End of an era at VCC; McDonald retires after 29 seasons, more than 500 wins

Paul McDonald and Provost Shawn Bina

by Tom Coombe -

In 29 seasons as head men’s basketball coach at Vermilion Community College, Paul McDonald has experienced his share of harrowing road trips and brutal Minnesota weather.
Fittingly, his last trip included a journey home on snow-covered roads from Hibbing to Ely on Wednesday night.
“We were blazing trail to say the least,” McDonald said the next day.
But it was a happy yet bittersweet drive home for McDonald, whose Ironmen close out the 2018-19 season,and the longtime coach’s storied career, with a 113-65 victory over Hibbing.
The game was in some ways anticlimactic, coming on the heels of an emotional pregame ceremony Saturday, when college provost Shawn Bina saluted McDonald and friends, family members and a few former players returned to campus for the event.
The memories and even some tears flowed for McDonald, who announced last August that the 2018-19 campaign would be his last.
“Saturday was a lot more emotional for me,” said McDonald. “To see all the people that supported me there was pretty special to me, and of course the social after was the icing on the cake. Everything was perfect except for the fact we didn’t win.”
The Ironmen lost 93-85 to Rainy River in the home finale, a rare home court defeat for McDonald in a decorated career.
Bina ran through the numbers which include 536 wins, more than 20 state and regional tournament appearances, 16 years with 20 wins or more and trips to the national tournament in New York in 1999, 2001 and 2002.
McDonald’s 1999 VCC team was the national runner-up and in 2001 the Ironmen took fourth. Overall, VCC has won 63 percent of its games during McDonald’s tenure.
“That’s unbelievable,” said Bina. “I’m not here this afternoon to recognize the retirement of a longtime employee. I want to recognize a career filled not only with staggering statistics, but a career that has touched the lives of hundreds upon hundreds of student athletes at Vermilion.”
Bina added that “what’s more important is what Paul McDonald and his career are really all about - helping student athletes.”
“Through his teaching, his coaching, his mentorship, Paul McDonald has guided so many of his players to successful careers at all levels of four-year institutions,” said Bina. “Paul always has been and always will be a players’ coach.”
McDonald, the son of legendary Chisholm coach Bob McDonald, was part of state championship teams while playing for his dad and had a successful college playing career at South Dakota State.
He came to Vermilion in 1990 after coaching stints at Cotton and Tower-Soudan, and soon put his own stamp of Vermilion’s program.
“It gets you thinking about when I started here and guys like Rudy Semeja, who was very instrumental in getting me to Vermilion,” said McDonald. “You think of all of the history that goes with this program, and another Chisholm guy, Bob Altavilla, who coached here for so long. I was fortunate enough to be blessed with a lot of good kids, a lot of good players, for a number of years. I will miss part of it.”
McDonald, who also served as a faculty member and athletic director at VCC, was elected to the St. Louis County Board last November and took office in January.
While public service is his new calling, he won’t leave basketball entirely behind.
He still plans to officiate dozens of high school games each winter and will continue to work at youth basketball camps, but not as much as he did during his coaching tenure.
“I’ll be doing some one-day camps, which fits in better with my schedule,” said McDonald. “And it will allow me to continue to pass on my love of a game that has been so good to me.”
Vermilion made 17 three-point baskets in Wednesday’s game, a contest that was decided early and had McDonald looking back at times.
“One minute you’re thinking back and flashing back to all of the guys and all of the years and all of the stories, and the next minute you’re focusing on what you’re going to do,” said McDonald. “Yesterday was weird in that way. We came out and shot the ball extremely well and took it f om there. It was a good feeling knowing that the last time I patrolled the sideline we got a win.”
• Sophomore Devontaye Spates had 30 points and 10 rebounds in his final game in a VCC uniform, while freshmen Curtis Bell and David Monell combined to sink 10 of the Ironmen’s 17 triples en route to a combined 52 points.
Vermilion finished 11-16.