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Thursday, February 22, 2024

Mike Macdonald lets the Ravens protection do his speaking Categorical Instances

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Replace: The Chiefs beat the Ravens 17-10 to earn a visit to the Tremendous Bowl

If Mike Macdonald’s ascent to one of many NFL’s hottest coordinators and a authentic head-coaching candidate feels meteoric, that’s most likely as a result of he has by no means embraced the artwork of self-promotion.

The 36-year-old second-year Baltimore Ravens defensive boss has consented to facet media interviews in current weeks largely as a result of he needs to tout the chemistry and cohesion of his workers, not as a result of he needs any extra consideration. He likes to name himself a “steward” of head coach John Harbaugh’s imaginative and prescient and can level you within the course of two dozen others who deserve reward for the Ravens’ success.

But it surely’s unattainable to disregard Macdonald’s affect on the AFC’s high seed, which faces the Kansas Metropolis Chiefs in Sunday’s convention championship recreation at M&T Financial institution Stadium.

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Baltimore grew to become the primary protection in NFL historical past to steer the league in factors allowed, sacks and turnovers. The Ravens adopted up a landmark common season by smothering possible Offensive Rookie of the 12 months C.J. Stroud and the Texans on Saturday, preserving Houston’s offense out of the top zone — its solely landing got here on a punt return — in a 34-10 divisional-round victory.

After the sport, Harbaugh referred to as his defensive coordinator into the center of the locker room for a recreation ball.

Macdonald pushed inside linebacker Roquan Smith ahead.


The factor is, Macdonald has by no means been afraid to place himself on the market. Particularly relating to soccer.

He was born in Boston however moved to Atlanta when he was about 7 years outdated. His father, Hugh, had discouraged him from taking part in the sport. Hugh performed on the non-varsity staff at Military-West Level and anxious concerning the damage dangers. However Hugh returned dwelling late from a enterprise journey one night time to discover a helmet and shoulder pads on Mike’s twin mattress.

“The following morning, I requested him, ‘What’s this?’ He had determined to affix the junior staff,” Hugh stated. “So off he went.”

Mike was neither the most important nor quickest man on the groups he performed for, however there was no questioning his drive. Hugh filmed his youth video games and the 2 would watch them collectively and break down performs. Mike grew to become consumed with the sport’s nuances.

As a operating again and linebacker, Macdonald’s bodily attributes wouldn’t set him aside, however finding out opponents’ tendencies gave him a head begin. When he bought to Centennial Excessive Faculty, Macdonald would break down movie of opponents and current his findings to his coach, Xarvia Smith.

“When he first met me, he tried to inform me that we wanted to exit to lunch and hang around collectively,” Smith recalled. “I used to be like, ‘Mike, you’re a participant. You’re my participant. I’m not hanging out with you.’

“He simply at all times confirmed management. He at all times was ready to point out how good he was.”

As a junior, Macdonald began getting stingers in his neck. His physician suggested him that he was at long-term threat if he continued to play by way of his senior yr, however Macdonald wished to exit on his phrases. After the swelling across the nerves in his neck subsided, the physician greenlighted him to play within the last recreation of the season. However on the final play of the final apply of recreation week, Macdonald heard a pop in his knee. He tore his ACL. There could be nobody last recreation.

There would, nonetheless, be one final highschool hurrah. About 4 months after surgical procedure, Macdonald was sitting on the bench for the Centennial Excessive baseball staff. Macdonald’s coach was initially too involved for his security to play him. Macdonald begged him to rethink. Within the staff’s second recreation, the rating was tied within the final inning and Macdonald bought the go-ahead to hit.

“He took two pitches and put the following pitch over the fence,” Hugh stated. “He seemed like Kirk Gibson going across the bases, he had this large brace on his knee. It was fairly a second.”

Macdonald was a scholar on the College of Georgia when he referred to as Smith on the lookout for a favor. Smith had just lately gotten the top job at Cedar Shoals Excessive in Athens, and Macdonald wished to know if he had a gap.

“Mike might be one of many smartest individuals I’ve ever met in my life,” Smith stated. “I noticed if he simply discovered find out how to work, he could be nice at this.”

Macdonald began operating the protection for Cedar Shoals’ ninth-grade staff. That they had six shutouts that yr.

“An superior expertise,” Macdonald stated. “I went into the scenario as a strategist. I appreciated figuring out tendencies and anticipating performs. What I discovered is you’ll be able to take an individual from A to B. If you do this, if he did one thing in the present day that he couldn’t do yesterday, that was extremely rewarding. That’s once I was hooked.”

For 2 years, Macdonald dropped by the Georgia soccer places of work on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, spending hours speaking with video coordinator Joe Tereshinski and hoping any person would recognize his persistence. Macdonald was placing the ending touches on a level in finance — he graduated summa cum laude — when he bumped into new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham at a Starbucks and took one last alternative to state his case. Impressed, Grantham invited him in for a proper assembly, then advised Macdonald there was a volunteer teaching spot out there so long as he bought into grad faculty.

“I took out a mortgage and went to work,” Macdonald stated.

Macdonald labored at Georgia for 4 seasons, the primary as a volunteer assistant and the following three as a grad assistant. He broke down movie, labored on recreation plans and helped run the scout staff within the final soccer schooling.

“When you’ve gotten guys which are actually sharp and might talk properly and are onerous staff and put their nostril down and get to work, you’ll be able to see the place a man goes to have an opportunity to maneuver up on this planet,” stated Mark Richt, Georgia’s soccer coach on the time. “You need assured individuals and also you need guys who you imagine are reliable. I feel there’s a actual consolation degree with Mike and the kind of individual he’s. He checked the entire bins.”

Then he nearly walked away from the career altogether. At 26, Macdonald grew to become “disillusioned” by the job. His time as a grad assistant expired in 2013. A few of the politics had gotten to him, and a few of his relationships had turn into draining.

“The entire glamor of being a soccer coach was sporting off,” Macdonald stated. “I didn’t actually imagine within the course of and the those who I used to be round. I didn’t see the advantage of what I had fallen in love with earlier than.”

There have been alternatives for him. Macdonald had a finance diploma and a grasp’s in sports activities administration. Hugh had at all times inspired Macdonald and his two sisters to have a plan after which be certain that each choice was geared towards that plan. Hugh wasn’t towards a profession in teaching, however the enterprise world may be awfully profitable for any person with Mike’s intelligence and savvy, and Hugh wished to verify soccer was the very best place for his son’s abilities.

“I figured I used to be going to go see the world and begin working,” Macdonald stated. “It didn’t really feel prefer it was the proper factor to do when it was occurring, however I simply felt form of pressured to do it. I didn’t need to take a job at Wherever State and go throughout the nation recruiting Johnny. It wasn’t on the trajectory that I wished it to be on.”

He accepted a $60,000 job in Atlanta working at KPMG, one of many nation’s “Huge 4” accounting corporations. He had already signed a contract when he bought a name from the Ravens. The earlier yr, he had utilized for a scouting internship with Baltimore. That wasn’t an excellent match, however Harbaugh was beginning a training internship program in 2014.

Macdonald knowledgeable KPMG that he would not be becoming a member of the agency.


Harbaugh has every of his assistants current a unique facet of the week’s recreation plan to the staff. It’s good publicity and expertise for younger coaches and creates a way of accountability for everybody on workers.

As a twenty-something whose taking part in profession led to highschool, Macdonald felt some preliminary apprehension about stepping in entrance of a room of NFL veterans.

“I simply bear in mind pondering, Terrell Suggs is again there,” Macdonald stated. “Why on this planet would he hearken to something I’m saying?

However these recreation week periods in entrance of the likes of Suggs, a former defensive participant of the yr, helped Macdonald discover his voice. If he believed within the course of, he didn’t want to fret about presenting himself in a sure approach.

“I feel you come to the conclusion of, ‘OK, I’ve put numerous work into this factor and I feel I’ve one thing (Suggs) can profit from,’” Macdonald stated. “If I’m attempting to be some man that I really feel like he’d resonate with, that’s not going to work. It’s onerous to be that individual the entire time. Simply be your self.”

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That first yr in Baltimore, Macdonald shared an workplace with fellow Ravens interns Chris Horton and Eugene Shen. They broke down performs, labored on initiatives and helped out the teaching workers. A decade later, Horton leads the Ravens’ particular groups and Shen is the senior vice chairman of soccer technique for the Washington Commanders.

“We speak about it on a regular basis, the place we’ve come from to the place we at the moment are,” Horton stated. “It’s been a tremendous means of placing your head down, going to work and people issues will repay for you.”

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In his lone season at Michigan, Mike Macdonald led a top-10 protection on a staff that earned a Faculty Soccer Playoff look. (Robin Alam / Icon Sportswire through Getty Photos)

In 2018, Harbaugh interviewed Macdonald, then a 30-year-old linebackers coach, for the defensive coordinator job after Dean Pees retired. Harbaugh in the end employed Wink Martindale, however the alternative to interview in the end strengthened Macdonald’s conviction.

“It was an excellent expertise to undergo and say, OK, if I have been to do it, what would it not seem like? What are your concepts?” Macdonald stated. “It makes you manage your ideas.”

He continued to arrange himself for a possibility. He and fellow assistant Jesse Minter watched movie collectively and practiced calling the sport, always reviewing totally different offensive schemes and discussing the defensive response.

“You can inform instantly how sharp this dude was,” stated Minter, now the defensive coordinator at Michigan. “Some individuals do the job that they’ve and do job, and different individuals do the job that they’ve and do job whereas on the identical time at all times getting ready for the following job mentally.”

When Michigan had a defensive coordinator opening after the 2020 season, Harbaugh pitched Macdonald to his brother, Jim, pondering Macdonald was then able to be in that position. He was confirmed right. In Macdonald’s one season in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines had a top-10 protection, turned the tables on Ohio State, performed within the Faculty Soccer Playoff and produced three top-45 defensive draft picks.

When the Ravens and Martindale parted methods in January 2022, Harbaugh introduced again Macdonald, believing the time was proper. Minter changed him with the Wolverines.

Issues didn’t get off to an auspicious begin. When the Ravens blew a three-touchdown result in the Miami Dolphins in Week 2 that season, ESPN analyst Rex Ryan, a former Baltimore defensive coordinator, stated the “new hot-shot coordinator is horrible.” However by season’s finish — and after a commerce that introduced Roquan Smith over from Chicago in the midst of Smith’s second consecutive All-Professional marketing campaign — the Ravens protection was taking part in at a excessive degree, ending eighth within the league in defensive DVOA.

They’ve been considerably higher this season, shutting down a number of the recreation’s high offenses. Smith calls Macdonald a “wizard” for his means to establish weaknesses and exploit them.

“If there’s one thing we’re not comfy with, he’ll throw it out. If there’s one thing we’re not comfy with however we need to work on, he’ll attempt to simplify it and make it to the place it does work for us,” stated inside linebacker Patrick Queen. “He’s very thorough in every part he does.”

This isn’t the always blitzing, bodily pulverizing Ravens protection of yesteryear. This group’s aggression is extra managed and calculated, relying closely on deception and every participant embracing his position on a given play. It’s versatile, a number of and inventive, a fantastic concord of scheme and personnel being studied and admired at each the faculty {and professional} ranges.

Macdonald believes strongly within the gamers being accountable to 1 one other. He has his 355-pound nostril sort out drop into passing lanes and his 190-pound cornerback blitz. He has onrushing linebackers set picks to offer defensive linemen free runs on the quarterback. He preaches complete buy-in, however you gained’t see him admonishing a participant on the sideline. As a substitute, he typically stands stoically, his eyes both educated on the sector or peering down at his name sheet.

“I feel there’s an ideal mixture of what you play and the way you play,” Minter stated. “I feel numerous coaches lose that. For some individuals, it’s all about scheme. For some individuals, it’s all about effort and fundamentals. However having been in Baltimore, to me, it’s an ideal mixture.

“You typically hear the time period, ‘Play like a Raven.’ Which means 11 guys on the sector taking part in collectively.”

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Macdonald has had 5 head-coaching interviews already and is awaiting a second with the Atlanta Falcons. Ravens followers are so involved they could lose him that they’ve taken to social media to jokingly impugn him so different organizations keep away. Macdonald cracked a smile when requested about these makes an attempt, saying his spouse Stephanie has handed alongside a number of the funnier ones.

Then after a fast grin, his recreation face returned.

He’s by no means going to be the primary man within the room to inform a joke. His concept of breaking the strain in conferences is dropping a line from a Jim Carrey comedy. These are sometimes met with quizzical seems from gamers, comparable to cornerback Brandon Stephens, who chuckled serious about his coach’s “tacky, lame jokes.”

“He’s a bit of little bit of a soccer nerd,” Minter stated. “And I imply that as a praise.”

Perhaps self-promotion is overrated.

One of many signature performances for Macdonald’s Ravens protection got here in Baltimore’s heavyweight conflict towards the San Francisco 49ers, who host the Detroit Lions in Sunday’s NFC Championship Recreation. Each groups entered 11-3, however the Ravens pressured 5 interceptions within the Christmas night time tour de power, with Marcus Williams placing the ending touches on the 33-19 victory by selecting off San Francisco’s Sam Darnold within the recreation’s closing minutes.

Macdonald stomped across the sideline and wildly slapped the hand of line of defense coach Anthony Weaver, an outburst notable as a result of it was so out of character.

(Illustration: Sean Reilly / The Athletic; pictures: Todd Olszewski, Fred Kfoury III / Getty Photos)




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