“Bill McGregor and his assistant coaches are the best high school coaching staff in the country. Not only are they great coaches but more so, they are great teachers. No doubt they would do a great job at any level...” - Joe Gibbs, Former Head Coach, Washington Redskins
For 29 years the Maryland high school football scene has been dominated by one man: Coach Bill McGregor. Making his name as the head coach of the legendary DeMatha Catholic High School football program, McGregor is known just as much for his impressive win-loss record as his ability to lead young men through the high school ranks and onto Division 1A and Division AA athletic scholarships. Pros like Brian Westbrook and dozens of others have found themselves the beneficiaries of his guidance, expertise, and leadership as they made the progression through the organized ranks of America’s game. Yet Coach McGregor finds himself in a somewhat unfamiliar situation – on the coaching staff of another Maryland high school football powerhouse, Baltimore’s Gilman School. NFL Player Engagement was lucky enough to ask Coach McGregor a few questions about his experience coaching thousands of young men and to get words of advice for future generations of student-athletes.
PE: When you’re selecting student-athletes, what are some of the intangibles that you look for and why? What are the characteristics of successful Somers/Gillman football student-athletes on and off-the-field?
Coach McGregor: The Gilman student-athlete is expected to act in a positive manner at all times. They have to understand that they are representing Gilman and Gilman Football on and off the field on a daily basis. Gilman has a great reputation and tradition both in the classroom and on the athletic fields and it is the current student-athlete who must continue this tradition. The boys know they are carrying on the tradition and legacy of the boys who have come before them. They are expected to be young men of integrity who care just as much about their teammates as they do themselves. They should be positive and professional in their appearance, behavior, and language, and attitude on and off the field. We have a motto in our program of "Building Men for Others". We expect the boys to learn what that means, and by the time they graduate they are expected to fulfill that motto. They boys know that wherever they go, they are representing Gilman, the football program, their family, and themselves.
PE: How do you and your staff begin developing leadership skills in your student-athletes?
Coach McGregor: We develop leadership skills with our players in a number of ways. One way is a weekly Bible study that we conduct throughout the entire year with our players and coaches. In the Bible study we talk to the boys about loving, trusting, and treating each other the way they would want to be treated with love and respect.
During the season we spend the first 5-10 minutes of each practice discussing non-football related concerns. Each week we pick a new theme to cover, and we have the boys give input on their feelings on the topic. The topics range year-to-year, but they can be about race, religious differences, economic differences, the treatment of women, what it means to be a teammate, etc…
We also encourage the boys to be problem solvers, not problem causers. If there are issues in the locker room or the classroom, we want boys to fix those problems and make the team stronger, not break the team apart. If one of the boys on the team is struggling in school or at home, we need to rally behind him to support him.
Lastly we talk about a daily commitment to excellence in the classroom and on the field. Each day you either get better or get worse, the choice is always up to you. Are you going to take the easy road today, or are you going to take the hard road. We have a motto "Hard is good!"
PE: What advice would you give to a parent/guardian who is assisting his/her child with the college search process?
Coach McGregor: The first thing we tell our players and parents is to make sure the boys are taking care of their academics. It is not okay to sacrifice academic work for athletic events. The next step is finding a school that fits the boy both academically and athletically. We advise our kids to find the events, camps, and websites that can actually help you get in front of college coaches and are not just money grabs. There are a lot of people in the recruiting business that just want to make money off of kids and their families, and do not provide any avenues to help get to the next level. There are some very good tools available to help families in the process. NFL Player Engagement is one such website that provides helpful information to athletes and their families. We also recommend our kids attend the 1-day college camps. This gives the athletes exposure directly in front of the coaches who will be recruiting them. Also, be sure to gather highlight films from your season, and also film drills and workouts that show the athlete in a positive manner. We recommend our student-athletes to get a profile on www.SigningDay.com. Here the athletes can keep an electronic library of their careers in a place where college coaches can come and view them. The boys can also upload their transcripts so that a college coach can get a quick read on the academic profile. The goal is to catch a college coach’s eye, and be as proactive as possible in doing so. We remind our boys that getting their education through football is the most important aspect of playing in college. It is easy to get caught up in the glamor of FBS colleges, but do not limit options by not exploring the possibilities of all levels of college football.
PE: Name something every incoming freshman should know as they transition into high school athletics?
Coach McGregor: First and foremost you must stay on top of your academics. The transcripts that the colleges look at begin that first year of high school. It is important to get off to a strong start.
You should find a passion in academics that equals your passion for football. Dream big, find a profession that you can see yourself in such as law, business, medical field, teaching, etc… The process of reaching that goal begins your freshman year in high school.
The boys must have their priorities in place: God, family, academics, athletics. This focus keeps the boys doing the right things on a daily basis.
Athletically, high school is much more competitive than youth sports. The biggest thing is to give your best effort. That is how athletes will be judged by their coaches. Are you bringing all of your talents with you on a daily basis? The athletes should not worry about comparing themselves to their teammates or anyone else, but just giving their best, and working to maximize their talents.
PE: How have you seen the student-athlete experience evolve over the years?
Coach McGregor: The world of athletics has changed immensely during my coaching tenure. One of the biggest differences is the change in athletes’ mindsets of being more self-oriented rather than team-oriented. Years ago high school athletics were covered by the local newspaper and TV stations. Now with the Internet and the expanded interest in the high school game and recruiting updates for colleges, the high school athletes are looked at on a national stage instead of a local stage.
With social media, the world of a high school athlete has expanded tremendously. Parents and coaches need to be very aware and cautious of how their boys are interacting with people on social media. We tell our team that if they are going to use social media, they need to do so in a positive manner. You can use sites like Twitter and Signing Day to promote yourself as a student athlete that college teams would want to recruit. However, you must be sure not to ammo naysayers with inappropriate material that can be used against you.
High school athletes are under a microscope more than ever, and as a coach we do our best to remind them of what that means. Always represent yourself, your family, your school, and your team in a respectful and affirmative fashion.