Middle Tennessee athletics honored one of the most recognized names in Blue Raider history with a full-size statue that will appear in the front lawn of the Kennon Sports Hall of Fame building. The dedication was held Saturday for James "Boots" Donnelly, prior to Middle Tennessee's Homecoming game against Vanderbilt.
Ed Bunio, a longtime MTSU assistant under Donnelly, spearheaded an effort to raise funds for a 6-foot-6 bronze statue. Plans call for a granite wall behind the statue with the names of every player, assistant coach, trainer, manager and secretary who worked in the program during Donnelly's tenure as coach (1979-98).
We have photos from the event held Saturday on our website, WGNSRadio.com, keyword Boots.
Donnelly was a player on the football team in the early '60s, then became head football coach in 1979 and held that position for 20 years before resigning in 1998. Donnelly then spent the next two years as director of community relations in the athletic department before being selected by former president James Walker to take over as interim athletic director. Donnelly was later named the full-time athletic director in 2002.
In his 20 years as head coach of the Blue Raiders, Donnelly amassed an overall record of 140-87-1, ranking him as the 8th most successful head coach in NCAA Division I-AA history at the time.
When Donnelly came back to his alma mater to assume the head coaching position, the Blue Raiders had not had a winning season in six seasons and hadn't won an Ohio Valley Conference title in 13 years. It took him three seasons to post a winning mark at Middle Tennessee, but from there the results speak for themselves.
During his illustrious career, Boots won four Ohio Valley Conference championships, had 10 National Top 25 finishes, made seven I-AA playoff appearances, had 14 players go on to play in the NFL, coached nine First Team All-Americans, had 12 OVC Players of the Year, was a three-time OVC Coach of the Year, and a two-time Regional Coach of the Year. Boots also received the National Football Foundation "Contribution to Football" award in 1989 and was named the Tennessee Sports Writers Coach of the Year in 1988 and again in 1994.
A member of the Blue Raider Hall of Fame (1993), Donnelly was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 1997 and was also selected for the College Football Hall of Fame in 2013.
His coaching career began at Nashville's Father Ryan High School, where he had been a top-flight, all-around athlete. He was an assistant coach there for eight years before becoming head coach in 1974, leading Ryan to a 21-1 record over two seasons, including a perfect 13-0 mark and the Tennessee Class AAA title in '74.
Donnelly had been the Nashville Interscholastic League's Player of the Year in 1960, before enrolling at Middle Tennessee, where he played as a defensive back for three seasons. He passed up his final year of eligibility with the Blue Raiders in 1965 to complete his degree. He added the master's degree from Middle Tennessee in 1966.
Donnelly's ties to Middle Tennessee don't begin with coaching. He played football for the Blue Raiders from 1962-64 under another legendary Blue Raider coach, Charles "Bubber" Murphy. During his time as a player, Middle Tennessee compiled an overall record of 22-8-1.
Donnelly is married to the former Carole Holzapfel. The couple has three daughters - Bunny, Helen, and Lauren.
JAMES "BOOTS" DONNELLY
MIDDLE TENNESSEE HEAD FOOTBALL COACH (1979-98)
140-87-1 at MTSU; 14-7 at Austin Peay
1984 NCAA I-AA Playoffs
1985 OVC Champions (team also ranked No. 1 nationally)
1985 NCAA I-AA Playoffs
1989 OVC Champions
1989 NCAA I-AA Playoffs
1990 co-OVC Champions
1990 NCAA I-AA Playoffs
1991 NCAA I-AA Playoffs
1992 OVC Champions
1992 NCAA I-AA Playoffs
1994 NCAA I-AA Playoffs
(Also, team had 10 National Top 20 finishes during his MTSU career as head coach)
1977 OVC Coach of the Year (Austin Peay)
1983 co-OVC Coach of the Year
1984 NCAA Region 3 Coach of the Year
1985 OVC Coach of the Year
1985 NCAA Region 3 Coach of the Year
1988 Tennessee Sports Writers Coach of the Year
1989 OVC Coach of the Year
1994 Tennessee Sports Writers Coach of the Year
HALL OF FAME INDUCTIONS
1993 Blue Raider Hall of Fame
1997 Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame
2013 National Football Foundation Hall of Fame
1960 Nashville Interscholastic League Player of the Year
1989 National Football Foundation "Contribution to Football" Award
Coached 12 OVC Players of the Year
Had 14 players go on to play in the NFL