A brown house with a cement driveway sits vacant just a few miles outside of Athens, Ga. A series of harsh beeps precedes a pre-recorded operator greeting callers trying to reach its residents.
No luck — the number’s been disconnected. It has been for a while now.
Just down the street, another house — this one full of kids and grandkids — awaits.
One day Mac McWhorter will return to Georgia and ease back into retirement. It may be a little while, however. He’s having too much fun nearly 730 miles north, coaching Penn State’s offensive line.
“The relationships that you have with the kids is really special,” said McWhorter, who came out of retirement to join coach Bill O’Brien’s staff at Penn State last year. “The emotional part of it, it is an emotional game. It is a game that you can’t play without enthusiasm. You can’t play without energy, emotion, and that gets contagious. It’s certainly fun to be around every day.”
And there’s little doubt the 63-year-old coach has felt rejuvenated by his new job.
Take a mid-practice scuffle as an example.
During a team scrimmage last season, a defensive lineman and one of McWhorter’s offensive linemen butted heads and the encounter eventually grew so heated they came to blows, wrestling one another to the ground. As players rushed over to try to stop the fray, McWhorter dived headfirst into the pile to pluck the two big men apart.
“That was obviously hilarious to watch him doing that. It really got our juices flowing,” guard Miles Dieffenbach said. “Coach Mac wasn’t hurt. He’s a man of steel out there. He’s running around, banging around with guys. I don’t think he can get hurt doing that.”
McWhorter wasn’t worried about self-preservation as much as he was concerned with keeping his players healthy.
“They were getting after it pretty good, so I just decided it would be better if I was a casualty rather than one of those (players),” McWhorter said.
After all, the players are the reason McWhorter began in this field and returned to it after a brief retirement.
A native of Atlanta, McWhorter was an All-SEC lineman for Vince Dooley’s Georgia team in the early 1970s. He originally planned to get into the real estate business after graduating in 1974, but was intrigued by an offer to coach a local high school offensive line.
He broke into the collegiate ranks at Georgia Tech in 1980, and successful stops at Alabama, Duke, Georgia, Clemson and Memphis followed. His lone season as a head coach was at West Georgia in 1989.
An eight-year stop at Texas yielded a BCS National Championship in 2005, when a McWhorter-coached offensive line was crucial to the Longhorns’ success. In that championship season, Texas gained a school-record 6,657 yards and racked up an NCAA-record 652 points.
Before taking the job at Texas, McWhorter had returned to Georgia Tech in time for the 2000 season and worked with O’Brien.
More than a decade later, when O’Brien reached out to his old friend, McWhorter had already put in 37 years of coaching across the south and had hung up his whistle. He and his wife, Rebecca, had purchased the modest brown house just outside of Athens and McWhorter was enjoying seeing his grandchildren and learning new ways to enjoy football — such as attending tailgate parties.
McWhorter had been retired for just a year when O’Brien called with an offer to join his staff at Penn State.
“My first thought was, ‘Gosh, I just retired. I’m really enjoying this,’” McWhorter said. “Then I got to thinking about it. I thought so much of Coach O’Brien and the times that I worked with him at Georgia Tech. I just felt like he was a rising star. Penn State, I’d always been enamored by because of what Coach (Joe) Paterno did here and doing things the right way and winning football games and graduating players. So my wife and I talked about it and I said, ‘This would be a great way to finish a career and go help a good friend in Bill O’Brien and experience the north, which we’d never been in.’ And so it was special for me.”
Now McWhorter is in his 39th season coaching, working to mold Penn State’s offensive line into a special group.
When Penn State travels to Bloomington to face Indiana on Saturday, the Nittany Lion offensive line will face a defense that is giving up 248 rushing yards per game. McWhorter will continue to tweak and toil, working to dial in Penn State’s blocking up front.
After a rocky start against Syracuse, the Penn State offensive line has progressed each week. New center Ty Howle, and Garry Gilliam and Adam Gress, who have split starts at right tackle, have caught on quickly and meshed well with returning starters Dieffenbach, Donovan Smith and John Urschel. Since the Syracuse game, when Penn State rushed for just 57 yards, those offensive linemen have paved the way for four 100-yard rushers.
“You’re always a work in progress,” McWhorter said. “With the two that left us last year, (Matt) Stankiewitch and (Mike) Farrell, we were a work in progress right through the Wisconsin game and if we would have played for a bowl game we would have continued to be a work in progress. I don’t think you ever totally gel.”