McDonnell embraces return to New Hampshire sideline

NCAA Football

(Stats Perform) – Sean McDonnell laughs that he was a nice guy when New Hampshire football got back to practicing this winter, but the legendary coach also says over the last week he’s turned “a little ornery,” trying to coax more out of his team before its CAA spring opener against Albany Friday night.

“I’ve always challenged kids, have always gotten after kids,” the 64-year-old said on Wednesday. “I try to explain to them, I want to make practice harder than anything they’re going to do. When they get to the game, there’s no voice and there’s no tone, there’s no yelling, there’s nothing, (they’re) just playing. (There’s) that little voice in your head going, get to the ball, cut the angle, play the (backside). Those kinds of things I want to have happen naturally.”

In many ways, Sean McDonnell is a different person than he was when he last coached a game on Nov. 17, 2018. In many ways, he hasn’t changed one bit.

People at the university and in the conference as well as across college football and in the coaching fraternity will be as thrilled to see Coach Mac back on the sideline for the start of his 21st season.

A week before he was about to lead UNH into the 2019 campaign, he stepped away from coaching to go on medical leave due to bladder cancer. After months of treatment and surgeries, he received medical clearance to resume his coaching position as of last March 1, but less than two weeks later, the global COVID-19 pandemic shut down the normal way of life almost everywhere. The CAA’s 2020 fall season was postponed until this spring semester.

Glad to be taking another step forward in a time period that he called an emotional roller coaster, McDonnell said, “It’s within reach, it’s really within arm’s grasp. Friday night, 7 o’clock, we’re teeing it up with Albany. There’s going to be no better place to be than Durham.

“I got off the phone with Chip this morning, I was talking with Coach Kelly,” McDonnell added. “There’s a little angst in my stomach because we haven’t had those live sessions, those two or three scrimmages leading up to it – the tackling in the scrimmages, all those things – because of a lot issues that you just want to make sure you get everybody to the dance. We’ve had some COVID pauses that don’t allow you to have your numbers that you have. I’m looking forward to seeing how hard our guys play.”

One of only three FCS coaches to receive the Eddie Robinson Award twice (2005 and 2014) as the national coach of the year, McDonnell brings a 154-95 (.618) career record into the unique, six-game spring season. He need two more CAA wins to reach 100.

Associate head coach Ricky Santos served as the Wildcats’ interim head coach in 2019 and went 6-5 with a relatively young lineup, which gives promise heading into the spring season. Seven starters return on each side of the ball, including running back Carlos Washington Jr. and safety Evan Horn, for a team that’s ranked 14th nationally. Albany is 13th.

McDonnell, a former UNH defensive back and 1979 graduate of the school, said he expects the return to coaching in a game will be like riding a bike.

It’s everything else that he’s missed the most.

“Having the opportunity to get back out there and compete, be with the kids, be with the other coaches,” he said, “looking forward it to doing it, it’s been a long time.”

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