On Sept. 30, former Macalester head football coach Don Hudson passed away at 88. Hudson coached at Macalester from 1971-75, as defensive coordinator for a year before becoming head coach in 1972. In moving up the coaching ladder, Hudson broke a barrier: he was the first African-American head football coach at a predominantly white college or university.
In the moment, few realized how groundbreaking the achievement was. Lee Nystrom ’73, a defensive lineman who played for Hudson his last two seasons at Macalester before playing with the Green Bay Packers, said that the players simply looked at him as a coach.
“For us, it was just business as usual,” Nystrom said.
That did not mean that Hudson had no impact on his players. According to Nystrom, despite Hudson’s diminutive stature — he stood just 5’8” — he had the kind of presence that filled a room. A gregarious and funny man, Hudson was the sort of coach players wanted to play for.
In Hudson’s four seasons as head coach, the Scots had little success on the field. His final three seasons at the helm coincided with the beginning of Macalester’s famed losing streak, which reached 50 games between 1973-1979. Yet, Nystrom said, even while losing Hudson had a powerful impact on the players — they may have lost, but they always went on the field believing they would win.
“From my standpoint, he was a terrific coach. He was very well-liked and respected,” Nystrom said.
After the 1975 season, Hudson left the Scots and returned to Lincoln University, his alma mater. As other predominantly white colleges and universities hired black football coaches, his achievement was not widely recognized.
That changed in the mid-2000s. In 2007, Macalester brought Hudson back to campus to meet the current coaching staff and team before naming the head coach’s office in the newly-completed Leonard Center in his honor.
Current head football coach Tony Jennison, defensive coordinator at the time, had a chance to meet him.
“He struck me as a really good human being that cared about people,” Jennison said.
Although Hudson did not return to campus after 2007, his influence is still felt regularly by Jennison. The plaque commemorating Hudson in the football coach’s office sits right in Jennison’s eye line, a constant reminder of Macalester football’s past.
“I see [the plaque], and I like to think that it’s my responsibility as well, to be a great person and hopefully help develop the young men in our program into quality people and quality students,” Jennison said. “Hopefully good football players as well, but hopefully young men who go out and have a positive impact in the world.”
In an email to The Mac Weekly, interim Athletic Director Steve Murray said the college is discussing a way to acknowledge and celebrate what Hudson did but has yet to decide on anything beyond the recognition at halftime of last Saturday’s 47-21 victory over Lawrence University.
A memorial service for Hudson will be held at Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, 3355 North 4th Street in Minneapolis on Nov. 2 at 1 p.m.