Famed UCLA Coach Said He Was Average

Terry Donahue led Bruins in all-time victories
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 5, 2021 3:24 PM CDT
Famed UCLA Coach Said He Was Average
UCLA coach Terry Donahue is carried off the field by his players after UCLA defeated Nebraska 41-28 at the Rose Bowl in 1988.   (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

Terry Donahue, who took over UCLA's program at the age of 31 and went on to become the school's winningest football coach ever, has died. He was 77 and had fought cancer for two years, KNBC reports. Among his distinctions was being the first person to appear in a Rose Bowl game as a player, assistant coach, and head coach, and he was on the Bruins team that won the Rose Bowl for the first time. Donahue won 151 games as UCLA's coach, more than twice as many as anybody else. He holds the Pac 10 record with 98 victories. Donahue was immediately successful as coach, beating No. 3 Arizona State in his first game in 1976, but remained self-effacing, per the Los Angeles Times. "I am an overachiever," he said after that 9-2-1 season, "and very, very … ah, average. Actually, 'sorry' is probably the word I'm searching for."

Though his teams were successful with Donahue's unexciting, safe ground game, he decided his critics had a point after a 5-6 1979 season. He brought in an offensive coordinator, Homer Smith, who let quarterbacks Troy Aikman, Steve Bono, Jay Schroeder, Tommy Maddox, and Tom Ramsey throw often. They even added trick plays, which often worked. The Bruins won Rose, Fiesta, Cotton, Freedom, and Aloha bowls in the '80s. He retired in December 1995 with a record of 151-74-8, then wished he hadn't. "There’s no doubt in my mind that I quit too early," Donahue later said. He became a broadcaster, then general manager of the San Francisco 49ers. He entered the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000. "He was an amazing man," said Scott Altenberg, whose father, Kurt, also played for UCLA. "A Bruin to the end." (More college football stories.)

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