all starts. And we've got to learn how to compete.

"Right now, expectations are not very high, but we'll try to take baby steps. I'm looking forward to (the challenge)."

Such enthusiasm is what Lytle said made McDonald stand out both to him and Duluth's administration.

"I liked what he said (in his interview) about discipline and consistency," Lytle said. "He's trying to raise the competitive bar, and we've slipped a little there the last few years. I also liked what he said about reaching out to the community - in particular, the middle school and youth programs. Those are the life blood of any program."

SideBar: The McDonald File

Name: Gary McDonald

New position: Head football coach at Duluth

Former position: Defensive coordinator at Duluth

Age: 61

Career record: 88-53 in 13 years as head coach at Luka (Miss.) High School, Brooks High School in Florence, Ala., and Lee High School in Huntsville, Ala.

Education: Graduated from Coffee High School in Florence, Ala., in 1965; attended University of Alabama, University of Southern Mississippi and University of North Alabama. Graduated from UNA in 1969; earned master's degree from UNA in 1978

Background: Has coached 38 years as head coach or assistant in Alabama and Mississippi. Came to Duluth as defensive coordinator last May. Coached in six state football championship games - winning two and tying one - in Alabama. Also coached three state championship baseball teams in Mississippi. Inducted into the Mississippi High School Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005

Family: Wife, Laura; daughter, Harlan, 39, and son, David, 36