New Patriots coach MacPherson hits it big with small-town style hTC

THE BALTIMORE SUN

OLD TOWN, Maine -- If you're coming from Old Town and going to see Mac, you better bring the doughnuts.

Whether you were driving to Amherst to watch him coach the University of Massachusetts or traveling to Syracuse to visit him in the Carrier Dome, before you headed down the Maine Turnpike it was wise to pack a box or two of La Bree's doughnuts because if you didn't, you'd hear about it.

"Mac's never forgotten where he came from," said Skip Chappelle, the former University of Maine basketball coach who hails from the same Old Town that produced new New England Patriots head coach Dick MacPherson. "He's from Maine and proud of it. He can't talk too long without mentioning Old Town.

"I remember one year we were going up to Syracuse to play in the Carrier Classic and Dick gave me a call. He said, 'Don't show up here unless you bring two boxes of La Bree's doughnuts.' I remember we were getting on the bus and you could see the kids wondering why the hell we were lugging all these doughnuts with us to Syracuse, but it meant something to Mac."

What it meant was home, and Dick MacPherson has not forgotten where that is even though he's traveled a long road the past 30 years just to travel from Maine to Massachusetts.

"He, more than anyone I know, is proud to be from Maine," said Ralph Leonard, an Old Town native and boyhood friend of MacPherson who has remained perhaps his closest friend. "People kid us about being from the sticks, but he's proud of coming from a poor, big family and doing well. He thinks of the state of Maine the same way.

"This year I called Mac in Hawaii when he was out there coaching that bowl game and told him an old high school classmate of ours was sick with cancer. After that game, he was being interviewed on TV and he took the time out to say hello and wish him well. That man was watching. He died the next day. It meant a lot to him that Mac remembered him.

"That's why I think those doughnuts mean so much to him. When we were kids, they made La Bree's doughnuts right here in Old Town, in the basement of the La Brees' house. Now they're all over the state. Every time anyone from Old Town is coming to one of Mac's games, he has to bring him La Bree's doughnuts. Maybe they represent the things he believes in.

"He feels strongly about small-town values and he feels for the poor guy who is trying to make it. Of course, they taste pretty good, too."

In a sense, those doughnuts from Maine are winners, just as MacPherson has been at every coaching port of call he's made. But some might argue that despite a successful career that has seen him rebuild both UMass' and Syracuse's programs, Dick MacPherson, at 60, is back where he started a poor guy trying to make it with a poor team, one that finished 1-15 last year and became the laughingstock of the NFL as much for its locker room peccadilloes as its on-field failures.

But a Maine man doesn't see things quite that way. Values up they-ah are as solid as the rocky coast. Perspective comes from growing up with cold Atlantic waters battering your shoreline and a harsh wind whipping your face.

You carry strong lessons away from a place like Old Town, Maine, lessons about what it takes to make it, lessons that will now be taught in classrooms at Foxboro Stadium.

"We had things going pretty well at Syracuse (which MacPherson took to the Sugar Bowl in 1988 when he was named Kodak Coach of the Year), but this is a GREAT! job with the Patriots," MacPherson said, the sweet sound of ENTHUSIASM! dripping from his voice the way jelly oozes from a La Bree's doughnut.

"No place else can I have as much IMPACT! as I can here. We have a chance to make the greatest impact of any team in PRO FOOTBALL! NOBODY else can do what WE! can do this year."

That, of course, is because nobody else lost every game but one a year ago, but Dick MacPherson will worry about that when he has to . . . which is never. Those days are gone while the ones ahead of him are the only ones entrusted to a 60-year-old kid from Old Town, Maine.

They are the ones he will worry about because they are the ones he can have an IMPACT! on.

Dick MacPherson grew up on Bradbury Street, in a house packed with 12 kids and two parents who taught lessons about work and self-reliance and loyalty just by living their lives.

They are the lessons you learn by watching a plumber fight to feed 12 children during the Depression. You learn things in such a home that travel well, which perhaps is why two priests and two nurses people who give for a living came out of that household.

MacPherson packed up those lessons and took them to Illinois and UMass and the University of Cincinnati and the Denver Broncos and back to UMass again when they made him The Boss and on to the Cleveland Browns and then Syracuse where he got to be The Boss a second time and now to Foxboro, where he knows for better or worse he'll be The Boss for the last time.

They are the lessons of small towns and tough times. Simple ones, single words that seem to come out of his mouth three times in a one-hour conversation.

Teamwork.

Discipline.

Loyalty.

Hard work.

Hard work.

Loyalty.

Discipline.

Teamwork.

Hard work. Hard work. Hard work.

Simple values from a simpler time. A Maine man's values. Values that, like their practitioner, work.

"I can remember as a kid my dad telling me I should go to Bowdoin because the man who owned the mill in town wanted me to go there and play football," MacPherson recalled. "My dad kept saying, 'You have to go to Bowdoin. If you do, the guy will give you a job in the mill for the rest of your life.'

"My dad never forgot the Depression. College guys didn't have jobs, but the men in the mill always had work. They could take care of their families. That's what's most important."

In a sense, MacPherson continues to follow that lead, although he seems to have a vastly extended family now. It is made up of his wife, Sandra, two daughters, Old Town natives he's never forgotten and old football players who once bled for him on fields from Amherst to Denver and back again across America. Added to it now is a new family, a football family based in Foxboro that's down on its luck. A family MacPherson's friends believe has found the right man to lead it.

"The Old Town natives who know Mac really appreciate him," said Edward Taylor, a teammate of MacPherson at Springfield College more than 30 years ago and a teacher at the high school in town today. "When we were there, he was back from the service. He was about five years older than the rest of us. Everyone looked up to him because of his age and his personality.

"He was a born leader. He played center and inside linebacker and I was a guard and the other linebacker next to him. I knew if you followed Mac's lead, you did all right.

"I was never much of a Patriots fan, but I'll have allegiances to them now. He made a commitment out of college that he'd be a football man and you could almost sense he wanted the big time and he's proven he has what it takes. Sometimes when you're sick, all you need to get well is the right medicine. Mac may just be the right medicine for that team."

He certainly was in 1971 when he landed at UMass and rebuilt a once-proud New England power the way he always did things. With work, with teaching and with enthusiasm. Always ENTHUSIASM!

"I remember in 1976 or '77 at spring practice, I was coaching the DBs and the whole field was muddy," recalled present UMass coach and avowed Mac Man Jim Reid. "Mac was up in his tower and he started chewing out one of my defensive backs. He's leaning over in the tower and correcting him and I'm watching and Mac's getting more excited and more excited.

"He keeps leaning over and he's really chewing his butt and all of a sudden the railing breaks and Mac tumbles out. He falls about 20 feet and I figure he's broken both his legs. Before I can get there, he gets up right in the middle of his sentence and goes right on.

"That's the way Mac is. He's enthusiastic about everything and he's so damn intense. He commands respect. No matter what he asks you to do as a coach, you'll never outwork him. If he asks you to do 75 things, you do them because he's doing 76.

"He's going to bring something to the Patriots they've never seen before a guy who really cares about those players.

"I remember one year we played Army opening game and they completed four touchdown passes and we tipped all four. We lose and I was crushed. I came in the next day like a whipped dog. I expected Mac would fire me right there. I went in to apologize and I start in and he says, 'Jimmy, you know how close we were? You keep coaching 'em and we'll keep winning.' He knew how to lift a young coach up. That's Mac."

As Reid has since learned, enthusiasm comes at all times of the day and night. After MacPherson left UMass to join the Browns' staff, Cleveland played a Monday night game against the Dallas Cowboys, who were in the middle of their glory years.

Cleveland pulled off the upset, although Reid didn't know it because he was long asleep, having to tend to his own coaching matters at UMass the next morning. Around 3 a.m., the phone rang.

"I'm groping for the receiver and I hear Mac's voice," Reid recalled. "He starts yelling, 'Did you see that? Did you see that game?' I said, 'Coach, do you know what time it is?' and Mac says, 'What? You didn't see that game?' That's how he is.

"I learned from that. Now if his team plays a Monday night game, I take the phone off the hook."

That enthusiasm has been with MacPherson since his boyhood days in Old Town. In many ways, people say, it is what made him the player he was and went a long way toward carrying him from Maine to the National Football League.

But MacPherson's enthusiasm goes well beyond his own accomplishments or those of his teams. Well beyond sports even, to people.

"As I emerged as a high school basketball player in Old Town, I'd make all-tournament teams and a note would show up saying, 'You're doing Old Town proud,' " Chappelle recalled. "It was from Mac, who was coaching at the University of Cincinnati then.

"I was younger than he was and didn't really know him that well then, but he'd take the time for that. When Cincinnati won the national championship (in basketball), he sent me a full-color poster of that team for my dorm room at Maine. He was always like that."

And MacPherson has remained that way even now when he has reached the apex of his profession. When Chappelle called him recently to ask if he would coach a benefit basketball game in Old Town to raise money for lights for the high school football field which by the way is the same one MacPherson played on he agreed. But not before congratulating Chappelle on his daughter's winning an award at Old Town High School.

Hearing such stories seems to surprise no one but the uninitiated. The people who know him best the people of Old Town, such as Chappelle and Leonard and his old high school coach, Bernard MacKenzie just smile at them and nod their heads.

"Mac's like his dad," Leonard said. "His father was a great guy. Worked hard. When I was at West Point, he'd write me. I can tell you this if those Patriots need somebody to care about them, they've got him. Mac will know all their families, all their histories.

"When he got the job, I asked him if he thought his way would work with those professional athletes. They're older and not college kids and I wondered. He told me, 'Ralph, some of those boys aren't as mature as you think. Everybody wants you to be interested in them. It means a lot to the boys.'

"Mac's genuine. He was always like that, even when we were kids. The smaller or less significant you were, the more interest he took in you. After his team went to the Sugar Bowl, he made sure to send Bernie MacKenzie, our old coach, a Sugar Bowl watch. He always looked up to coach MacKenzie. "

Although MacKenzie admits to never dreaming MacPherson would travel so far in football, he knew a good man when he saw one ... even when that man was a boy.

"You could always just see he loved the game," MacKenzie recalled. "He had that great personality even as a kid, and a good work ethic. The other kids looked up to him even though he wasn't the star of the team.

"He was a friend of everybody. Once he knew you, he always knew you. He hasn't changed. The whole town is proud of him."

So proud that his brother Normand, a priest at the Catholic

Church in Old Town that was once the MacPherson family parish, couldn't keep his brother's ascension to the Patriots job a secret. Instead, he told his congregation. More than 2,000 miles away, a second brother, a priest in St. Louis, did the same.

"When ESPN said it was announced by a priest, my brother in St. Louis thought that it was him," recalled Father Normand MacPherson. "I went to Boston to see him, and boy, did I get the business."

He got the business, some will tell you, from the family's third priest the one with a whistle.

"One day Dick had Father Normand out to the Carrier Dome and he was showing him around," Leonard said. "He looked up at the Dome and he said, 'Father Normand, this is my cathedral. And I have my parishioners. They're out there.' "

Now those parishioners are in Foxborough at a different football cathedral and they are looking for someone to lead them out of a very sad place to the promised land. Folks in Maine will tell you, they got the right guy for the job. A guy with ENTHUSIASM! Ah-yup.

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