Terry Donahue, Who Led U.C.L.A. to Bowl Victories, Dies at 77
Terry Donahue, who became the face of football at UCLA as a player and coach, remaining in the latter position for 20 years and leading the school to seven consecutive winning seasons in the 1980s, died Sunday at his home of Newport Beach, Calif. He was 77 years old.
The cause was cancer, UCLA said.
Donahue has won more games than any other coach in the history of the school and the Pac-12 Conference, and he ended his career with a record-breaking victory against each of the conference teams, including the rival of the Bruins, the University of Southern California Trojans.
In total, he won 151 of the 233 games he coached, and 98 of those wins were in the Pac-10 (as the conference was known before adding two teams in 2011). His eighth and final bowl victory came in the 1991 John Hancock Bowl.
Donahue’s winning streak at the bowl included Rose Bowl wins in ’83, ’84 and ’86. He was the first person to appear in the Rose Bowl as a player, assistant coach and coach.
On the court, Donahue played in 1966 in UCLA’s first Rose Bowl victory. The team earned the nickname “Gutty Little Bruins” because no one on the defensive line weighed more than 225 pounds. Donahue, a walk-on, weighed only 195 pounds.
He brought the same spirit of surpassing to his coaching tenure. Some of UCLA’s best players in Donahue’s day, like future Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden, came from remote parts of California. Famous quarterback Troy Aikman transferred to UCLA from another college football program.
In an article last year on how Donahue’s successors fell short of the standard he set for himself, the Los Angeles Times attributed Donahue’s success to his was “a pioneer of national recruiting,” in part by having a scout “to scour the country in search of talent. “NFL teams picked 14 players from the Donahue era in the first round of professional draft.
In a 2011 interview with the Los Angeles Times, he discussed the level of engagement required to discover and engage young quarterbacks. “You need the money, to have access to a plane if possible,” he said. “I went looking for players from Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Hawaii, Texas, Oregon.”
A press conference where Donahue announced his retirement in 1995 turned into a spectacle. The Los Angeles Times said a spokesperson for UCLA prepared two press releases in case Donahue changes his mind. As he began to explain his decision, hundreds of reporters and friends “leaned forward at the same time,” the Times reported.
“I can’t believe I’m having this press conference,” Donahue said. “What are you all doing here?” “
But he retired. Twenty-five years later, The Times will write that UCLA’s football schedule has been “tormented” since Donahue left.
Terrence Michael Donahue was born on June 24, 1944 in Los Angeles to Betty (Gantner) Donahue and Bill Donahue, a physician.
He was a starting linebacker at his high school in the Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, but struggled to establish himself in college, failing to secure a stable position in San Jose State and the United States. Los Angeles Valley College before taking a trial at UCLA in 1964. He was hired as a reserve lineman and rose through the ranks to the incumbent position.
“Terry didn’t have a lot of ability, but he had a lot of character, a great intelligence and rarely made a mistake,” said Jerry Long, a former UCLA coach.
Donahue graduated from UCLA in 1967 with a bachelor’s degree in history. He also obtained a master’s degree from the university in kinesiology in 1977.
He made his coaching debut by asking a former mentor, Pepper Rodgers, to hire him as an unpaid assistant for the University of Kansas Jayhawks. When Rodgers became head coach of UCLA, Donahue followed him. Rodgers’ successor Dick Vermeil left to coach the Philadelphia Eagles in 1976, and Donahue took over, even though he was in his early 30s.
After leaving UCLA, he worked at the front office for the San Francisco 49ers from 1999 to 2005.
Donahue’s survivors include his 52-year-old wife, Andrea (Sogas) Donahue; three daughters, Nicole, Michele and Jennifer; and 10 grandchildren.
In 1976, Donahue’s first season as a UCLA coach, the Bruins were 9-2-1. A Sports Illustrated article said he “may be the best young coach in the country.” Known for being relaxed and well tanned, Donahue was asked if he ever felt nervous.
“We are prepared and we have worked hard so there is nothing to worry about,” he told Sports Illustrated. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to throw up.” “
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