WATCH: Former Georgia coach Jim Donnan shares hilarious Christmas hire and steamroller stories
ATHENS — Jim Donnan chuckled when asked to recall the 1995 Christmas Day phone call he received from then-Georgia athletic director Vince Dooley.
“My wife called me, I was over at the office because she wanted me to hide some presents for my grand kids over at the office,” Donnan told DawgNation.
“The week before Coach Dooley had called me and told me he was gong to hire Glen Mason.“
Mason had in fact been introduced as Georgia’s coach on Dec. 18 before deciding one week later to remain at Kansas, where the Jayhawks had run up an impressive 10-2 record.
Donnan had been among the candidates because of his success at Marshall, where he led the Thundering Herd to the 1992 national championship and a 15-4 record in the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs.
Donnan was also known for his work as Barry Switzer’s offensive coordinator at Oklahoma from 1985-89.
But it was Donnan’s stop as an assistant at North Carolina (1974-77) where he became acquainted with the Dooley family.
Vince Dooley’s brother, Bill, was the Tar Heels head coach, and he gave Donnan a strong recommendation.
Still, the Christmas Day phone call caught Jim Donnan off guard.
“I said ‘I guarantee he’s not calling to wish me a Merry Christmas, something is wrong here,’ ” Donnan said. “He’d said to call when I got back … I must have broken every speed record driving that 4 miles from my house, and he said ‘Coach Mason has had a change of heart, I”d like to offer you the job.’ “
Donnan said he didn’t discuss any contract terms before accepting, excited to take over what he still views as a premier job.
The Bulldogs were 40-19 over the course of Donnan’s five years as head coach, winning four straight bowl games. The Georgia head coaching stop enhanced Donnan’s 32-year coaching career and helped lead to his 2009 induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.
There were great memories along the way, the 1997 season being one of the Georgia fans’ favorites as the Bulldogs went 10-2 and Donnan won SEC Coach of the Year.
Georgia had gone 5-6 Donnan’s first season replacing Ray Goff, and so he was motivated to make sure things got turned around in 1997.
After a 3-0 start, the Bulldogs were slated to face a Mississippi State team that was coming off a 37-17 win over South Carolina.
“I’d kept talking to the team about how we’re either going to be the steamroller or the pavement,” Donnan said. “Mississippi State, they had that defense with Joe Lee Dunn, running all those (exotic) defensive looks, and we were all worried about it.”
During Thursday’s team lunch, Donnan noticed a steamroller working to repave a lot near the baseball stadium.
“This guy was on the steamroller, and I said , ‘Look, about 3:15 today, can you drive that thing up there to that field right over there and just park it there, and show me how to drive it?’ “ Donnan recalled, telling the operator, “I’ll only drive it about 30 yards, and I’m not going to tear anything down. Fortunately for me, he was a Georgia fan.
“I told the coaches when I got back, ‘I know this is kind of hokey, but I’m going to drive that damn steamroller into practice,’ ” Donnan said.
Donnan instructed his coaches to have his players face toward Lumpkin Street during their stretch period, so he could sneak in behind them.
“The guy showed me how to run the gears, and I was rolling in there about 10 mph,” Donnan said. “I got almost to where they were stretching, and nobody could see me.
“I stood up and blew the whistle, and you’ve never seen guys react and turn around, they knew old coach was ready to be the steamroller,” he said.
“We beat those guys 47-0. It was one of the best things I ever did, just for morale. But I also enjoyed driving that damn steamroller, I’ll tell you that.”