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Once fired, Don McGuire went on to great things

Don McGuire, front center, does play-by play at a UNM basketball game, circa mid-’70s. At left, former Lobo star Ron Nelson provides analysis. (Courtesy of Donna McGuire)

In 1977, for reasons that remain unclear today, Don McGuire was fired as sports information director at the University of New Mexico.

It’s crystal clear, though, based on succeeding events in McGuire’s life and career, that then-UNM athletic director Lavon McDonald unwittingly did him a huge favor by letting him go.

McGuire, an Albuquerque native who worked as an Emmy-winning producer for NBC, Turner Broadcasting, Raycom Sports and The Golf Channel, died unexpectedly from a heart attack on March 19 at his home in Little Elm, Texas. He was 70.

Though McGuire hadn’t lived in Albuquerque since the early 1980s, his wife of nearly 40 years, Donna McGuire, said he’ll be brought to rest in his hometown. He never lost his love, she said, for Lobo athletics and the many friends he’d made.

“He’ll be brought back to Albuquerque and I’ll spread his ashes over the Sandias,” she said. “That was his wish. I don’t know how I’m going to do it (amid coronavirus restrictions), but I’m going to do it.”

A Sandia High School graduate — he worked as a sports stringer for the Albuquerque Journal during his prep years — McGuire earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Oklahoma. He then returned to Albuquerque, worked as an assistant SID under Eddie Groth and replaced Groth as department head in 1975.

Witty and articulate, McGuire did Lobo basketball play-by-play on TV and often served as master of ceremonies at UNM athletic functions. (In 1995, while working for Turner Broadcasting, he returned home to emcee the Albuquerque Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet.)

But, some two years after he’d taken over from Groth, McDonald fired him, giving no reason.

“(McDonald) asked me to resign, but I wouldn’t,” was all McGuire would say.

He wasn’t unemployed for long.

Between his stints at UNM as assistant sports information director and head SID, McGuire had interned at ABC. He must have made an impression, because NBC sports icon Don Ohlmeyer hired him in 1978.

From then on, McGuire played in the big leagues.

Albuquerque native and TV sports producer Don McGuire, right, huddles with on-air talent Greg Gumbel during the 1980 Final Four in Indianapolis. (Courtesy of Donna McGuire)

Soon after his hiring, he began producing NBC studio shows for NCAA basketball and the NFL. He was the feature producer (pre-game and halftime) for the historic-in-retrospect 1979 NCAA title game between Magic Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans and Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores.

In 1983, McGuire moved to a start-up enterprise called Raycom Sports, helping the network grow in stature while producing hundreds of college football and college basketball games for syndication.

He was signed by Turner Sports in 1987. There, he was executive producer of the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympics, 1990 World Cup in Italy and many other major events.

McGuire’s lasting legacy with Turner, perhaps, is his hiring of broadcaster Ernie Johnson — today the ringmaster of Turner’s highly popular “Inside the NBA” studio show with Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith.

In his book, “Unscripted: the Unpredictable Moments That Make Life Extraordinary,” Johnson wrote: “I’m indebted to Don McGuire … for believing in me way back and signing me to that first Turner contract.”

Since McGuire’s death, Johnson is one of many TV sports luminaries who have posted tributes below their friend/boss/colleague’s obituary notice.

“(McGuire) was the best sports television person anyone could ever work for,” wrote Jiggs McDonald, a sportscaster who worked the 1992 and 1994 Winter Olympics under McGuire’s leadership. “… What we did was always secondary to family. Not one day went by without Don asking for reassurance that we’d called home that day.”

McGuire, his wife said, had a gift for being a tough, hard-driving boss while at the same time a close, supportive friend to the people he was being tough on and hard-driving with.

She recalled the many times at their home in suburban Atlanta when Turner Broadcasting colleagues would gather to play basketball, have dinner, have drinks “and tell lies.”

“Then on Monday they’d go back to work and he’d be a hard-ass and yell at them and direct them,” she said. “… He was a fabulous boss.”

From 2005-07, McGuire worked as The Golf Channel’s senior Vice President of programming. He won an Emmy for his work there in 2007.

McGuire had lived in the Dallas area since 1996. He is survived by his wife, Donna, sons Brian, Jeff and Cody and grandchildren Landen and Cameryn.

Funeral services are pending.

Don and Donna McGuire on the eve of their wedding in 1980. They met in New York while both were working for NBC. (Courtesy of Donna McGuire)

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