A grouchy reporter accustomed to working afternoons and evenings started asking Penn State offensive line coach Mac McWhorter a question at 8:38 a.m. Wednesday.
“I’m not a morning guy,” the reporter said.
McWhorter politely interrupted.
“Well,” he said, “I am. I have been here for hours.”
After a year living as a retiree in Georgia, McWhorter has brought his zest, along with his wife Becky’s scrumptious cooking, to Penn State.
In a 20-minute session with foggy beat reporters Wednesday morning, McWhorter discussed the state of his offensive line and some of his reasons for leaving retirement to join Bill O’Brien’s staff at Penn State. The session might be remembered as the highlight of Penn State’s bye week.
For starters, McWhorter, a lifelong southerner who speaks with a heavy drawl, provided jovial answers to basic questions.
How are you doing, Mac?
“I’m biting, scratching, kicking and clawing,” he said. “How are you doing?”
How does Becky like State College, Mac?
“She is absolutely loving it,” he said. “I always called my players the hogs and these Penn State hogs have ‘Mamma Hog’ and that’s Miss Becky. I push them to the edge and she babies them. We have a good mixture there. Everybody talks about southern hospitality and it’s certainly not any better than what we have experienced in State College and here in the state of Pennsylvania.”
So how does ‘Mamma Hog’ baby the players, Mac?
“I can’t reveal a lot of secrets,” he said. “But she makes the ‘hog treats’ that we give them on Friday before the game and there are some things that she cooks up and special ingredients in those things that allows them to play at a high level. I would really have to kill you if I told you what was in them. It’s that secret.”
Whatever she’s concocting, it’s working. McWhorter has molded a line that returned just one starter into a reliable unit. The Nittany Lions have allowed just eight sacks, a meager number considering they attempt 38.2 passes per game.
The Nittany Lions used 11 offensive linemen at Illinois, a game they easily won 35-7. Shuffling linemen is nothing new for McWhorter, who worked at Texas from 2005-10. The Longhorns had some seasons where few physical and technical differences existed between the first- and second-team lines.
One of his former players, Chris Hall, played four offensive line positions in the same game. McWhorter proudly notes that Hall, whose playing weight exceeded 300 pounds, now weighs 210 pounds and works as a minister.
McWhorter wants to develop similar players at Penn State. His current pupils include a math genius (John Urschel), philanthropist (Mike Farrell), son of a tennis coach (Miles Dieffenbach), Anthracite Region product (Matt Stankiewitch) and future NFL prospect (Donovan Smith). The group is enjoying its time with McWhorter.
“He points out the good and the bad and encourages us when we make good plays,” Urschel said. “But when we make mistakes, he shows it to us and tells us how to improve it. I would say he’s more of a encourager than anything and he’s done a great job of motivating us to do well every single Saturday and to practice hard every single day.”
The 62-year-old McWhorter left a peaceful life to resume coaching. He moved to Georgia, where he still owns a house, after retiring from Texas to be closer to his grandchildren. He now refers to the house as his “vacation home.”
McWhorter said he didn’t plan on leaving retirement. But he couldn’t bypass the chance to help O’Brien replace Joe Paterno. McWhorter and O’Brien worked together from 2000-01 at Georgia Tech.
“Bill is a good friend,” McWhorter said. “I think he’s a bright star in the business. Penn State is a place that I have always been enamored by because of doing the things right way and the success Coach Paterno has had through the years. I thought this would be a great way to finish things up.”
O’Brien said it took “somewhat of a recruiting job” to get McWhorter to Penn State. Landing McWhorter might be one of O’Brien’s biggest recruiting triumphs. McWhorter also recruits central Pennsylvania for the program.
“He has a lot of energy, a great sense of humor and he’s a very technically sound coach,” O’Brien said. “He’s obviously a very valuable member of the staff.”
McWhorter has already retired once. He said Wednesday he doesn’t know when he might retire again.
“I will be 63 next season,” he said. “I’m not going to go forever. Right now, I’m enjoying it and these are as good of players character-wise as I have ever been around. I just really enjoy being with them and seeing them progress and watching this team grow. We will just take it one day at time.”