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Georgia fires Jim Donnan

ATHENS, Ga., Dec. 4 -- In a surprise move that left many players in shock, the University of Georgia Monday fired football coach Jim Donnan less than three weeks before the Bulldogs will play in the Oahu Bowl.

The university reportedly will pay Donnan some $2.1 million for the remaining two years on his contract.

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The school said one of Donnan's assistants would coach the 7-4 team Dec. 24 against Virginia, but it was reported the team asked Athletic Director Vince Dooley to intervene to allow Donnan to coach the bowl game.

Dooley, speaking of the move at a news conference, said Monday, "While there were many factors that came into play, in the final analysis there was an overall lack of confidence in the program."

What he didn't say publicly was that support among the well-heeled and most influential Bulldog supporters had eroded dramatically in the wake of three straight regular-season ending losses to arch-rival Georgia Tech.

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The firing of their coach, who broke the news to them at a mid-afternoon meeting, left many players bewildered.

"I was really surprised," junior quarterback Cory Phillips told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We heard some talk right after the Tech game, sure. But after awhile, we didn't hear anything. Coach Donnan was very emotional. It was a tough thing for all of us. Some have been with him five years."

Donnan himself was surprised, saying earlier in the day, "I'd be shocked" if it happened. He had said last summer that he had "waited 55 years to coach a football team with this much potential." Ironically, that statement came back to haunt him.

UGA President Michael Adams made the decision to dismiss Donnan, even after Dooley had given the coach a vote of confidence less than a month ago. Adams didn't think the school would have any difficulty finding a suitable replacement.

"We don't want to lose any recruits because of this, but we're going to do what's necessary to find the best possible coach," Adams said. "I believe the university is making the right decision. This, for me, is not just a decision about W's and L's or X's and O's. I don't think the program is headed in the right direction. We think there will be a long line of applicants who would like an opportunity to lead this program. There is no timetable."

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The 55-year-old Donnan, a native of Burlington, N.C., compiled a 39-19 record in five seasons in Athens and was 3-0 in bowl games. He spent six seasons as coach at Marshall before arriving at Georgia and three times guided the Thundering Herd to the Division I-AA national championship game.

With quarterback Quincy Carter a Heisman Trophy candidate at the season's outset, the Bulldogs began the campaign ranked 11th in the nation in the coaches poll and were picked by many to finally dethrone Tennessee and Florida in the East Division of the SEC.

Their national title hopes ended in the season's second game with a stunning 21-10 loss to South Carolina. Despite beating Tennessee for the first time in nine years later in the campaign, the Bulldogs dropped three of their final four contests, including losses to Florida and the Yellow Jackets.

His overall record against the Gators, Volunteers and Yellow Jackets was 4-11, including just 1-8 in the last three years.

After three mediocre seasons under Ray Goff, the Bulldogs turned to Donnan, who had spent time as an assistant at six other Division I-A programs. Georgia went just 5-6 in Donnan's first year, but the next season climbed to 10-2, routed Wisconsin, 33-6, in the Outback Bowl and finished the campaign ranked among the nation's elite.

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The Bulldogs slipped to 9-3 the following season despite a two-point win over Virginia in the Peach Bowl and, in 1999, finished 8-4 following a 28-25 overtime win over Purdue in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day. In that contest, the Bulldogs made the biggest comeback in bowl game history after trailing, 25-0.

Prior to posting a 64-21 record at Marshall, Donnan was an assistant at Oklahoma (1985-89), Missouri (1981-84), Kansas State (1978-80), North Carolina (1974-77), Florida State (1972-73) and North Carolina State (1969-71).

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