Donatell the right fit at the right time

SEATTLE - If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. The Washington Huskies may have at one time been looking to bring Jim Mora from Qwest Field to Husky Stadium, but that isn't going to happen any time soon. Instead, current UW Head Coach Tyrone Willingham stole a play from Mora's playbook by hiring former Atlanta Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell to a two-year contract, the school announced Thursday.

"The process has shown great patience," Willingham said of the hire of Donatell. The rest of the terms of the contract were not disclosed. "There were a lot of candidates we were able to talk with, but when I settled on Ed, I thought it was a great complement. He has a great background in terms of where he's been and what he's coached and how he's coached. He will add a great deal to our program. I couldn't be more excited with the hire. On top of that he does have a Husky background, and has a love and affection for the place that I think you'll see in the way he carries himself and the way he communicates with our young men. I was very excited about the opportunity to bring him into our staff."

Donatell, who has been coaching for the last 18 years coaching in the NFL, cut his teeth in Seattle under legendary Washington Head Coach Don James. It was at Washington where he met his future wife Shari at a U-District restaurant. "I married into three generations of Huskies," Donatell told Seattle media via teleconference on Thursday. "She (is) a Washington girl through and through." Her grandfather, Vic Morrison, played football at Washington, and the Donatells have a son, Tommy, who is currently a freshman at Iowa. He talked about feeling a sense of responsibility to the university because they gave him his start and helped to create the foundation for his coaching style.

Donatell was not Willingham's first choice, as the Husky Head Coach confirmed that current UCLA DC Dewayne Walker was previously offered the position. But as these things go, the hire of Donatell just might mirror that of current Men's Basketball Coach Lorenzo Romar. He may not have been first, but he just might end up being the best fit.

Donatell, for his part, doesn't care. "My mind works totally in the present," he said.

But Willingham looked at Donatell's past, and realized he had found the right man to move Washington's defense into its future.

"What he's done, the places he's been and the things he's seen in his career will allow him the flexibility to be able to make that adjustment very quickly," Willingham said. "He's recognized as an outstanding coach around the country, and he'll be able to call on friends of his that also have a knowledge of what's taking place in college football to be able to help from that standpoint."

News of Willingham's current 11-25 record at Washington didn't faze Donatell in the least. It's why he's focused solely on what he can do now to help Husky football. "In our new generation of coaching, we live on the hot seat if you want to be in these top positions," he said. "That's the way I live and that's the way it is in the NFL. "I'm used to any kind of pressure. What was attractive to me was that Tyrone is a foundation guy. He makes good, solid decisions. You can see it in talking to the people around the program that things are about to take off."

Donatell's professional resume includes stops at Atlanta, Green Bay, New York and Denver. He helped Mike Shanahan win back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998. And Seattle Seahawks fans won't remember kindly the defense Donatell masterminded when the Green Bay Packers defeated Seattle in 2003 to win a wild-card playoff game. When news of Donatell's hire started to trickle down through the NFL ranks, former Huskies made sure to send their best. Donatell said that guys like Lawyer Milloy and Marques Tuiasosopo made sure to send text messages of congratulations.

"It's a people business," he said. "I wouldn't coach if I couldn't get close to my people. It's those relationships that make it special."

Perhaps the most important words came from the man that hired him to lead the Falcons' defense. "He's very positive," Donatell said of Mora's thoughts on him taking this job. "He loves the Huskies. He is a Husky. He said, 'Eddie, you can help', and that's all I needed to know."

The 2008 Washington defense is going to be based on high energy and explosion, an attacking style that is also a ballhawking style," according to Donatell. "It's going to be a defense that everyone is going to like." For instance, during his stint in Green Bay, Donatell's defense led the NFL with 144 takeaways, an average of 36 a year and led the league with 2.25 forced turnovers per game. While in Atlanta under Washington alumnus Mora, Donatell's defense led the league in third-down conversion defense and sacks in 2004 - the same year the Falcons went to the NFC Championship game.

This past season Donatell was with the New York Jets as a special assistant. "I got my Phd in 3-4 defense," he said. Because of head coach Eric Mangini's ties with current New England Head Coach Bill Belichick, Dontall got to see things 'on the cutting edge'.

It was Donatell's second stint with the Jets, the first coming back in 1990 as a defensive backs coach for then-Defensive Coordinator Pete Carroll. Donatell's relationship with Carroll - who he considers his 'strongest mentor' - is one that has grown and has influenced Dontell tremendously - even to this day. But gone now are the days when Donatell would call Carroll up and bounce ideas off of him.

"It's time to compete, and it's fun to compete against guys you know," he said of Carroll. And don't think Donatell's relationship with Carroll didn't play a part in Willingham's thought process. "He brings a flexibility and a knowledge of great styles of defense to be able to blend those to the strengths of our football team and the conference," Willingham said.

After Mora's staff was let go in Atlanta, Donatell spent some time with Carroll that following spring. Donatell points to that time as 'rejuvenating' his interest in possibly going back to the college ranks. He had coached at Idaho under former UW Head Coach Keith Gilbertson and also at Cal-State Fullerton before joining Carroll in New York.

As with a move back to college, recruiting takes a front seat. Willingham is supremely confident Donatell's strengths will suit him in the living room. "He has a wonderful personality," Willingham said of Donatell. "He has a very strong work ethic and a love of young people. I think he'll be able to go into a home and make a great sell for the University of Washington. You add his career and what he's done, he understands what it takes to get to the next level."

"That's our draft," Donatell said of college recruiting. "It's something you have to do every day, 365 (days a year). And I love to compete in everything I do."

The current makup of the defensive staff will not change, according to both Willingham and Donatell. Donatell coached at Washington with current UW linebackers coach Chris Tormey when the two were Graduate Assistant, and his career path has crossed with Randy Hart and Tim Lappano at various times while he was evaluating Pac-10 talent for the professional game.

Donatell, who is still in Atlanta, is expected to be on the job no later than the beginning of next week. And he's going to hit the ground running. "We're going to take an exhausting look at who we are and what we are, and make sure that whatever we do from a defensive standpoint, it has an opportunity for our kids to really express the quality of players they are and to develop the right package that's appropriate for the things that we're going to see in this conference," Willingham said.

"I think,'players, then plays'," said Donatell. He wants to see what pieces he has, and then will put his vision together to utilize their strengths. Said that both 3-4 and 4-3 would be used. In fact, he even half-joked that his infamous 'Thriller' blitz is already in the UW package, and it could be used at any time. 'Thriller' stands for a 'population' blitz, where the defense blitzed more players than the offense can block.

That blitz was used when the Packers' Al Harris picked off Matt Hasselbeck to defeat the Seahawks five years ago. Can Donatell produce the same type of results for a defense that was ninth in scoring defense, ninth in pass defense and tenth in rush defense?

"I'm plenty prepared to do this," he said. Top Stories