Jim Donnan reconsidered: Not a bad ‘Old Coach’ after all

I never thought Jim Donnan was a bad coach. I thought he was a good coach who never got the one break he needed. And don’t think for a moment that breaks don’t make/unmake a coach’s career. Where would Phillip Fulmer had been if Arkansas’ Clint Stoerner hadn’t put the ball on the ground in 1998? Where would Mark Richt be had Horace Willis knocked down the pass to Michael Johnson that cold day at Auburn?

The “Old Coach” — Donnan liked to call himself “Old Coach” — was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame over the weekend, and I was glad to see it. I was one of the few people who seemed to like Jim Donnan, and that was another part of his undoing. After the curious failed season of 2000, he had no real allies other than Vince Dooley, and about all the AD could say in Donnan’s defense was that he deserved one more year.

(I agreed then, and I agree now. But that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize that Georgia upgraded with Richt.)

Donnan intrigued me. He loved game-planning and play-calling, and sometimes he complicated things when an off-tackle blast would have sufficed. But he knew offense — didn’t care much about defense, which is the way of most offensive men — and I’d been following his career at Marshall before he got to Athens. On the day Georgia introduced Glen Mason as its choice to succeed Ray Goff, Dooley said he’d also interviewed Donnan. And I thought, “That wouldn’t have been a bad choice, either.”

On Christmas Day 1995, following Mason’s Yuletide reversal, Donnan was indeed Georgia’s coach. He was 5-6 that first season but won every year thereafter. But he seemed to win more games than he did supporters, which was strange.

At a Bulldog Club meeting after Donnan was fired, Loran Smith introduced Richt by saying this coach wouldn’t look off in the distance when you shook his hand and mentioned a Georgia game from 30 years ago. That was a slam of Donnan, who suffered alums grudgingly and with whom Smith had a postgame moment. (In 1997, Smith wondered about the rampant cramps the Bulldogs had suffered during the game just concluded. And Donnan, perhaps justifiably, said: “I can’t believe we beat South Carolina and your first question is about cramps.”)

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With a better bounce or two, Donnan mightn’t have needed friends. Say Jasper Sanks hadn’t fumbled against Florida, or if Al Ford had decided Sanks didn’t fumble against Georgia Tech. Say Terrence Edwards, deployed at quarterback, hadn’t stepped out of bounds on third-and-goal in OT at Auburn in November 2000. Had Donnan won one or two of those, would Michael Adams have acted as he did when he did?

In hindsight, it’s clear Donnan’s last team was undercoached and Quincy Carter, so good as a freshman in 1998, got worse the more he played. But Donnan won at Auburn and at LSU and he beat Tennesee once — from 1996 through 1999, Donnan’s first four seasons, only Florida beat Tennessee — and he even beat Spurrier in 1997. The man had some moments. He just needed one or two more.

So he should have swallowed hard and answered Loran’s goofy question about cramps. Laugh all you want, but that moment on live radio made Donnan seem a bit of a bully, which, in all honesty, he could be.

But he and I got along, and I’ll never forget the night he was fired. He called my cell phone and said, “It’s Coach Donnan.” Then he actually had the grace to laugh. And he said, “Well, not anymore.”

81 comments Add your comment

Ted Striker

July 20th, 2009
5:34 am

Donnan infused excitement into a program that had grown stale in recruiting and needed serious upgrades in coaching. His demeanor? Didn’t bother me one bit. Loran got what he deserved for that particular question at that particular time. Also: Just because coaches have call-in shows doesn’t mean “expert” (fan) callers should expect to have nicey-nice replies lobbed back to them if fans make especially asinine comments.

Glad Richt arrived but Donnan deserved one more year from Adams. Plus Adams also had egg on his face for his unauthorized, unapproved Donnan payment.

Slow Freddie

July 20th, 2009
6:36 am

I’m not a UGA fan but I enjoyed listening to Munson broadcast their games. I don’t think Munson suffered fools gladly and Loran always sounded like a fool to me. Munson’s apparent disdain for Loran dripped from his questions, “Whatta ya got, Loran?” If Donnan thought Loran Smith asked idiotic questions, I would bet he had lots of company in the Dawg Nation.

Ernest

July 20th, 2009
6:36 am

I also thought Donnan was a pretty good coach but could not live up to the expectations of the “Dawg Nation”.

Shieldy

July 20th, 2009
6:37 am

Donnan is better & more enjoyable now than then. His players gave Richt the momentum to fully turn us back around. I think Donnan would’ve fired Martinez which Richt won’t do. I’d have fired Loran’s goofy-ass a long time ago though!! All seems fine, Donnan seems happy, Richt is happy. Loran & Willie…..both seem senile enough to be happy too.

The Dawg Bone

July 20th, 2009
6:44 am

I was a high school coach when Donnan was at Georgia and I remember at a clinic, Donnan did not think that the person introducing him gave him enough credit as a player and spent the first 30 minutes telling us how good he was. We also had a kid that was being recruited very heavily and Donnan and Fulmer came to our school within days of each other. It was night and day the difference in how we were treated. Fulmer was very jovial and humble while Donnan seemed miffed to have to be there. That was tough on a UGA alum like myself.

Bill

July 20th, 2009
6:53 am

I liked him! But then…I like all UGA coaches.

[...] Bradley thinks Jim Donnan just needed a break or two.  What Donnan needed was a competent defensive [...]

MightyQuinn

July 20th, 2009
8:00 am

When Donnan was at UGA, I asked a die-hard Bulldog buddy of mine if he thought Donnan was an a**hole. He replied, “Yeah, but he’s OUR a**hole.” As a side note, the same buddy and I went to Baton Rouge for the game when UGA and LSU were both ranked in the top five during the Quincy Carter era. I have been in Sanford Stadium, Atl-Fulton County Stadium, Turner Field and the Georgia Dome when they were all sold out, but NOTHING was as loud as that game in Baton Rouge. Amazing place.

Mac

July 20th, 2009
8:02 am

He wasn’t a bad coach and deserves to be given credit for his accomplishments. That said, I’m glad things turned out the way they did, because Richt was a serious upgrade.

UGASlobberknocker

July 20th, 2009
8:16 am

Loran’s post game questions are enough to make anyone crazy. He needs to retire

Georgia News - 7/20/09 | MrSEC.com

July 20th, 2009
8:19 am

[...] of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says that maybe new College Football Hall of Fame member Jim Donnan wasn’t such a bad coach after all.Marlon Brown?  Rantavious Wooten?  Orson Charles?  Will one of those newcomers have an AJ [...]

TommyP

July 20th, 2009
8:24 am

Donnan didn’t deserve the UGA job. He was fired at the right time and was given enough time.

Mark: You personally like the guy which has always been reflected in your articles of him. (which is not a good thing for a journalist) Quote his record against the teams that matter.

That’s what ultimately got him fired, with a side dish of being an ass.

Mark Bradley

July 20th, 2009
8:29 am

Donnan was not, shall we say, a “people person.” And he did have a high opinion of himself. But you know what? I’m guilty on both counts myself. Which is why I’ve never been hired to coach Georgia, I can only assume.

MightyQuinn

July 20th, 2009
8:38 am

Hey Mark, just read the story on the Hudson rehab assignment and got an idea for a “Hot Button” for you. What do the Braves do when Hudson is ready to rejoin the big club? Trade him for a big bat? Trade someone else in the rotation? Keep everyone and move someone to long relief? If so, who? Just trying to reduce the workload a little for the hardest working man in journalism!

Mark Bradley

July 20th, 2009
8:45 am

That’s a good idea, Quinn. So good it might just appear in this space very, very soon.

Thanks again.

Bret

July 20th, 2009
8:47 am

I had the opportunity to attend practice in 2000 under Coach Donnan and again Coach Richt’s second year. Night and Day…respect, discipline and character differences…we have the right man now. I will always appreciate Coach Donnan for upgrading our talent…he did a heck of a job, but he did not represent us like most of our alumni would want I assure you. I agree with Mark, he was always funny and had some great one liners.

dt4c

July 20th, 2009
8:57 am

Coach Donnan was a great coach and a great guy once you got to know him. He just never liked the butt kissing that went along with the job. I am just a normal UGA fan, not one of the power brokers and he treated me and my family like royalty. Invited my kids onto the sideline several times during warm ups. I agree Mark, that he never got the breaks. If we don’t get a few for Coach Richt in the next couple of years he will be treated the same way by our fans. Congratulations on your induction into the HOF Coach Donnan. You deserved it and you deserved better from UGA fans.

ImADawg

July 20th, 2009
9:00 am

I liked Donnan as a coach. He seemed to have a very good track record when arriving at UGA. (Marshal and Oklahoma asst.) I’ve been told that it was not Donnan’s coaching, it was the off field aspect. That being said…how many drug test has Quicy Carter failed??? Things that make you go HMMM!!!!

Vance Leavy

July 20th, 2009
9:02 am

Gotta defend Mark on the journalist jab. Mark is a columnist not a reporter. I would guess his perceived pro-stance on Donnan had more to do with him seeing a side of the former UGA coach that unfortunately many never did. And please don’t forget that to the dismay of most Georgia folks, throughout Donnan’s time, Mark warned that Georgia was still mediocre. It pissed the Bulldog Nation off, but it was dead on. The true mark of a good columnist. Nonetheless, Donnan deserves credit for getting the Dawgs on the right course. And man did he bring some talent to Athens.

Coach D

July 20th, 2009
9:10 am

Living in Athens, I run into Coach Donnan every now and then. He’s always gracious, talkative and generally pleasant. His stories at the local touchdown club are hilarious, and he has thousand of them.
That said, he was not the most gracious person when it came to alumni/supporters as he doesn’t suffer fools well, and God knows the fools are the ‘experts’ who spend their time calling into talk shows and coaches’ call in shows. Still though, that’s part of the job in today’s big time money driven world of collegiate sports. The jousting with Loren, which actually started in the post game of the 4 overtime Auburn victory in ‘96, was probably better done off-air, but Loran is as arrogant as they come and has not offered any meaningful comment since Bill Stanfill played, if then. He owns the pregame show, though so he’s not going anywhere…and this year we have him for four hours instead of three. Look for more interviews with the backup waterboy from the 1942 championship team.

Mac

July 20th, 2009
9:12 am

“Mark: You personally like the guy which has always been reflected in your articles of him. (which is not a good thing for a journalist)”

Mark is a columnist/blogger whose job is to give his opinions. He’s not writing game stories here.

ccdawg

July 20th, 2009
9:21 am

Hey Mark, “Breaks” can go the other way too… if Will Witherspoon doesn’t get fingertips on a 2pt conversion we lose to LSU at home. If we don’t get a home cooked pass interference at the end of the game we lose to Central Florida at home and as a Georgia coach you don’t lose to GA Tech 3 times in a row, PERIOD. Do you think Ray Goff was a good coach? It could be argued that bad “breaks” killed his career too. Donnan was rude, arrogant and overrated. I am glad Richt is here, championships prove he is a MUCH better coach.

Jack G.

July 20th, 2009
9:24 am

It was not Donnan’s coaching that did him in, it was his personalty. He did not suffer fools and there were to many fools in the alumni assn.

TommyP

July 20th, 2009
9:26 am

Mac: Journalist or columnist. Sorry for the technicality but I won’t call him a “blogger” ’cause that makes him no different than you or me.

At any rate, when a columnist likes a coach or player personally, it reflects in the writing.

Defending Jim Donnan as the UGA coach when he was fired was indefensible. Especially with what was going on off the field under him.

dooley

July 20th, 2009
9:27 am

jim donnan got us started with the top 10 recruiting classes.

Joe

July 20th, 2009
9:30 am

Donnan was a good coach, but not great. He was an 8-4 guy. Banking on a coke-head at QB killed him.

When he professed that Qu*ncy was the starter before his freshman season, thus causing Cobb, Hybl, the kid from Norcross and Usry to transfer or quit, he sealed his fate. There was nobody left to come in for Qu*ncy in Columbia.

Corey Phillips was a DGD, but he should not have been in the position of starting games. I do appreciate Donnan for not taking the redshirt off of David Greene, however. He obviously would have had he known what would happen after the Oahu Bowl.

Otto

July 20th, 2009
9:46 am

As others have said it was not his record that had him fired so quickly it was the off field control of the team that had him fires. Donnan’s record against UF, and Tenn made it that much easier.

I did like him in interviews.

Hybl went on to a successful career at Oklahoma winning the Rose Bowl.

Goff was a good recruiter as well. I don’t think Donnan started anything. Donnan’s greatest asset over Goff was Joe Kines at DC which was hired in for Goff’s last year.

SC Dawg

July 20th, 2009
9:50 am

Donnan left the program in better shape than when he was hired. But by the 2000 season, it had become apparent he had taken the program as far as he could. And if a change wasn’t made, Georgia could have started seeing 6-5 or 5-6 seasons because the top recruits would have gone elsewhere.

Give credit where credit is due. Many players on the 2002 SEC Championship team were Donnan recruits.

poopdawg

July 20th, 2009
9:52 am

Donnan was a good coach. I loved his comment right after he was hired , a reporter asked about his late start in recruiting, he said ” i will find 25 men who want to play football for the uga” in a very confident tone.I knew we had someone who could coach and not just recruit. But i was pretty pissed at his call at auburn with 3rd and goal from about the 6 0r 7 and ran terrance edwards around the end (all 165 lbs)and stopped short.

Coach Cool

July 20th, 2009
9:53 am

I’ve talked to coach D on a couple of Delta flights. He’s very nice and gracious. Sorry to those who think he should bow down to you.

Tommy P: did you even GO to school after high school?

Columnists are paid for their OPINION, based on FACTS. This is what you learn in COLLEGE.

MB has no problem taking local athletes/coaches to task. Just ask ol’ #29 (now pitching for the Sawx)

JB

July 20th, 2009
9:57 am

Losing to Tech, Quincey and indifference to most of Bulldog nation got his ticket punched out.

The Doggone Truth

July 20th, 2009
9:58 am

One day, just like Donnan, all the Haters will look back on Mike Vick and realize how blessed we all are to have had him here in our city and to have gotten to watch him play in person.

We often do not realize THE BEST things in life that we all have until they are already gone.

Please forgive us for our ignorance, Mike.

Homer

July 20th, 2009
10:02 am

FIRE BRADLEY!!!

Mark Bradley

July 20th, 2009
10:08 am

Thanks, Vance. Thanks, Mac. Thanks, Coach Cool.

Mark Bradley

July 20th, 2009
10:10 am

The three Georgia Tech losses cost Donnan his job. No doubt about that. Two of them were on field goals at the end. The third was just awful, Godsey running through a defense that would send nearly every member to the NFL.

Cuz

July 20th, 2009
10:16 am

My UGA ticket holder friends and I were dismayed that we fired a coach with a 8-3 record. Yeah he could not beat the big three consistently or at all that season. We just thought it was wrong.

With that said, Mark Richt is the man I want coaching my team. I knew little about him but he seemed to have his head on straight and he has delivered a product to the Bulldawg Nation that I had given up on seeing again.

I don’t have any bad feelings toward Jim Donnan, I wish him well and congratulate him on his admittance to the HOF. Now if we can just get Chan Gailey in there for what he did for UGA.

Joe

July 20th, 2009
10:24 am

Mark, that defense did send EVERY MEMBER to the NFL and 3 backups as well.

The 2000 Starting D:
DE: Charles Grant, Josh Mallard, Chris Clemons
DT: Marcus Stroud, Richard Seymour,Demetric Evans, Johnathan Sullivan
LB: Kendrell Bell, Will Witherspoon, Tony Gilbert
S : Jermaine Phillips, Terreal Bierria
CB: Tim Wansley, Jamie Henderson,
Decory Bryant, Kentrell Curry and David Jacobs were on the defense as well. None played in the NFL because of career ending injuries, but likely would have.

That was the team that Donnan has “waited all of his life to coach.” Another quote that buried him.

How Gary Gibbs and Kevin Ramsey are coaching defense in the NFL is beyond me. That 2000 team was arguably the most talented in UGA history and they squandered it.

Otto

July 20th, 2009
10:25 am

Three to GT what about 1 win against UF and Tenn each? The faculty at UGA had noticed how undisclipined the team was outside of class. GT certainly made the firing easy but it was not the cause.

Mark Bradley

July 20th, 2009
10:26 am

Yes, and I believe Boss Bailey hurt his knee covering the opening kickoff of the season. Some talent on D, eh?

Otto

July 20th, 2009
10:28 am

Give credit where credit is due. Many players on the 10-2 Donnan team were Goff recruits with Goff’s DC.

Mark Bradley

July 20th, 2009
10:30 am

That’s true. But many players on the 13-1 team of 2002 were Donnan’s recruits.

murfdawg

July 20th, 2009
10:31 am

Donnan was in over his head. Which is hard to believe because his ego made his head so big. Didn’t he give himself the game ball after beating Western Carolina or somebody like that for his 100th coaching win? He didn’t care whether he beat clark Central or fl, as long as HE got the win. I think it is ironic that he and John Cooper went in together. Cooper beat Mich twice and Donnan beat fl once and they made the HOF. Good Grief!!!

Homer

July 20th, 2009
10:38 am

Bradley is in over his head.

blufftondawg

July 20th, 2009
10:38 am

OK, let’s get real. Coach Donnan lifted the program from some embarassing losing years to 8 + wins each year. But he wasn’t always a nice guy and he did have to suffer Loran Smith like the rest of us. I might have smacked Loran and Donnan never did.

Truth is, the well connected Loran Smith is a perennial embarassment to the program and the school.

Richt is an upgrade, but Coach Donnan did a decent job for us.

Atticus

July 20th, 2009
10:40 am

Mark, good article and good points. Donnan is a great guy and is a proud Dawg which says a lot. Funny thing is, i agree with him in certain respects, I DO love the Bulldog history but at times back when Donnan was coaching, it did get old hearing about it to the detriment of moving into the present.

Let’s make one thing clear though. His program was LIGHT years behind this one and that isn’t his fault. One break was NOT the difference. It was the total approach, especially with respect to recruiting (parents and high school coaches) and defense. His downfall was his record 1–4 against Tennessee, 2–3 against Auburn, 1–4 against Florida and 2–3 against Georgia Tech.

MightyQuinn

July 20th, 2009
10:48 am

Mark, i.e. your 8:45 am response to my post, can I get my name with yours on the by-line? Can I, huh, can I?

Mark Bradley

July 20th, 2009
10:49 am

I think Adams could have lived with the 1-4 against UT and Florida — nobody was beating those teams at the time, except each other — but the Tech losses did it.

Mark Bradley

July 20th, 2009
10:50 am

Your name will be prominently displayed, Quinn, if indeed this comes to light. This I promise.

HH

July 20th, 2009
10:53 am

Say what you will about Donnan, at least he had the guts to fire assistant coaches that didn’t measure up, unlike Coach Overrated. Point #2: Let Coach Overrated lose three in a row to Tech and see how long he hangs around.

Jack T.

July 20th, 2009
10:54 am

Donnan did have a few big wins, but what I remember most are the games when the Dawgs weren’t ready to play when the game started. Bowl games against Purdue and Virginia and that last one against Georgia Tech. I think there were some more as well. We’d look awful for the first quarter or two before waking up. We won those bowl games, but it was too late against Tech.