Greg McMahon, the pride of Rantoul, has found another happy place. This time in Baton Rouge, La.
The longtime special teams coach at Illinois turned longtime special teams coach with the New Orleans Saints just completed his first year with the LSU Tigers.
"I like the culture here," McMahon said. "From the administration to the coaching staff to the players. It’s a neat place for young people to go and get a degree and play football at a very, very high level."
McMahon’s first season went well. Both for the team and for his specialists.
The Tigers finished 10-3, beating undefeated UCF in the Fiesta Bowl. Despite having eight starters on defense unavailable.
The LSU special teams unit did its part. Kicker Cole Tracy was a Groza Award finalist after transferring from Assumption College for his senior season.
"He had a great year," McMahon said.
The kickoff return team finished 13th nationally. The Tigers were 10th in net punting.
"We have good players," McMahon said.
Avery Atkins, a walk-on kickoff specialist from Auburn, Ala., led the nation in touchbacks.
On the road again McMahon, 59, called this week from the Houston airport. He was on his way to California for recruiting.
On Wednesday, the Tigers will complete a top-10 recruiting class. LSU entered the weekend at No. 6, according to Rivals.com, with 12 players receiving four or five stars.
And, hopefully, more on the way.
"We’ll have a phenomenal class," the coach said.
McMahon has an important role.
"I always enjoy recruiting," McMahon said. "I like to travel and see these guys, see the coaches and the players."
LSU coach Ed Orgeron helps. A lot.
"He is a phenomenal recruiter," McMahon said.
During his time at Illinois, McMahon did tremendous work in the St. Louis area. He helped land a string of top recruits.
McMahon is dipping into St. Louis again, visiting in late January,
"We’ll go watch two or three kids," McMahon said. "When I was at Illinois that was a regional area for us. At LSU, we’ll identify the top guys and go after them. Same thing in Chicago."
LSU is an easy sell. The fans are rabid and show up in droves. Tiger Stadium is filled every game with 102,000.
"Gameday in Baton Rouge is really special," McMahon said. "It’s amazing."
They love their Tigers. And are much less than friendly to the opponents.
I will never forget LSU fans, after their team pounded Illinois in the 2002 Sugar Bowl, booing the Illini on their way to the locker room.
LSU has been a consistent winner. The worst record in 19 years has been 8-4 and the team won two national championships in that span.
The expectations at LSU are "outrageously high." Go 10-3 at Illinois and the coach earns a big raise. Same record at LSU and the fans say "What went wrong in the three?"
"We still have a lot of improvement to do," McMahon said.
LSU fans want to see the team in the College Football Playoffs. And it’s a legitimate ask.
The Tigers were close in 2018. They lost a seven-overtime game against Texas A&M, dropped an eight-point game at Florida and got shut out by Alabama. Win the first two and they would been in the final four.
"We played the hardest schedule in college football," McMahon said.
Reaching out McMahon joined Lou Tepper’s staff at Illinois in 1992 and stayed when Ron Turner took over in ‘97.
He talks frequently with Turner.
He has constant contact with former Illinois assistants Dan Roushar (now with the Saints) and Chris Cosh (on the staff at Delaware).
"I stay in touch with a ton of players," McMahon said. "I stay in close touch with Josh Whitman."
And he talks to the support personnel who were at Illinois during his time in C-U. He made a lot of friends in 13 years.
"It’s just a great group of people," McMahon said.
McMahon and wife Linda have a home in the LSU area.
Their son Drew, a former Illini, lives near Wrigley Field. They had their first child a year ago.
Daughter Lisa is an LSU grad and lives in Baton Rouge with her husband and two daughters. Younger son Sam is finishing up at LSU.
"Everything’s great," McMahon said.
Feeling their pain McMahon worked on Sean Payton’s staff in New Orleans from 2006-16. He won a Super Bowl ring with the Saints and has strong feelings about the organization.
McMahon was disappointed in the way the season ended for the Saints. A missed pass interference call late in the game helped the Rams win the NFC title. And a spot in the Super Bowl.
"A tough one," McMahon said. "They were right there. Any time it’s that close, that’s tough to swallow."
When McMahon was at Illinois, he saw Michigan win a game with the help of two missed calls on fumbles.
"I figure over a 40-year career, it’s all going to equal out," McMahon said. "You’re going to get some, you’re going to lose some. These officials have tough jobs."
Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.