Retirement can wait for Penn State line coach
Mac McWhorter coaches Penn State's offensive linemen in his unique style. He calls them "The Hogs." He encourages them in a rather thick Georgia drawl. He has nicknames for all of them, including center Ty Howle, who is known as "Swamp Man" for his cutoff shirts and long hair.
He likes Howle, who is from North Carolina, because he's "one of the few that can understand my dialect all the way through."
But the method to McWhorter's success during more than 30 seasons of coaching offensive linemen is treating his guys like family. He believes they are a special breed that makes up 45 percent of the offense and have, in general, overachieved to have gotten where they are.
"Like I tell them all the time when I first get acquainted with them, 'Listen, you've got to understand this, we're going to have to work our tails off to be as good as we possibly can because there's not great athletes in this room,' " McWhorter, 63, who is spending his second season on head coach Bill O'Brien's staff, said Thursday during an entertaining conference call with reporters.
"They all kind of giggle and I say, 'Listen, if you were a great athlete and a lineman, you'd be on the other side of the ball, not on this side of the ball.' "
The process has worked for McWhorter through many stops, including Georgia, where he played his college football as a guard in the early 1970s, and Texas, where he helped lead the Longhorns to the 2005 national championship.
His wife, Rebecca, whom he affectionately calls "Mama Hog," is almost as close to the linemen as her husband. The couple have three grown children, and McWhorter said she has "kind of adopted" the linemen and makes her popular "Hog Treats" that are given to them the night before a game.
McWhorter could be enjoying retirement with his wife and playing with his grandchildren, something he was doing after leaving Texas following the 2010 season.
But after about a year of being away from the sideline, he received a call from O'Brien, with whom he worked at Georgia Tech in 2000-01, and it was adios, retirement.
"I thought so much of Coach O'Brien at the time when I worked with him at Georgia Tech," he said. "I just felt he was a rising star. Penn State, I had always been enamored by because of what Coach [Joe] Paterno did here. . . . So my wife and I talked about it, and I said, 'You know, this would be a great way to finish a career,' go help a good friend in Bill O'Brien and experience the North, which we've never been in. So it was special for me."
O'Brien said he liked McWhorter's experience in major-college programs.
"I knew he would be able to coach in this offense, a really bright guy with great ideas," he said. "I knew how good he was with the kids and how good a recruiter he was. So for me, it was easy."
McWhorter has been impressed with the hospitality he has experienced in State College as well as the entire state.
McWhorter isn't sure how much longer he'll stay. He and his wife miss their grandchildren, and his 85-year-old father is not in good health. For now, he's taking it one day at a time.
"At some point, whenever it is, it will be tough," he said. "But you just have to make decisions with whatever you base it on and move on from that point. It's inevitable. Nobody coaches forever. There's got to be a severance point. So whatever that is, that will be tough, and it will be very emotional for me."