By Anthony Rhoads
In 1961, as a senior at Grady High School, Mac McConnell had a chance to play in the Class AAA Final Four.
The team finished third in the state and the experience left an indelible mark on the future high school basketball coach.
"Just to be involved in all that excitement made me think about coaching," McConnell said.
After a career that spanned some four decades, McConnell retired from coaching after the 2003-04 season at Lovejoy High School. He went out as one of the winningest coaches in Clayton County history with 229 wins. Saturday, a retirement reception was held at the school to honor McConnell and many former colleagues and players came out to see him.
Now that he's retired, McConnell is looking forward to have more leisure time but he knows he's definitely going to miss coaching when the basketball season rolls around.
"I'm going to miss it but I'll have more time to relax and not feel the pressure," he said. "Next year, I'll miss the Tuesday and Friday nights but I'm going to enjoy the free time."
A journey in coaching
After graduating from Grady in 1961, McConnell went to Erskine College.
After earning his degree from Erskine, he started his career at Northside High School, staying there one year.
From Northside, he went to Fulton, where he coached from 1966-68 but his coaching and teaching career took a back seat as duty to his country called.
He was in the United States Army from 1969-71, serving in Belgium at a hospital with the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe.
McConnell returned to Fulton in 1971 and throughout the 1970s, he also coached at M.D. Collins and North Springs.
He came to Riverdale in 1981and took over the head coaching job in 1982 and stayed in that position until 1987. Even though the Raiders lacked talent and struggled during that period, there was no doubt about how hard McConnell worked and how much he influenced the players.
One of those players during that time was current Brookwood girls' basketball coach and former Morrow coach Scott Terry.
"I've been fortunate to have been around some great men," Terry said. "You can't be a good coach without being a good man and that's what coach McConnell is."
McConnell also gained the admiration and respect of his colleagues at Riverdale, including former girls head coach Doug Crane.
"We had a good working relationship at Riverdale," Crane said. "Those were some good times. He did a good job, worked hard and was very enthusiastic. The kids played very hard for him."
One of McConnell's rivals during that time was Richard Simmons, who was head coach at Morrow from 1978-90.
"No one works as hard as Mac does," Simmons said. "He's not just a good coach but a good person."
Building a dynasty at Lovejoy
After taking some time out from coaching for a few years, McConnell came to Lovejoy in 1996 and immediately made an impact.
Lovejoy made it to state for the first time in school history in 1996 and advanced to the second round only to fall 84-82 to Tift County.
"That was an exciting season," McConnell said.
The definite standout on that team was Jason Floyd, who set many school records and went on to Georgia Tech.
"He was a good all-around kid," McConnell said. "He was a good student and player."
Floyd said McConnell's influence on his life has been immeasurable.
"It's hard to put it into words," Floyd said. "He's just a stand-up guy. I've been around a lot of coaches but he's the best."
After the Jason Floyd era, Lovejoy remained one of the top teams in the area and in 1999, the Wildcats made it to the Class AAAA Final 4.
"I've had more talented teams but they played so well together," McConnell said. "They really shouldn't have gone to the Final Four but they did. It's a matter of guys coming together and how the team can reach their potential."
In McConnell's final three years of coach, Lovejoy made it count as the team won three straight region championships and earned three straight trips to the state playoffs.
"It's been a pleasure and privilege to work with him," said Lovejoy assistant coach Eric Habelt. "He gave me the chance to coach at the high school level. The last six years have been great and it's all because of coach McConnell. I'm going to miss him."
The rewards of coaching
Just about any coach will tell you that one of the biggest rewards of the profession is seeing former players go on to be successful. McConnell is no different as he has taken a great amount of pride in his former players and students.
Many have gone on to play collegiate basketball like Mike Lenzley at Wofford, Danny Newkirk at Johnson C. Smith, Tobias Brinkley at Southern Mississippi and Evansville, Michael Crain at Valdosta State and Josh Barker at Savannah State.
One former player, Alan Massangale, went on to become an award-winning sports broadcaster and at one time he was an ESPN anchor. Massangle is currently a sports anchor for KCAL television station in Los Angeles.
"It makes you feel good to see your former players be successful in life," McConnell said. "To see someone go on and be successful in coaching or other endeavors makes you feel good all the way and it feels good to know you've influenced them a little bit along the way."
Even though coaching can take a toll on family life, sports actually was an area where McConnell could get closer to his youngest daughter Lindsey.
Lindsey definitely inherited a love of sports from her father. Even at an young age, Lindsey was there to support her dad and was always there asking questions and even debating strategy after games.
"Those memories are irreplaceable," Lindsey said.