Is That All You Got?

SCU football players celebrate the man who ‘made football fun’

Salute to ‘Coach Mac’
Looking back: A photo montage of coach Bill McPherson's time as a gridiron leader. / Photo by Charles Barry

It was probably the most important lesson every Santa Clara football player learned during practices under defensive line coach Bill McPherson: Watch out whenever he put his cap on backwards.

That visual cue meant he’d be heading their way to address any deviation from his playbook—leaving a hole in line, not covering the gap, or God forbid, not paying attention.

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A leader of the pack: Head football coach Pat Malley, top left, stands next to Coach Mac, right, in the 1960s with other SCU coaches. / Courtesy SCU Archives

Yet even then, the man known for his upfront manner, brilliant strategy, and sheer exuberance for the game would strive to make his point with humor.

“Is that all you’ve got? I KNOW you have more!’’ McPherson would bellow, often with a gleam in his eye. “Let’s start focusing!”

The cap flip, the banter, his “get-ready” stance of knees bent, hands resting on thighs–all of it endeared him to his SCU players, dozens of whom traveled from far and wide in May to salute their 87-year-old hero they still call “Coach Mac.”

Held at the Willow Glen home of daughter Marianne McPherson, the get-together was timed perfectly: just a day before the Bronco Bench Foundation’s Seventh Annual Red & White Hall of Fame Celebration, honoring among others their former teammate Mike Carey71.

“He was a combination of discipline and jovial interaction,’’ recalls Carey, a running back with the team before beginning his career as a NCAA/NFL referee, then a rules analyst on television.

And even if McPherson got mad, he didn’t stay that way for long.

“At practice every day, you could always count on him to bust people up with humor,” says Carey, who in 2008 became the first African-American to officiate a Super Bowl. “But he was pontifical–you knew you had to listen to him.”

SALT TO MALLEY’S PEPPER

Huddling around their beloved leader, the former SCU players eagerly embraced the 6-foot-3 giant–now a bit more sedentary–and shook his hand, still as big as a bear paw.

The teammates who have gone on to careers in business, law, teaching and more reveled in their memories of good times on the gridiron under the man some called the salt to head football coach Pat Malley’s pepper.

It was a legendary duo: Malley 53 overseeing offense, McPherson 54 the king of defense. Under their guidance from 1963 to 1974, the Broncos went 72-39-2, beating teams with much bigger programs, including the University of Nevada Las Vegas and University of Hawaii.

“Nowadays, it’s a business,” says former guard Tom Narey, 72, about college football. “But these guys did it for love.”

As head coach, Malley was more a brigadier general-type to many. “The glue that held the program together,” as defensive tackle Joe Dowling ’71, put it.

McPherson, on the other hand, “was like another dad to us,” recalls Narey. “He made football fun.”

Tim Johnson, 71, 74, M.A. Counseling/Psychology, a defensive back who co-organized the honorary event with former SCU offensive tackle Charlie Oliver, 71, still recalls the day when McPherson walked the defensive backs through a drill, telling each who to guard, then watching the action unfold from the sideline.

Minutes later, he abruptly stopped the play.

“Coach Mac walks out to the middle of the field, waving his arms dramatically, and says, ‘Does anyone know who is covering this area?’’’ Johnson remembers McPherson asking about a wide opening someone had left exposed.

The teammates looked around, bewildered.

“God!” he barked, prompting his players to burst out laughing.

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A cap of honor: Tom Narey ’72 pays tribute to Coach Mac with a backward cap. / Photo by Charles Barry

A MENTOR AND ROLE MODEL

Yet McPherson was more than a coach to many.

“I probably have not gone a week in my life without thinking about him,’’ says guard Jim Patterson, 68, who skipped elective hand surgery that day to make the event.

“He taught me so much,’’ says the Marin County resident. “That you could do anything if you set a goal and believed in yourself, that if you worked hard, nothing is impossible.”

Their coach practiced what he preached.

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When greats meet: Mike Carey, ’71, right, retired NFL ref and SCU Hall of Fame inductee talks with Coach Mac, second from left, and other Broncos. / Photo by Charles Barry

An outstanding football player at Bellarmine, then alongside Malley at SCU, McPherson returned to his Jesuit high school as an assistant coach before catching his friend’s eye in 1963 to become the Broncos’ assistant coach and head of intramural sports.

Over time, he took on extra jobs to support wife Elsie and their five children, helping out the SCU baseball team and working as a ticket-taker during basketball season. After 11 years, he headed to UCLA as an assistant coach under Dick Vermeil in 1975; the next year, the Bruins won the Rose Bowl.

In 1978, McPherson followed Vermeil to the Philadelphia Eagles. A year later, he moved back to the West Coast to join Bill Walsh’s San Francisco 49ers coaching staff until 1999, during which the team won five Super Bowl championships. He worked as the 49ers’ director of professional personnel until 2004. One of his sons, former SCU football player Pat McPherson, 92, is currently the tight-ends coach with the Seattle Seahawks.

Listening to the bygone stories from a comfortable seat in his daughter’s backyard patio, a surprised and somewhat overwhelmed McPherson chuckled and wiped tears from his eyes, often giving his former Broncos a thumbs up.

“It’s one of the nicest things that has ever happened to me and my family,” he said of the occasion that re-acquainted him with his former players, many of whom he hasn’t seen in decades.

“I’ve been very fortunate,” he added. “It was an honor to work with Pat Malley and to be with these guys.” His role as a coach who had pushed his players to work hard, have a little fun, and maybe even learn about life, had meant something.

“I really wanted to help these kids,” said McPherson, “because in return, they were helping me.”

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