October 13, 2017
Mike Donahue – Great coach; greater man
Each Friday during the 2017 football season, AuburnTigers.com will feature a column from Auburn historian and Athletic Director Emeritus David Housel to commemorate the 125 year history of Auburn football. We hope you enjoy!
By David Housel
Auburn and LSU have played many outstanding and thrilling football games.
Both teams have won some big, memorable games; both teams have had some big disappointing and heartbreaking losses.
It would be difficult to say which game, won or lost, was most significant. But there is no difficulty in pointing out the most poignant game. That was in 1923. Here’s the story:
Mike Donahue, Iron Mike, who had taken Auburn Football to heights heretofore unknown, left Auburn after the 1922 season to go to LSU. Auburn tried to keep Donahue but could not match LSU’s lucrative offer. But there was another factor in his decision.
Donahue was an Irish Catholic, and he thought it best his children be raised in a Catholic-friendly environment. And in those days, Louisiana and Baton Rouge were far more friendly to Catholicism than the plains of east Alabama.
Donahue, LSU’s 17th coach in 30 years, was never able to recapture the magic he had at Auburn. He had a 23-19-3 overall record and a 5-14-2 conference record in his five years as head coach, 1923-27. He had a 2-1 record against Auburn, losing 3-0 in Birmingham in 1924, winning 10-0 in 1926 and 9-0 in 1927. The last two games were played in Montgomery at Cramton Bowl.
But we write about the 1924 game, Donahue’s first against his old school. Unlike today, it was played at a time when there was room for poignancy in college football.
The day before the game, a number of Donahue’s former Auburn players went by his hotel room to visit their old coach. It was an emotional reunion. Donahue was much beloved by his players, and they, the former Auburn players, told him they would be pulling for him and LSU to win the next day, not Auburn.
“You can’t do that,” Donahue told them. “Auburn is your school. You always have to support your school.”
Donahue had a special relationship with his players. They would love him, and he would love them for the rest of their lives. They had a bond, a special father-son bond.
Auburn, coached by Boozer Pitts who had played center for Donahue and later served as one of his assistant coaches, won the game 3-0.
It is not known for whom the former Auburn players cheered that next day.
In a sense, they couldn’t lose.
Auburn-LSU, 1924, the most poignant game in a long, colorful and important series.
And it says more about Mike Donahue than anything else that could be said or written.
Mike Donahue—Great coach; greater man.