Throughout the football season, AuburnUndercover.com will offer various opportunities to a sit down for a Q&A session with a former coach. It will feature a nationally known coach or one more closely associated with Auburn.
Former Georgia and Marshall coach Jim Donnan
We will post the featured guest’s name in the forums and you post your questions. We will pick several of the better questions.
This week’s guest is former Georgia and Marshall head coach Jim Donnan. He compiled a career record of 104–40–1. His 1992 Marshall team won an NCAA Division I-AA national title. Donnan was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 2009.
Donnan’s offenses led the nation in scoring in two totally different systems. As offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, his offense led the nation in scoring and rushing. In an entirely different system, while the head coach at Marshall, his offense led the nation in passing and in scoring.
How did the NCAA’s banning of football-only athletic dorms and did it make it more difficult to discipline players?
Discipline should be self-imposed. You can’t ride hurt on kids 24/7. They need to understand rules. It was easier to monitor when the dorms were in place. In my travels while doing TV, it was obvious around the country that most juniors and seniors live off campus - but they had to earn that right. If they misbehaved they were usually pulled back onto campus
Where do you think Auburn football is headed?
Right now they are at a crossroads because all of the uncertainly. Everyone outside program is wondering, after all the success, why it has gone the other way. The off the field issues that have plagued them don’t help. They have been inconsistent on both sides of ball last two years. It’s a very tough league, a tough to win in when the talent is not there. The talent level is not where needs to be due to attrition. They need to win at least a couple of conference games. I don’t see a strong sense of direction right now.
Do you like the new playoff system? Do you think the selection committee can be objective?
Always been for a playoff. It gives more teams a chance. Over the years, you can find teams that have an argument for being included. The selection committee for basketball has proven you can have an objective committee. It will be a challenge, but with all of the public scrutiny, they will have to be objective.
When things aren't going well and the fans grow restless, what can you do to keep your team and staff focused?
You have to have a tremendous sense of oneness among players and staff and belief in each other. Hunker down. All of us have adversity. Fight through it. With internet and TV, you have to be oblivious. Have a plan and stick to it., but you have to be able to adjust based on what happens. When I was at North Carolina, the head coach was Bill Dooley. He was very steadfast in what he wanted to do. He came in one day and said we were going to change punt. We all about fell out. An effective leader needs to make the changes necessary to get ahead of the competition.
ColaChiver & wareagle28mg
After a 1-4 start, what would you do in Gene Chizik's situation?
I have always felt like outsiders on TV and radio weren’t helpful. I never try to second guess because I didn’t like people doing that when I was coaching. There are clearly problem areas, but there’s time to salvage the season. Play guys both ways. Find a way to make the other team lose. It’s hard to change a lot on offense and defense at this point in the season. Auburn is playing two teams next two weeks with comparable talent. When you play someone with comparable talent, you need to avoid mistakes. Make other team beat itself.
kitemac & panic1013
What was the Auburn-Georgia rivalry like in the locker room? Was it as intense between the players as it is between the fans?
It’s very intense because so many players recruited by both schools. Both schools are close to border. Many of the kids camp together and played against each other. Takeo Spikes attended the same school as Robert Edwards. It’s a very intense rivalry – but a good one. When I was at Georgia, we played a let better in Jordan-Hare than we did in Athens. It’s a heck of a rivalry.
How do you think the spread offense has changed quarterbacks at the high school level? Is it harder to evaluate a high school player now than it was a few years ago?
It’s much easier now. You see them in passing leagues in summer. Younger kids have quarterback coaches training them in technique. A lot of times in the past you would see teams running the Wing-T or something and you had to watch warm-ups to see him throw. It’s much easier now.
AUTaxMan &Big A
Who is the best player you ever coached? Who was the best player you ever coached against?
Champ Bailey. Close second was Keith Jackson. Champ was a two-way player who could do it all. He was a pleasure off the field too. He wanted to win at whatever he was doing. He was awesome. Randy white at Maryland was the best player I ever coaches against. I was at UNC. You couldn’t block him. Dominant defensive player. Close second was Billy Simms when I was coaching at Missouri. We played him when he won Heisman. They used to have promos on Sunday afternoon advertising the Saturday game of the week. We had just played Billy Simms. I’m watching TV with my young son and the commercial starts “watch Billy Simms… My boy said, “We’re not going to have to play Billy Simms again are we?” Another good one was Barry Sanders. He was awesome too.
Who do you think is a rising star who hasn't gotten an opportunity to be a head coach yet?
Personally, because I coached him and like him, is Kirby Smart. His chance is coming soon. Nick is a defensive coach and he’s involved, but he lets his coaches coach. I don’t think Kirby gets enough credit sometimes.
In recruiting, how difficult was it to keep boosters in line and consequently keep the program out of trouble?
Most of the boosters, the high end guys, know the rules, They won’t do anything to put you in jeopardy. The bigger problems were little things like a guy giving a kid a ride or talking to a recruit. Somebody just trying to help. Guys don’t know the rules and you don’t know they’re involved. People who aren’t a big part of your program but don’t know the rules. With social media, hard for anything to happen without anyone knowing about it.
In your view, can a head coach be "too involved" with the offense and/or defense such that his involvement becomes detrimental to the team's play?
I feel like that every leader of a business or athletic team needs to have the ability to delegate, but to also make hard decisions. There’s a fine line between being too involved in something. If you’re too involved people lose their initiative,. Motivate the motivators. As a football coach. every day there’s a 120 or 130 people waiting to see what you do. You have to hire people and let them do their jobs. Here’s the deal: there can only be one head coach. You can’t please every coach or every wife,. They have to please you. There are lots of hard decisions. Everyone needs to understand that everything stops with the head coach. Everyone’s working together. You want input, but in the end, you have to make decision that’s best for the program.
Real high level, successful head coaches are always masters of motivation and very knowledge able about what they want to do. They have a sense of direction. You have to be an authority on your job. When do you practice more? When do you cut back or change a staff member, whatever? It boils down to building morale. They way you do that is being consistent.
What advice would you give to Scot Loeffler? Do you think he needed more time outside of the SEC as an offensive coordinator to be better prepared for what he inherited at Auburn?
You can never say if someone is ready. Sometimes it’s ready made. In this situation, they don’t have the personnel that a lot of teams have. Any coach coming in would have had a hard time. In his case, he has been around some winning programs. From an advice standpoint, he has to know what his players can do and can’t do. They need to figure out a way to make some first downs and keep the defense off filed. Create field position. Both sides of the ball have to help each other.
What can defenses to do to better combat hurryup, no huddle offenses?
Once a play caller gets in a rhythm, sometimes it’s hard to run a bunch of defenses. The offense gets going and it’s hard to substitute. Get someearly negative yardage plays. Get some early stops; get them out of rhythm. I like to save tiemouts, but sometimes there’s nothing wrong with calling a timeout. Occasionally you have to do something to slow down momentum. Hope once in a while for a penalty.
How does a bad record and coaching uncertainty affect recruiting?
It definitely hurts you. They young guys you’re recruiting don’t know a lot about Hershel Walker and Bo Jackson. They look at the past couple of years. When they visit campuses and other teams are winning, it makes if hard. I used to tell guys to look around at many freshman and sophomores we were playing. I’d sell the chance to play for a great program, We will play best players. If you have a consistently bad record, it will be hard. The best salesmen for your team are your players The have to sell the positive versus knocking the staff. In the end, your record is not helpful if it’s not good.
How do you explain Auburn’s poor start?
They miss a lot of tackles on defense. When you’re ranked as low as they are on offense, it’s hard to win games. There’s a huge lack of offensive production.
Do you think Auburn retains Gene Chizik at 3-9 or 4-8?
Anytime a coach is being evaluated the people in charge have a better idea than I do. As long as they show improvement, he should be able to stay. If they keep on looking like they have in first half of the season, Auburn will have to look at it. That’s the thing you do with every coach.
One more thing: this is your team. Whoever the coach is, back him. That’s what you have to do until he’s not the coach anymore.
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