February 20, 2024
If Mike Macdonald’s ascent to one of many NFL’s hottest coordinators and a official head-coaching candidate feels meteoric, that’s in all probability 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 aspect media interviews in latest weeks largely as a result of he desires to tout the chemistry and cohesion of his employees, not as a result of he desires 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 route of two dozen others who deserve reward for the Ravens’ success.

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

GO DEEPER

It’s solely proper Ravens must undergo Chiefs to earn Tremendous Bowl journey

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

After the sport, Harbaugh known 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He was born in Boston however moved to Atlanta when he was about 7 years outdated.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 crew at Military-West Level and anxious concerning the damage dangers. However Hugh returned dwelling late from a enterprise journey one evening 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 hitch the junior crew,” Hugh mentioned. “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 turned consumed with the sport’s nuances.

As a working again and linebacker, Macdonald’s bodily attributes wouldn’t set him aside, however learning opponents’ tendencies gave him a head begin. When he received 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 would have liked 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 indicate how good he was.”

As a junior, Macdonald began getting stingers in his neck. His physician suggested him that he was at long-term danger if he continued to play by way of his senior yr, however Macdonald needed 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 follow of recreation week, Macdonald heard a pop in his knee. He tore his ACL. There can be nobody last recreation.

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

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

Macdonald was a scholar on the College of Georgia when he known as Smith on the lookout for a favor. Smith had not too long ago gotten the top job at Cedar Shoals Excessive in Athens, and Macdonald needed to know if he had a gap.

“Mike might be one of many smartest individuals I’ve ever met in my life,” Smith mentioned. “I noticed if he simply discovered how you can work, he can be nice at this.”

Macdonald began working the protection for Cedar Shoals’ ninth-grade crew. They’d six shutouts that yr.

“An superior expertise,” Macdonald mentioned. “I went into the scenario as a strategist. I preferred figuring out tendencies and anticipating performs. What I discovered is you may take an individual from A to B. While you do this, if he did one thing at this time 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 workplaces on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, spending hours speaking with video coordinator Joe Tereshinski and hoping any individual would admire 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 received into grad faculty.

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

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

“When you’ve guys which might be actually sharp and might talk nicely and are laborious staff and put their nostril down and get to work, you may see the place a man goes to have an opportunity to maneuver up on the earth,” mentioned Mark Richt, Georgia’s soccer coach on the time. “You need assured individuals and also you need guys who you consider are reliable. I feel there’s a actual consolation stage with Mike and the kind of individual he’s. He checked the entire bins.”

Then he virtually walked away from the career altogether. At 26, Macdonald turned “disillusioned” by the job. His time as a grad assistant expired in 2013. A number of the politics had gotten to him, and a few of his relationships had grow to be draining.

“The entire glamor of being a soccer coach was carrying off,” Macdonald mentioned. “I didn’t actually consider within the course of and the folks that I used to be round. I didn’t see the good thing about 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 make certain 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 individual with Mike’s intelligence and savvy, and Hugh needed to ensure soccer was the perfect place for his son’s skills.

“I figured I used to be going to go see the world and begin working,” Macdonald mentioned. “It didn’t really feel prefer it was the correct factor to do when it was taking place, however I simply felt form of compelled to do it. I didn’t wish to take a job at Wherever State and go throughout the nation recruiting Johnny. It wasn’t on the trajectory that I needed 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 received a name from the Ravens. The earlier yr, he had utilized for a scouting internship with Baltimore. That wasn’t a fantastic 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 distinct side of the week’s recreation plan to the crew. It’s good publicity and expertise for younger coaches and creates a way of accountability for everybody on employees.

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 keep in mind considering, Terrell Suggs is again there,” Macdonald mentioned. “Why on the earth would he take heed 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 method.

“I feel you come to the belief of, ‘OK, I’ve put numerous work into this factor and I feel I’ve one thing (Suggs) can profit from,’” Macdonald mentioned. “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 laborious to be that individual the entire time. Simply be your self.”

GO DEEPER

The Ravens’ historic dominance, and what different coaches can study from John Harbaugh

That first yr in Baltimore, Macdonald shared an workplace with fellow Ravens interns Chris Horton and Eugene Shen. They broke down performs, labored on tasks and helped out the teaching employees. 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 mentioned. “It’s been a tremendous strategy of placing your head down, going to work and people issues will repay for you.”


In his lone season at Michigan, Mike Macdonald led a top-10 protection on a crew 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 a fantastic expertise to undergo and say, OK, if I had been to do it, what would it not appear like? What are your concepts?” Macdonald mentioned. “It makes you manage your ideas.”

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

“You can inform straight away how sharp this dude was,” mentioned 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 making ready for the subsequent job mentally.”

When Michigan had a defensive coordinator opening after the 2020 season, Harbaugh pitched Macdonald to his brother, Jim, considering Macdonald was then able to be in that function. 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, mentioned 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 stage, ending eighth within the league in defensive DVOA.

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

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

This isn’t the continuously 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 function on a given play. It’s versatile, a number of and inventive, a good looking 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 at least one one other. He has his 355-pound nostril deal with 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 an alternative, he typically stands stoically, his eyes both skilled on the sphere or peering down at his name sheet.

“I feel there’s an ideal mixture of what you play and the way you play,” Minter mentioned. “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.’ Meaning 11 guys on the sphere taking part in collectively.”

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

How Chiefs, 49ers, Lions and Ravens exorcised demons to succeed in convention title video games

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 among 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 thought of breaking the strain in conferences is dropping a line from a Jim Carrey comedy. These are sometimes met with quizzical appears to be like from gamers, similar to cornerback Brandon Stephens, who chuckled fascinated by his coach’s “tacky, lame jokes.”

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

Possibly 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 Sport. Each groups entered 11-3, however the Ravens compelled 5 interceptions within the Christmas evening tour de drive, 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; images: Todd Olszewski, Fred Kfoury III / Getty Photos)