• 46°

Toughest coach I ever knew

By Staff
Jim Grammer, When it was a game
Of course coach Bryant was a legend in his own time and most people thought he was pretty tough, and I'm one that won't disagree with that, but as a player for Coach Bryant, one had much more personal contact with assistant coaches. During my days at Alabama , there were some pretty tough assistant coaches that most football fans didn't know much about at the time. I'd like to tell you about Coach Donahue, the toughest coach I ever knew.
Ken Donahue was a defensive line coach and I was an offensive lineman, so he wasn't my position coach, and believe me, I was glad. I really didn't want to have anything to do with him, but it was impossible to live in that environment and escape a run-in with him from time to time.
He was a tall man with features that resembled that of Lurch on the on the "Munsters" TV show. His face seemed to be stretched vertically and his huge arms seemed longer that his legs. I never saw him smile or even make an attempt at it. He was simply a man with absolutely no sense of humor what so ever. He basically had no personality. Many, while being introduced to him for the first time, thought there was something mentally wrong with him as he would just stand and stare, saying nothing of any relevance at all. He just had no personality as he seemed to be in his own world most of the time and that world was football. He lived, ate and breathed football. I'm sure he dreamed football, too, that is if he ever slept.
He worked those poor defensive linemen unmercifully. When everyone else got a short break during a hot, dry practice session, he made the defensive linemen do grass drills. They all hated him and I saw some of those defensive linemen get to the point that they challenged Coach Donahue physically. When this would happen, he would arrange for boxing gloves to be brought out after practice and he and the player would go at each other. I never saw a player win any of those contests.
Coach Bryant often disagreed with what Coach Donahue was doing and he was one that didn't hesitate to reprimand a coach over his megaphone at any time. I saw him threaten to fire Coach Donahue three times in the same practice.
Living in Bryant Hall at the time, there was a system of punishment for infractions of the house rules and this punishment was called "gym class."
Guess who was in charge of those gym classes? Yep, Coach Donahue. One could get a gym class for such things as not making-up your bed properly, having a messy room, or being late to breakfast.
Gym classes were scheduled at 5 a.m. over the coliseum and Coach Donahue came around to each room at 4:30 a.m., waking the poor guy by quickly unlocking the door with a master key, screaming and jerking the cover off of him.
If you don't think having a silhouette of figure shaped like Frankenstein standing over you and jerking the covers off will wake you up in a hurry, just try it sometime.
Every form of physically exhausting activity imaginable was used in those punishment classes, the worst being that you had to run the steps of the isles of the huge coliseum. Players often fell-out with extreme physical exhaustion and if you didn't throw-up during the process you were lucky.
But all the time one was running these dreadful isles there was Coach Donahue right behind, running and screaming and forcing one to move on.
Coach Donahue died about four years ago and he dropped dead after one of his workouts at a local gym back in his home state of Tennessee.
There were 50 some ex-players at his funeral, a statement of how these men learned to respect and love him.
Yea, they hated him when they played for him, but there is an indescribable transformation of this hate into love and respect later in life, and that was the case with Coach Donahue.