Bob McDonald, iconic Chisholm basketball coach, dies at 87

Bob McDonald of Chisholm died on Oct. 14

Bob McDonald, a local icon and hall of fame basketball coach from Chisholm
Bob McDonald, a local icon and hall of fame basketball coach from Chisholm, died Wednesday morning, according to John Millea, a spokesperson for the Minnesota State High School League.
Mark Sauer via Mesabi Tribune

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By Gary Giombetti | Mesabi Tribune

For 59 years, Bob McDonald roamed the sidelines as a high school basketball coach, the majority of them at Chisholm High School.

In his coaching career, McDonald amassed 1,012 wins, the most in Minnesota basketball history, and he was inducted into the NFHS National High School Hall of Fame in 2014.

McDonald, who was more than a basketball coach, died at the age of 87 Wednesday morning in Hibbing after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

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It was a tough day for the McDonald family, who got the call at 5 a.m. that he was gone.

“It was tough,” Tom McDonald said. “Joel, Mike and I were at the hospital Tuesday until 11 p.m., and he was struggling. He was unresponsive for the last couple of days, but we talked and prayed with him.

“It was a tough day with him.”

McDonald left a lasting legacy with all of his athletes and the people he touched along the way.

One of those individuals was former Hibbing High School boys basketball coach Gary Addington.

“I was a young coach, and initially, it was intimidating going against a guy like that,” Addington said. “He was always respectful to me and the other coaches. As a young coach it was refreshing to have that relationship with a guy everyone knew and respected.

“I admired every aspect of his career. I respected his lifestyle and his values. They were an important example for me and the other coaches as well.”

Addington and McDonald bumped heads quite a few times while he was here, and trying to game plan against him was quite the ordeal.

“We were putting in different systems, but the most difficult thing to get across to our kids was the issue they had with that Chisholm press,” Addington said. “It was a mental thing, but they were so good at what they did. 

“He would change that pressure by when and where it would come from. It was getting our kids to recognize that. It was a challenge to get our kids by that. It took some time, but that’s the way it was for everybody that played against him.”

Addington said the two coaches didn’t do too much talking before games, but after their games, that’s when they sat down to talk.

“He only gave me advice when I asked for it,” Addington said. “The thing I recall vividly was our meetings after the season when we chose our all-conference teams. He always had some insight on the selection of that team, and everybody respected his opinion.

“Being the senior coach of that group, he would conduct those meetings. That was something I always looked forward to.”

An older man speaks to a group of young basketball players
The majority of Bob McDonald's years spent as a basketball coach were spent at Chisholm High School.
Courtesy of the Mesabi Tribune File

Larry Pervenanze never played for McDonald, but he sat next to the man for 12 seasons as his assistant coach when Dennis Krize retired from that position.

It was an experience Pervenanze will never forget.

“It was a dream-come-true to be able to sit next to a legend,” Pervenanze said. “I got to witness a lot of his wins, and to be able to go to state three times. Bob wasn’t just a coach. He was a father and mentor.”

McDonald was a disciplinarian. He had his own team rules like short hair, no facial hair, where they were going to sit on the bus rides to away games, and more importantly, he had his players dress in suits. He wanted his teams to look respectable.

“He would put certain guys together so they could talk about what was going to happen during a game,” Pervenanze said. “The guards would sit together and the forwards would, too. Everybody knew that they had to be on the same page.”

When McDonald retired, Pervenanze took over the head-coaching duties in 2014. He had just lost his father that April, but he had McDonald there to guide him through the trials and tribulations that it took to be a head coach.

“When I first got the job, he was like a second father to me,” Pervenanze said. “He took me under his wing. When I got the job, it was a challenge. How do you replace a guy like that, a guy with 59 years of experience and over 1,000 wins.

“He told me he'd never come around to bother me because it was my team now. He never came to any practices. I always told him to come around and talk to the boys. When he was done, he was done.”

Pervenanze did miss the talks the two had on the bus rides to games.

“We talked about games, but we had other conversations as well,” Pervenanze said. “He wanted me to go to Croatia with him. It wasn’t always about basketball. It was about family.”

McDonald had the luxury of coaching all of his sons.

Tom, who played from 1979 to 1982, couldn’t have had a better experience over those  years.

“It was good to be taught by him,” Tom said. “The things I do now are in respect to what he did. It was tough to be a coach's kid, but I didn’t want it any other way. His discipline was good, and he never swayed away from his morals.

“You knew where he stood. He had a rough exterior, but he cared for all of his players and all of his students. I tried to live my life the way he would have wanted me to live it.”

What gets lost in all of the basketball memories is the fact that McDonald was a classroom teacher.

Not only did Joel, Tom, Mike, Paul, Judy and Sue become basketball coaches, but Tom, Mike, Joel and Sue became history teachers as well.

“He never pushed any of us that way, but we saw the impact that he made, and we wanted to follow the same path,” Tom said. “He was an awesome teacher. He made history fun. You pattern yourself after your favorite teachers.

“His legacy will be what he did with all of the people he touched along the way. He had so many talents. He painted and he wrote poetry. None of us got that painting skill, so we don’t know where that came from.”

This story is from the Mesabi Tribune. Read it on their website here.

Through conversations with their family members, colleagues and close friends, MPR News is remembering the lives of the people we’ve lost, too soon, to COVID-19. If you’d like to share the story of someone you’ve lost to COVID-19, please email us at