Where does a former NFL coach with a Super Bowl title to his name go on holiday for the new year? Wrexham, of course.
Paul McCord and his family swapped Florida for north Wales to take in the League Two match against Barrow after becoming passionate fans of the club through the documentary Welcome to Wrexham.
It meant leaving behind the Tampa sunshine and daytime temperatures of 22C (71.6F) for highs of 9C but Paul, wife Mindy — a successful coach in women’s lacrosse — and nine-year-old son LJ couldn’t have been happier.
“Being here in Wrexham to celebrate the new year meant so much,” says Paul, a member of the coaching team who took the Baltimore Ravens to Super Bowl glory in 2001. He sports the commemorative ring he received after the 34-7 victory over the New York Giants.
“This is our second visit to Wrexham. We first came over in March 2023, for the Southend United game. Then, we took in the U.S. tour last summer, watching the games in Chapel Hill, Los Angeles, San Diego and Philadelphia.
Wrexham, Chelsea and the $20m match
“That was great, as we got to meet up again with people like Wayne (Jones, The Turf landlord and breakout star of the documentary), who we met on that first visit to Wrexham.
“We’ve fallen in love with the place and the people. In a world that can be very cynical, to have a place that’s authentic and full of gratitude makes you want to be here. That’s what drew us back.
“What got us here in March was the documentary but the people are what brought us back.”
Paul and Mindy’s respective careers in elite coaching are what initially drew the couple into watching series one of a show that charts Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney’s ownership.
“As coaches, we both love watching sports documentaries, like (ESPN’s) 30 for 30 series,” says Mindy, head coach of the women’s lacrosse programme at the University of South Florida.
“Paul was the one who said, ‘Let’s watch this documentary’. He’s writing a book on underdog stories and the show had that element. Straight away, we could both relate to the story.
“I loved the ‘blue-collar town’ element. My dad was an electrician and my grandfather a coal miner, having come over from Yugoslavia. I also loved the community aspect, and particularly how authentic the fan engagement is at Wrexham.
“There’s a real personal element, with the players walking through the fans before every game, posing for pictures and signing autographs.”
The McCords spent New Year’s Eve in The Turf pub that sits adjacent to the club’s SToK Cae Ras home, but both Paul and Mindy seem remarkably chipper.
LJ is excited, too, as he’s brought along a present for Paul Mullin, who the youngster enjoyed an impromptu kickabout with after the summer tour match against Chelsea in Chapel Hill.
“The gift is for Albi,” explains Mindy, Albi being Mullin’s young autistic son. “We wanted to thank Paul for being so great with LJ. It’s what we love so much about Wrexham, the authenticity and the welcome everyone has.”
The McCord family will always remember their first visit to Wrexham.
The Southend game only went ahead at the eleventh hour after volunteers and club staff had worked through the night to ensure the pitch was playable. Snow had blanketed the area.
But there was another issue: the tickets Paul had bought online turned out to be in the area reserved for the away team’s supporters.
“We only realised when we arrived at the turnstiles in all our newly-bought Wrexham gear,” laughs Paul, 6ft 6in (198cm) tall and still built as powerfully as you’d expect someone who once signed for Dallas Cowboys to be.
“The gentleman explained we’d erroneously purchased tickets in the Southend section and then looked at me before saying, ‘You’ll be OK, as they won’t give you too much trouble, but I can’t say the same about the other two’.
“It was totally my fault. I’d no idea it was the away section. I just saw ‘Wrexham’ and clicked for three tickets. The club was brilliant. They escorted us to another section in the stand, which turned out to be where all the reserve team players sit.”
Mindy quickly interjects: “The funny thing is we got on season two of the documentary as a result. We were watching at home when suddenly, there we were, on the screen, looking like total tourists in our Wrexham hats and scarves sitting with all these players!”
There were no such mishaps this time around. As international members, the family bought tickets in the main stand through the club for the 4-1 win over Barrow.
A particular highlight came via the second goal of Steven Fletcher’s hat-trick, a far-post header from James McClean’s in-swinging corner. “The stack play on the corner was similar to a set piece we use in lacrosse,” Paul messages after the match.
Crossovers between Phil Parkinson’s methods and the couple’s own coaching experiences are more common than many might think. Certainly, the Wrexham manager’s famous ‘character test’ when sizing up prospective signings — he’ll think nothing of driving to London and back to weigh up a player’s suitability over a cup of tea — is similar to how Mindy runs things in lacrosse.
Along with Paul, she famously implemented the fast-paced basketball doctrine ‘The System’, as pioneered by Paul Westhead with Loyola Marymount University in the late 1980s and featured in the TV show Winning Time. This had a great effect when she was at the helm of Jacksonville University’s lacrosse setup. Building the right culture was key.
“We needed a good locker room,” says Mindy, named Conference Coach of the Year eight times during her spell at Jacksonville. “We got that by those ladies buying into our core values and our mission.
“Where you say Phil interviews the players here, we were interviewing the parents. You’re dealing with 17- to 23-year-olds, so how they are parented is important. Do the parents value coaching and mentoring? That makes such a big difference in terms of how you can move the needle with a young adult.
“There is an art to finding the right people. We were also very transparent and honest about who we were as people and coaches, our styles, our personalities and what they were going to get from us. You have to build trust.”
One coaching aspect that Mindy doesn’t share with the Wrexham manager is what the documentary makers refer to as “Phil’s enthusiasm levels” — the huge number of times he swears during team talks.
She adds: “We do crack up every time he swears on the show. But then LJ was saying to me one day, ‘Mom, they drop the F-bomb so much — can I say it?’ I’m, like, ‘No way, it is just part of the language there’.”
Dad agrees. “I’ve been in dressing rooms like that,” he says. “Maybe not quite as much profanity but certainly a few things were said. It is when the adrenalin and testosterone get pumping. It comes from the heart.”
Paul certainly speaks from experience when it comes to high-level coaching. Having been part of Brian Billick’s Ravens coaching team for that Super Bowl XXXV triumph over the Giants, he later joined the Jacksonville Jaguars in a similar capacity.
“I worked with the kickers, punters, snappers, holders, return specialists,” he explains. “The Super Bowl was surreal. I was the below man on the coaching staff, the assistant special teams coach. But to just be part of it was incredible. You’re on this journey and you know something great is happening.
“You’re so micro-focused on each game. And each moment. We didn’t really think anything about the Super Bowl until we were there. And once there, we felt we’d easily win this game.
“No one was going to score against our defence, which was the best. Our offence also knew what to do, with our field position game also being great. That’s exactly how it played out.
“It was a wonderful experience, with Mindy and the family all there.”
Along with the book on sporting underdogs he’s writing and helping Mindy’s coaching career, Paul’s goal for 2024 involves helping to spread the Wrexham gospel even further.
“Family and friends all know about Wrexham,” he says. “For our daughter Taylor and son-in-law Spencer (Zapper), we bought Wrexham shirts for Christmas. The plan now is to educate people in Tampa about this great club.
“It’s funny that I wasn’t into Always Sunny (in Philadelphia) when I got into this. Or even a Ryan Reynolds fan. It was the sport element that attracted me — and particularly the underdog story.
“But then I suddenly became this superfan, never missing a game on iFollow (kick-off is usually at 10am on a Saturday in Florida) and shouting so loud all the neighbours know when we’ve scored a goal.”
(Photos: Richard Sutcliffe/McCord Family)