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HomeSportsMike Macdonald allows the Ravens defense to speak for him

Mike Macdonald allows the Ravens defense to speak for him

If Mike Macdonald’s ascent to one of the NFL’s hottest coordinators and a legitimate head-coaching candidate feels meteoric, that’s probably because he has never embraced the art of self-promotion. The 36-year-old second-year Baltimore Ravens defensive boss has consented to side media interviews in recent weeks largely because he wants to tout the chemistry and cohesion of his staff, not because he wants any more attention. He likes to call himself a “steward” of head coach John Harbaugh’s vision and will point you in the direction of two dozen others who deserve praise for the Ravens’ success. But it’s impossible to ignore Macdonald’s impact on the AFC’s top seed, which faces the Kansas City Chiefs in Sunday’s conference championship game at M&T Bank Stadium. GO DEEPER
It’s only right Ravens have to go through Chiefs to earn Super Bowl tripBaltimore became the first defense in NFL history to lead the league in points allowed, sacks, and turnovers. The Ravens followed up a landmark regular season by smothering likely Offensive Rookie of the Year C.J. Stroud and the Texans on Saturday, keeping Houston’s offense out of the end zone — its only touchdown came on a punt return — in a 34-10 divisional-round victory.
After the game, Harbaugh called his defensive coordinator into the middle of the locker room for a game ball. Macdonald pushed inside linebacker Roquan Smith forward. The thing is, Macdonald has never been afraid to put himself out there. Especially when it comes to football. He was born in Boston but moved to Atlanta when he was about 7 years old. His father, Hugh, had discouraged him from playing the game. Hugh played on the non-varsity team at Army-West Point and worried about the injury risks. But Hugh returned home late from a business trip one night to find a helmet and shoulder pads on Mike’s twin bed. “The next morning, I asked him, ‘What’s this?’ He had decided to join the junior team,” Hugh said. “So off he went.” Mike was neither the biggest nor fastest guy on the teams he played for, but there was no questioning his drive. Hugh filmed his youth games and the two would watch them together and break down plays. Mike became consumed with the game’s nuances. As a running back and linebacker, Macdonald’s physical attributes wouldn’t set him apart, but studying opponents’ tendencies gave him a head start. When he got to Centennial High School, Macdonald would break down film of opponents and present his findings to his coach, Xarvia Smith. “When he first met me, he tried to tell me that we needed to go out to lunch and hang out together,” Smith recalled. “I was like, ‘Mike, you are a player. You are my player. I’m not hanging out with you.’ “He just always showed leadership. He always was prepared to show how good he was.” As a junior, Macdonald started getting stingers in his neck. His doctor advised him that he was at long-term risk if he continued to play through his senior year, but Macdonald wanted to go out on his terms. After the swelling around the nerves in his neck subsided, the doctor green-lighted him to play in the final game of the season. But on the last play of the last practice of game week, Macdonald heard a pop in his knee. He tore his ACL. There would be no one final game. There would, however, be one last high school hurrah. About four months after surgery, Macdonald was sitting on the bench for the Centennial High baseball team. Macdonald’s coach was initially too concerned for his safety to play him. Macdonald begged him to reconsider. In the team’s second game, the score was tied in the last inning and Macdonald got the go-ahead to hit. “He took two pitches and put the next pitch over the fence,” Hugh said. “He looked like Kirk Gibson going around the bases, he had this big brace on his knee. It was quite a moment.” Macdonald was a student at the University of Georgia when he called Smith looking for a favor. Smith had recently gotten the head job at Cedar Shoals High in Athens, and Macdonald wanted to know if he had an opening. “Mike is probably one of the smartest people I’ve ever met in my life,” Smith said. “I realized if he just learned how to work, he would be great at this.” Macdonald started running the defense for Cedar Shoals’ ninth-grade team. They had six shutouts that year. “An awesome experience,” Macdonald said. “I went into the situation as a strategist. I liked identifying tendencies and anticipating plays. What I learned is you can take a person from A to B. When you do that, if he did something today that he couldn’t do yesterday, that was incredibly rewarding. That’s when I was hooked.” For two years, Macdonald dropped by the Georgia football offices on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, spending hours talking with video coordinator Joe Tereshinski and hoping somebody would appreciate his persistence. Macdonald was putting the finishing touches on a degree in finance — he graduated summa cum laude — when he ran into new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham at a Starbucks and took one final opportunity to state his case. Impressed, Grantham invited him in for a formal meeting, then told Macdonald there was a volunteer coaching spot available as long as he got into grad school. “I took out a loan and went to work,” Macdonald said. Macdonald worked at Georgia for four seasons, the first as a volunteer assistant and the next three as a grad assistant. He broke down film, worked on game plans and helped run the scout team in the ultimate football education. “When you have guys that are really sharp and can communicate well and are hard workers and put their nose down and get to work, you can see where a guy is going to have a chance to move…

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