Bands, Basketball, and Banners: The Legend of “Brother Mac”

March 2nd, 2024 — BYU 87, TCU 75

It was a tale of two halves when TCU traveled to Provo to play the Cougars in early March. In the first half, BYU shot just one of thirteen from deep and headed to the locker room with a seventeen-point deficit. It was sloppy play from a team who just upset the No. 7 ranked Kansas Jayhawks on the road earlier in the week.

Things looked dim for BYU, but it seemed a different team came out for the second half. In one of the more lopsided halves you will see in Big 12 play, BYU hit eight three-pointers on their way to a convincing 12-point win.

This was one of the biggest comebacks fans have ever seen at the Marriott center and people headed towards the exits with smiles on their faces, clamoring over the impressive display of resilience and athleticism that BYU showed.

But while most fans were already in their cars trying to beat traffic, Fred McInnis stayed just a little longer and danced to the songs played by the 29 member ROC Band.

McInnis, who is the conductor of the ROC Band, just witnessed one of the greatest comebacks in Marriott Center history. And he would know. He’s been the conductor since 2002. In his 22 seasons of conducting he’s missed only one game.

Think of BYU basketball’s greatest moments in the 21st century. Odds are McInnis has seen it, and he has a story to tell.

Who is Fred McInnis?

“Let me get this right:” McInnis’ dad asked, “you’re getting paid to go to ball games and watch them for free?”

“Yeah, and I’ve seen some good ones,” McInnis said with a smirk on his face.

If you ask, McInnis will tell you he has the dream job.

Growing up in a small town in southern Mississippi, McInnis loved two things: sports and music. He was so good at both that in his senior year of high school, his principal rearranged the class schedules so that he could be on the starting five of the varsity basketball team and play percussion in the school band.

You can still see his childlike love for the two activities when you watch him at the Marriott center.

As the band plays, he stands up and sings in a goofy, high pitched voice, and dances like nobody is watching. With his white mustache, glasses, thick southern accent, and contagious smile, you can’t help but want to dance along.

McInnis by no means had an ideal route to his BYU career. After getting a music degree at Southern Mississippi University, he worked a myriad of jobs in and out of music. He spent years as a public school music teacher, but also found work at movie theaters, insurance companies, and computer drafting, all while getting a masters degree at BYU.

“One day I got a phone call from BYU saying they had my resume and wanted me to come out and take a look at this position,” McInnis said right before thinking “How did they get my resume?”

McInnis was so shocked that he was considered for this job, he thought it was a practical joke being played on him by a close friend.

But 22 years later he still has his office located at Lavell Edwards Stadium.

The best practical joke ever.

The ROC band arrives to the stadium 45 minutes before tipoff to discuss their own gameplan.

They have four songs that they consider “good luck” and the typical ones that get the fans cheering and singing along. After that, it’s fair game. In total, the ROC Band has 131 songs to choose from that they could play at any moment.

Watching McInnis (or as the band likes to call him, ‘Brother Mac’) and company play is like watching a master chef and their kitchen crew.

“Pull up 37!” McInnis yells and the band flips their books to song 37. He then puts on his headset which allows him to converse with people in charge of game presentation at the arena. Once he gets the good-to-go, he counts them off and the band gets rolling.

Not five seconds after they’re finished with the first song, he yells, “48!”, and the band chugs along.

If you’ve never sat next to the ROC Band, then you haven’t heard what the members yell and sing during the game. Years of traditions have compounded into singing various phrases and yelling creative adlibs in every tune. To the band, these are just as integral as the melodies of the songs.

When the basketball team takes the floor, McIniss yells a quick “One! Two! One! Two!” at around 175 beats per minute, and the band gets right into “Rise and Shout!”, BYU’s signature fight song. The arena gets on their feet and sings along as the drums and bass keep beat.

He doesn’t know the exact number, but with only one missed game over 22 seasons of men’s and women’s basketball, McInnis has done this same routine hundreds of times, and is inching towards (if not already there) a thousand.

22 years at BYU has given McInnis countless memories, and if you ever get a chance to talk with him, he is more than happy to reminisce.

One year, in the Mountain West Tournament, BYU faced off against their old conference rivals, UNLV.

Like most games between the Rebels and Cougars in that era, emotions were rampant, and the on-court antics spilled over to the fans.

“They decided to have a fight right there above the band,” McInnis recalled, “one of my tuba players put her tuba up to protect herself and they ended up tumbling right on top of her and mixing it up.”

Remember Jimmer mania? McInnis was right there with him, in awe the whole way through.

“The reign of Jimmer… it was something special,”

Fred McInnis, ROC Band Conductor

In 22 seasons of BYU men’s basketball, McInnis has conducted in front of three different head coaches, eight all-Americans, 15 NCAA Tournament games, and nearly 19,000 fans every week.

Brother Mac with iconic college basketball commentator, Dick Vitale

Brother Mac has three goals for his students:

  1. Have a spiritual experience
  2. Have fun
  3. Play clean, play tight, play right

Talk with any of his students, and they will tell you they have achieved these three goals, largely thanks to their conductor.

“He really cares about the university and he cares about us,” Amanda Rich, a junior trombone player in the band, said.

“I want to be a band director when I grow up. I want to be just like him,”

Amanda Rich, Junior Trombone Player

Canton Moore, a trombone player who is in his fifth and final season with the band, knows what is expected of him, and says that Brother Mac gets the band where they need to be.

“He’s someone that is super kind to you, but will push you to achieve your maximum capability,”

Canton Moore, Senior Trombone Player

When asked what he thought of Brother Mac, sophomore drummer, Blake Shepherd, could do nothing but smile, and even let out a little laugh. This was a common occurrence throughout the band. When they think of their battle tested leader, they can’t help but smile.

Perhaps the most telling example of the band’s love for Brother Mac came when a student with cancer, likely not in condition to participate in an intense and demanding event, still came to all the team’s home games, and even travelled with the band to the NCAA tournament.

“They didn’t tell anybody… it wasn’t until after the fact that I knew,” McInnis said, “they made it a point not to tell me, just because they wanted to go.”

“I think about that a lot. What makes somebody want to do that with the pain that they’re in?” McInnis asked, “I still haven’t answered that question,”

Perhaps McInnis is too humble for his own good, but it seems there is a glaring answer to that question right in his own office.

As you look around, you will see dozens of wedding invites, personal notes, and colorful mementos given to him from current and former students. Evidence of the impact that he has on them, even after they’ve left the program.

So why do students continue to play for the ROC band? It’s simple.

  1. They love band
  2. They love basketball
  3. They love Brother Mac
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