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JIM MURRAY

COLLEGE FOOTBALL '94 / Season Previews : He Towers Without Platform

August 28, 1994|JIM MURRAY

You would think his name is Terry Dangerfield. It's not just that he doesn't get any respect, he doesn't even get recognition.

Only a dozen coaches in football history have won more games. Yet there are probably more people in L.A. who know the name of the Notre Dame coach, but can't come up with his.

It isn't that he's a Johnny-come-lately. He's been on the job since the Ford Administration. How many coaches have been at one place for 19 years? I'll tell you: four. One of the three others is Joe Paterno, who needs no introduction.

Terry Donahue is one of the great coaches of college football history. At the very least, he should have a colorful nickname. He should be "the Bear," "Rock," or "the Headman." He should have the word genius bandied about. He shouldn't need his driver's license to cash a check. By rights, he should be "Terrible Terry" or "Terry Terrific." But, people don't even call him Coach. He doesn't inspire that kind of formality.

He has won more games than any coach in UCLA history, 139. He has won three of four Rose Bowls and once won eight consecutive bowl games. He has won more Pacific 10 games than any other coach in conference history, except Don James, whom he will pass this season.

So, why isn't he a statue in the Quad? Why isn't a field named after him, a trophy? Why aren't there jokes about how he walks to work across Santa Monica Bay? Why isn't he a T-shirt? A shoe? How come when you say "Donahue," most people think you're talking about a talk-show host?

Part of the problem is Donahue himself. He is himself. He doesn't look like a coach. Heck, he doesn't act like a coach. You know how a coach is supposed to be: barbed-wire beard, built-in scowl, a voice like a subterranean explosion. Lots of quips and bon mots --especially after losing games. Kind of rumpled clothing, maybe a porkpie or checkered hat perched atop his head. A sardonic turn of phrase--"O'Garro, you ran at that ball like it was a soap bubble! Smith, when was the last time you tried to block anybody and who was President, then?" Always leaves the field escorted by a cordon of state cops.

Coaches are supposed to inspire descriptions like "grizzled mentor." A guy with a field-marshal mentality. Terry looks more like part of the student body. You wonder what he did with the books. He's excitable. But he doesn't pace up and down the sidelines like Lou Holtz. He doesn't throw his cap at the referee or take a swing at a player like Woody Hayes.

He's only 50, looks 30 and acts 20. He doesn't sit up on a tower with a megaphone and a bottle of mineral water.

"I'm not a tower guy, I'm a field-level guy," he says.

If he went on "What's My Line?" they might guess he was a cheerleader.

Terry Donahue has no trouble winning football games. He just has trouble getting credit. Besides his three Rose Bowls, he has won the Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Aloha Bowl, Liberty Bowl. And they said, "Well, you had this offensive genius, Homer Smith, putting in your plays."

So, Homer wandered off to the South someplace and Terry will continue to win. And they'll say, "Well, you had J.J. Stokes."

It's a little matter of style. The great coaches had a flair for the dramatic. Terry has a flair for the commonplace. Rockne, Lombardi, the gloomy Gil Dobie, Pop Warner and Walter Camp had a lot of ham actor in them. The Star. Terry's more like the best friend. The assistant director. He brings a boy-next-door quality to the game. From a tower coach, the words come down like the voice of God. But Terry's come from down in the dirt with you. He coaches in shorts and T-shirt. He's more one-of-the-guys-in-the-trenches than the high command.

Would it help if he adopted an elder-statesman role, if he put on a dictator stance, played more the forbidding head man than the team's best buddy?

"It's not my style," says Donahue. "I'm a hands-on coach, not a chairman-of-the-board type."

But wouldn't the other persona appeal more to the media, who like their football coaches aloof, laconic, glamorous, above-the-billing Our-father-who-art-in-Heaven? Doesn't Terry get shortchanged because of his boyish enthusiasm?

"Am I underappreciated?" asks Donahue. "You might say. I think UCLA has been good to me. I think I have been good to and for UCLA. I have had opportunities to move on--to the pros, to other colleges.

"I think there has been a tendency to overlook my accomplishments and concentrate on the negatives. I don't walk around paranoid about it. I recognize that coaching here is different from other parts of the country. When I first started out, I was a running-game coach and the wishbone formation was the best thing of its kind ever devised for the running game. But we're in the entertainment capital of the world and it's not enough just to win. You have to win with flair. You have to sell tickets."

The wishbone gained ground like a guy laying sidewalk. Donahue's teams became aerial threats with the likes of Troy Aikman, Steve Bono, Tommy Maddox, Jay Schroeder and Tom Ramsey.

The Donahue legend should have grown. But it kept getting stalled on the 20-yard line.

They named a car after Rockne for winning 105 games, losing 12 and tying five. Donahue's 139 victories, 63 losses and eight ties should at least entitle that people know his first name is not Phil.

But don't expect him to show up in a three-piece suit, coach by microphone from a throne above the field and start referring to the team in the first person singular. The coach across the field from him is not fooled by that vacuum-cleaner-salesman earnestness. He knows Terry is a boy veteran. In fact, if they had a nickname for him, it would be "Slick."

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