Former SID & La. Sports Hall of Fame: McDonald's path shaped by tireless work ethic, cool demeanor
The Daily Advertiser, June 18, 2017 Raymond Partsch III, Written for the LSWA
Dan McDonald is known for keeping his composure.
Nothing appears to rattle the Louisiana native, who for four-plus decades has been revered as one of the most accomplished and professional sports media figures the state has produced.
McDonald’s cool demeanor and professionalism was there from the start of his esteemed career, as evident by the manner in which he handled a particularly daunting weather crisis in the fall of 1976 in Natchitoches.
"The first time I ever met Dan he was as young SID at Northwestern State University,” said Bruce Brown, the former longtime sports editor at The Daily Advertiser in Lafayette.
“USL was playing there in football, but NSU was in a transition at their facility. There was no real press box. It was more like a tree house and they had this torrential rain and raging wind, and he was trying to run around and do everything and help everyone.
"It was really helpless, but Dan pulled it off. I was so impressed that night with despite all that chaos, he was still moving things forward to help everyone with their stories and deadline and survive the night.”
That work ethic and approach helped make McDonald one of the state’s top sports information directors and journalists. On June 24, he will inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame as a 2017 recipient of the Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism.
“I almost cried when I found out he was being inducted,” Ragin’ Cajuns radio announcer Jay Walker said. “I was riding in the car and happened to see someone mention it on Twitter and I texted him and all the text said was ‘You stud.’ Dan has never been in this for any personal recognition. As a matter of fact, I think sometimes it almost embarrasses him, but I can’t think of anyone in journalism that deserves this more.”
McDonald’s career took root when he was still a teenager growing up in the timber country of north Louisiana, where he worked for both his hometown’s weekly newspaper (The Jackson Independent) and local radio station (KTOC-AM) in Jonesboro.
While in high school, he handled scoring, public address and posted weekly statistics and stories in the Jackson Independent for the local youth baseball league.
After graduating from Jonesboro-Hodge High School in 1972, McDonald went on to study at Northwestern State. He honed his craft working as a student assistant under former SID Pesky Hill, writing and editing for the student newspaper, The Current Sauce, and helping launch NSU’s first radio station, KNSU, now known as KNWD.
When iconic musician Jim Croce perished in a plane crash after a concert on campus, McDonald’s coverage was picked up by Rolling Stone, among others.
After graduating in three years, McDonald joined the sports department at The (Alexandria) Town Talk in 1975 and worked under legendary sports editor Bill Carter, who himself received the DSA honor in 1988.
McDonald’s time in Alexandria was short-lived, as after a year his alma mater came calling.
Hill had departed to take the same position at Oklahoma State, so NSU reached out to McDonald to return as the school’s SID at the ripe age of 21, making him the youngest SID at any Division I program.
Despite his youth, it didn’t take long for McDonald to make his mark, as he won a couple of national awards for brochures from CoSIDA.
McDonald left NSU in the summer of 1980 for the same position at then-USL. That is where he remained until 1999, winning numerous awards for his brochures, fact sheets and, of course, writing.
“If God created a better sports information director than Dan, then he must have kept him himself,” said 2015 DSA recipient Glenn Quebedeaux, then the sports editor of the Daily Iberian in New Iberia.
McDonald’s work as an SID in Lafayette is where he cultivated a reputation for professionalism unmatched by many of his contemporaries.
“USL was playing in the Great Alaskan Shootout back in 1981 and Dan was doing the radio broadcast with me,” former Cajuns play-by-play man Don Allen said. “I was indisposed elsewhere before a game and I didn’t get to the arena until five minutes to tip. He already had everything set up and ready to go. That was Dan.”
Added Walker, "When he was the SID, his commitment to detail was as about as complete as anybody I’ve ever known. Every single ‘I’ was dotted and every ‘T’ was always crossed. He was always very precise with his details.
"And Dan never said no. His favorite question was probably, ‘Do you need anything?’ Because of that, everybody respected him so much.”
During his tenure at USL, McDonald also served as a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee media relations staff for two Summer Games (Seoul in 1988, Atlanta in 1996), and six U.S. Olympic Festivals. In 2011, he was inducted into the CoSIDA Hall of Fame.
“If he could have cloned himself, I think he would have,” Brown said. “He tried to be everywhere at once. I think it drove him half batty that he couldn’t because he wanted everything to be just so.”
McDonald’s lasting impact resides in the legion of former assistants and student assistants who have gone on to become prominent figures and leaders in collegiate and professional sports.
A few of those notables are Herb Vincent, associate commissioner of the Southeastern Conference; Greg Sharko, media relations director for the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP); Pat Murphy, Hall of Fame softball coach at the University of Alabama; Christopher Lakos, associate SID at University of Georgia; Joe Lynch, executive director of alumni relations at Gettysburg College (Pa.); and Doug Ireland, longtime SID at NSU and chairman of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
"One of his biggest joys is enjoying the success of others," Walker said. "With Dan it is never about Dan. When somebody that might have worked for him, and they have personal or professional success, that truly pleases him more than his own successes. This is an ego-driven business and you just don't find people like him."
“He is the current-day father of SIDs in the state of Louisiana,” said Jeff Conrad, who served as a student assistant and general assistant under McDonald. “There are other excellent SIDs that have worked longer at their schools, but nobody can top the lineage, the tree and branches that he has.
"Dan hired some very good people, and it’s not a coincidence that so many of his SIDs have gone on to do remarkable things. You learn so many things from him that you carry over as you move on to new jobs and ones that will make you a better person.”
McDonald would eventually retire from the SID world in 1999, and for the man who succeeded him, the shadow his mentor and predecessor cast was intimidating.
“When he left it was overwhelming,” said Conrad, who is now director of communications at the University of Houston. “I remember we were coming back from Sun Belt Conference Media Day and we were in his car. Just out of curiosity I asked him if he had ever thought about leaving, and he said, “Well, that’s kind of funny that you mentioned that.’ It was overwhelming because those were tremendous shoes to fill.
"To be honest with you, you don’t replace Dan. You just follow him.”
McDonald may have retired from being an SID, but he had no intentions of slowing down.
McDonald joined the sports department of The (Lafayette) Daily Advertiser and quickly ascended among the state’s best writers.
He captured 31 LSWA writing awards in his nine years at the paper, including three “Writer of the Year” honors in a five-year span. He also received a national “Best of Gannett” award for his coverage of the 2005 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
"The thing about Dan is that he can write anything, and he will write anything,” Brown said. “There wasn’t an assignment that he would ever turn down. He would attack it with all the talent he had in him and more. And if he turned something in on deadline, you didn't have to proofread it, because you could just put it right on the page. It was always that well-written and clean.”
McDonald left The Daily Advertiser in 2008 and became vice-president of McD Media Inc., a marketing and public relations firm founded by his wife, Mary Beth, also an NSU graduate.
In addition to his role with McD Media, McDonald works as a freelance sports journalist, including earning his fourth LSWA Sports Writer of the Year honor in 2011, and doing extensive broadcast and television work, including anchoring annual webcasts of Sun Belt Conference baseball, softball and golf tournaments.
In addition, McDonald has served as media relations director for the Web.com Tour’s Chitimacha Louisiana open, chairman of the Bill Bass Open fundraiser tournament for the Ragin' Cajuns golf team, co-chairman for LHSAA state high school golf tournaments held in Acadiana, served as vice president and president of the LSWA, and remains a key member of both the LSWA Executive Committee and Hall of Fame Committee.
In 1999, McDonald received the LSWA’s esteemed Mac Russo Award, which recognizes those members who represent the ideals of the organization, an award that was also bestowed on his wife Mary Beth in 2015.
For those who worked with McDonald and consider him a friend, they proudly say that those ideals go far beyond his life’s work.
“When my wife Barbara passed away in 2012, I was devastated,” Brown said. “She had always handled our finances in our marriage and I was allowed to write about sports my whole life. One of the things I knew I had to do was find someone that could take care of that, like a CPA for my taxes, or a money person for my finances.
“I always trusted Dan and he guided me through that. They got me straightened out and got me on the right track. That crisis was averted because of Dan.
Dan McDonald: Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Inductee - McDonald reflects on sports career The Advertiser, June 9, 2017 Please click here for Dan's video.
Dan McDonald: Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Inductee - My favorite Ragin Cajun athletes The Advertiser, June 9, 2017