“I think we have something really special here, but there is still a lot of hard work left,” McKinney said. “I tell my players we never want to lower the bar, we always want to raise it.” After an undefeated opening season, the bar is already raised quite high, but that’s just where McKinney wants the bar to start.
“We are building the house, and how we build it depends on how much hard work we put in,” he said. “Right now, I feel like the foundation is poured.”
McKinney is not new to coaching and building rugby programs. He was a coach at Myers Park High School for six years, a local club team called the Charlotte Tigers for five, and the Citadel, a Division I university, for one. In fact, he was a relatively easy choice for the head coaching position at Queens and his interview process only took three days.
“The women’s rugby coach Katie Wurst recommended two names, myself and another gentleman in the area who is a high-level rugby coach,” recalled McKinney. “They interviewed us on the phone on a Monday, I came in for a face-to-face interview Tuesday, and then got a job offer Wednesday.”
Katie Wurst’s women’s team performed well in their inaugural semester, as well. Queens women’s rugby finished 6-2 in the fall, and are scheduled to play at least seven more matches this spring. Currently, the men’s team has no matches scheduled for this semester, allowing them to focus on training and building their roster for next semester.
In recruiting, McKinney looks for character, talented athletes regardless of rugby experience, and international students who have played rugby previously. He expects his players to “wear the crown,” which he describes as good citizens on campus with respect for everyone around them. He wants good, all-around athletes who have not played rugby before because he believes the best athletes in America generally don’t up playing rugby. He watches for international players who can teach the Americans about rugby, how they should play, and to lead the team.
Just as he has high expectations for his team, he also has high expectations for himself. After asking each of his players to make a personal goal, something he takes quite seriously, he decided to make his own personal coaching goal: to be on the staff of the United States National team for one of their summer training camps.
Successfully coaching the collegiate level will certainly help, but he doesn’t think much of the program’s 6-0 start. “I actually haven’t even thought about it, I am just concentrated on what is next,” McKinney said. “We are still hungry.”
Despite his drive to succeed, he can still take the time to enjoy the moment. “Honestly, I this campus is in the best part of town, the facilities are second to none, and I get to coach rugby. This is a dream to me.”