Q & A WITH TERRY DONAHUE : He Says History Will Be Kind to Him, Even if Some Fans Weren't

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Whichever team wins Monday's Aloha Bowl game between UCLA and Kansas, when the final second ticks off the clock, the tears will be flowing and the emotions will be bubbling on the Bruin sideline. Terry Donahue will have completed his 233rd game as UCLA's head football coach. And his last.

On Dec. 11, he announced that he is retiring, after 20 years on the job, to accept a position as a college football analyst for CBS. Donahue was asked about his feelings in his final days as a coach.

*

Question: UCLA Sports Information Director Marc Dellins had two press releases prepared for your news conference Dec. 11, one if you went through with your decision to retire and one if you didn't. Was there really any doubt?

Answer: Through the whole

process, the day before, the day I announced and the day after, I kept thinking of the movie "Ghost." The guy in there was outside his body, watching everything happen, and he couldn't believe what he was seeing. In my head, it was like that. I was sitting there thinking, "Am I imagining this? Is this really happening? Am I really going to do this?" And then I got up there and thought, "I'm doing it." It was strange. It was weird. It was almost surreal.

But I didn't get up to the podium and think I was going to change my mind. I took my time making a decision. But once I made it, I made it. I wasn't in an indecisive mode. I was just in a real emotional state.

*

Q: Looking back on your career, what is the accomplishment you take the most pride in?

A: That, after 20 years, I had a winning record against every team in our conference. Is there ego, or satisfaction or professional pride involved in that? Yeah. Sure. I'd rather have it that way than the other way. But I'd say that would be my crowning jewel. It's not that easy to do.

I think that history is going to show that I did a much better job at UCLA than some of my critics might think.

The thing I take the most pride in outside of football is that there were a lot of kids that came to our program and really developed and became something.

I'll use [linebacker] Donnie Edwards as an example. Donnie Edwards was a high-risk student. I had to beg [the administration] to get him into UCLA because he came from a very poor high school, lacking many of the advantages a lot of other kids have. He came to UCLA, he became a good player, he got his degree and now he's a graduate student. We've had a lot of kids with similar experiences. We've had some failures, but I take pride in the fact that we've had some success stories like Donnie Edwards.

*

Q: On the flip side, do you leave with any regrets?

A: That I never won the national championship. If there is any one additional thing I wish I could have done at UCLA, that would be it. But I'm not bogged down in that. I'm not totally despondent or hung up about that. We were close a couple of times, but didn't get it done. I regret that.

We had a couple of teams that were close. Really close. I had a team in '76 that, very, very late in the season, was ranked second in the country. I had a team in '88 that was close to winning a national championship.

It's not as easy as some people might conceive it to be to win one in our [academic] environment. It's difficult to win it in any environment, but it's particularly challenging to win it in our environment. That doesn't mean I don't think they can win one. I do. I just didn't win one.

But more than the national championship, I regret that every player that came to play for us couldn't have had a great first-string experience. I see kids come in and they have all these dreams and they have all these aspirations. Oftentimes they are fulfilled and oftentimes they are not. And when they are not, those kids suffer. They go through a process of disappointment and sometimes even bitterness. More than not winning a national championship, my biggest regret is that those kids had to go through that on my watch.

*

Q: Do you take any particular satisfaction from the knowledge that you leave with five consecutive victories over the USC Trojans, and that, though they will certainly beat UCLA again, they'll never again beat you?

A: Well, they've beaten me plenty. I've got sores all over my rear. I've got war scars from them.

*

Q: On Tuesday morning, before leaving for Hawaii, you conducted your final practice at Spaulding Field, where you worked for 25 years as an assistant coach and head coach. What was that final session like?

A: I had a real sense of emptiness when we left the field. I was going to ask the players to carry me off the field, but I knew they were so tired that they might refuse. And then I'd be really hurt. So I didn't ask them.

Since we've gotten over here, I've had in the back of my head that Christmas Eve is coming up. And it's over the next day. Christmas Eve will be the toughest and Christmas Day will be real hard. After that, hey, I'm working for CBS and away I go.

The hardest single thing for me to do this week will be to address the team before the game and try not to spew my own emotional feelings onto them. The players have their goals, their aspirations. This is their team. I'm not going to ask them to win the game for me. I'm not going to do that. I want the team to win the game for them. Our seniors haven't won a bowl game and they need to.

*

Q: You've been around the UCLA football program since your playing days in the mid-'60s. You'll still be around the campus in your new capacity as a fund-raiser for the chancellor, but can you stay close to the football program without appearing to be hovering over your successor?

A: I'm going to very much be distant. I am not going to ever be perceived as hovering. I'm just not going to do that. I'm going to be real busy with my own games, which is nice.

Hey, they are going to hire a real good coach, they are going to have a good staff and they are going to want to do it their way.

I'm going to play tennis a lot at UCLA, so I may walk by and see the coaches and stop in and say hello as I'm moving through. But I'm not going to be at practice unless the new coach were to invite me out. I'm not going to be hanging out like a guy without a home. I have a home.

I'm going to see if I can get a real good career going in broadcasting and see if I can enjoy it and be good at it. If I can, it will be a good life. If I can't, then I'll go back into coaching someday.

*

Q: Do you have any doubts about broadcasting?

A: I'm nervous, but I'm looking forward to it.

*

Q: Any final thoughts on your legacy?

A: I look back on my career and I have a tremendous sense of personal satisfaction that I did it the best I knew how to do it. I gave UCLA everything that I had for 20 years.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
56°