If Mike Macdonald’s ascent to considered one of the NFL’s hottest coordinators and a reliable head-coaching candidate feels meteoric, that’s most likely as a result of he has by no means embraced the artwork of self-promotion.

The 36-year-old second-year Baltimore Ravens defensive boss has consented to facet media interviews in current weeks largely as a result of he needs to tout the chemistry and cohesion of his workers, not as a result of he needs any extra consideration. He likes to name himself a “steward” of head coach John Harbaugh’s imaginative and prescient and can level you in the path of two dozen others who deserve reward for the Ravens’ success.

But it surely’s inconceivable to disregard Macdonald’s impression on the AFC’s high seed, which faces the Kansas Metropolis Chiefs in Sunday’s convention championship sport at M&T Financial institution Stadium.

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Baltimore grew to become the first defense in NFL historical past to guide the league in factors allowed, sacks and turnovers. The Ravens adopted up a landmark common season by smothering probably Offensive Rookie of the Yr C.J. Stroud and the Texans on Saturday, maintaining Houston’s offense out of the finish zone — its solely landing got here on a punt return — in a 34-10 divisional-round victory.

After the sport, Harbaugh referred to as his defensive coordinator into the center of the locker room for a sport ball.

Macdonald pushed inside linebacker Roquan Smith ahead.


The factor is, Macdonald has by no means been afraid to place himself on the market. Particularly relating to soccer.

He was born in Boston however moved to Atlanta when he was about 7 years previous. His father, Hugh, had discouraged him from enjoying the sport. Hugh performed on the non-varsity workforce at Military-West Level and apprehensive about the harm dangers. However Hugh returned house late from a enterprise journey one night time to discover a helmet and shoulder pads on Mike’s twin mattress.

“The next morning, I asked him, ‘What’s this?’ He had decided to join the junior team,” Hugh stated. “So off he went.”

Mike was neither the largest nor quickest man on the groups he performed for, however there was no questioning his drive. Hugh filmed his youth video games and the two would watch them collectively and break down performs. Mike grew to become consumed with the sport’s nuances.

As a working again and linebacker, Macdonald’s bodily attributes wouldn’t set him aside, however finding out opponents’ tendencies gave him a head begin. When he obtained to Centennial Excessive College, Macdonald would break down movie of opponents and current his findings to his coach, Xarvia Smith.

“When he first met me, he tried to tell me that we needed to go out to lunch and hang out together,” Smith recalled. “I was like, ‘Mike, you are a player. You are my player. I’m not hanging out with you.’

“He just always showed leadership. He always was prepared to show how good he was.”

As a junior, Macdonald began getting stingers in his neck. His physician suggested him that he was at long-term danger if he continued to play via his senior yr, however Macdonald wished to exit on his phrases. After the swelling round the nerves in his neck subsided, the physician greenlighted him to play in the remaining sport of the season. However on the final play of the final observe of sport week, Macdonald heard a pop in his knee. He tore his ACL. There can be nobody remaining sport.

There would, nonetheless, be one final highschool hurrah. About 4 months after surgical procedure, Macdonald was sitting on the bench for the Centennial Excessive baseball workforce. Macdonald’s coach was initially too involved for his security to play him. Macdonald begged him to rethink. In the workforce’s second sport, the rating was tied in the final inning and Macdonald obtained the go-ahead to hit.

“He took two pitches and put the next pitch over the fence,” Hugh stated. “He looked like Kirk Gibson going around the bases, he had this big brace on his knee. It was quite a moment.”

Macdonald was a pupil at the College of Georgia when he referred to as Smith on the lookout for a favor. Smith had just lately gotten the head job at Cedar Shoals Excessive in Athens, and Macdonald wished to know if he had a gap.

“Mike is probably one of the smartest people I’ve ever met in my life,” Smith stated. “I realized if he just learned how to work, he would be great at this.”

Macdonald began working the defense for Cedar Shoals’ ninth-grade workforce. That they had six shutouts that yr.

“An awesome experience,” Macdonald stated. “I went into the situation as a strategist. I liked identifying tendencies and anticipating plays. What I learned is you can take a person from A to B. When you do that, if he did something today that he couldn’t do yesterday, that was incredibly rewarding. That’s when I was hooked.”

For 2 years, Macdonald dropped by the Georgia soccer workplaces on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, spending hours talking with video coordinator Joe Tereshinski and hoping anyone would admire his persistence. Macdonald was placing the ending touches on a level in finance — he graduated summa cum laude — when he bumped into new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham at a Starbucks and took one remaining alternative to state his case. Impressed, Grantham invited him in for a proper assembly, then informed Macdonald there was a volunteer teaching spot obtainable so long as he obtained into grad college.

“I took out a loan and went to work,” Macdonald stated.

Macdonald labored at Georgia for 4 seasons, the first as a volunteer assistant and the subsequent three as a grad assistant. He broke down movie, labored on sport plans and helped run the scout workforce in the final soccer training.

“When you have guys that are really sharp and can communicate well and are hard workers and put their nose down and get to work, you can see where a guy is going to have a chance to move up in the world,” stated Mark Richt, Georgia’s soccer coach at the time. “You want confident people and you want guys who you believe are trustworthy. I think there is a real comfort level with Mike and the type of person he is. He checked all of the boxes.”

Then he virtually walked away from the career altogether. At 26, Macdonald grew to become “disillusioned” by the job. His time as a grad assistant expired in 2013. A few of the politics had gotten to him, and a few of his relationships had turn out to be draining.

“The whole glamor of being a football coach was wearing off,” Macdonald stated. “I didn’t really believe in the process and the people that I was around. I didn’t see the benefit of what I had fallen in love with before.”

There have been alternatives for him. Macdonald had a finance diploma and a grasp’s in sports activities administration. Hugh had all the time inspired Macdonald and his two sisters to have a plan after which ensure each choice was geared towards that plan. Hugh wasn’t in opposition to a profession in teaching, however the enterprise world could be awfully profitable for anyone with Mike’s intelligence and savvy, and Hugh wished to ensure soccer was the greatest place for his son’s skills.

“I figured I was going to go see the world and start working,” Macdonald stated. “It didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do when it was happening, but I just felt kind of forced to do it. I didn’t want to take a job at Wherever State and go across the country recruiting Johnny. It wasn’t on the trajectory that I wanted it to be on.”

He accepted a $60,000 job in Atlanta working at KPMG, considered one of the nation’s “Big 4” accounting companies. He had already signed a contract when he obtained a name from the Ravens. The earlier yr, he had utilized for a scouting internship with Baltimore. That wasn’t a fantastic match, however Harbaugh was beginning a training internship program in 2014.

Macdonald knowledgeable KPMG that he would not be becoming a member of the agency.


Harbaugh has every of his assistants current a unique facet of the week’s sport plan to the workforce. It’s good publicity and expertise for younger coaches and creates a way of accountability for everybody on workers.

As a twenty-something whose enjoying profession resulted in highschool, Macdonald felt some preliminary apprehension about stepping in entrance of a room of NFL veterans.

“I just remember thinking, Terrell Suggs is back there,” Macdonald stated. “Why in the world would he listen to anything I’m saying?

However these sport week periods in entrance of the likes of Suggs, a former defensive participant of the yr, helped Macdonald discover his voice. If he believed in the course of, he didn’t want to fret about presenting himself in a sure manner.

“I think you come to the realization of, ‘OK, I’ve put a lot of work into this thing and I think I have something (Suggs) can benefit from,’” Macdonald stated. “If I’m trying to be some guy that I feel like he’d resonate with, that’s not going to work. It’s hard to be that person all of the time. Just be yourself.”

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That first yr in Baltimore, Macdonald shared an workplace with fellow Ravens interns Chris Horton and Eugene Shen. They broke down performs, labored on tasks and helped out the teaching workers. A decade later, Horton leads the Ravens’ particular groups and Shen is the senior vice chairman of soccer technique for the Washington Commanders.

“We talk about it all the time, where we’ve come from to where we are now,” Horton stated. “It’s been an amazing process of putting your head down, going to work and those things will pay off for you.”

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In his lone season at Michigan, Mike Macdonald led a top-10 defense on a workforce that earned a School Soccer Playoff look. (Robin Alam / Icon Sportswire by way of Getty Photographs)

In 2018, Harbaugh interviewed Macdonald, then a 30-year-old linebackers coach, for the defensive coordinator job after Dean Pees retired. Harbaugh in the end employed Wink Martindale, however the alternative to interview in the end strengthened Macdonald’s conviction.

“It was a great experience to go through and say, OK, if I were to do it, what would it look like? What are your ideas?” Macdonald stated. “It makes you organize your thoughts.”

He continued to organize himself for a chance. He and fellow assistant Jesse Minter watched movie collectively and practiced calling the sport, continuously reviewing totally different offensive schemes and discussing the defensive response.

“You could tell right away how sharp this dude was,” stated Minter, now the defensive coordinator at Michigan. “Some people do the job that they have and do a good job, and other people do the job that they have and do a good job while at the same time always preparing for the next job mentally.”

When Michigan had a defensive coordinator opening after the 2020 season, Harbaugh pitched Macdonald to his brother, Jim, pondering Macdonald was then able to be in that position. He was confirmed appropriate. In Macdonald’s one season in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines had a top-10 defense, turned the tables on Ohio State, performed in the School Soccer Playoff and produced three top-45 defensive draft picks.

When the Ravens and Martindale parted methods in January 2022, Harbaugh introduced again Macdonald, believing the time was proper. Minter changed him with the Wolverines.

Issues didn’t get off to an auspicious begin. When the Ravens blew a three-touchdown result in the Miami Dolphins in Week 2 that season, ESPN analyst Rex Ryan, a former Baltimore defensive coordinator, stated the “new hot-shot coordinator is terrible.” However by season’s finish — and after a commerce that introduced Roquan Smith over from Chicago in the center of Smith’s second consecutive All-Professional marketing campaign — the Ravens defense was enjoying at a excessive degree, ending eighth in the league in defensive DVOA.

They’ve been considerably higher this season, shutting down a few of the sport’s high offenses. Smith calls Macdonald a “wizard” for his capacity to establish weaknesses and exploit them.

“If there’s something we’re not comfortable with, he’ll throw it out. If there’s something we’re not comfortable with but we want to work on, he’ll try to simplify it and make it to where it does work for us,” stated inside linebacker Patrick Queen. “He’s very thorough in everything he does.”

This isn’t the continuously blitzing, bodily pulverizing Ravens defense of yesteryear. This group’s aggression is extra managed and calculated, relying closely on deception and every participant embracing his position on a given play. It’s versatile, a number of and artistic, a wonderful concord of scheme and personnel being studied and admired at each the faculty {and professional} ranges.

Macdonald believes strongly in the gamers being accountable to 1 one other. He has his 355-pound nostril deal with drop into passing lanes and his 190-pound cornerback blitz. He has onrushing linebackers set picks to offer defensive linemen free runs at the quarterback. He preaches whole buy-in, however you gained’t see him admonishing a participant on the sideline. As a substitute, he usually stands stoically, his eyes both skilled on the subject or peering down at his name sheet.

“I think there’s a perfect combination of what you play and how you play,” Minter stated. “I think a lot of coaches lose that. For some people, it’s all about scheme. For some people, it’s all about effort and fundamentals. But having been in Baltimore, to me, it’s a perfect combination.

“You often hear the term, ‘Play like a Raven.’ That means 11 guys on the field playing together.”

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Macdonald has had 5 head-coaching interviews already and is awaiting a second with the Atlanta Falcons. Ravens followers are so involved they may lose him that they’ve taken to social media to jokingly impugn him so different organizations keep away. Macdonald cracked a smile when requested about these makes an attempt, saying his spouse Stephanie has handed alongside a few of the funnier ones.

Then after a fast grin, his sport face returned.

He’s by no means going to be the first man in the room to inform a joke. His concept of breaking the stress in conferences is dropping a line from a Jim Carrey comedy. These are sometimes met with quizzical appears to be like from gamers, equivalent to cornerback Brandon Stephens, who chuckled enthusiastic about his coach’s “cheesy, lame jokes.”

“He’s a little bit of a football nerd,” Minter stated. “And I mean that as a compliment.”

Perhaps self-promotion is overrated.

Considered one of the signature performances for Macdonald’s Ravens defense got here in Baltimore’s heavyweight conflict in opposition to the San Francisco 49ers, who host the Detroit Lions in Sunday’s NFC Championship Recreation. Each groups entered 11-3, however the Ravens pressured 5 interceptions in the Christmas night time tour de drive, with Marcus Williams placing the ending touches on the 33-19 victory by choosing off San Francisco’s Sam Darnold in the sport’s closing minutes.

Macdonald stomped round the sideline and wildly slapped the hand of line of defense coach Anthony Weaver, an outburst notable as a result of it was so out of character.

(Illustration: Sean Reilly / The Athletic; pictures: Todd Olszewski, Fred Kfoury III / Getty Photographs)