Setbacks fail to blur McGlinchey's vision of bringing a national title to Frostburg

September 11, 1992|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Staff Writer

FROSTBURG -- Fate sucker-punched Mike McGlinchey, not once, but twice.

First his livelihood was threatened, and then his life. When McGlinchey addresses the football team at Frostburg State University, it's easy to accept the new head coach's bromides about overcoming obstacles and getting the most out of your ability.

"Every guy anywhere has a vision of what college football's going to be like, but it's seldom like that," McGlinchey said. "You have to learn to make adjustments. You can still reach your goals, but the path might be different."

For most of his 47 years, the path was quite clear for McGlinchey, but it began to darken during his five-year watch at Central Connecticut. The de-emphasis of football there was a professional setback, but it seemed trivial compared to an ordeal that began in early 1990.

McGlinchey suffers from a nervous system disease that drains his strength and dexterity, but 2 1/2 years ago, when he was first affected, the original diagnosis was more severe. He was told he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis -- Lou Gehrig's disease -- a terminal, degenerative nerve disorder causing muscle weakness and atrophy.

"Originally, I was told I had one to four years to live," McGlinchey said. "I was losing strength, and at one time I couldn't lift my arms over my head. I was told there was nothing I could do about it. If I had listened, I'd be in a wheelchair."

McGlinchey said he "felt fine inside," and went about a rigorous, self-designed weightlifting program. Returning periodically to the Neuromuscular Research Unit at the New England Medical Center in Boston, McGlinchey maintained strength in specific parts of his body. The disease was localized, and the diagnosis changed.

"I asked myself, 'If I lift weights, what's the worst thing that I coulddo?' " McGlinchey said. "I felt myself getting stronger. I was able to regain all lower, and a lot of my upper body strength. A year, and two years later, I maintained that strength. Now, they don't have a name for what I have. It's a motor neuron disease, but it's not life-threatening."

McGlinchey said he worried only about his family. Marylane, his wife, is in the process of moving the household from Newington, Conn., to Allegany County. One son, Michael, is a sophomore at Beall High, and their other son, Patrick, might transfer from Central Connecticut to one of the state colleges in Maryland.

"We've had some devastating times in recent years, but Mike's never been discouraged," said Marylane, who's in the health education field.

McGlinchey was the Outstanding Male Athlete at the University of Delaware in 1966-67, better known as a wrestler and second baseman than as a football player. Because of the disease, he's had to deal with the loss of some dexterity in his hands, and forgo some of the sports activities that were more than hobbies.

If he has to talk for an extended period of time, his speech begins to slur. McGlinchey will talk as long as anyone will listen, however, about bringing a national championship to Frostburg.

"He always talks about the national championship," said Frostburg State defensive coordinator Rubin Stevenson. "From the first day he recruited me, that's what he's talked about."

Stevenson was one of his assistants at Central Connecticut, and before that a defensive back from 1984-87 at Salisbury State, where McGlinchey carved out two niches.

Five years after he started a wrestling program in 1972, the Sea Gulls finished third in the NCAA Division III tournament. After 10 years as an assistant, he took over the football program and turned a respected team into a feared one that went 44-11-1 in five years, culminating in a trip to the NCAA Division III championship game in 1986.

The next step was running a scholarship program, but McGlinchey's ascent stopped at Division II Central Connecticut. When the president and athletic director who hired him moved on, plans to upgrade were shelved.

At Salisbury State and again at Central Connecticut, where his last team went 1-8-1, McGlinchey was starting from scratch or fixing something that was broken. That isn't the case at Frostburg State.

When Dennis Riccio left for St. Lawrence, he left behind a core of players and several assistant coaches who went 26-6 during the last three years. McGlinchey, who was 5-0 against Frostburg State from 1982-86, was the unanimous choice of a search committee that sifted through more than 100 applications. He thinks the Bobcats are ready for a breakthrough.

"It was already a great program, I just want it to grow and expand," McGlinchey said. "A lot of the things we believe in, they were already doing. There has to be total belief in what we're doing, and it's my job to see that happens. I can motivate."

Now more than ever.

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