By Kevin Brockway
Published: Monday, September 1, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 1, 2014 at 6:57 p.m.
As a Gator fan growing up in Ocala, Matt McCall had dreams of one day wearing an orange and blue uniform like his dad.
But as a combo guard at Belleview High, McCall understood his limitations.
“I could really shoot it,” McCall said. “Not great speed, not a tremendous athlete, but boy, don’t leave that guy open (because) it was down.”
More than 15 years since his last high school game, McCall has made his mark in college basketball. But it didn’t come through playing. Instead, McCall will enter his fourth season at Florida under Billy Donovan as one of the rising young assistant coaches in the country. Last spring, the 33-year-old McCall interviewed for head coaching positions at Florida Atlantic and Jacksonville. Though he didn’t end up at either position, more opportunities for head coaching jobs will likely come his way in the future.
“Matt is a very valuable member of our staff,” Donovan said. “He is great at connecting and communicating with our players. It’s no secret that he has a bright future in this profession.”
Said McCall: “It’s been unbelievable just being able to be back here working for my mentor in this business, a guy that I trust with my career more than anyone else.”
In three seasons at UF, McCall has been instrumental in recruiting in-state players like Chris Walker, Kasey Hill and Michael Frazier II, who will form the core of UF’s 2014-15 team. He’s also developed a reputation for putting together quality advance scouting reports, which is no easy task during the course of a compact, 18-game Southeastern Conference schedule.
“You may play Kentucky on a Saturday and turn around and have to play Tennessee on a Tuesday,” McCall said. “Well, Coach Donovan is focused on Kentucky up until that game on Saturday. When that game ends, we’ve got to tie up some loose ends on Kentucky on Sunday then you better have your whole game plan to take to coach so he can start to watch film on the next opponent.
“It is a big challenge. You have got to be extremely organized, you have got to have the team’s tendencies down pat, what are they going to do on offense, how do they play on defense, what are we going to run against their defense.”
In essence, McCall learned college basketball from the ground up. He started at UF as a student manager in 2003-04. His father, Wayne McCall, was a linebacker for the Gators from 1965-67 and teammates with Steve Spurrier. As a favor, Spurrier asked Donovan if McCall could get involved with the basketball program.
As a manager, McCall did grunt work like player laundry and picking up coaches from the airport. But it paid off. Two seasons as head manager at UF (2004-06) allowed McCall to build relationships with UF players and coaches. He picked their brains. Gained trust.
From 2006-08, McCall moved on to director of basketball operations at Florida. Then came his first break. Under a recommendation from Donovan, McCall was hired by Mike Jarvis as an assistant coach at Florida Atlantic in 2008. In three seasons at FAU, McCall worked with backcourt players while recruiting players like former Gainesville High standout Greg Gantt, who left campus as a senior as FAU’s all-time leading scorer.
McCall also met his future wife, Allison Rios, at FAU. They married in 2012 and the couple had their first child, a daughter named Brooklyn, last year. Of course, it hasn’t been easy for McCall to balance the demands of hitting the road for recruiting and helping raise a young family.
“It takes a special person to be married to an assistant coach, a college coach,” McCall said. “My wife is a saint. She is an unbelievable mother.”
Fortunately, there’s been plenty of family support. McCall’s parents, Beth and Wayne, still live in Ocala. They come to games and help take care of Brooklyn when McCall is on the road.
“We’re trying to transform big Wayne McCall from a football guy to a basketball guy for the last 11 years or whatever it is,” McCall said. “They are still down there, try to get up here to as many games as they can, and obviously with Brooklyn now, my mom, that’s her fifth grandchild and she couldn’t be happier. That’s a real blessing.”
That’s one reason why it would take a special opportunity for McCall to consider leaving Florida, even though he aspires to be a head coach one day. He’s learned over the years from former Florida assistants like Anthony Grant, Donnie Jones, Shaka Smart and Larry Shyatt that it’s not about taking any job, but the right job. He wants to make sure he can have a relationship with an athletic director similar to the relationship Donovan shares with Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley.
“I know it’s not going to be as good as that is, but that’s something I’m looking for as a head coach,’ McCall said. “I want to know that we’re all in this thing together and that there is a passion and we are all trying to push this thing to be successful and be on the same team. So I think that’s the biggest thing, doing a job that I know where I can be successful.”
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Brockway’s blog at Gatorsports.com.