Former Georgia football coach Jim Donnan eager to resume his 'fourth quarter'

Former Georgia football coach Jim Donnan eager to resume his 'fourth quarter'

June 11th, 2014 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Former University of Georgia football coach Jim Donnan, left, addresses reporters with attorney Ed Tolley after a jury acquitted him of all charges in his federal trial related to a fraudulent investment scheme on Friday, May 16, 2014, in Athens, Ga.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Last month, former Georgia football coach Jim Donnan was found not guilty of all 41 charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering in relation to a failed investment scheme.

Donnan was a guest Tuesday on "Press Row" on Chattanooga's ESPN 105.1 The Zone.

Q: When you were standing before the reading of the jury's verdict, what was going through your mind, and did it compare to any kind of moment you had in coaching?

A: "No, it can't compare, because there are so many things you can control in coaching. I wanted to defend myself, because I couldn't look myself in the eye if I had taken some kind of probation or plea. I knew I was innocent, and I had been proven innocent three other times in this situation. The problem that you have as a celebrity or a coach is that you get a lot of exposure, and in this case I couldn't really say much in my defense because you had to be careful with what you said.

"Fortunately I had a good defense that included one of your friends up there in your neck of the woods, Nelson Bowers, who is the best friend anybody could have. He stood behind me in this crisis."

Q: When the not-guilty verdict was announced, was there more joy or relief?

A: "There was a little bit of both. My family had been with me through thick and thin, and you're glad that it's over with, but at the same time you're really excited that, based on the facts, everybody knows that I didn't do all those things. That's what I wanted to portray, and as bad as this situation has been for everybody, we're all excited about moving on.

"I'm in the fourth quarter of my life, so I need to get going."

Q: The trial was in Athens, but you've had success as a quarterback at N.C. State, an offensive coordinator at Oklahoma and a head coach at Marshall. You could have lived in a lot of places, so why did you choose to remain in Georgia."

A: "We didn't do as good of a job as we should have, and certainly Mark [Richt] has come in and done a great job, but I really felt like I was going to get back into coaching and didn't want to move just to be moving and then move again. I figured I would sit out a year and then get back in it, and I had some opportunities that next year, but we really love Athens.

"Two of our grandchildren are here, and my son lives here. I have a daughter in Atlanta, and my other daughter lives in Oklahoma. I would be fine in a lot of places, but I don't know any place better than Athens."

Q: You led Marshall to a national championship by winning a 16-team playoff. Are you happy that the Bowl Subdivision is going to a four-team playoff?

A: "I really am. We were 15-4 in the playoffs in our five years there. I think it will be relatively easy picking the four teams, but there will be some ups and downs. Now we have two more teams that have a chance, but it will create a system in which coaches will have to turn things around even quicker. In the past, you had three or four weeks to prepare for the championship game, and now you've got to prepare for the semifinals and then the finals seven or eight days later.

"You will have to have a good gauge on those other teams and a good game plan in order, and you're going to have to be physically and mentally ready, because the extra games will take a toll."

Q: How long are we looking at before this becomes an eight- or 16-team playoff?

A: "It took us forever to get to this point, so I don't know. I'm glad that we've got four, and hopefully we can get to eight. Eight is pretty realistic, and I thought 16 was too many when I was in I-AA. There were a lot of blowouts in that first round."

Q: When you took over at Georgia after the 1995 season, Florida had just finished second in the country and Tennessee third. Are you surprised to see some of the struggles the Gators and Volunteers have encountered in recent years?

A: "Certainly you're surprised, and particularly in the case of Tennessee. Since Coach [Phillip] Fulmer coached there, they just haven't been very good or been very competitive. Their personnel is getting better under Coach [Butch] Jones, but their schedule is going to make it difficult to have the same record as last year even though they may play better.

"Florida lost its quarterback last year and didn't have a good sense of direction on offense, but certainly you would like to be in a situation at Georgia where you're playing Florida and Tennessee and they're not going to bowl games. They'll both come back eventually, but it's a long way back when you get down like that. Tennessee's had several coaches the last few years, and Florida has got to get to where they can manufacture some offense."

Q: You're an offensive guy. Are you intrigued by what Gus Malzahn does at Auburn, and can he sustain what he did last year?

A: "I always loved the option when I coached at Oklahoma, and that's the basis of his premise. They don't really do a lot of throwing the ball, but they do a great job of attacking the perimeter. They have a good offensive line and good backs, and he's got a scheme that everybody has to be ready for. It didn't hurt the year he had Cam Newton, but he's a good coach with a good staff.

"I think he will have a tougher row to hoe this year. There are some good players to replace, and everybody's had a year to get ready for what he's doing. The West will be Alabama and everybody else unless he's got some more trick plays to end games. You can't count on that every year, but what he did last year was one of the best coaching jobs ever."

Q: Can Georgia be an elite team after unexpectedly losing Tray Matthews, Shaq Wiggins and Josh Harvey-Clemons in the secondary?

A: "I think they made one of the best coaching hires anybody could make in bringing in [defensive coordinator Jeremy] Pruitt. He's been involved with the last three national champions. Even though [Todd] Grantham did some good things, he had a hard time keeping the lead. He lost a lot of games in the third and fourth quarter -- they were up 10-0 on LSU in the 2011 SEC championship game and were up 21-10 on Alabama in the 2012 SEC championship game.

"When you're in position to win, you've got to win those games. The first two games against Clemson and South Carolina are going to be huge. We've had a hard time against South Carolina. We're 1-3 in our last four games against them. If we can win those first two, then you've got a toss-up with Auburn and a situation with Florida that who knows? If we win those first two, we've got a shot even though we're not nearly as talented as we've been on defense."

Q: You say "we" with Georgia. Do you say "we" with Oklahoma, Marshall and other stops along the way?

A: "Sure you do when you put your blood and guts in those places like I did. I pull for Georgia. I'm still close to [offensive coordinator] Mike Bobo, and Coach Richt has been nice to me and my family. You never feel good when you get let go, but I think Georgia needs to make a move here and make a commitment. We're the only team in the SEC along with Florida that doesn't have an indoor facility, and it's not because of the bad weather that we need it but because of the hot weather.

"When you can go outside for one workout and then inside for the next one during two-a-days, it's a real plus. Georgia also has to do a better job of recruiting within the state in order to become a top-five team, and I think Mark knows that, Mike knows that and Pruitt knows that."

Q: What was your favorite game in your five seasons in Georgia?

A: "Beating Florida down in Jacksonville [in 1997], because it had been such a long time. The comeback against Purdue in the bowl game was a good win, but the Florida win was the biggest one I had here."

Q: What game do you wish you could have back in your five years?

A: "I would like to have had instant replay. There were a couple of games against [Georgia] Tech I would like to play over, but they deserved to win."

Q: Who is the most underrated and underappreciated coach in the SEC?

A: "Steve Spurrier, because look at what he's done at South Carolina. The job he and his staff have done to win 11 games three years in a row is incredible. They haven't won the SEC championship, but I just have tremendous respect for him. He doesn't get enough credit for what he's done."

Q: You've coached and worked in television. Is there anything else you want to accomplish out there?

A: "I've been blessed with good health, and I hope to play in the national 70s tennis doubles next year. I don't need the TV and radio, but I enjoy it. The main thing for me is being around my friends and family and having my name cleared."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.