Q&A with former Assistant Football Coach Terry Donahue (1968-1970)

Sept. 15, 2010

Terry Donahue was an assistant football coach under Pepper Rodgers at KU. He went on to be the head coach at UCLA after Pepper Rodgers and Dick Vermeil. He is the winningest coach in Pacific-10 Conference history (92 wins) and UCLA history (151 wins). He was the first coach in history to win a bowl game in seven consecutive seasons. He won five Pac-10 Conference championships and three Rose Bowl games. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000. After his coaching career, he has done broadcasting work for CBS Sports, NFL on Fox and is currently with Westwood One. Donahue was in Lawrence to broadcast the Georgia Tech at Kansas football game for Westwood One. He took a few minutes before the game to answer a few questions.

How long has it been since you’ve been back to Lawrence?

“I brought my UCLA team back here in 1979 and we got beat by KU that day. I still have the ache in my heart. They played better than us that day. We fumbled the ball, turned the ball over a bunch of times and didn’t play very well. That was the last time I was here.”

Did you get to tour the campus and see all the new changes since the last time you were here?

“My wife and I came back a day before the game and got a chance to tour the student union, where we had our first date, and we went by her sorority house where she was a Tri Delt. We just had a ball and it was a very nostalgic day for us. Being back at KU is just a thrill of a lifetime. I love KU and she loves it. Lawrence is a beautiful town and some of the best memories of our life happened here.”

What are your thoughts on the improvements and renovations that have taken place on campus since your last visit?

“The university has done a magnificent job. First of all, the stadium is immaculate. As most people know, it’s one of the oldest stadiums in the country. It’s so well kept. The new football complex is really incredible with the practice fields. I would think KU’s facilities are as competitive as anyone’s in the country. I haven’t been able to tour all of the facilities because I haven’t had that much time, but what little I saw, I was blown away with the facilities. I think they have given themselves an opportunity to compete very favorably on a national level because of the facilities.”

The coaching staff you were a part of at KU was full of young and talented coaches. Did you realize that so many of them would go on to have success?

“I just talked to Pepper Rodgers, who was the head coach, about being back here in Lawrence and we talked about that coaching staff. He said he was probably 35-36 years old at the time, the rest of us were about 23 to 28 years old and none of us knew any better. We were just kind of having a great time and none of us worried about where next year’s paycheck was going to come from. So it was kind of a cavalier approach to it. We were all kind of footloose, fancy free and stupid. That staff Pepper put together was an incredible group with Don Fambrough, Dave McClain, Dick Tomey, John Cooper, Larry Travis and Charlie McCuller. It was a really strong group of football coaches and guys who all went on and made marks in the profession. Pepper did the same thing at UCLA. He had a very incredibly successful group of coaches; I think that’s a tribute to Pepper Rodgers and his ability to find the right people, recognize potentially good coaches and then hire them.”

What are your thoughts on KU first-year head coach Turner Gill?

“I think he will have success here. Number one, the job he did at Buffalo was incredible. It’s a very difficult place to win and to have a winning season when they hadn’t had one in 12 years – to win eight games at Buffalo, you’ve got to do something right there to do that. He’s got impressive credentials in terms of what he’s already accomplished at Buffalo. Now this is a different deal here at KU. The level of competition is different when you’re lining up against the Nebraskas, Oklahomas and Texases of the world. At the same time I think KU has what it takes to be a really successful football program. They obviously do it in basketball and when you do it in basketball there’s no reason you can’t do it in football. It’s the same thing I experienced at UCLA. UCLA is a basketball school with a good football program and KU can be exactly the same thing, they don’t have to conflict necessarily. I think that when you look at schools and why they’re going to be successful, if you’re at a real quality academic institution, which KU is, you check that box. Then you look and you say ‘do you have good facilities’ and you get to check that box. ‘Do we have tradition and history?’ and we do here at KU so you get to check that box. Then the only thing we need to do is go out and get players. The key at KU is being able to recruit. There are just never enough players in the state of Kansas and so that’s the challenge. Turner Gill is a good recruiter and it’s going to take him four or five years to get the kinds of players that he wants in the program. People are going to have to be patient. I can’t think of a whole lot of reasons why he won’t be successful here.”

What advice would you give Turner Gill following the season-opening loss?

“I think that all of us, as coaches, have had real heart-breaking losses. I had one when I brought my UCLA team here to KU. It was a very difficult loss for me because I was coming back after being an assistant coach. Every coach goes through that, but I think you have to have a fundamental program that you’re going to put in place. Once that program is in place and it’s sound, then you don’t deviate from it. You tweak it a little bit, but don’t deviate from it. I think Turner Gill has a philosophy, a program and now he has to stick with it no matter how rough the water gets. Eventually he’ll get the ship into port if the foundation and program is sound.”

What is your favorite memory here at KU?

“My wife. I met her on a blind date and I’m indebted to KU and Lawrence. We’ve been married for 41 years and I’ve got three daughters and six grandkids. If I hadn’t been set up on that date or if I hadn’t got advice from Pepper Rodgers to come here and coach, that would never have happened. So that’s my favorite memory.”

What do you do in your job with Westwood One?

“I’m a color analyst and what I try to do is explain to the audience what’s going on. My partner gives the play-by-play information. He describes who made the play and what happened on the field and then I try and explain why it happened. It’s a lot of fun and it keeps me involved in football.”