The connection was an easy one. When George McDonald got his first job as a college assistant back in 2001, he landed at Northern Illinois and had a chance to work with Matt Canada.
McDonald coached receivers; Canada coached quarterbacks before becoming offensive coordinator. They spent three seasons together, building a good relationship before going their separate ways. But oftentimes in coaching circles, connections made lead to opportunities down the road.
In this case, Canada helped McDonald land at NC State as receivers coach. Canada, going into his third season as Wolfpack offensive coordinator, should benefit from having his old friend on staff.
The NC State receivers are the most inexperienced part of the offense, and it's a group that needs to grow up in a hurry to help improve the deep-pass game that is a priority for the Wolfpack this season. McDonald has a long track record of mentoring receivers, both in the NFL and college. His ability to teach is what appealed to coach Dave Doeren the most.
“During the interview, I was incredibly excited about the information I was getting and how he puts it out there as a teacher,” Doeren said recently. “That’s where we’re at with a young receiver corps.”
For McDonald, the move was almost a natural landing spot after last season, when he was stripped of his offensive coordinator duties at Syracuse midway through the season and ended up focusing on the receivers.
McDonald knew it was time to move on, and NC State was a perfect fit. When asked to reflect back on what happened at Syracuse, McDonald said in a recent phone interview, “It was a challenge, but I was fortunate to work with a great group of receivers. They told me all the time, ‘We have your back,’ and I had theirs.”
Doeren had no reservations about hiring McDonald, either. “Calling plays with three quarterback injuries is tough,” he said. “I wouldn’t wish that on any playcaller. We played them the year before; they went to a bowl game. He was calling the plays and they beat us. Other than Ohio State, I can’t think of many people who have won a lot of games with their backup quarterbacks. It just doesn’t work that way for most people.”
Though NC State has only had a handful of spring practices so far, there has already been an emphasis on the downfield passing game during drills. Last season, NC State only had 26 pass plays that gained 20 yards or more. Jacoby Brissett averaged just 7.04 yards per attempt, behind five other top returning quarterbacks.
Only three players return who had at least one big-play reception. To make up for the losses of leading receiver Bo Hines and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, NC State will rely more heavily on Bra'Lon Cherry, Jumichael Ramos and Johnathan Alston. McDonald said redshirt freshman Maurice Trowell also has shown flashes of potential during the first few practices.
But it’s still early. Given the inexperience and lack of depth, McDonald has to manage his group a little bit differently. He’s still getting a feel for what each player can do. He knows the talent is there, but there still is plenty of work ahead.
“We are young and talented,” McDonald said. “We just started working, so I am excited to see what all these guys can do once we get more practices under our belts.”