Ken Donahue Receives 2008 Outstanding Achievement Award
Former Alabama, Tennessee, Memphis and Mississippi State assistant coach Ken Donahue will be the recipient of the American Football Coaches Association’s Outstanding Achievement Award. The award will be presented, posthumously, to Donahue during the AFCA Kickoff Luncheon on January 12 at the 2009 AFCA Convention in Nashville, Tennessee. He passed away on March 21, 2001. The AFCA Board of Trustees created the award in order to recognize AFCA members, past and present, who have achieved outstanding success while coaching in football.
“There’s no one who coached the game of football who is more deserving than Ken Donahue to receive the 2008 Outstanding Achievement Award,” former Tennessee head coach Johnny Majors said. “I have been associated with several outstanding coaches throughout my career, and I know of no one who was more dedicated to achieving excellence on a day-to-day basis than Coach Donahue. He was an extremely loyal individual to his school, his fellow coaches and to the players he coached. Ken demanded excellence and 100 percent effort from his players on every play, and those players respected him. Nobody could work players harder, or with more intensity than Coach Donahue. He taught the players how to play the game like it should be played.”
Donahue spent 38 years as an assistant coach at four different schools. He began his coaching career at Memphis State in 1951, where he was a line coach for four years. In 1956, Donahue returned to Tennessee as defensive coordinator, line coach and special assistant to head coach Bowden Wyatt until 1960. From there, Donahue coached at Mississippi State for three years (1961-63), working alongside former teammate Johnny Majors. The 1963 Bulldog team, on which Donahue and Majors were assistants to Paul Davis, played in the Liberty Bowl as the first Bulldog team to participate in a bowl game in more than 20 years.
In 1964, Donahue joined Paul “Bear” Bryant’s staff at Alabama. With Donahue serving as defensive coordinator at the Capstone, Alabama led the SEC in fewest yards allowed seven times, in rushing nine times and in pass defense three times. During his 21 years as defensive coordinator, Alabama won 11 SEC titles and three national championships.
Donahue was best known for his reputation as an amazing defense coordinator. With the help of Pat Dye, Bill Oliver and Bear Bryant, Donahue created a multiple defense strategy that allowed players to switch defenses quickly. NCAA and NFL teams still use the 4-3 and 5-2 strategies, which gained popularity because it allowed players to learn a minimum amount of technique while maximizing their strengths.
In 1985, Donahue again teamed up with Johnny Majors, this time as Majors’ defensive coordinator, line coach and special assistant at Tennessee. His defensive unit was a major factor in the Vols’ drive to the SEC title, Sugar Bowl win over Miami and eventual No. 4 national ranking. He was awarded a game ball after the Vols’ 16-14 win over Alabama that October. Donahue spent four years with the Vols, then retired from coaching after a brief stint as a consultant with the Philadelphia Eagles.
His dedication to football and coaching earned Donahue working coach of the year awards by the Southeastern Conference in 1975 at Alabama, and again in 1985 while he was at Tennessee. One of the most noteworthy accolades bestowed on the hard-working Donahue came in 1985 when The Football News singled him out as doing the best work nationwide by an assistant coach.
A Corryton, Tenn., native, Donahue attended Central High School in Knoxville before he went on to play football for Tennessee. He played offensive tackle under head coach General Robert R. Neyland, and was a member of the 1950 team that was 11-1 and defeated Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
The AFCA was founded in 1922 and currently has more than 10,000 members around the world ranging from the high school level to the professional ranks. According to its constitution, the AFCA was formed, in part, to “maintain the highest possible standards in football and in the coaching profession” and to “provide a forum for the discussion and study of all matters pertaining to football.”