A retired Mac McWhorter was often asked about his future when jogging through the neighborhood of his Georgia home.
“No, I’m not planning on coaching again,” he would tell his neighbors during his year-long hiatus. “But if the right person, the right place called, I’ll entertain it.”
In January, McWhorter entertained that call from a man with a familiar voice.
McWhorter decided to join the staff of Bill O’Brien, his former co-worker at Georgia Tech, as Penn State’s offensive line coach for one last hurrah. Members of the team said the smooth-talking southerner has provided an energetic presence to the coaching staff, focusing heavily on the mental side of the game.
O’Brien said McWhorter’s coaching pedigree made him an attractive option, but it wasn’t easy to woo the retiree.
“It was definitely somewhat of a recruiting job, because he was retired and living in Georgia and enjoying the well-deserved retirement,” O’Brien said. “But he and I have a fantastic relationship and a lot of trust.”
O’Brien and McWhorter were both offensive coaches at Georgia Tech in 2000-2001, making McWhorter one of four current assistants who had prior experience working with the head coach.
The offer appealed to the 62-year-old because of his relationship with O’Brien, but the storied history of the Nittany Lions’ program also attracted him, he said.
“I’ve always admired Penn State, so I said, ‘You know, that’d be a great place to finish it up,’ ” McWhorter said. “So this one’s special and I’m glad Bill offered me the opportunity to do this.”
The offensive line coach is in the first year of his two-year contract. McWhorter said he and his wife, Becky, have quickly transitioned into the Happy Valley lifestyle.
The coach said his family has found its niche among the Lions’ football community, especially his wife.
“I’ve always called my players the hogs and these Penn State hogs have ‘Momma Hog.’ That’s Ms. Becky, Momma Hog,” McWhorter said. “I push them to the edge and she babies them. So we’ve got a good mixture there.”
McWhorter said ‘Momma Hog’ has taken his offensive linemen under her wing and has been known to hug them, no matter how sweaty they are, as they come off the practice field.
Additionally, Becky cooks the players treats with “special ingredients” on Fridays to ensure they play at a high level.
“I would really have to kill you if I told what was in them,” McWhorter said jokingly. “It’s that secret.”
Of course, McWhorter has also developed a positive relationship with the players himself.
Offensive guard John Urschel said his offensive line coach has stressed the importance of the players’ mindset and energy heading into practices and games.
“Coach Mac is a big believer in the mental aspect of football, being [here] mentally and getting excited about practice every day, being excited about games,” Urschel said.
Urschel said McWhorter gives the offensive linemen a review sheet before every practice with reminders, most of which dealing with their mentality as opposed to a strategic gameplan.
The offensive line has allowed just eight sacks in six games this season and has led the way for a rushing attack that has averaged 138.3 yards per game.
O’Brien said McWhorter’s devotion to his unit has impacted the offensive line’s success this season. The head coach added that the assistant has an excellent sense of humor, often keeping the atmosphere light with fun catch phrases.
McWhorter’s laid-back attitude has even shone through when speaking with the media. When asked how he’s doing, the coach doesn’t hold his personality back.
“I’m just biting, scratching, clawing and kicking,” McWhorter said. “How you doin’?”
McWhorter said he’s embraced the challenge of entering Penn State’s program, especially during a time when things are often unpredictable in college football.
He is unsure of whether he’ll remain on staff after the 2013 season, but said he has already enjoyed his time in Happy Valley.
“These are as good of players, character-wise, as I’ve ever been around,” McWhorter said. “I’ve really enjoyed being with them and seeing them progress and watching the team grow, so we’ll just take it one day at a time.”