Simply stated, and loosely defined, a coach is a person who teaches and directs another person via encouragement and advice. However, as in all of his everyday activities, coaching has become a form of commitment for eighth-year Mississippi State Head Coach Neil Macdonald.
With success having followed him every step of the way from his humble beginnings in the soccer world, to his time in Starkville, Macdonald knows no one can get anywhere in life without focus and hard work.
Just weeks before the Bulldogs would report for preseason camp and open the 2004 season at home with Middle Tennessee, Macdonald was named just the third head coach in the history of the MSU soccer program. The transition stage would be short-lived, but Macdonald was more than prepared to take on the task full circle.
Macdonald became the most successful rookie coach in MSU history, helping the Maroon and White to its most wins since 2001 while securing a record-tying five league victories en route to State's second SEC Tournament berth.
When he took the head-coaching reigns, Macdonald knew that building a competitive program would be an enduring process.
That endurance has started paying results, as the 2009 Bulldog edition claimed the program's first winning season since 2003.
His 2009 Bulldog unit matched his inaugural team for the most wins under his guidance after opening the season with eight-straight victories, the most in program annals. It was also the first time that an MState contingent has gone perfect in the non-conference slate. In addition to those accomplishments, the 2009 team put together a school-record four consecutive shutouts and posted ties against top-10 ranked Florida and South Carolina.
Last season he also knocked off a pair of ranked foes - No. 20 Auburn and No. 11 Florida - for the first time since 2003. The team also claimed its most SEC wins and conference goals since 2004.
Macdonald hopes last season's successes continue the foundation that has been laid since he took over the program in 2004.
Macdonald's run to the head position in Starkville came just a year after he accepted his first Division I coaching job as a volunteer assistant with the Bulldogs in 2003, where he was reunited with longtime friend Neil McGuire, who, three years earlier, had attained his first tenure as a Division I head coach at the Northeast Mississippi school.
Working primarily on the defensive unit during his initial spring season in Starkville, Macdonald was instrumental in helping to progressively enhance an already experienced defensive club. Prior to the Fall season in 2003, Macdonald was elevated to assistant coach where his primary duties included assuming day-to-day coaching duties with the defense, as well as recruiting. With his experience as a coach, the Bulldogs turned in a school-record goals against average and yielded just 0.86 goals per game en route to a 9-8-3 record - one that included a pair of victories over nationally-ranked squads, including No. 6 Florida. The victories were the first for an MSU team over a top 25 squad in school history.
Macdonald's tenure as a full-time assistant was short-lived, however, as he received the opportunity of a lifetime when longtime friend McGuire departed Starkville to become an assistant coach at Texas. On July 29, 2004, just days before he would welcome a squad of 21 players back to campus, he was named Mississippi State's third head coach.
"Coaching has always been something that has just fell into my lap," Macdonald said. "People have always told me that I would have a future in it. I have just been very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. I've always had very good opportunities presented to me."
Macdonald's appointment to the head of the Mississippi State soccer program continues a passion for the sport that spans back to his days as a youngster growing up in Scotland.
Like all Scottish youngsters around his age growing up, Macdonald often found himself in the streets of his Inverness neighborhood refining his soccer skills on the blacktop, rather than on the grass of a freshly mowed pitch. To him, as well as his friends, it was perceived as normalcy to set up makeshift goals out of trash cans and jackets just to play the game they developed a strong love for early on in life.
There was always time for soccer, whether it be 15 minutes at break time or even an hour before school started, and finding foes and teammates was never a challenge. The challenge lied in finding enough daylight to play an entire game.
As Macdonald foraged his way through primary and secondary school, his skills could not do anything but develop. It did not take long before he was dominating his chums on the field, often times catching the eyes of professional scouts looking for young talent, or from coaches abroad looking to find talent for their collegiate programs in the United States.
Macdonald saw action in every game of his rookie campaign and would go on to play a number of different positions at Augusta State, but he typically made most of his playing appearances in the center midfield role.
A four-year starter for the Jaguars, Macdonald captained the team during his junior and senior seasons and was also a recipient of a handful of team awards, as well as one conference player of the week accolade. He played and started in every game he was eligible for during his illustrious career in Augusta, and he left the distinguished academic institution as the career record holder in games played and games started.
Following his graduation from Augusta State in 1997, Macdonald had set his sights on graduate school at the university with the full intention of becoming a future history teacher. However, with McGuire in need of an assistant coach at his new job at Iowa Central Community College, Macdonald, once again, got a phone call that would set his path in a new direction. It was the years following he would find himself in the coaching world, trading the classroom for the soccer field.
During the duo's initial campaign in Fort Dodge, Iowa, as coaches of both the men's and women's teams, the ICCC women finished the season as regional champions with a 9-3-1 clip and featured the nation's leading scorer at that level. The men's team won the regional championship as well en route to concluding the season with a 15-4-1 record and a No. 14 national ranking.
Following a 1998 campaign that saw both the Tritons and Lady Tritons march to regional and national rankings, McGuire would depart the campus of ICCC for an assistant coaching job at Iowa State, thereby handing over his position as head coach to Macdonald, who took the reigns of the program at full speed.
Over the course of the next five seasons, he would skipper the men's team to five regional championships, four times reaching the Sweet 16 of the National Junior College Association of America (NJCAA) national tournament, including his final season in 2002 when the squad advanced through to the Final Four.
His accomplishments and rigor as a coach and mentor were equally noted on the women's side as well, where he led the Lady Tritons to five consecutive regional championships, including an appearance in the Elite Eight in 2002.
During his five-year tenure in Fort Dodge, Macdonald collected an impressive 149-34-5 coaching record. At the conclusion of the 2002 campaigns, he was honored with NJCAA Region Coach of the Year accolades, along with being named one of three finalists for NSCAA National Coach of the Year honors. He was also lauded with Who's Who of America's Teachers as well.
With the background of assistant and head coaching jobs at Iowa Central, along with a professional coaching stint with the W-League's Memphis Mercury,
Macdonald will begin his 15th season as a collegiate coach this year, having been successful at each step of his progression up the ladder rungs of the coaching world. Over the years, he has developed his coaching philosophies and tailored it to his work ethic and responsibilities.
Commitment to the cause has been something that has translated into his recruiting philosophy as well.
"I look for character first of all," said Macdonald of the three things he looks for in a prospective student-athlete. "Because we are in the Southeastern Conference, you have to look at athleticism and pace as an incredibly important factor. Ideally, you'd like to have a technically sound player that has a good grasp of what the fundamentals of the game are. That makes things a lot easier."
Over the years, Macdonald has seen his share of life-changing experiences, but nothing comes close to what he experienced before the his tenure as MState's head coach even began. Having met his wife Jamie, an assistant professor in the Graphic Design program at Mississippi State, when both were athletes at Augusta State, the couple celebrated the birth of their first child, Colin Ross, in May, 2004, and welcomed their second son, Liam Alexander in March, 2008.
Born May 16, 1972, in Banff, Scotland, Macdonald currently holds his coaching license from the Scottish Football Association. Two years ago, Macdonald returned to his home country and completed his Scottish FA UEFA "B" license, one of the top coaching decorations in international soccer.
- Midfielder, Augusta State (1994-97)