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Terry Donahue doesn't want to argue about it

Former UCLA coach can talk football all day, but he'd rather talk about the youth center named for his late brother.

November 10, 2012|T.J. Simers
  • Former UCLA coach Terry Donahue is hoisted onto the shoulders of his players after a 24-14 victory over Michigan at the 1983 Rose Bowl game in Pasadena.
Former UCLA coach Terry Donahue is hoisted onto the shoulders of his players… (Los Angeles Times )

I had lunch with Terry Donahue this week, happy to straighten out another UCLA football coach.

As ancient as the guy is, I don't go back far enough to really know him. And Donahue has been in no hurry to let me know him better because he doesn't want anything to do with me.

"You killed Karl Dorrell," he says of my good friend Karl Dullard.

Donahue remembers UCLA's 13-9 shocking win over USC, forgetting that I predicted as much in print before the game.

Donahue says I was yelling at him after the win to stop so we might talk. He says he threatened to knock my block off.

I don't recall the exchange, but then if I remembered everyone who has threatened to knock my block off I'd have no room in my head for anything else.

"Karl had a 10-2 record and it wasn't enough," says Donahue, while making no move yet to pick up his knife. "He was developing and he was going to make it. He just needed more time."

"That's an issue for [UCLA Athletic Director Dan] Guerrero, not Simers," I suggest.

"Simers added to it," Donahue persists, before saying, "Anyways," which is his favorite word and an indication the subject is about to change.

"Anyways I'm glad I had lunch with you," he says as if he really means it, all smiles and a tiny bit charismatic.

"My wife wanted to know if she should come along so there would be no fight," he says. "But my back hurts too much to fight. We didn't turn over any tables so this was great."

I couldn't agree more; he's nowhere as stiff and stoic as I saw him.

"Professional," he says. "I was always professional."

"And I'm not the monster you thought."

"I didn't say that," says Donahue with grin, and so we spend almost three hours talking Lane Kiffin, Jim Mora, John Robinson and Daniel Donahue.

"There's not a day that goes by I don't miss him," says Donahue, while pausing to maintain his composure. "He was a funny dude. Not a day.…"

Daniel is the oldest brother of five Donahues, teaming with Tom Schriber with great success to develop such shopping centers as Fashion Island. He's married with three daughters, "and is bigger than life," says Terry.

But Dan dies on New Year's Eve 10 years ago, rocking a family that will spend those 10 years telling Dan stories and never seemingly running out.

He's such a beloved character, Dan's friends throw a luau in his memory and raise a million dollars. They buy a Santa Ana warehouse for the nonprofit charity, KidWorks, roll up their sleeves and make it a life-changing education center.

"It's a beacon of hope in the middle of this large fog bank," says Terry, in what has to be the most colorful quote he has ever delivered.

"And the center has Dan's name on it."

The Donahue Center's staff now targets gang neighborhoods with the intent of keeping youngsters engaged and out of prison.

Ava Steaffens, better known as Mother Teresa to Donahue, now has the center working with 800 kids every week.

"Look at these preschoolers," Steaffens says on a tour of the center. "They're here from gang neighborhoods; we believe in putting kids on the university track from the very start."

Before the center, KidWorks was doing its work out of a two-bedroom apartment in the middle of the Santa Ana barrio.

"A line of kids would extend from the door to the street waiting for their chance to be tutored," says Terry.

Some kids can't visit the Donahue Center because it would mean crossing into another gang's territory. So KidWorks has established a satellite center for their safety.

"Tough, tough neighborhood," Donahue says while warning me not to visit the satellite site alone.

The Donahue Center is beyond impressive, also doing work with Mater Dei, one of the premier high schools in Orange County. Mater Dei offers half-scholarships to KidWorks' youngsters, KidWorks picking up the remaining cost.

Six children graduated last year from Mater Dei, six more currently in school.

"If Dan were here he'd be humbled to see his name on the center," Donahue says. "Then he would want to know why the sign couldn't be a little bigger."

Terry will be working the Stanford-UCLA game in two weeks as a Dial Global broadcaster, and spends much of his time now trying to help even more kids.

Calling it "California Showcase," Donahue will try to bring high school seniors and small-college coaches together at no charge, hoping some kids will land football scholarships.

"KidWorks showed me you can make a difference," he says.

There's a wonderful picture on promoting the Feb. 23 football event at the Home Depot Center. It's Donahue being carried off the field after beating USC in his last regular-season game.

The big guy doing the heavy lifting in the photo and wearing the UCLA hat that's too small for his head is Dan.

And now with Dan in mind, Terry, brother Pat and their friends remain committed to helping KidWorks. Thursday there will be a fund-raising luncheon at the Doubletree Hotel in Santa Ana featuring Donahue and Robinson. (Tickets available via

I wonder what Donahue and Robinson might discuss?

Kiffin? "I'm in the minority; I like Kiffin," Terry says. "I watch him and I think he's developing as a coach."

Mora? "He's done a great job. He brought in his own culture, tightened the program and inherited some good players from Rick Neuheisel."

And we're arguing again, Terry laughing and saying, "Could see you and Dan having some beers together and getting along just great. And both of you thinking you were right on everything."

Anyways, I tell him, just happy I could learn about your brother. And straighten you out after all this time.

"Don't you write that," Donahue says.

Of course not.

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