Don Donoher

Ciaran Andrew Minch

Coach Don Donoher in 2018 holding his Dean Smith Award. From the personal collection of Dr. James Todd Uhlman.
Donald James “Mick” Donoher is one of the winningest basketball coaches not only in U NCAA history. His 437-275 record at UD over 25 seasons places him in the top 100 on the all-time winning list of coaches in NCAA history.[1] He led his team to the NCAA tournament eight times, the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) seven times, and an NIT championship in the 1967-68 season. Coach Donoher is one of ten coaches to lead his first three teams to the NCAA tournament. He is also the only one to coach his team to an NCAA championship after appearing in the tournament as a player.[2] Donoher served as an assistant to the Hall of Famer Bobby Knight on the 1984 Olympic basketball team.[3] He is also one of three coaches to receive the Dean Smith Award, given to an individual in college basketball who embodies the spirit and values of the late North Carolina coach.[4]

Donoher began coaching in 1961 at Chaminade High School and his collegiate career as an assistant in February of 1963. He would become the head coach for the University of Dayton basketball team the following season. Donoher is remembered today as a defensive genius and a players’ favorite. He revolutionized the three guard rotation with two big men down in the paint. This allowed for better containment of the oppositions perimeter players and the ability to protect the rim down low. When former Flyers players are asked about what drew them to the school, the number one answer is because of their love for Donoher.

Early Life

Donoher was born January 21, 1932 in Toledo, Ohio. His father, Thomas “Ted” Ellsworth, owned an electrical business and his mother, Elizabeth “Bess” Rose, was a housewife. He is the youngest of five and lived in a house behind a church. While two of his brothers went on to become priests in Brazilian orders, the third would become a naval officer only to later turn to priesthood himself. Don just wanted to play basketball.

He began playing at St. Agnus in Toledo and attended Toledo Central Catholic for the high school.[5] By the time he completed high school in 1950, he was pretty good at the game. He wanted to go to a Catholic school and had his mind set on Detroit, Notre Dame, Xavier, and the University of Dayton. According to Donoher, he didn’t have the grades to get into the likes of Notre Dame but he had heard about Coach Tom Blackburn, the University of Dayton head coach at the time. Blackburn was building a powerhouse in Dayton.

It was not until Donoher visited the campus that the matter was settled. He fell in love with Dayton after visiting during the summer going into his senior year of high school. It was a surprise visit because Donoher thought his dad was just taking him to a Reds double header in Cincinnati but they made a stop in Dayton purposely so that he could see the campus.

Many of his classmates from Toledo Central attended Dayton, including multiple football players. Donoher recalls coming through the heart of the city before getting to the campus early on a Saturday morning. They watched the football scrimmage in which twelve former Toledo Central guys were playing. The mix between a tradition of Toledo Central boys attending along with his fondness of the university, put Dayton on the top of Donoher’s list.[6]

His first official visit to the University of Dayton was with one of his classmates from Toledo Central. Coach Blackburn took him on a tour along Brown Street and the newly built Fieldhouse Arena. The boys stayed the night in St. Joe’s Hall, where all the athletes lived, and left the next day hitchhiking the entire way back to Toledo.[7]

To the right, Donoher is shown going up over the head of Louisville player Chet Beam during the UD-Louisville game in the Fieldhouse, Dayton won 78-61. Cover of The U.D. Alumnus, Vol. 25, No. 3. (March, 1954).
College Days

Donoher received a scholarship to play for the Flyers and committed to Dayton. He arrived on campus the fall of 1950. That first day he recalls meeting, Fr. Friedal. Donoher describes him as one of the nicest men you could meet, with his brothers being a part of the priesthood, Donoher became close with Fr. Friedal. He was the last of the SM’s (Society of Mary or Marianists) to be buried on campus and would become Donoher’s favorite. The sociology professor took Donoher under his wing and provided advice to him when he was feeling down or out.

Donoher began his playing career on the freshman team where twelve scholarships were able to be subdivided into partial funding packages. After freshman year, competition was fierce to receive one of the full scholarships. Donoher described it as a survival of the fittest contest.[8] It turns out, Donoher won one when he received a scholarship to play on the varsity team the following year. That next season, he did not play as much as he would’ve wanted that season but got his chance in his junior year. Donoher is remembered for his efforts that season in the upset of first ranked Seton Hall in the Fieldhouse. Don scored the first bucket of the game, a three point play to break the tie at 56-56, and ended up assisting on the game winning shot. It was to arguably the biggest win in Fieldhouse history.
Captain Donoher, kneeling at the center of the picture, following NIT victory. Donoher Collection.
In his senior year 1953, Donoher was named captain and scored 388 of his 578 career points that season. Before the season began, the team was joined by seven footer William Uhl who had sat out the previous season due to ineligibility. “Big Uhl” as he came to be known, was a mild mannered young man who upon arriving on campus was welcomed by the captain Donoher along with another player on the team. Don was always known as a caring person who stood up for those around him, and Big Uhl wasn’t any different. During the season, the Flyers were putting up a dismal effort against Louisville where they entered halftime down 45-30. Coach Blackburn entered the locker room and immediately started dressing down every player on the team one by one. There was a big basket of oranges put in the room by Louisville for the team, which Big Uhl was already consuming. Upset, Donoher hurled an orange at the door Blackburn had just exited, only narrowly missing the coach returning to the locker room. “No one uttered a word,” recalled Donoher, this showed that the team loved and respected their captain more than they feared their coach. It also demonstrated the guts and loyalty of the captain to his team. His team won that night, thanks to twenty-four from Donoher.[9]

Donoher with Adolph Frederick Rupp, the legendary basketball coach of the University of Kentucky. Donoher Collection


The team finished the year with a second round loss in the NIT to Niagara 77-71. The senior captain’s playing career ended with a total of seventy-two varsity game appearances. He graduated with a major in business and was also captain of the varsity basketball team.[10] During his time at Dayton, Donoher was an ROTC member and met his wife, Sonia, who was also a member.[11] Their marriage came shortly after graduation and was built around Donoher’s two years of service in the Army. His brother did the honors and they were allowed to take a short honeymoon before Donoher was sent off to Germany.[12] He became a platoon officer and was able to play basketball in his free time. After his two years were up, he returned to the states and decided to call Dayton home.

He and his wife had four children Paul, Gary, Marie, and Brian. Paul was a manager on his staff for two seasons and would later become a member of the Naval Academy. Gary was into the arts and followed his dreams of Hollywood by attending DePaul then NYU, before passing away. Marie was a flight attendant who lives in the suburbs of Chicago with her husband. Brian, a basketball player  would have knee problems but followed in his father’s footsteps in becoming a coach at Wright State University before becoming a businessman after a short stint as an Athletic Director at a high school in Dayton.[13]
Beginning of Coaching Career

After returning to Dayton in 1957, Donoher took a job as an equipment sales manager. Donoher reached out to Blackburn to see if he could help in any way. Blackburn gave him the task of scouting potential prospects for the team. In the meantime, a former teammate, Tom Frericks, hired Donoher as the assistant coach at Chaminade Julienne High School.[14]

Donoher remained as an assistant on the team until Coach Blackburn called asking if he would be willing to join his staff as a full-time assistant. Blackburn wanted Donoher on his staff because he knew he had a mind for the game. Donoher joined the team as an assistant through the season.

Unknown to Donoher, or anyone else at the University, Coach Blackburn had been suffering from lung cancer since the beginning of 1962-63 season. Late in the 1963/64 season, he would become too ill to coach leaving Donoher in charge for the last 3 games. He led the team to a 2-1 record. Donoher was one of very few people to visit Blackburn in the hospital but went every day to see his mentor until his death. Don was named head coach of the team mid-April of 1964, only eleven days after Blackburn had passed away.[15] Being only 31 at the time, Donoher was taking on a task that most coaches never even got the chance to do in their lifetime, coaching major Division I basketball team.

Dayton Daily announcement of Donohers’ being awarded the Montgomery County Award of personal achievement in 1967. Dayton Daily clipping, Donoher Collection.
Above: Donoher preparing for game with his coaching staff. Below: Holding the NIT Championship trophy. Frericks Family Collection
First Moves as Head Coach

Donoher’s first move as coach was to hire assistant coach Chuck Grigsby, who had been one of his former teammates. His first season took a hit when he lost key player Burlong due to his ineligibility for bad grades. The team hit a three game losing streak but after the third game, Donoher told all of his players that they were not going home anytime soon and to come back into the locker room. He made them practice until well after midnight but it paid off with a thirteen game win streak. The season was cut short in the second round of the NCAA tournament when they lost to first ranked Michigan, ending his first season 22-7.[16]

In his first two seasons, Donoher’s team was led by junior forward Hank Finkel. Today Donoher credits Finkel with making his career possible. Finkel was taken in the NBA draft by the Los Angeles Lakers after his sophomore season.[17] This troubled Donoher because he knew how much Finkel meant to the success of the team and tried everything to get him to stay. In the months leading up to his first full season as coach, he had two things helping him. It turned out that Hank’s mother wanted him to get his degree and Hank wanted to play for Coach Donoher. Finkel bypassed his NBA contract even after LA doubled the initial offer. His reasoning was “rooted in love for Donoher” and is quoted in Ritter’s The Flyers saying, “I learned more in that one year from an assistant than I ever had before.”[18]

The next year looked even more promising, another young star player Don May was returning and named pre-season All-American. The 1965/66 season led to another run to the NCAA tournament with a record of 23-6. The NCAA tournament pitted the Flyers against the Pat Riley led Kentucky Wildcats. They lost the game 86-79.[19]

The following 1966/67 season saw a mature 1964 freshman class coming of age. In addition to May were Ruby Waterman, Glinder Torain, and Joe Harper. Donoher had help in the recruitment of May, whose mother worked in the University of Dayton school cafeteria and grew up just across the street from campus. Waterman, came from New York City. Donoher’s old Army buddy was his high school coach.[20]

With the departure of Finkel, Donoher began to implement his three guard starting lineup with two big men down low protecting the paint, allowing for the perimeter to be better defended than the traditional three big men rotations of the time. This was the defensive scheme that fit the team and would be used throughout Donoher’s coaching tenure. The change came at halftime of the Baldwin-Wallace game where they pressed coming out of halftime and made a thirty-six point halftime tie breaker into a 53-38 point lead five minutes into the second half.[21]

NCAA Championship Run

During this season, the Flyers suffered a big loss to Louisville and a dummy of Donoher was hanged on the campus for the first time in the coach’s career. [22] But the team rattled off six straight wins and finished the year 21-5. They were able to get a bid to the NCAA tournament and beat the ninth ranked Western Kentucky team thanks to Donoher’s slow style of play. This style of play resulted in a win against eighth ranked SEC champs Tennessee. The team continued winning through the next two rounds against Virginia Tech and North Carolina (UNC). After the UNC game, Athletic Director Tom Frericks made his famous, “I think you just got us a new building,” referring to the construction plans to build a new arena.[23] The championship game was against John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins led by Lew Alcindor, later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the leading scorer in NBA history.

Coach Donoher being burned in effigy by UD students in 1967. Daytonian 1968, University Yearbooks 23-149. University of Datyon Archives, Dayton Ohio.

The next season brought high hopes for an established senior class. However, after suffering early losses to Miami and Eastern Kentucky, the team had a 6-8 record. After the Eastern game, Hooper recalls Donoher warning the men as they got onto the bus, “I don’t want to hear a word from anybody. And when we stop to eat, all I want to hear is the knives and forks dropping onto your plates.”[24] In an interview with former player George Janky, he remembered that, “Donoher wanted us to sit next to each other so the stink would rub off onto each other.” Janky continued, “And when we stopped at the Howard Johnson’s to eat,” he said, “I don’t want to hear any conversation. Just knives and forks hitting the God damned plate. You think Marine boot camp is bad? Wait until I get your asses back to Dayton.”[25]After a couple more losses, the team was able to put together a fourteen game winning streak to end out the season 21-19 and a bid to the NIT. This made it three tournament appearances in Donoher’s first three years, making him one of only ten coaches to achieve this feat.[26] The team would go on to win the championship game making it the second time in seven years, but without much help from two previous season’s stars Waterman and Torain.
Donoher at NCAA event with legendary Indiana University Coach Bobby Knight. Although they possessed very different personalities the two became friends. Knight deeply respected Donohers’ coaching. Donoher Collection
Waterman Affair

On February 28, Waterman was invited to join Phil Donahue’s show on campus and made remarks claiming he experienced discrimination by students, players, and the athletic department. George Janky believed that this incident was blown out of proportion by the media looking for a story. But there is no definite answer as to why these two players might’ve thought this way but their experiences are their own. These actions had a huge impact on the team and has been pointed to as the cause of the struggles during the early stages of the season. Although another player on the team, Dan Sadlier does not believe the affair had an impact on the season. He believes that if the team didn’t start off with such a bad record, the incident would’ve never had happened.[27]

Waterman would later reconcile Donoher ten years after on his way to a new job in Chicago. Waterman would later go through a divorce, the loss of his job, and other events that led to an attempted suicide. He did not die immediately and was in a coma for an extended period of time. Donoher visited Waterman and his mother in New York City, before delivering his eulogy.[28] Torain has severed all ties with the University and was last known playing basketball overseas in Europe


Post 1969 Season

After this season, Donoher led the team to a 20-7 record with a first round exit in the NCAA tournament. The year after was the first season of the newly built UD Arena and the first season Notre Dame played the Flyers since before World War I.[29] Following that season, Donoher coached his first team to win less than twenty games. Competition was getting tougher by the season with the addition of the Arena. The 71/72 season was the first time that a Donoher team was outrebounded and outscored by opposing teams. In a sign of the challenges Donoher faced, he was also assessed his first technical foul in his coaching tenure after seven seasons.[30]

Highlights of the Donoher’s teams in the 1970’s included legendary games such as the triple Over Time (OT) loss to the Bill Walton led UCLA Bruins. The next highlight was the upset of the second ranked team Notre Dame. Donoher also experienced his first losing season in the 1974/75 season

During these years he coached legendary players the likes of Roosevelt Chapman, the leading scorer in UD basketball history. But even he wasn’t an exception to Donoher’s strict rules. Chapman missed a pre-game meal and a training room assignment, followed by a seat on the bench from Donoher for a game. Chapman’s career high was during the 1983/84 season against number seven ranked Oklahoma where he scored forty-one. [31] Another one of the highlights of this final season with Chapman, was the win against rival Cincinnati. This game signaled an end to a nine game losing streak by the Flyers. The team would finish the regular season with a record of 21-11. The Flyers won the first three games of the tournament before a regional championship loss to the future National Championship Georgetown Hoyas, led by Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing.[32]


Near the end of his coaching career at UD a string a losing seasons produced pressure to remove Donoher. Dayton Daily.
Donoher would continue coaching until his twenty-fifth season when he suffered an 11-16 record. He would turn down the opportunity to retire and on March 25th it was announced that Donoher would be fired by his friend and Athletic Director Tom Frericks.
Plaque commemorating the 1984 Olympic Team Gold Metal. Donoher Collection.
Post UD Career

At age 57, Donoher was not ready to retire. He taught a coaching class and worked for development at the University of Dayton for a number of years before taking a job working for the Cleveland Cavaliers. His former player, Jim Paxson, was the General Manager of the franchise.[33] Donoher had the opportunity getting to work for the Cavs as a college recruiter where he’d go to four games a week scouting for the NBA franchise. Donoher would leave the Cavs after six years once Jim Paxson was let go and came to Dayton where he would become a bench coach for thirteen years at his grandkids high school.[34] As Donoher recalled in his interview, 2018, was the first year he has been away from coaching since he can remember.

Donoher was even invited to be a part of the Bob Knight coached 1984 Olympic basketball team.[35] He was one of four coaches on staff including legends Bobby Knight, C.M. Newton, and George Raveling. Donoher recalled seventy-five players came for the tryout including Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley. The coaching staff cut the number of players down to twenty and had those twenty come to a mini camp in Bloomington, Indiana. Bobby Knight told Barkley that if he wanted to be on the team, he had to lose about five or ten pounds. He came back five over and was cut. Donoher mainly worked with the centers, but he made clear that every coach on staff helped in every aspect of the game. The team won the Gold Medal game against Spain 96-65.[36]


Donoher finished his coaching career as the winningest coach in University of Dayton basketball history with a record of 437-275, 8 NCAA trips, 7 NIT trips, and 1 NIT championship. An astounding fact is that of 136 players on scholarship under Donoher, 90% went on to receive their degrees from UD.[37] In 1992, Donoher was inducted into the University of Dayton Hall of Fame. In the ceremony he was welcomed by 36 former players, 12 managers, and a roaring standing ovation from those present that day.[38] In 1998 he was given the honor of having a state of the art basketball facility attached to the UD Arena called the Don Donoher Center. The $1.25 million facility includes 3 locker rooms, a conference room, a video control room with enough TVs and VCRs to fill an appliance store.[39] Donoher was just recently inducted into the Ohio basketball Hall of Fame in 2015.[40]

Donoher’s legacy lives on even today. The author of this paper can remember back in 2016 when a Schwann’s food delivery driver commented on the UD shirt he was wearing. The driver discussed the 1967 NCAA championship game where the Flyers lost to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He did not remember much about the game besides the name of the Flyers coach, Don Donoher, and his valiant effort to take down the giant that was UCLA. Some thirty years after his final season of coaching at the University of Dayton, Donoher’s legend lives on.

Above Right: Brochure from honorary dinner given for Coach Donoher. Right: Plaques given in appreciation to Coach Donoher by former players.

Collet, Ritter. The Flyers: A History of University of Dayton Basketball (Dayton, Ohio: Landfall Press Inc, 1989), 45.

Dan Sadlier Interview. November 6, 2018.

Dayton Daily News Article  (Dayton, OH), June 1973, IT Buildings and Dedications, Box 1, Folder 3, University of Dayton Special Collection, University of Dayton Archives, Dayton, OH.

Don Donoher Interview, October 24, 2018.

Dedication of the Fieldhouse Brochure. Dayton: University of Dayton, 1950. IT Buildings and Dedications Box 2, Folder 1, University of Dayton Special Collection, University of Dayton Archives, Dayton, OH.

Gary McCans and Tom Frericks Jr Interview, September 27, 2018.

The End of an Era Pamphlet. Dayton: University of Dayton, 1969. IT Buildings and Dedications Box 2, Folder 1. University of Dayton Special Collection. University of Dayton Archives. Dayton, OH.

George Janky Interview. November 1, 2018.

Moore, Scotty. “UD Fieldhouse” IT Buildings and Dedications. Box 1, Folder 2. University of Dayton Special Collection. University of Dayton Archives. Dayton, OH.

Smith, Perry. “Negro Leader addresses 6,500 here. Violence Not Answer King Says,” Dayton Daily News (Dayton, OH), November 30, 1964.



[1] “Career Coaching Leaders and Records for Wins.” College Basketball at Accessed October 28, 2018.

[2] UD arranges for Donoher Honoring, UD Archives

[3] Collet, Ritter. The Flyers: A History of University of Dayton Basketball (Dayton, Ohio: Landfall Press Inc, 1989), 209

[4] Donoher to Receive USBWA’s Dean Smith Award- University of Dayton.” University of Dayton Athletics. Dec 10, 2017. Assessed October 29, 2018.

[5] Interview with Donoher. October 18.2018

[6] Interview with Donoher

[7] Interview with Donoher

[8] Interview with Donoher

[9] Ritter, Collet. The Flyers: A History of University of Dayton Basketball (Dayton, Ohio: Landfall Press Inc, 1989), 70.

[10] Daytonian Yearbook 1954, UD archives Donoher Folder

[11] Interview with Donoher

[12] Ibid

[13] Interview with Donoher

[14] Collet, Ritter. The Flyers: A History of University of Dayton Basketball (Dayton, Ohio: Landfall Press Inc, 1989), 112.

[15] Donoher Fact Sheet, UD Archives Donoher Folder

[16]Collet, Ritter. The Flyers: A History of University of Dayton Basketball (Dayton, Ohio: Landfall Press Inc, 1989), 123.

[17] Ibid, 119

[18] Ibid, 120

[19] Ibid, 126

[20] Ibid, 127

[21] Ibid, 131

[22] Daytonian 1968, University Yearbooks 23-149

[23] Ibid, 136

[24] Ibid, 141

[25] George Janky Interview. November 1, 2018

[26] Donoher Fact Sheet, UD Archives

[27] Dan Sadlier Interview. November 6, 2018

[28]Collet, Ritter. The Flyers: A History of University of Dayton Basketball (Dayton, Ohio: Landfall Press Inc, 1989), 149.

[29] Ibid, 160

[30] Ibid, 165

[31] Ibid, 203

[32] Ibid, 207

[33] Interview with Donoher

[34] Ibid

[35] Collet, Ritter. The Flyers: A History of University of Dayton Basketball (Dayton, Ohio: Landfall Press Inc, 1989), 209

[36] Interview with Donoher,

[37] UD arranges for Donoher Honoring, UD Archives

[38] Donoher’s homecoming a Moment to Remember, UD Archives. Box 2 Folder 3

[39] Donoher Basketball Center, UD Archives. Box 2 Folder 1

[40]  Ibid.