(Update ... At the end of this story are these words: "Rhett and his wife Kayelyn are expecting their first child any day now. It’s going to be a boy." Ganon Xavier McDonald was born Friday morning; 9.7 pounds, 22.5 inches. Congratulations!)
If the new boys basketball coach at Duluth East had a name like Smith or Johnson or Hanson or Jones, his hiring would probably not make a giant splash. But when the name is McDonald, people notice.
Rhett McDonald is 25 years old and in his first season as the coach of the Duluth East Greyhounds. He is a third-generation coach in Minnesota’s first family of basketball. Rhett’s grandfather is Bob McDonald, who is in his 57th season as a coach and 52nd at Chisholm. Bob is the state’s career victories leader with 984 as the season began.
Rhett McDonald was coached by his father, Mike, at Cambridge-Isanti High School, where Rhett was named all-state honorable mention and played in the Minnesota Basketball Coaches Association all-star series. In college at Minnesota-Duluth, he was a four-year letterwinner and team captain as a senior.
Here’s the rundown on Bob McDonald’s other children and their coaching jobs:
Paul coaches the men’s basketball team at Vermilion Community College in Ely, Tom is the boys coach at Ely High School and Joel coaches the boys team at Hibbing High School. Bob McDonald’s daughters, Sue and Judy, are former coaches.
With a pedigree like that, it’s no surprise that Rhett (pictured) became a coach.
“I can remember being in first grade and really wanting to be a basketball coach and a teacher. Honestly, I’ve never thought about doing anything else,” Rhett said at Saturday’s Breakdown Tip Off Classic at Minnetonka High School, where Duluth East lost to Prior Lake 85-56.
Mike McDonald is not surpised at all that his son became a coach.
“I think from the time he was probably three or four years old and going on scouting trips with me, until he got older and was working out himself, I think that was his only career choice,” Mike said.
Rhett McDonald was an assistant coach at Owatonna last season. The East job became available when the contract of coach Chuck Tolo was not renewed after last season. The Greyhounds have played in 13 state tournaments, including the last two.
Rhett applied for the job, not knowing what would happen. Or as he put it, “Honestly, I threw my name in the hat and did not expect too much back.” He was interviewed and offered the job. He also teaches special education at East.
“Duluth East has always been my dream job,” he said. “As a kid I remember going up and watching Duluth East teams. For some reason I always liked East basketball. I just attached to them, even though they were in our section and kind of our rival. I guess Duluth was where I wanted to end up, and East was the high school I wanted to be at.”
Rhett was the first player from Cambridge-Isanti to play Division II college basketball since Mike McDonald took over as coach.
“I knew he wanted to be a head coach and he had a good experience at Owatonna with a quality team and a quality staff,” Mike said. “From the beginning I always thought he was beyond his years, maturity-wise. And his basketball IQ has always been high. I’m proud of him.”
After opening with losses to Eastview and Prior Lake, Rhett McDonald got career victory No. 1 when the Greyhounds won at Grand Rapids 65-43 on Tuesday night. McDonald is learning quickly that being a head coach means a lot more than directing players in practices and games.
“Even though I am the son of a coach, I’ve found out that there’s so much more that goes on that you don’t appreciate as a player or even as an assistant coach,” he said. “There’s a lot of planning, more stress, that you have to worry about from a head coach’s standpoint. It’s something I was aware of but I wasn’t ready.
“Inheriting a team that had a coach who was there for quite some time, the other difficulty was trying new things that we do and for them to buy into our philosophy. That hasn’t been a struggle, but it just takes time. This could be a three-year process, which we understand from a coaching standpoint. For me, I thought this might happen quicker, and it isn’t.”
Rhett’s team played his grandfather’s team in a preseason scrimmage at Esko, and “We were simply a little bit more athletic than they were,” Rhett said. “My grandpa still has a ton of energy, so he was up yelling.”
Bob McDonald called his grandson “a good well-balanced, mentally capable person. He’s a good boy. I don’t say much about any of my grandkids; they do their own thing. They’ve got their own furrow to plow. But he’s a very capable kid because he’s got sensibility. And he’s in a good school system there.”
Rhett said, “My grandpa continues to be an influence on my life, on the floor and off the floor. On the floor, we talk about building blocks, playing hard, playing with class. It’s something we’re trying to achieve at Duluth East. That is a big part of our concept within the program. A lot of the things we do offensively and defensively are things that are not totally his style; in the future we’d like to play at a fast pace, like his teams. He told me over the summer that I better have a pressing team. At this point we can’t do that, but I will continue to listen to him.
“I talk to my grandpa probably once a month, and there is at least one good thing from each conversation that I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Rhett said he learned about work ethic from watching his father, who has been the coach at Cambridge-Isanti since 1987. Rhett recalls his dad breaking down film until 2 o’clock in the morning, all part of the grind of the basketball season.
“My dad has always been encouraging me and pushing me to become a better player, person and now coach,” Rhett said. “Every basketball season, he loses about 15 pounds because of the stress. Those things showed me how much work it takes to be a decent coach no matter where you’re at. That’s something I keep telling myself, that this will someday all come together. I’ll continue to do the same things he did, and before you know it things will work out.”
No one is looking too far down the road, but father and son will go head-to-head when Cambridge-Isanti plays at Duluth East on Feb. 23. Adding to the family storyline, Rhett’s brother Kyle is a sophomore starter on the Cambridge-Isanti team.
“I honestly don’t know what to expect,” Rhett said. “I would like to think that I know a lot about them, and I bet my dad knows my plans, as well. We’ll see when that comes. I’m looking forward to it. That’s just a special situation.”
Rhett’s older sister Kailee is a senior on the Wisconsin-Superior women’s basketball team. His cousin Bryce Tesdahl played at Crosby-Ironton and Bemidji State and is now a graduate assistant coach at Minnesota-Duluth. It’s all part of the family business, which shows no signs of ending.
Mike McDonald said Kyle also wants to become a coach, and the fourth generation of Coach McDonalds may not be far off.
Rhett and his wife Kayelyn are expecting their first child any day now. It’s going to be a boy.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 377
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 5,033
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
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