Paul McCord drafted his career path at a young age. ‘Plan A’ was to become a professional football player, but if by chance that didn’t work out, ‘Plan B’ was to enter the realm of coaching.
The funny thing about plans is that they never turn out the way you expect and McCord’s was no different. Paul McCord is a former NFL player, a Super Bowl Champion coach, and currently, the associate head coach of the Jacksonville University women’s lacrosse team.
A native of Wilmington, Delaware, McCord was very active as a kid. He swam, played soccer, basketball, and baseball, but fearful of injuries, it wasn’t until high school that his mother finally relented and McCord joined the football team.
He was coached by Thomas Lapinski, a legend at Brandywine High School, and it was there, because of Lapinski’s guidance, that McCord realized a passion for coaching.
“He was the most unbelievable coach I’ve ever had. He never swore at practice; he’d say things like ‘Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, young man.’ He was always very funny, but he had high standards. … He was kind of my mentor, the male role model I aspired to be other than my own dad who was a businessperson.”
After spending his freshman season at the University of Delaware, Paul McCord transferred to Western Maryland College, now McDaniel College, where he quarterbacked the team to 1,722 passing yards and 17 touchdowns during the 1991-93 seasons. His dream of playing in the NFL was put on hold after time spent in the Dallas Cowboys’ 1995 training camp, but Plan B led him back to his alma mater.
“I learned a lot there [in Dallas]. They were NFC runners-up in 1994 and they were mad because they had been Super Bowl champs two years in a row. The San Francisco 49ers knocked them out and won the Super Bowl and they were looking to get back, so being around guys like Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, then Deion Sanders came in, so it was like a who’s who.”
He assisted Western Maryland to its first-ever Centennial Conference Championship in 1997 and six consecutive titles thereafter, but despite the blossoming coaching career, like a true competitor, McCord was unable to give up his dream of playing football at the highest level. He worked his way onto the Ohio Cannon and Baltimore Ravens’ rosters, before transitioning to an intern role with the Raven’s special teams coaching staff – a position he held from 1999 to 2001 which included Baltimore’s Super Bowl XXXV victory over the New York Giants in 2000.
A year before that Super Bowl victory, McCord met his future wife, the former Mindy Manolovich, who had been hired as the head women’s lacrosse coach at Western Maryland. After Mindy’s graduate assistant left for another opportunity, she asked Paul to help train her goalkeepers.
“We were just friends at the time, but she asked if I would help coach her goalies. I played a little bit of college lacrosse and knew a little bit about the game, but I’d never played women’s lacrosse and back then the rules were totally different – no sidelines, no end lines, no out of bounds, basically no restraining lines, it was pretty wild.”
Mindy later sought Paul’s advice on coaching the offense. Coach Paul, or CP, as he is affectionately referred to by both current and former players, realized and understood a lot of her plays were pulled from basketball – using a mix of picks, screens, and different timing to get players open in front of the net to score.
For five seasons that Mindy led the Green Terror, the team posted a 61-32 record and produced the program’s only Centennial Conference Tournament Championship and NCAA Tournament appearance.
Mindy and Paul were married in 2002, and a year later, the newlyweds moved to Florida where Paul was hired as an assistant special teams coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“It was a challenging year; it was very difficult to coach special teams early on in the season. We had some personnel changes. At the end of the year when we all got cut loose, Mindy had just moved down here with our daughter, Taylor, and it was like, ‘great, what’s next?’”
Though he was offered a job coaching up in Buffalo, the McCords agreed to remain in Jacksonville, already attached to the city, weather, beaches, and schools for their daughter. For the next two years, Paul McCord served as consultant for the Bills, breaking down film in Jacksonville while being able to spend quality time with his family. Despite the beaches and beautiful weather, it still felt like something was missing – lacrosse.
“That was the turning point – recognizing my wife wasn’t happy. It wasn’t that she needed to be a college coach; she loves lacrosse and field hockey and those sports were not here. So then it became out life mission to get kids playing.”
Shortly after arriving in JAX, Mindy started a week-long camp down the road from their home at Episcopal High School. Six kids signed up for the first camp, but the number quickly swelled to 100-plus a year later, thanks in part to the couple spreading the word to area schools, including the one that their daughter Taylor attended.
Around that time, Paul McCord was coaching lacrosse at Bartram Trail High School and Mindy was coaching at Nease High School – local rivals in athletics.
“Twice a year I slept on the couch, no matter what the outcome of the game was. One time I lost, one time I won, but both times I lost. We’re officially 1-1 against each other and we’re never doing it again,” joked Paul.
With lacrosse gaining traction, the McCords started a club team for girls called Lax Maniax and it immediately blew up. Covering five different regions of Florida and Georgia, Lax Maniax has expanded to include elite regional teams along with collegiate development programs for high school and middle school players.
“Instantly we’re helping kids find colleges and using our networks and Mindy’s college networks really to reconnect there.”
On occasion, Paul McCord would join local personality David Lamm on the radio to discuss the Jaguars and other topics. Former JU athletic director Alan Verlander and former assistant AD Barry Milligan caught wind of the duos discussions on lacrosse and invited the McCords to speak with the University’s president.
A positive and excited response from Jacksonville’s Board of Trustees opened the door for lacrosse on campus and Mindy was hired as Director of Lacrosse and head coach of the women’s team. The initial thought was that fielding a men’s lacrosse team might be too expensive, but the McCords also worked to convince the Board to add both men’s and women’s teams to differentiate JU from all of the other Division I lacrosse-playing schools. And it’s been a success – 10 years later, Jacksonville is still the only Division I school in the state of Florida that offers both men’s and women’s lacrosse.
In the Dolphins’ first season in 2010, the women’s team finished a respectable 7-11. However, Mindy and Paul recognized that if the team was going to compete, they would need to find a way to counter the limited skills of their young players.
Inspired by the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary Guru of Go based on the Loyola men’s basketball team “run and gun” style of offense, Mindy and Paul were inspired to return to their Western Maryland roots.
It’s not the unparalleled success they’ve had on the field that defines the team, however. Before much of the growth on campus – new and renovated dorms and academic buildings over the last years and the state of the art Jacksonville Lacrosse Facility opening later this fall – resources were scarce for the program. Bare-minimum scarce: an old-looking campus, a small student population, no stadium or turf field, no fencing around the campus entry.
Those humble beginnings have paid off: with the philosophy that one person can make a difference, McCord says, “JU was really just waiting for that entrepreneurial spirit a little bit” – from the growth of the campus to the new Jacksonville Lacrosse Center and in the personal commitment to the development of their student-athletes on and off the field.
“We didn’t think too much about it back then, we were humbled to be here no matter what we had to work with. We were just happy to have a place to play and practice, we were proud to be part of JU and the first men’s and women’s program in Florida. We focused on taking pride in that and building our identity and being a little bit different.”
“The love that you pour in – sometimes tough love, sometimes a hug, sometimes teaching and how you teach – it really makes this place special. One person making a difference is powerful, two people making a difference, three people … crazy things happen.”