Huskie blood remains in ‘Johnny Mac’

By Jeff Kirik

After 36 years of coaching basketball, including 10 at NIU, John McDougal has started over.

The winningest coach in Huskie history, McDougal now finds himself an assistant to Western Michigan’s Vernon Payne.

The 63-year-old McDougal was fired shortly after the 1985-86 season after putting together a 15-12 record that year and a 136-141 career mark. He then served as special assistant to NIU Athletic Director Robert Brigham for a little more than a year.

McDougal said his firing from the NIU post was a surprise to him because of the team’s winning record and the talent of the players who were in the program. However, he insisted he was never angry with the Huskie administration.

“Not hard feelings or ill feelings—just disappointment,” he said in reference to his emotions following the end of his Huskie coaching tenure.

NIU had a place in McDougal’s heart. But basketball was in his blood.

So when Payne offered McDougal the Western Michigan post last summer, “Johnny Mac” didn’t hesitate. That doesn’t mean he has forgotten about NIU, though.

“I definitely miss it,” McDougal said before Monday’s Bronco-Huskie game, which WMU won. “I don’t think you can be in a particular situation as long as I was and not think about it. I had some great experiences there—ones I won’t forget soon.”

McDougal now assists Payne and handles much of the Broncos’ offensive strategy. Payne said McDougal was an instant hit in Kalamazoo, both with the players and the administration. The former NIU boss said he is happy with his new position and is not currently entertaining thoughts of getting another head coaching job.

“I’m realistic,” McDougal said. “I don’t think the opportunity would present itself to me unless I really pursued it.”

It was a sweet homecoming for McDougal Dec. 23 when he and the Broncos visited Chick Evans Field House and took home a 83-76 win over the Huskies. The players were so pleased with the win they carried their new mentor off the court.

“I didn’t get that emotionally involved in it (the game),” he said. “It certainly wasn’t revenge. I still have a great feeling for the kids in the program that were there when I was.”

In 26 years at four different prep coaching jobs, McDougal won 480 games while only losing 203. He was a 1974 inductee into the Illinois Coaches Hall of Fame. In 1976 he was appointed Huskie boss.

McDougal said his biggest thrill at NIU was leading the 1981-82 Huskies to a Mid-American Conference title and a MAC tournament championship. The 16-14 squad also appeared in the NCAA tournament but lost a 77-68 decision to Kansas State in the first round.

As for his thoughts on coach Jim Rosborough’s 1987-88 Huskies, McDougal conceded that his knowledge about the team is limited.

“I’ve only seen them in action one time,” he said. “I don’t know much about them to say why they’re not winning. I know coach Rosborough is a very fine coach and they have good players. I guess they just haven’t found the right chemistry yet.”

McDougal said he is a Bronco now but does he still have some Huskie in him?

“I guess I always will,” he said. “When you drink from the Kish it stays with you for a while.”