Jonesboro native and longtime Ragin’ Cajuns publicist built strong SID tree in Hall of Fame career
On an early Sunday morning in September of 1988, then-USL assistant sports information director Lenny Vangilder sat near the phone waiting for a phone call from his boss, Dan McDonald.
Vangilder, in his first full year as Assistant SID, had recently wrapped up covering the Ragin’ Cajuns football team’s a 41-16 win over Rice at Cajun Field, while McDonald, in the midst of working his first Summer Olympics, was half a world away in Seoul, South Korea – and getting the chance to watch UL track star Hollis Conway compete in the men’s high jump.
In the world of no internet, no live statistics and no social media, Vangilder and members of the Ragin’ Cajuns SID staff huddled in the office of the now-Cox Athletics Building patiently waiting for the call.
“I remember the phone ringing about 2 a.m., and then silence on the other end for what seemed like an hour before I heard Dan scream, ‘Silver Medal!,’” said Vangilder. “It was the perfect way to end a great day.”
In a career in the sports information/athletics communications profession, which started in 1976 at Northwestern State, where he was the youngest SID (21-years-old) at any Division I school, to a nearly 20-year career in publicizing some of the best athletes and coaches in UL history, McDonald built a Hall of Fame resume that has included spots in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and the CoSIDA (now College Sports Communicators) Hall of Fame, among others.
McDonald will add another honor to an already incredible resume with his induction into the UL Athletic Hall of Fame on Friday, Oct. 20, as part of the university’s Homecoming celebration. He will be inducted along with seven other former athletes, coaches and staff members in a 7:30 p.m. ceremony at Warehouse 535 in Lafayette.
“To this day, I’m grateful to Dan for giving me my first full-time job in the business,” Vangilder, who would go on to become SID at Tulane and now works in sales, content and production for New Orleans-based website CrescentCitySports.com said. “I had worked as a student assistant at Tulane and was a contractor at Delgado (Community College) when Dan called to offer me his assistant’s job in December 1987. I knew if I aspired to do things in this profession, I needed to work alongside Dan. All I had to do was look at the list of people who preceded me.”
And what an impressive list it was. As full-time assistants, graduate assistants or student assistants, under McDonald’s guidance, many would go on to become giants in their respective careers at the collegiate or professional level.
A few of those notables during McDonald’s tenure as SID included Herb Vincent, associate commissioner of the Southeastern Conference; Greg Sharko, recently retired as media relations director for the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP); Jeff Conrad, assistant athletic director for communications at the University of Houston, Pat Murphy, Hall of Fame softball coach at the University of Alabama; Christopher Lakos, associate SID at the University of Georgia; Joe Lynch, executive director of alumni relations at Gettysburg College (Pa.); and Doug Ireland, longtime SID at NSU and chairman of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
“Dan is one of the hardest working people I know in any profession,” said Vincent, a 2021 CSC Hall of Fame recipient who spent one year as an assistant at UL before a 20-year in a variety of roles at LSU. “When he worked for then-USL, he put every ounce of his soul into the university. He was relentless in promoting Ragin’ Cajun sports and he was respected across the state and across the country for his work. He never scored a touchdown, made a basket or scored a run, but he did as much for Ragin’ Cajun athletics as anyone who ever wore a uniform.”
And it was that work ethic that turned the Jonesboro native into one of the state’s best to ever work in the profession – a list that includes CSC Hall of Famers Ace Higgins and Paul Manasseh (LSU), Louis Bonnette (McNeese) and Bennie Thomas (Southern).
“When it comes to Dan McDonald, the phrase ‘simply the best!’ comes to mind,” Alan Cannon, associate athletics director for athletics communications at Texas A&M and 2014 CSC Hall of Fame inductee said. “A guy you could always depend on. A walking historian on Ragin’ Cajuns athletics and it did not matter which sport at Louisiana, he was always professional and a joy to work with. He improved our profession and was very deserving of being named a CoSIDA Hall of Famer (in 2011). I know he was always a guy you could depend on to help with any Sports Festivals or Olympics.”
After leaving the UL in 1999, McDonald joined the sports department of The Lafayette Daily Advertiser and quickly ascended among the state’s best writers. He captured 31 writing awards from the Louisiana Sports Writers Association in his nine years at the paper, including three “Writer of the Year” honors in a five-year span. He also received a national “Best of Gannett” award for his coverage of the 2005 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
He would leave The Daily Advertiser in 2008 and became vice-president of McD Media, Inc., a marketing and public relations firm founded by his wife, Mary Beth, also an NSU graduate. In addition to his role with McD Media, McDonald works as a freelance sports journalist, including earning his fourth LSWA Sports Writer of the Year honor in 2011, and doing extensive broadcast and television work, including serving as the Ragin’ Cajuns play-by-play announcer for the majority of events on ESPN+.
In addition, McDonald served as media relations director for the Web.com Tour’s Chitimacha Louisiana open, chairman of the Bill Bass Open fundraiser tournament for the UL golf team, co-chairman for LHSAA state high school golf tournaments held in Acadiana, served as vice president and president of the LSWA, and remains a key member of both the LSWA Executive Committee and Hall of Fame Committee.
“Dan’s reputation and legacy in our profession speaks for itself. It is staggering the number of SIDs who have come through his UL office and succeeded and continue to thrive in our profession today,” said Conrad. “Like me, everyone in that group took small lessons and learned things watching Dan and how he handled tasks.
“I feel fortunate and blessed to be a small branch in the SID tree of Dan McDonald. There has never been a better fan and advocate for UL sports for the last 40 years or so. He has a love for the Ragin Cajuns that is unmatched, and no one is more deserving to be enshrined among the greatest student-athletes, coaches and administrators in UL history.”