Everything about Terry Donahue’s college football life was different, from his playing days to his coaching career. College football loses a legend in Terry Donahue, who died Sunday after a two-year battle with an undisclosed form of cancer. He was at his Newport Beach, CA home with his family when he passed.
College Football Loses A Legend In Terry Donahue
Donahue was a native Angeleno, playing his high school football at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks. Weighing only about 180 pounds in high school, his only college offer was as a walk-on at San Jose State. He stayed only one year before moving back to Los Angeles to attend LA Valley College.
Donahue transferred to UCLA to play defensive tackle, at all of 195 pounds, for Tommy Protho. He would go on to play on UCLA’s 1966 Rose Bowl that upset then top-ranked Michigan State. In fact, Donahue has been a part of every UCLA Rose Bowl winning team during his time in Westwood.
Life As A Bruin Begins
After his playing days were over, he took an assistant coaching job under Pepper Rodgers at Kansas. He would follow Rodgers back to UCLA in 1971. Dick Vermeil took over the head coaching reigns at UCLA in 1974 and Donahue stayed on staff. The Bruins won the 1976 Rose Bowl against Archie Griffin and the top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. Vermeil left for the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL and Donahue, only 31 years old at the time, was named head coach.
He won his first game as head coach against third-ranked Arizona State. But all was not well early on. He lost his four games to crosstown rival, USC. The fan base and the donors were restless, even in the less-hostile times of college football in the ‘70’s. The 1977 team went 7-4 but had all of its wins vacated retroactively for having used ineligible players.
In 1980, the Bruins went 9-2 overall and 5-2 in what was then the Pac-8 conference. Because of the sanctions from the ’74 team, UCLA could not play in the post season and played its final game, a conference against Oregon State in Tokyo in what was dubbed the Mirage Bowl.
That season foretold of better things to come for Donahue at UCLA. The Bruins would win four conference titles and tie for another. He finished first or second in the conference a dozen times in his 20 years. The Bruins won the Rose Bowl in 1983, (Michigan); 1984, (Illinois); and 1986, (Iowa). UCLA also won a then-record seven straight bowl games from the 1983 Rose Bowl through the 1989 Cotton Bowl.
Donahue retired in 1995 to take a broadcast job with CBS. He would later admit he left UCLA too soon. He had a record of 151-74-8 when he left coaching. Donahue won more conference games than any other coach in Pac-8/10/12 history. He left CBS in 1999 for a four-year stint as general manager of the San Francisco 49ers.
A Legacy Of Players
Among the players coached by Donahue at UCLA were the first ever three time All American linebacker Jerry Robinson, safety Kenny Easley, running back Freeman McNeil, hall of fame quarterback Troy Aikman, linebacker Carnell Lake, and hall of fame tackle Jonathan Ogden. He gave the speech when Aikman’s number was retired at UCLA in 2014. Donahue sent fourteen of his Bruins into the first-round of the NFL Draft.
More Than Football
Shawn Wills was a running back for Donahue’s Bruins from 1988-1991. He told Last Word that Donahue became a close friend after Wills’ playing days, and so the loss was hard. When it came to recruiting, Wills said Donahue used to say, “Bring me character, not characters.” Wills went on to play as a true freshman, “Because he, (Donahue), was true to his word about giving everybody a fair shot.” He said Donahue was exactly the same guy everyone saw in person, someone who did not yell or become overly animated at his players. Wills called Donahue’s coaching style, “Concise and precise.” Wills said Donahue made it about much more than playing on the field, noting that numerous players stayed close to the coach and his family long after their playing days ended. “It truly is a Bruin family. It was so much bigger than football.”
Jim McElroy was a receiver at UCLA from 1994-1997. His sophomore year was Donahue’s final season as head coach. On his social media Sunday night, McElroy posted the following: “Today the UCLA Family lost the true definition of a Bruin. Terry Donahue was a true legend amongst the many legends that walked the Westwood Campus. You can’t talk about UCLA Football without his impact on it.”
A Legacy In Westwood
In 2013, the press box at the Rose Bowl was officially renamed the Terry Donahue Pavilion. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000.
In a statement released by UCLA Sunday night, head coach Chip Kelly praised what Donahue meant to the UCLA football family. “There aren’t enough words to properly honor Terry Donahue and what he means to the Bruin family and anyone who has had the pleasure of knowing him,” Kelly said. “He epitomizes everything you strive to be as a coach and as a human being. Since the moment I stepped on campus, he’s been an incredible mentor and one of the most authentic, humble and toughest men I’ve ever met. He loved UCLA with all he had, and I can’t express how important his guidance and friendship has been for me. He is an irreplaceable representation of the BRUIN WAY. We will always love and play for TD. Our deepest condolences to Andrea, the Donahue family and everyone lucky enough to know him.”
Donahue is survived by his wife of 52 years, Andrea, and three daughters, Nicole, Michele and Jennifer, in addition to three sons-in-law and 10 grandchildren.