Basketball: The legacy of Bob McDonald strong in Ranger country

Holiday gatherings at the McDonald house usually ended up at the Chisholm High School gym.

Chisholm High School basketball coach Bob McDonald acknowledges the crowd after being presented with the game ball after winning his 1,000 game in 2013. (News Tribune file)

In basketball circles, he was a legend.

Across the state, he was a coaching icon.

In Crosby-Ironton, he was Grandpa.

Former Chisholm High School teacher and basketball coach Bob McDonald, Minnesota’s all-time winningest basketball coach in state history died Wednesday, Oct. 14, at the age of 87.

McDonald coached for 59 seasons -- 53 at Chisholm. He amassed 1,012 career victories, most among any coach in state history. He also collected three state Class 1A championships with the Bluestreaks.


McDonald also taught history, social studies and physical education for more than 40 years and was a track and field coach for 47 years.

But in C-I he was grandpa to Bryce, Brock and Brady Tesdahl. Sons of Bob’s daughter Sue Tesdahl.

“Everybody called Mr. McDonald, or bob, or coach, but he was always just grandpa to me,” Bryce said. “Obviously, I knew the impact and what his profession was and what his title was across the iron range and even the state. He was just always grandpa to me.”

Grandpa would make it a tradition to steal his grandkids during big family get-togethers and take them to the gym.

“That was the most time we got to spend together during the year,” Bryce said. “The holidays were always a special time for us because not only was it basketball season, but we got to go up north and be with our grandpa, and our cousins and our aunts and uncles.

“It wasn’t like we were staying in a 10-bedroom mansion up there in Chisholm either. Everybody was packed in. Then everybody was packed into the Chisholm gym during the afternoons or nights. We would check out his practices or his games and it didn’t matter where we were from a cousin standpoint. Everyone was a Chisholm Bluestreak fan. The more we went up there and the more we fell in love with it.”

Former Crosby-Ironton Rangers graduate Bryce Tesdahl (right) sits with his grandfather Bob McDonald, former head basketball coach at Chisholm High School. Submitted photo.


All three Tesdahl boys played significant roles in the C-I boys’ basketball program and tradition. Bryce led C-I to the 2008 Class 2A state championship game. Brock helped C-I to the 2010 state title game. Brady hit what was almost a game-winner in the Section 8-2A championship game only to lose to an even later game-winner.

Bryce is now the head coach at Minnetonka. Brock is an assistant coach at Hopkins. Brady is teaching and coaching in Braham. They are part of a long-sprawling family tree Bob McDonald left behind.

“It really is impressive and it all starts with him,” Bryce said. “A lot of times people don’t follow what their moms and dads do in terms of a profession, but when your whole family falls into the teaching and coaching profession you can see the example that he was. I think everybody, from my aunts and uncles and my mom, and my dad is a teacher/coach, too. Everybody saw what impact he made and it wasn’t about the money he made or the profession, it was about the impact and the positivity around coaching and teaching. He not only led by voice, but by example in the teaching and coaching profession.”

RELATED: Boys Basketball: Tesdahl leading, learning in 2nd season at New Prague
Despite being part of a large family it’s hard to steal away some alone time with grandpa, but Bryce was lucky.

“He spent time with each one of us as individuals and really broke down each of our games,” Bryce said. “When I was coaching at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, I got to spend a lot more time with him up there just because I was close and anytime we could go grab lunch or dinner. He was still coaching up at Chisholm, those were kind of his final years, I just remember his last year of coaching and seeing him on that bench, still having success and still making an impact. The before conversations and the after-game conversations and just watching him do his thing as a coach, teacher and as a mentor and the impact that he has had not only for us as family members, but for those he’s coached, taught and just been around it is truly amazing.

“When you reflect back on it, it just makes you want to do that exact same thing even more.”

But grandpa left some lasting memories among former and current area coaches.

Former Pequot Lakes head coach Garry Grewe still remembers the first time he met McDonald during a scrimmage.


“I was a rookie coach, and I just remember how kind, considerate and thoughtful he was,” Grewe said. “He always remembered my name after that.”

Grewe coached against McDonald while at Pequot Lakes, but met him much earlier during his days in Park Rapids and at Bemidji. He wasn’t afraid to admit he tried to steal a few things that made McDonald successful.

“Anybody who is an Icon you try to emulate what they did well and bring those things to your own program,” Grewe said. “The state of basketball has lost a great man and my condolences to his family.”

Former Staples-Motley head coach Lynn Peterson said the first thing that comes to mind when talking about McDonald was the short hair cuts and suits and ties worn by his players and the other requirements his players had to adhere to while being a member of Chisholm basketball.

“That spilled over into the type of program he ran at Chisholm,” Peterson said. “He wanted to do them right and do them top-notch. I think that’s a staple of him.

“The comment from him I remember the most is we played them in the Sweet 16 Tournament in 1995. We had a great game with them and it was very close. We had a shot late in the game to win it. I’m not exactly sure the details, but I remember Bob’s comments in the paper afterward was, ‘They got stapled.” That always stuck in my mind.

“As coaches, you always compete against each other very hard, but you’re also the best friends with coaches. Even though I did not have the opportunity to coach against him numerous times I was fortunate enough to coach against him and still considered him a pretty close friend.”



After that game, McDonald impressed a former no-nonsense sports editor from the Brainerd Dispatch.

“I just remember at that time, we were walking out of the interview room and I had him one-on-one,” Mike Bialka said. “He was just great. He was iconic and he was just a gentleman and I think he really enjoyed working with the media. He treated me like he knew me forever. It was just a great interview. It was a brief brush with greatness, but I always remembered it. He was always very gracious to me.”

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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