Even when he was an NFL player, Tim McDonald could envision one day becoming a coach.
"I saw myself, probably after the fifth year of playing in the league, as that guy that the coaches could count on," the Bills' defensive backs coach recalled. "I was always the coach on the field."
McDonald played safety from 1987-99 with the St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals (1987-92) and the San Francisco 49ers (1993-99). During a 13-year career, he was selected to six Pro Bowls, including five-straight from 1991-95, and was named All-Pro six times. He helped the 49ers win Super Bowl XXIX with a 49-26 victory over the San Diego Chargers.
Yet, upon his retirement as a player, he didn't jump right into coaching.
Instead, McDonald decided to commit his time to his wife, Alycia, and their two sons, Timothy and Tevin. "I went to coach my kids," McDonald said. "I wanted to make sure if they were going to play football I was going to be a part of teaching them. That's why I didn't take opportunities to stay with the team I was at and coach. I wanted to be with my kids, and coach them."
McDonald coached them through middle school and was their head coach at Edison High School in Fresno, Calif. When his boys graduated high school, McDonald took a job at Fresno State as their secondary coach. After his one season at the collegiate ranks, he moved up to the NFL, spending the 2013 and 2014 seasons as the Jets' defensive backs coach under Rex Ryan.
"There are definitely challenges of being on the other side," he said of coaching. "I didn't know how different this side was until probably later in my career. I became close to some of my coordinators (in the NFL) – Jim Mora (now head coach at UCLA), Pete Carroll (head coach of the Seattle Seahawks). I had my doubts on whether I wanted to be on this side but it's in my blood it's in my family."
At first, McDonald had doubts about coaching because he had witnessed other coaches who struggled balancing family and career. The brutal time constraints, being away from home, missing gradations and other events was not something McDonald wanted to have a part of until he knew his kids were on their own.
"That almost scared me away completely away from this because I did not want to leave my kids," McDonald said. "I was always concerned about my family situation, so I decided I wasn't going to do anything at this level until I got away from the kids. I have been involved in coaching and playing about 39 years now," McDonald said. "It's been a while," McDonald laughs. "I started when I was eleven years old and haven't had a year off since."
McDonald's sons now play in the NFL. Timothy Jr or (TJ) was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the third round of the 2013 draft. Tevin signed with the Oakland Raiders.
"My kids got to the point to where they were on their own and playing the game," McDonald said. "One plays for the Rams, one signed with the Raiders, so I have both of those kids that I coached and are very happy I spent the time with them. I think that is the proudest part for me that I have a kid that wears McDonald JR on his back because he appreciates the time that I dedicated to him growing up so that made it all worth it."
McDonald is enjoying his first year in Buffalo. "This place reminds me of my hometown just without the snow," he said with a laugh. "I am excited about the upcoming season."
Being a former player in the league has its advantages, but at the end of the day, McDonald says the players are going to want to know one thing. Can he get them ready to play?
"They are going to test you; they want to know that you are telling them right and at the end of the day those bells and whistles don't mean a lot," McDonald said. "It's gives a segway into conversation and I think one advantage I have is I can see things from a player's perspective because I have been in probably every situation they can imagine. If you have been in the game as long as I have, I think it opens up doors, opens up the line of communication, which makes coaching very easy."
McDonald is looking forward to the upcoming season with the Bills.