In high school he was named the "most inspirational." but what he excelled in were fights. Through several stretches, the Donahues needed a direct line from the St. Joe's emergency room to their home so Terry could get his dad to come sew him up. He even had one real boxing match, much to his parents' full-throated disgust. Terry's wife Andrea says, "He would do these miserable things, but he could never go to bed without saying, 'I'm sorry.' "
Now much more easygoing and self-deprecating, Donahue tells friends who call, "You're doing so great and I'm just hangin' on." When talk turns to coaches with more than 30 years on top, he shakes his head: "If I make it more than 30 months it will be a victory." But no upset. For even in the midst of high-pressure college football, Terry has not forgotten how to have fun. He loves the Friday afternoon postpractice tugs-of-war involving his players and other students, especially when the losers get doused with water; he joins in the laughter when Riley, who is from Greenville, Tenn., gets to talking on a CB radio at practice: "Hey there, good buddy, this is Double D from Tennessee"; he even loves recruiting, and he chuckles over Riley's appraisal of a prospect: "He can play. His motor runs all the time."
There is a feeling that UCLA may just be able to steal L.A.'s affection for the Southern Cal Trojans. Assistant Coach Rich Brooks, who is always pleading for "a little levity," says, "When you're second-best in Los Angeles at what you're doing, you're not going to attract much attention." Proof? Did you know that USC also has a basketball team?
Donahue learned early on how time-consuming and difficult the struggle for the hearts and minds of fans would be. Gatherings of 40 or so people were scheduled throughout the Los Angeles area this summer. Donahue would go and make a speech and be charming and earnest. But at one get-together in Woodland Hills, only four people showed up. He sold them all tickets and afterward, in his circumspect way, said to a UCLA official with him, "Gee, that didn't seem like a lot of people to me. Did it to you?" Dominating Southern Cal is tough, even though the rumor persists that all you have to do in Los Angeles is turn on the lights and 20,000 people will show up just to see what's going on.
Every morning, Terry stops by a West-wood shop for an apple fritter, having been turned on to them by Riley, whose Southern upbringing has given him an appreciation of life's finer pleasures. This follows the vitamins Terry gulps at home, not because he believes in them (he doesn't), but because his wife does. Then Donahue goes over to the land of X's and O's and ticket requests from alleged friends. And through it all he demonstrates he has not been swept away by all this sudden good fortune. "The key to coaching," he says, "is to find the best way to do something and to keep in mind that it won't necessarily be your way." And he suspects the race ultimately may be futile. "There are really only two groups of coaches," he says. "Those who have been fired and those who will be." For the moment, though, Terry's scalp is secure.