Dedicated to the History of Maine and the People and Places That Preserve It

Big Mac

By Aimée N. Lanteigne
Every Sunday afternoon in the fall, thousands of little boys from Maine gather around the television set to watch their beloved Patriots face off against the much-maligned enemy of the week. Many of those little boys will watch Tom Brady or Wes Welker and dream of being the next big star to don the red, white, and blue of New England. But how many of those young lads dream of coaching in the NFL? One native Mainer from Old Town did just that, though his dream perhaps turned out a bit differently then he envisioned.

Richard “Dick” MacPherson was born in Old Town, Maine, on November 4, 1930, the youngest son of twelve children. His father was Scotch-Irish and a plumber by trade. Dick attended Maine Maritime Academy and served in the U.S. Air Force from 1950-54. Immediately upon leaving the Air Force, MacPherson entered Springfield College where, he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1958. MacPherson played varsity football for three seasons at Springfield, and was team captain his senior year.

From 1971-77, Dick was the head coach at the University of Massachusetts.

He posted an overall record of 45-27. This .778 winning percentage ranks him fifth best in league history. He won four Yankee Conference Championships while at UMass, and coached his team in the Boardwalk Bowl. His forty-five victories rank third all-time in the school’s history. MacPherson was named New England Coach of the Year twice during his tenure with the Minutemen.

The job MacPherson cherished the most was his decade long stint as head coach at Syracuse University in the 1980’s. While leading the charge for the Orangemen, MacPherson posted a record of 66-46-4, though his first season was less than stellar with only one win in seven games. His teams went to the Cherry, Sugar, Hall of Fame, Peach, and Aloha Bowls. In 1987, the Orangemen were undefeated for only the second time in the school’s history, finishing that season with a disappointing tie game against Auburn in the Sugar Bowl. Syracuse had averaged 33 points a game, allowed fewer than 14, and won every non-playoff game by an average of 19 points. MacPherson won the Lambert Trophy that season however,

according to a 2009 interview with Joshua Valley, in The Syracuse Orange Team Stream, MacPherson’s favorite game ever coached at Syracuse was in 1984 when the Orangemen beat number one seeded Nebraska.

In 1991, Dick MacPherson left Syracuse to pursue a coaching career in the NFL. The CEO of the Patriots organization, Sam Jankovich, handpicked MacPherson to work for him in New England. “Mac was the only one I interviewed for the job. I knew he had all the qualifications,” Jankovich told the Los Angeles Times in a December 6, 1991 article. The Pats had posted an abysmal 1-15 record in 1990 and Jankovich needed someone to turn his program around. He was looking for someone with enthusiasm, energy, college coaching experience, and a realization that “attitude and chemistry are the name of the game.” MacPherson was the kind of coach who bounced up and down on the sidelines as exuberant as a cheerleader. He would high-five his players and gave them bear hugs on the sidelines after they had made outstanding plays.

Coach MacPherson celebrating on the sidelines. Courtesy of Syracuse University Athletics.
Mac stayed with the Patriots for two years. His record with the Pats was 8-24. Six of those wins came in his first season there. He was let go after the ’92 season and replaced by assistant coach Paul Pasqualoni. “I think I made a huge mistake in going (leaving Syracuse)…” MacPherson said of his time in New England according to a 2009 Portland Press Herald article. Mac would serve as assistant coach with both the Denver Broncos and with the Cleveland Browns, but would never again be a head coach. He told Joshua Valley in his 2009 interview, “I prefer college over pros, except for Lou Saban. My family thoroughly enjoyed the experience we had under Lou with the Denver Broncos…That was probably the best time in my family’s life.”

Maine can be proud of its native son. Though his stint in the NFL was less than glorious, he will never be forgotten as a football legend. Dick MacPherson has accrued a litany of honors and awards including the AFCA Division 1 FBS Coach of the Year Award, the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award, the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award, the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award, the Sporting News College Football Coach of the Year Award, the Walter Camp Coach of the Year Award, and the NCAA National Coach of the Year Award.

The one that stands out the most for MacPherson is his induction into the National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame in 2009. “I’m the only guy in the state of Maine that’s in it,” Mac beamed according to a 2009 Portland Press Herald article. “When you think about what the Hall of Fame is all about, there is nowhere to go from here. It is a dream.” MacPherson owed much thanks to former Syracuse athletic director Jake Crouthamel and former Syracuse chancellor Melvin Eggers for believing in him.

Today Dick MacPherson is 81 years old. He and his wife, Sandra, split their time between Palm Bay, Florida, Princeton, Maine, and Jamesville, New York. Dick worked in radio for Syracuse for several years after he left the NFL. Dick still travels with the Syracuse football team, according to Sue Edson, Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications at the university. One of his grandsons is currently the starting center for the Orangemen. I bet his grandpa is awfully proud.