UCLA football legend Terry Donahue dies at 77
July 8, 2021
Greatness is often an overused word to describe people and events. That is not the case in describing Terry Donahue, the winningest coach in UCLA football history. Donahue passed away on Sunday evening, July 4, at his home in Newport Beach, California., surrounded by family, following a two-year battle with cancer. He was 77.
Donahue coached the Bruins for twenty years, from 1976 through 1995. He won 151 games as head coach of the Bruins, including seven consecutive bowl games, which included three Rose Bowl victories. He also won five conference titles. His UCLA teams finished the season in the top 25 twelve times and in the top ten five times. Donahue’s Bruins recorded seven straight top-20 finishes in the final Associated Press football poll from 1982-88.
Donahue also played football at UCLA in 1965 and 1966, playing as an undersized defensive tackle at 190 pounds. Those Bruins teams were nicknamed the "Gutty Little Bruins" because nobody on the defensive line weighed more than 225 pounds. The 1965 Bruins upset No. 1 ranked Michigan State on New Year’s Day in the 1966 Rose Bowl Game, 14-12, in front of a crowd of 100,087 fans at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
Donahue is one of 16 UCLA Bruins that is in the College Football Hall of Fame, along with Troy Aikman, Gary Beban, Randy Cross, Kenny Easley, Tom Fears, Billy Kilmer, Cade McNown, Donn Moomaw, Jonathan Ogden, Tommy Prothro, Jerry Robinson, Red Sanders, John Sciarra, Al Sparlis and Kenny Washington. Aikman, Ogden, and Easley are also members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and all three played for Donahue.
In 1976 Rose Bowl Game, the Bruins upset No. 1 ranked Ohio State, 23-10. Cross was a starter on that team and later played on three Super Championship teams with the 49ers, where he was also an All-Pro. Cross said in a 2015 interview that, “Terry Donahue was my position coach and he really helped me to understand the game on the college level.”
Sciarra was recruited by Donahue and Donahue was also the person that called Sciarra to let him know he had been selected to the College Hall of Fame. McNown was recruited by Donahue and coached by Donahue in his last season at UCLA. Robinson was a three-time All-American playing for Donahue and later an All-Pro linebacker in the NFL.
Donahue was a teammate of Beban’s on the 1966 Rose Bowl winning Bruin squad. Prothro was the head coach of that team. Fourteen of Donahue’s Bruins were chosen in the first-round of the NFL Draft. There was more talent on Donahue’s Bruins teams then there had ever been before or since.
Among the many good things people had to say about Donahue came this from UCLA head coach Chip Kelly on Donahue: “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. 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.”
Kelly added that, “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.”
Coach John Wooden once recognized Coach Donahue’s devotion to the UCLA community, saying, “I believe that a head coach, particularly at UCLA, should be judged by his or her peers within the university community-at-large as to whether the student-athletes with whom the coach was entrusted become not only excellent athletes but also, and more importantly, better students and better all-around individuals. There is no doubt in my mind that Terry Donahue deserves the recognition of having achieved that very ethereal form of success.”
For Donahue, being at UCLA as a student, a player, and a coach was as good as it gets. As he once said, “UCLA is the love of my life, and always will be, besides my wife and family.” Donahue is survived by Andrea, his wife of 52 years, daughters Nicole, Michele, and Jennifer, three sons-in-law and 10 grandchildren.