MTSU in Great Hands with McEntire
Two years into Mark McEntire’s stint at MTSU and the program’s future is brighter than ever
By Justin Onslow
It’s not easy leaving a successful college golf program after 13 years at the helm. More difficult still is leaving for another program eight hours away – and uprooting family in the process – to replenish a depleted roster and lead a team to an improbable conference championship.
It’s the stuff of sports movies instead of reality, yet that’s what Mark McEntire did. The 43-year-old head coach of Middle Tennessee State’s men’s golf program, who assumed the role in July of 2018 after holding the reigns at the College of Charleston for 13 years, had a lot of work to do to even field a team after the departure of Brennan Webb to the University of Tennessee. When Webb left, six of his players followed him to UT, meaning McEntire would be faced with dubious challenges from the very start.
After having to cancel MTSU’s participation in a tournament McEntire himself started at the Ocean Course in Charleston, he and his staff went to work on finding the right fits to give his team a chance at competing in 2019.
“We didn’t even have enough people the first year,” he says. “We had a couple kids that were injured, and we were redshirting one. Our compliance staff helped us get two kids here from the Nashville area so we could have a team in the fall. At the break, we were able to pick up a young man from Vanderbilt named Cooper Sears, and we decided to pull the redshirt off Marcus Byrd and we ended up winning the conference championship, which was pretty remarkable.”
Remarkable indeed, but not quite unbelievable when you consider that McEntire left Charlotte with a loaded roster he built with limited resources. At MTSU, McEntire has more resources to work with – namely, a strong alumni base – which is something that drew him to the program in the first place.
“The unique thing that really drew me to MTSU was the alumni support,” he explains. “When you go anywhere in Murfreesboro, you see people wearing the logo, wearing our shirts. You drive to campus and see all the signs that say ‘go blue.’ ‘Our town, our team’ – the slogan we have here at MTSU – is really true. Everybody believes in it. Everybody backs you.”
That support has made recruiting a lot easier for McEntire, who hit the ground running when it came to drawing talent to the Nashville-area mid-major. He has support and he has a plan, not to mention the strong foundation 2019’s Conference USA championship established.
McEntire’s approach to recruiting is underlined by his mind for business, which he admits is one of the tenets of his coaching philosophy.
“Every year as I’m continuing to grow my business, I’ve got to recruit and add people,” he says. “I don’t necessarily look for the best player in every state. I’m looking for someone who can fill a hole.”
With that idea in mind, McEntire has a 250-mile radius around Middle Tennessee for recruiting golfers eligible for in-state tuition. That circle includes seven states, which he says is plenty of area from which to attract tremendous talent.
With “holes” on the current roster filled, McEntire plans to turn his attention to just finding the best players available.
“This year, we needed some experience,” he adds. “We got four freshmen, but we went out and got a transfer who had just transferred from Lipscomb. You add some experience with a young team, so now I’ve got two seniors instead of one. That was our need this year.
“Next year, we don’t need anything. We’re going to go out and find the best player who wants to come to MTSU. The highest-ranked player we feel like can grow our brand and help us, that’s who we’re going to get.”
Of course, recruiting is only a small part of what makes a successful collegiate coach. McEntire checks that box, but he’s also established a culture of making academics just as important as succeeding on the course.
He challenges his players to maintain a 3.8 team GPA and boasts five players with a perfect 4.0 GPA. Now especially, as the season is on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, academics is McEntire’s emphasis.
“We just told our players, turn your focus right now on school,” he says. “That’s the only thing you can control. It’s important and a priority.”
McEntire’s steady hand and methodic, business-minded approach is a good sign for MTSU’s golf program when the world comes out on the other side of the pandemic. He’s keeping his players focused on what’s important, but he’s also excited about what the future holds.
“As the summer comes along when they start opening up the golf courses and have some tournaments we can play in, then we’ll formulate a plan,” he says. “They’re talking about having the teams play together, which honestly might be pretty cool. It’d be the only time I’d be able to see all my players play together.
“The world needs sports. We need sports.”
Just as the world needs a return to sports, MTSU needed McEntire – the recruiter, the coach, the molder of young minds and the steady hand to see the program through what was at the time of his hire and unforeseeable challenge.
McEntire is controlling what he can control, and he’s not without challenges when the golf world again finds a sense of normalcy. The biggest of those challenges involves finding a way to one-up his first-year success and keep the momentum train rolling as the head of Conference USA’s defending champions.