What, Me Worry? Donahue Doesn't Need to but Does Anyway

I'm worried about Terry Donahue.

In this, Donahue's 11th season as football coach of the UCLA Bruins, there is evidence that the hounds of the Los Angeles media are finally getting to the genial gentleman.

A question regarding Donahue's worrying, which is legendary, broke up what had been a perfectly delightful Monday afternoon lunch-with-Terry media gathering.

The scene was the spacious press dining room at UCLA's J.D. Morgan Athletics Center. The pink tablecloth was neatly in place. The menu was corn bread in cute little wicker baskets, thick chili, spinach salad with avocado, and, for desert, a delightful peach Melba.

Donahue arrived late and wasn't eating. I don't know why. Too worried about Saturday's game, maybe. Which Saturday's game? Doesn't matter. Last Saturday, next Saturday. Donahue frets 'em all.

Midst all the standard Monday luncheon football talk, someone asked Donahue if there was ever a UCLA football game he didn't worry about. Until that moment, the press luncheon had been quite amiable, if a trifle boring. Suddenly the tenor changed.

Obviously, this was a subject to which Donahue has devoted some worry.

"I've been a head coach now 11 years," he said, quietly bristling. "I think, for whatever reason, this year in the media it's been the year to pick up that I'm a worrier. I've been worried for 11 years and nobody's ever said a word about it. I get paid to worry. But I'm no more a worrier than any other coach. I don't understand what the big deal is.

"If any of you went out and coached in front of 50,000 people and knew you were gonna be having a bunch of people writing about your personality and having an opportunity to have hindsight about the game, you'd be a little concerned . . .

"For whatever reason, we're on my personality. I'm not gonna apologize for the way I am, fellas. What you see is what you get. I worry about the fact that a couple guys here have popularized that I am a worrier, and it aggravates me because it's dwelling on my personality instead of my coaching.

"I'm the same guy I've been for 11 years. Most of you guys have never lasted 11 years in Los Angeles. If worrying has got me to this point, I'm gonna keep worrying, you can book it."

Even though he had barely had time to sip his ice water with a slice of lemon, Donahue stood up, excused himself--"I'm not mad. I've got a date (with his wife)"--and departed.

What brought all this to a head was the last two Bruin games, against Washington State and Oregon State. Before each game, Donahue expressed concern. Before OSU, for instance, he said: "It's going to be a hard game for us psychologically because people will say, 'How can Oregon State be a tough game for you?' "

The combined score of those two games was: UCLA Worrywarts 103, Worthy Opponents 16.

He even worried after the fact. At Monday's luncheon, talking about the OSU game, Terry said: "When we went in at halftime (leading) 21-nothing, it didn't feel like 21-nothing."

Mr. Grins. Eleven seasons of hard worrying, and what's he got to show for it? So far, 86 wins, including three Rose Bowls in the last four years. The worrier of Westwood has worried the Bruins into a football dynasty.

Any time a coach creates a powerhouse, the media moves in and starts digging, trying to find what makes this new legend tick. It's the price of fame, your personality laid out on a table for public inspection and dissection.

Donahue is not a gloomy person in real life. He's got a wonderful smile. He laughs a lot. But when it comes to coaching football, his ultra-efficient mental machinery seems to be powered by, among other things, a deep and profound concern for all the horrible things that can happen to your football team, even if it's playing Stiff State.

Donahue, as Times writer Thomas Bonk once wrote, is a man who always can find the cloud inside a silver lining.

Contrary to Donahue's contention, his worrying has been written about in past seasons. Maybe he has been too worried to notice, or maybe it is being written about more this season because when you steamroller four consecutive major bowl games, then come back the next season and worry about Oregon State, people tend to take notice.

Say this about Donahue's worrying:

--He's a genuine worrier, not a phony. Many coaches worry publicly, but smirk off the record. Those close to the Bruins believe Donahue, in his heart, really was sweating Oregon State. Sincerity is the key.

--Worrying agrees with Donahue. He is 42 years old and still looks as if he should be hanging out at the malt shop with his fraternity chums. He probably would be if he weren't worried about the cholesterol in the malts.

--Worrying works. Check the record.

Still, I worry that Donahue might be starting to worry too much about the L.A. media's obsession with his worrying. Let's all be pals again, Terry. Let's all do lunch.

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