Originally created 07/20/99

George MacIntyre goes on the offense in battle with MS



NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- George MacIntyre was the last Vanderbilt football coach to beat Tennessee, defeat Alabama, post a winning season and take the Commodores to a bowl game.

But he also saw six losing seasons at Vanderbilt, weathered a steroid scandal involving several players and was fired by the Commodores in 1985.

MacIntyre has seen both sides of the scoreboard. Friends say the ups and downs have given him the physical, mental and spiritual toughness to weather his latest and greatest challenge: multiple sclerosis.

"George has always been positive, even when we were getting our tails kicked in football," said C.R. Bickerstaff, former Vanderbilt assistant athletic director and a close family friend.

"He believes in the Lord and knows He won't forsake him."

MacIntyre, 58, noticed the first symptoms of MS two years ago when his legs gave way while playing stickball with his sons on the beach. Doctors at the University of Virginia medical center eventually diagnosed the often-crippling nerve disease.

Today, he walks with a limp, tires easily and sometimes slurs his speech. But he's never asked, "Why me?"

"As a Christian, you have to accept whatever happens to you," MacIntyre told The Tennessean. "I feel like I have mastered the disease and it's behind me."

Even amid his optimism, though, the disease is frustrating. MacIntyre depends on his wife, Betty, for help.

"She has to watch out for me, because there are things I can't do any more than I used to do all the time. But she's a trooper. She has a middle linebacker's spirit," he said.

The MacIntyres moved back to Nashville after his illness forced him to leave an assistant head coaching job last year at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.

"We raised our kids here and they think of (Nashville) as home," Betty MacIntyre said.

MacIntyre now is treated by doctors at Vanderbilt Medical Center's MS clinic and undergoes rehabilitation therapy with Jack Redgren, who worked under MacIntyre when he coached at Vanderbilt 1979-85.

"He used to be our trainer, Now he's my trainer," MacIntyre laughs. "I've gotten to know him in a different way."

MacIntyre has a lot of fans in Nashville from his days with Vanderbilt, which has historically struggled on the football field. They still talk about his 8-4 team of 1982, when MacIntyre was named the Bobby Dodd national coach of the year as well as The Sporting News coach of the year.

After being replaced by Watson Brown, he stayed in Nashville developing a program that employed college athletes during the summer. In 1991, he became head football coach and interim headmaster of a private Nashville prep school, Donelson Christian Academy, before returning to his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla., to coach at Jacksonville Episcopal. He left for Liberty in 1995.

George Bennett, a former fund-raiser for Vandy athletics, has been impressed by MacIntyre's poise and dignity throughout his career.

"Life maybe hadn't been as kind to him as it should be, but I have never heard him question one thing that has happened to him," said Bennett.

"George's faith has never waivered."