2000 College Football Hall of Fame Inductee Terry Donahue Passes Away
The winningest coach in Pacific-12 Conference and UCLA football history was 77.
Terry Donahue, a 2000 College Football Hall of Fame inductee and the winningest coach in Pacific-12 Conference and UCLA football history, passed away July 4 in Newport Beach, California, following a two-year battle with cancer. He was 77.
“The NFF is deeply saddened by the passing of Coach Donahue,” said NFF Chairman Archie Manning. “Coach Donahue was truly a great man, and it’s hard to put into words how much he meant to the game. His contributions are endless, and his legacy will live on through the countless players and assistant coaches he mentored. I would be remiss if I did not specifically pay tribute to his leadership role with the NFF Showcases, which have helped thousands of high school players chart a path to college and play at the divisional level. We are immensely grateful for his contributions. Our thoughts and prayers are with the his family, friends and the many people he touched throughout his life.”
Donahue coached UCLA for 20 years from 1976 to 1995, and he took the Bruins to 13 bowl games. He tallied a 151-74-8 record with a winning percentage of .665. Of his 151 victories, 98 were in Pac-10 Conference games. The all-time conference leader, he topped College Football Hall of Fame coaches Don James of Washington (97) and John McKay of Southern California (70).
Donahue appeared in six Rose Bowls: one as a player, one as assistant coach, and four as head coach, establishing him as the first person to appear in a Rose Bowl Game as a player, assistant coach and head coach. He won five Pac-10 championships. UCLA ranked in the top 10 nationally five times during his tenure, and his teams recorded seven straight top-20 finishes in the final Associated Press football poll from 1982-88. Starting with the 1982 season, he established a new record with eight consecutive wins in bowls, later eclipsed by College Football Hall of Fame coach Bobby Bowden at Florida State.
Donahue’s UCLA teams yielded 34 first-team All-America team selections, and he coached six College Football Hall of Fame inductees: Troy Aikman, Randy Cross, Kenny Easley, Cade McNown, Jonathan Ogden and Jerry Robinson, and four NFF National Scholar-Athletes Jeffrey Dankworth, Carlton Gray, Brian Kelly and Carnell Lake. He was an assistant coach at UCLA while Mark Harmon and John Sciarra played. Both are NFF National Scholar-Athletes. Sciarra is also a Hall of Fame inductee, and Harmon claimed the NFF Gold Medal in 2019.
Donahue said, “I won because I had great coaches and great players. Those are the ingredients that make a winner.”
He credited his football science to inspiration from three mentors: Tommy Prothro, for whom he played at UCLA in 1964-66; Pepper Rodgers, whom he served as assistant at Kansas and UCLA; and Dick Vermeil, whom he also served as assistant at UCLA.
He said, “Prothro made me believe in the value of fundamentals. Rodgers was brilliant in his way of teaching technical features. Vermeil taught me the value of organized drills and hard work.”
Donahue succeeded Vermeil as head coach in 1976 at the age of 31. He also credited John Wooden, the highly successful UCLA basketball coach, who often conferred, for his success. Donahue left UCLA at age 51 after the 1995 season. He joined CBS as a football analyst on TV. He then moved to a job as player personnel director for the San Francisco 49ers. In May 2001, he was named general manager of the 49ers.
Donahue enrolled at UCLA as a walk-on defensive lineman in 1965. During his first season, the 190-pound lineman helped lead the Bruins to the program’s first-ever Rose Bowl victory with an upset of previously unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Michigan State.
Inspired by the NFF Showcase in Houston, Donahue assembled an impressive array of former coaches and players to stage the first California Showcase in 2013. His efforts have led to a major expansion of the program, which now garners an estimated $6 million in annual scholarships for participants to use during their freshman year at divisional colleges throughout the country.
In addition to the College Football Hall of Fame, Donahue is in the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame, the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame, and the press box at the Rose Bowl was officially dedicated as the Terry Donahue Pavilion. ESPN named Donahue one of the 150 Greatest College Coaches in its 2019 celebration of College Football’s 150th Anniversary.
Born June 24, 1944, Donahue is survived by Andrea, his wife of 52 years, daughters Nicole, Michele and Jennifer, three sons-in-law and 10 grandchildren. A private service is planned for family, and a Celebration of Life will be scheduled at a later date.
UCLA Communications contributed to this report.