Thole: McDonough is our man in the White House


I’m not positive, but I have to believe that SAHS is the only high school in the state that can claim a Presidential Chief of Staff among its alumni. Chalk this one up to Denis McDonough, or “Dude” as he has been known in these parts.

An official announcement hasn’t been made yet, but this has been widely reported the past few weeks.

McDonough was a top-notch student from the Class of 1988. His teachers remember him as a hard-working five-star student, but what I saw was a skin-and-bones, 6-foot-1, 156-pound defensive back. He claimed 171 pounds, but I think that he weighed with his pads on.

He was a hard-working player who made up for his lack of speed with his intensity and smarts. The “Dude” was a hard-hitting kind of guy and was selected as a Big Red Hitter his senior year. Getting this award requires a vote from at least 70 percent of the squad, which honored Dude, Steve Karr, Jeff Nelson and Nick Wohlers that year.

The Ponies were 10-3 state semifinalists in 1987, with McDonough making the all-conference team along with Sharm Scheuerman, Al Venske, Wohlers, all-state Nelson and junior Daren Danielson.

Dude managed three pass interceptions and earned two game balls — his best was in a 33-13 win over Coon Rapids during his stay with us. He also played baseball for coach Don Campbell.

Coming from a strong Catholic family that numbered 11 children, it came as no surprise to me that he wound up at St. John’s University. Mike Grant, who later went on to coach Eden Prairie to eight state titles, recruited the Dude and Scheuerman when he assisted John Gagliardi with the Johnnies.

Both Ponies did us proud as starters at the Collegeville school, I might add. After subsequent conversations with Gagliardi and Grant, I realized we had the same positive impressions of this young man.

I try to follow our former players after diploma passing, but players arrive and new teams are formed. I did manage to see Sharm and Denis play for Gagliardi a couple of times before they earned their degrees and moved on.

Denis headed to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., to get his masters after graduating cum laude from St. John’s. While hanging out with all those political types, I’m sure he got caught up in the excitement of it all.

McDonough was an advisor on national security for then Illinois Senator Barack Obama in 2007. The two must have hit it off because President Obama, according to the press, has the utmost trust and confidence in the former Pony.

Being a chief of staff for the President of the United States requires a person who is smart, honest, loyal and, most important, tough. Let’s not forget that we are the greatest country on this earth.

All of the former Ponies that I’ve talked to lately have said they are pleased, but not surprised, about the accomplishments of the Dude. ‘Nuff said.


In the huddle

Did you know that the average American male stands 5-foot-10.2-inches tall and the average NBA basketball player measures 6-6? The tallest man in history was 8-11 before his passing in 1940. Did you also know that the Gophers sold 2,000 tickets for the Meineke Car Care Bowl while Michigan sold a paltry 6,000 to the Outback Bowl and Nebraska just 4,000 to the Capitol One Bowl? Let’s see, North Dakota State sold 14,000 ducats for the FCS national championship game in Frisco, Texas. How about that!…. A few weeks ago, I listed 11 former Ponies female basketball players performing at the collegiate level. Well, the same can be said for girls’ hockey with Caitlin Hewes (UConn), Callie Dahl (St. Cloud State), Allison Eder-Zdechlik (Gustavus), Amanda Cartony (Gustavus), Dani Wigen (St. Thomas), Janessa Philipczyk (Bemidji State), Cassandra Salmen (UW-Stevens Point), Alli O’Brien (St. Ben’s), Kaitlin Johnston (St. Scholastica), Sammi Reiter (Concordia, Wis.) and Libby Otto (Concordia, Wis.)…. Competition is good for students as it prepares them for the real world. It can come from the classroom, athletics and, if repeated enough, it’s great prep for what’s out there after graduation. Checking out the classroom, students are tested, graded and evaluated on their performance and rate of overall achievement. Progress reports are handed out and honor roll lists are posted, available for public scrutiny and often published in the local newspaper. Young people are subjected to competition early and often, and they learn to cope and deal with it as best they can. The rungs of the ladder to success are many, and must be climbed one by one. Although encouragement, help and support are necessities in guiding an individual, no one is going to pull or push you to the top. A person should seize any and all opportunities and remain focused while staying the course. If you watch ESPN during bowl season and the NFL playoffs you’d have to be blind not to notice the huge number of coaches getting fired. Winning has a way of putting salve on wounds, more money in the coffers and more bounce in the steps of alumni and fans. The bottom line is that if coaches don’t win, they will join the multitude of unemployed that has preceded them. The coach needs to win, just like the salesman needs to sell and the business owner needs to meet the payroll. It’s a tough world out there so remember to prepare for it, because it’s competitive…. Nick Cummings ’99, a former SAHS cross country runner, skier and track distance runner, is a U of Minnesota grad and a buyer for Target…. Former Ponies and Gophers football standout Collin McGarry is currently in training for Vascular Systems, a medical device company in Maple Grove…. Ex-Ponies cager Alex Oman is averaging 14.4 points per game for the UW-Stout basketball team. Oman has scored more than 20 points on four occasions, including a 28-point game last season. The Blue Devils are in the thick of the WIAC race this year…. The Ponies gymnastics team (6-0) recorded its second highest score of the season in a white-knuckle 139.675-139.25 road victory over Mounds View on Friday night. On that same night, the Red and Black boys’ basketball team crushed Mounds View 55-35 with Andrew Duxbury’s 20-point effort paving the way. The locals were sluggish in the first half, but took a 26-24 halftime lead on a 3-pointer by Tony Lennox at the buzzer. That shot was part of a 28-0 run for Stillwater, which cruised with at least an 18-point edge the rest of the way. Don’t tread on me, because I’m an endangered species…. finis


Today’s rumination #602

Excellence is the difference between what I do and what I am capable of.

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George Thole retired as head football coach at Stillwater after the 1999 season. He ranks among Minnesota’s top coaches in history with a 285-69-2 record (.805 winning percentage), including four state titles and two state runner-up finishes among 22 championship seasons. He co-authored (with Jerry Foley) “Coaching the Veer Offense,” second edition. His column appears Thursdays in the Gazette. To contact the hall of fame coach e-mail: [email protected]