McDonald named 7A coach of year

by Tom Coombe -

After making an early exit from the playoffs in 2017, the Ely Timberwolves won 25 games this winter and made the boys basketball program’s first section title game appearance in almost two decades.
That turnaround resulted in postseason acclaim for Ely’s Tom McDonald, who was named Section 7A Coach of the Year.
McDonald, who shared section honors with Will Kleppe of 7A titleist and state runner-up North Woods, guided the Wolves to a 25-5 finish this season.
That was one of the program’s best marks in McDonald’s 28 seasons at the helm and perhaps the most impressive - considering Ely made great strides with much of the same cast that struggled in the postseason last winter.
McDonald had a big hand in the improvement, and that comes as little surprise to Tim Omerza, his longtime assistant coach.
“From my point of view, it seems like he does so much with what we have,” said Omerza, who has coached in the program since 1994 and has been McDonald’s top assistant since the 2001-02 season. “We always joke around that it seems like we don’t have any height. In all the years I’ve been here I think we’ve had one kid taller than 6-5 yet Tom seems to always come up with a defense that can defend people Mesabi East is a great example. They always have tall kids yet we find a way to defend them.”
Tall or not, top scorers on opposing teams usually seem to struggle against Ely’s defense.
“It’s fun talking things through with him,” Omerza said of McDonald. “Espeically defensively and figuring out what we are going to do against other teams’ scorers.”
McDonald, a Chisholm native who made two state tournament apperances while playing for his dad, Hall of Famer Bob McDonald, took over a struggling Ely program in the early-1990s.
There have been few struggles since, including a state tournament season in 2001 and several 20-win campaigns, among them a 27-2 season and 7A semifinal trip in 2014.
A social studies teacher at the high school, McDonald has amassed 483 wins in his tenure with a record of 483-289. He’s on track to gain his 500th career win sometime during the 2018-19 season.
Never shy on the sidelines, either with officials or his own players, McDOnald nonetheless maintains a strong rapport with his teams, Omerza said.
“I think he gets along with kids a heck of a lot better than people think,” said Omerza. “They see him, and me too, yelling at kids because we want them to do things the way we practiced them. But Tom still gets along with kids very well.”