Long-time coach and educator at Discovery Middle School looks to transition into the next phase of his life with fond memories
The current 2020-2021 school year could be the last for longtime educator and coach Richard McKinnon as the 52-year old is contemplating retirement after 27 years teaching the youth of Madison.
The physical education teacher at Discovery Middle School, which he has called home since 1996 after two years at Liberty Middle School, has already relinquished his duties as a coach for the Panthers’ programs and looks to quietly exit the profession he grew to love since beginning as an undergraduate assistant coach at his alma mater Alabama A&M University.
“I already miss the coaching aspect of my career, especially the kids as I love to see them develop as athletes and students,” said McKinnon on the eve of beginning what he could possibly his swan song in education. “As a coach and educator, I’m hard on them, but they each know I love them.”
McKinnon was an All-Star football player at Elba High School located in the small town of 4,000 residents south of Montgomery. He was heavily recruited by legendary defensive coach John Chavis who left the Bulldogs’ program and included stops at Tennessee, LSU, Texas A&M and most recently at Arkansas. McKinnon played four years as starting fullback at Alabama A&M and was an All-Star selection for his enormous talents carrying his 5-foot-10, 225-pound frame into oncoming defenses.
Upon graduating in 1994 with a B.S. in physical education McKinnon arrived on campus to pursue an engineering degree. He was hired as a special education teacher at Madison County High where he remained for three months as a fill-in teacher for the fulltime educator who was on maternity leave. He soon took the fulltime position at Liberty Middle School and began what has been a united relationship with the Madison community.
“I’ve had numerous opportunities to go back home, but always turned them down as my wife and I always wanted to have our children to attend school in Madison,” said McKinnon, who has been married to his wife, Yulelonda, for 28 years. In all there are five children and five grandchildren in the family as Yulelonda is also an educator teaching in the Huntsville City Schools system for a quarter of a century.
“The kids, that’s what have kept me here. I’m here for all the kids in Madison,” said McKinnon. “I can tell you the kids here in Madison are smart. When we first started football here in Madison I was able to get a 100 plays into the system and I could do everything I wanted to do as a coach. The students who arrived here after Hurricane Katrina I noticed they were so far behind our students in Madison. The new students quickly caught up thanks to the great teachers we have.”
During his tenure in Madison McKinnon has coached just about every sport offered within the system and he has also been a certified a referee/official in soccer, basketball, baseball, volleyball and football. For a decade, he played for the Huntsville Rugby Club traveling across the Southeast knocking heads with fellow rugby players. “If I had picked up rugby first I would have never played football,” added McKinnon. “As a hobby I love to fish with my grandkids as I take them out on the Tennessee River in my small boat. I’m a catch and release fisherman.”
As an early teen, McKinnon was feverishly playing youth football where he was always the largest player on the team and always forced to play on the line. At age 13, he was diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter Disease, a common cause of knee pain in the joint in adolescents, which is associated with fast growth. He was placed in a cast and at one time had a difficult time in just simple walking. Due to his condition he was forced to give up football for two years. He added, “That’s the reason I was so in love with football as I had to give it up.”
Once arriving in middle school McKinnon simply and directly told his coach he wanted to run the ball and that opponents couldn’t stop him. He spoke of one incident in practice, “I was running with the ball and I had four defenders on my back trying to tackle me. They never succeeded, thus I became a running fullback,” said McKinnon.
In high school, his physical dominance continued as he was so nicknamed “Ox.”
McKinnon’s younger brother Ronald is currently coaching at Miles College and is a former NFL player playing in the professional ranks for 10 years. Their father is 81 and is currently fighting a bout with cancer. Their mother passed away years ago.
“I’m not coaching now as it’s time now to back off,” said McKinnon. “I’ll continue being a consultant for the athletic programs at Discovery and will help where I can.”
McKinnon may leave after one more year of helping the youth of Madison grow and prosper, but he won’t be forgotten as the Field House at Discovery Middle School bears his name as the athletic facility on the south side of Discovery Stadium was dedicated Richard McKinnon Field House in 2014. McKinnon called it a great honor. The thousands of student-athletes who came through the programs and played for McKinnon feel the same – the time with coach was a great honor.