After 29-years coaching basketball at Central School, in Santa Rosa County, Coach Tony McDonald is retiring as the jaguar’s coach.It appeared to be a routine afternoon basketball practice as the Central High School boys team ran a full-court scrimmage in front of head coach Tony McDonald in the Central Gym.
But in the back of their minds, McDonald and his players knew the significance of Friday night’s game against Jay High, as it could likely be McDonald’s last game coaching in the Central Gym.
A gym in which McDonald devoted 30 years of successful and passionate coaching that captivated the community’s attention for decades.
A gym that helped McDonald earn 718 career victories, all while utilizing supreme coaching skills that were best defined by Central athletic director Tim Nash.
“The kids just play so hard for him … it’s amazing to watch,” Nash said. “I learned that coaching under him as an assistant. Something about the way he works with the kids to draw effort out of them. He’s the best at it. That’s what’s going to make Friday night so tough — the loyalty that he has for this community and school.”
McDonald’s loyalty was reciprocated year-after-year, creating a powerful bond with Central High School.
This season’s conclusion will mark the end of a five-year deferred retirement option plan for McDonald, and it appears the coach’s departure will not just be hard on the community.
“It’s scary,” said McDonald, looking ahead to the season’s end. “Since 1980 I’ve been a head basketball coach. There’s never been a day — even during offseason — that I’m not thinking about the next day of coaching. When we’re done this season, I won’t have a ball game to worry about anymore.”
The Allentown Class of 1969 graduate holds deep ties to the community in which he played high school basketball.
When Allentown, Chumuckla and Munson were consolidated into Central High School in 1983, McDonald was not selected as the program’s first head basketball coach, despite his remarkable effort.
But two years later, McDonald found the opening he was looking for.
“The Central head coach at the time left to be Bob Stinnett’s (current UWF head coach) assistant coach at PJC,” McDonald said. “Central called me, we got together and everything else has been history.”
McDonald recalled his first two seasons as Central’s head coach, where a special player helped him learn to coach.
“Having Terry Allen for my first two years … he was just special,” the three-time PNJ Coach of the Year said. “I was able to learn how to coach while he won ball games for me. When he graduated, he was the second all-time leading scorer in Florida.”
But whether it was one of the five district championship teams coached by McDonald, or a team that achieved less, each year was special to McDonald.
“I’ve had players that have played for me in the early years stick around the area, and I have been able to coach their sons and daughters,” McDonald said. “It’s really like family out here. People crowd at the games and you know everybody there. People go up and down the rows speaking to each other.”
McDonald thanked his former players, assistant coaches and player’s family members.
“Those three groups of people have made all these years easier for me,” McDonald said. “As for the players, I’ve never had a group that thought individuals were more important than the team. My coaches have helped develop JV and taught them how to play. When the kids get to me, we just continue what they started with the JV coaches. And parents … so many parents have offered help over the years. When I ask them for something, they have helped out as quickly as possible.”
Who is Tony McDonald?
High school: Allentown C/O 1969.
Military: Served in Air Force for four years.
College: Jefferson Davis CC/ University of West Florida 1977 (Bachelor’s in Education).
McDonald’s top moments
- In 2003, the last game McDonald’s mother and father attended together and watched the Central Jaguars earn one of McDonalds’s 718 wins.
- Winning five district championships at Central.
- Kevin Mitchem hitting a game-winning buzzer beater from halfcourt to clinch the 1994 district championship. The ’94 Jaguars went on the the Elite 8.
- Coaching the Central boys and girls basketball teams simultaneously from 1989-94.
- Coaching Terry Allen during McDonald’s first two seasons at Central. Allen was the second all-time leading scorer in Florida at the time of his high-school graduation.