“I put out a lot of flyers!” Athletic Director Matt McDonald ’88 answered with a smile when asked what exactly his job involved.
“A lot of my job involves managing these events, evaluating staff, raising money and putting together resources,” McDonald said. He is also the head baseball coach and has led the St. Olaf baseball team to five NCAA appearances, four 30-win seasons and 18 20-win seasons in his tenure. He was awarded the MIAC’s coach of the year in 2007 for the third time in his career.
Under McDonald, St. Olaf has finished in the top three in the MIAC for 14 straight seasons. St. Olaf won the four-team MIAC Tournament in 2003, 2006 and 2009 and has been in the championship in seven of the event’s 13 seasons.
McDonald has definitely had an inspiring and successful career, so what’s the secret behind it?
“The biggest factor is our school’s ability to attract good athletes,” McDonald said. “Even if you have the best coaches and the best facilities, you won’t get anywhere if you don’t have good players.” McDonald likens it to finding the right talent for a choir.
McDonald says that members of the athletics department have been working on their recruiting methods.
“Academic standards have risen, so it’s very important to find the right person who can balance training with their studies,” McDonald said. McDonald conveyed that the athletics deparment spends more time recruiting than actually coaching, which proves just how important finding the right person for your team is.
“We work closely with the admissions office on finding the students that would fit and excel here,” McDonald said. “I always make sure to try and get to know the students, so there are no surprises either for me or for them when they get here, and a lot of the guys I’ve recruited I really enjoy spending time with.”
McDonald finds it very inspiring to be coaching at the place where he once played, having graduated from St Olaf in 1988. “I was in their shoes at one point, so I can relate to them,” he said. He feels that competitive spirit is at the heart of his philosophy. He knows sports are a very important part of many students’ lives when he sees them first arriving here at St. Olaf.
“To be involved in something where there is a winner and a loser is very important. Sure, the winning is great, but the losing hurts, and it teaches you how to deal with that and keep going,” McDonald said. “I believe competition, more often than not, brings out the best in people”
The rough weather has always been an issue for outdoor sports like baseball and football, but McDonald believes that St. Olaf is very lucky to have great indoor facilities.
“Even if you can’t practice outdoors, focusing on the fundamentals of the game is just as important. This is what you need to remember to keep going,” he said.
McDonald’s vision for the future is to provide athletes at St. Olaf with something special to match the quality they receive in their education. He hopes that coaches and administrators can match the passion for which St. Olaf professors and faculty are know.
“We’ve done well so far, and we plan on continuing do so,” McDonald said.
Graphic Credit: ETHAN BOOTE/MANITOU MESSENGER