Donnan is a Winner

While Jim Donnan has been out of coaching for six years, few in the college football world have had their name come up as often in head coaching searches across the South.

While Jim Donnan has been out of coaching for six years, few in the college football world have had their name come up as often in head coaching searches across the South.

The NC State graduate and former head coach at Marshall and Georgia may have been a serious target of both North Carolina and Kentucky since his coaching career ended in Athens in the midst of controversy.

Before Donnan's days as a head coach started, the Burlington, N.C. native spent time as an assistant coach at schools like Florida State, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Missouri.

In 1990, Marshall picked Donnan to lead their then-Division I-AA program after a 6-5 season under George Chaump. Chaump had won 21 games the previous two seasons, but the Thundering Herd wasn't yet dominant and needed a coach that could get them over the hump.

In Donnan's first season Marshall posted another 6-5 record, though the Herd's defense significantly improved. The very next year Donnan's hard work started to pay off. From 1991-1995 Marshall posted records of 11-4, 12-3, 11-4, 12-2 and 12-3.

During that span the Herd reached the Division I-AA National Championship four times, winning once, with Donnan earning National Coach of the Year honors on two occasions. Marshall played pretty good defense during those years, but it won games because of a nearly unstoppable offense. The Herd moved the ball at will against opponents, often times looking like a Division I-A team.

"The Herd reached the Division I-AA National Championship four times, winning once, with Donnan earning National Coach of the Year honors on two occasions."

Donnan left Marshall for Athens, Ga. in 1996, with the Herd soon moving on to Division I-A football. He had helped lay a strong foundation in Huntington, W.V. and is due much credit for the Thundering Herd's success as a program throughout the 1990's.

One could write numerous books on the Donnan years in Georgia. The Bulldogs boasted a proud tradition, but had struggled recently. In the twelve years prior to Donnan's arrival Georgia had won 10 games just once. From 1993-1995 the ‘Dawgs had surrendered an average of 26 points per game and posted an SEC record of 8-15-1.

The Vince Dooley years hadn't always been great, but Georgia was almost always competitive. Under Ray Goff it was clear the program had slipped.

For Donnan, even at a tradition-rich program in a talent-rich state, the turnaround would not be easy. Peyton Manning was just getting started at Tennessee and Steve Spurrier was in the midst of arguably the greatest run in the SEC since the days of Bear Bryant at Alabama. Annual games against Georgia Tech and Auburn made the schedule even tougher.

In 1996 Donnan's Bulldog team finished with a disappointing 5-6 record. While at many schools the fan base might be somewhat understanding of the plight of a coach in rebuilding mode, at Georgia the expectations are always high.

The following year saw dramatic improvement. Georgia finished with a 10-2 record, beating Florida, Georgia Tech and Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl for the Bulldogs' first postseason win in five seasons. The Bulldogs allowed more than 17 points just three times on the entire year while averaging 32.

"The enthusiasm from 1997 had faded and many felt Donnan's job was in jeopardy."

In the following two seasons Georgia posted records of 9-3 and 8-4. The enthusiasm from 1997 had faded and many felt Donnan's job was in jeopardy. The Dawgs had lost to Tennessee, Florida and Georgia Tech in each of the previous two seasons. Georgia's defense was clearly declining, and in 1999 allowed more points than any team in Georgia history.

Up to that point Donnan had done a pretty good job of upgrading the talent at Georgia and closing the gap between the Bulldogs and the elite programs in the SEC. In 2000, however, Georgia signed what most consider to be a disappointing class. That, added to the losses to rivals in 1998 and 1999, put Donnan on the hot seat. The question was not whether he could take the Bulldogs to bowl games. The question was whether he could take them back to elite status.

Before 2000 started Donnan raised more eyebrows by hiring his young son, Todd, to coach the quarterbacks. That, alongside very bold and very public predictions from Donnan himself about the upcoming season, didn't help matters. Georgia went on to an 8-4 season that year, defeating Tennessee but losing once again to Florida and Georgia Tech.

A debatable portion of the Georgia fan base wanted change, and Donnan was fired.

So why didn't Donnan last at Georgia? His 40-19 record gave him the second-highest winning percentage of any coach in Athens in almost 80 years and he did that as division rivals Florida and Tennessee were winning national championships. Donnan didn't connect with many of Georgia's fans on a personal level and he didn't win enough games against rivals to keep enough people happy. That said, he left plenty of pieces in place for successor Mark Richt to win an SEC Championship in his second year.

"In 11 seasons he improved two programs and won 72-percent of his games."

What Makes Him a Viable Candidate: Donnan is a graduate of NC State and wants to get back into coaching. If he's offered the job there is a very high chance he will accept. For the most part Donnan did a good job recruiting at both Marshall and Georgia.

While the expectations of the fans in Athens may have contributed to Donnan's exit, his record is impressive. In 11 seasons he improved two programs and won 72-percent of his games.

Why it Might Not Happen: There are a precious few candidates who would please everyone that follows NC State football. However, few candidates would be as divisive as Donnan. While few question the job he did at Marshall, legitimate questions about his performance at Georgia should be asked. How much did Georgia really improve? Were the Bulldogs competitive enough in their biggest games? How well would Donnan recruit at NC State?

Many will also question the hiring of a man who has been out of coaching for six years. While it's unlikely he has forgotten how to do his job, is there a chance the game may have passed him by?

Donnan is the type of coach who could do a very good job, but might have a lot of people against him right from the start. He would be scrutinized as much or more than the other candidates.

Also, some Wolfpack fans feel Donnan burned bridges at NC State with comments he made during his tenures at both schools. He never came across as an avid Wolfpack fan, often making excuses following losses to NC State while at Marshall. There are high-ranking members of the Wolfpack family who are completely turned off by Donnan, and that could hurt him during this coaching search.

Pack Pride's Take: Donnan probably isn't the No. 1 option, but it's a name that is likely to be floating around. He has his supporters and there are plenty of people who feel as though he was treated poorly at Georgia. He has a lot of experience in college football – as an assistant at major programs, as head coach of an up-and-coming program and as head coach at a traditional power.

However, being out of football for such a long time and the national perception of Georgia as an underachiever under Donnan hurts his chances. It's unlikely that Fowler will opt for a guy who will almost assuredly run into a lot of opposition right off the bat, and there might be a reason he hasn't been hired sooner.

With that being said, you can't knock the success he's had at Georgia and Marshall. The NC State alum might receive a long look when all is said and done.


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