New Hampshire Football Report

UNH’s McDonnell retires

DURHAM  Forty-five years after he first stepped foot on campus, 30 seasons from when he took on a coaching role at his alma mater and nearly 23 years since he took the reins from his Hall of Fame mentor, University of New Hampshire head football coach Sean McDonnell announced his retirement Wednesday, effective immediately.

“It’s time,” McDonnell said. “It’s time for a new face, new ideas and a new way of doing things around here. I can’t begin to say thank you enough for the opportunities the University of New Hampshire has given to me: as a student, as an assistant coach and then as its head football coach. This has been the honor of a lifetime.

“I’ll forever be grateful to the fans, the administration, the alumni, my coaches and most importantly, my players and my family.”

McDonnell, who was twice named the Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year (2005, 2014), departs UNH as the CAA’s active leader in conference victories (100), which is No. 3 on the league’s all-time leaderboard. His 157 career wins rank second in UNH history behind his former head coach and National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Famer Bill Bowes (175 wins), whom he succeeded April 22, 1999, to become the 19th head coach in UNH history.

McDonnell embraced the honor of ‘standing on the shoulders’ of a coaching legend to elevate the football program to even greater heights. The Wildcats rose to national prominence through a remarkable 14-year run of NCAA playoff berths and 14 playoff victories from 2004-17. Highlighting that stretch of excellence were three conference championships (2005, 2012, 2014), back-to-back national semifinal game appearances (2013-14), an incredible stretch of 162 consecutive weeks ranked in the STATS FCS Top 25 (Sept. 6, 2004 – Oct. 12, 2015) and wins in the final 15 games played at Cowell Stadium, which served as the team’s home for 79 seasons prior to the opening of Wildcat Stadium in 2016.

“Words alone cannot capture what Sean McDonnell has meant to this University, the athletics department and the sport of football in the state of New Hampshire,” said Marty Scarano, UNH Director of Athletics. “Legacy, legendary, transformative and visionary are words frequently used to describe great people and their accomplishments, but often fall well short of the truth. I’m here to tell you these terms truly embody Sean and just begin to skim the surface of his magnitude.

“His record is indeed legendary, his deeds have been transformative and he possessed a vision for playing football the right way that played out every Saturday, week after week, season after season. Most of all, though, he is a man of enormous integrity, honesty and virtue. His role-modeling and mentoring thousands of young men will not be replaced; we can only hope to take what he has given us and carry it forward.”

McDonnell’s other significant coaching accolades include AFCA District Coach of the Year (4x, 2004-05-12-14), CAA Coach of the Year (2x, 2004-14), New England Football Writers Coach of the Year (6x, 2005-08-10-12-14-16) and Gridiron Club of Greater Boston Head Coach of the Year (4x, 2000-04-09-12). In 2013, McDonnell was honored by the Joe Yukica-New Hampshire Chapter of the National Football Foundation with the Andy Mooradian Award for his contributions to amateur football.

Through McDonnell’s hard-hat and lunch-bucket approach, UNH football became an FBS giant killer with five straight victories against higher-level competition from 2004-09, which featured defeats of Rutgers (’04), Northwestern (’06), Marshall (’07), Army (’08) and Ball State (’09); McDonnell’s Wildcats added another FBS victim, Georgia Southern, to their ledger in 2017.

McDonnell, a Saratoga Springs, N.Y., native, mentored 14 student-athletes to a combined 55 All-American awards, which included the nation’s top offensive player (Ricky Santos, Walter Payton Award, 2006) best defensive player (Matt Evans, Buck Buchanan Award, 2011), and NCAA all-time record holder for touchdown receptions (David Ball, 58, 2003-06).

During McDonnell’s tenure, the Wildcats boasted 46 All-CAA First Team selections, four CAA Offensive Player of the Year Award recipients (Ricky Santos, 3x, 2005-07; Kevin Decker, 2011) and three CoSIDA Academic All-Americans (Kyle Reisert, 2x, 2017-18; Nick Marino, 2017).

McDonnell’s coaching tree extends far and wide throughout the professional, college and high school ranks. Current college football head coaches who either coached, played –or both– for Coach Mac include Chip Kelly (UCLA), Ryan Day (Ohio State), Joe Conlin (Fordham), Tony Trisciani (Elon), Dan Curran (Merrimack) and Mike Lichten (University of New England).

Four former Wildcats who played for McDonnell went on to play in the NFL: Corey Graham (Chicago Bears, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Philadelphia Eagles); Dan Kreider (Pittsburgh Steelers); Randal Williams (Dallas Cowboys, Oakland Raiders) and Jason Ball (San Diego Chargers).

McDonnell, a standout defensive back for the Wildcats from 1975-78, served eight seasons as an assistant coach at UNH, including five years as offensive coordinator.

He and his wife, Jenny Sheehan, raised their sons Timmy and Tommy in their home in the heart of the UNH campus, where they have lived for more than two decades.

“It’s a great day to be alive and to be a New Hampshire Wildcat,” McDonnell added.

An announcement regarding the next head coach of the program is expected in the coming days.

Sean McDonnell Coaching Biography 

• Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year (’14, ’05)
• Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year
finalist (‘04)
• National Coach of the Year, AFCA (’14)
• District Coach of the Year, AFCA (’14, ‘12, ‘05, ‘04)
• New England Football Writers Coach of the Year     (’16, ’14, ‘12, ‘10, ‘08, ‘05)
• College Head Coach of the Year, Gridiron Club of
Greater Boston (‘12, ‘09, ‘04,‘00)

College Coaching Experience
• University of New Hampshire (30 years)
º Head coach (23 years)
º Offensive coordinator (5 years)
º QB / WR coach (3 years)
• Columbia University (2 years)
• Boston College, grad assistant (1 year)
• Boston University, WR/TE (3 years)
• Hamilton College, defensive coordinator (2 years)

Year by Year
1999 5-6 (3-5 Atlantic 10)
2000 6-5 (4-4 Atlantic 10)
2001 4-7 (2-7 Atlantic 10)
2002 3-8 (2-7 Atlantic 10)
2003 5-7 (3-6 Atlantic 10)
2004 10-3 (6-2 Atlantic 10) NCAA quarterfinals
2005 11-2 (7-1 Atlantic 10) NCAA quarterfinals
2006 9-4 (5-3 Atlantic 10) NCAA quarterfinals
2007 7-5 (4-4 CAA) NCAA first round
2008 10-3 (6-2 CAA) NCAA quarterfinals
2009 10-3 (6-2 CAA) NCAA quarterfinals
2010 8-5 (5-3 CAA) NCAA quarterfinals
2011 8-4 (6-2 CAA) NCAA second round
2012 8-4 (6-2 CAA) NCAA second round
2013 10-5 (6-2 CAA) NCAA semifinals
2014 12-2 (8-0 CAA) NCAA semifinals
2015 7-5 (5-3 CAA) NCAA first round
2016 8-5 (6-2 CAA) NCAA second round
2017 9-5 (5-3 CAA) NCAA quarterfinals
2018 4-7 (3-5 CAA)
2019 Did not coach
Spring 2021 0-1 (0-1 CAA)*

2021 3-8 (2-6 CAA)
Career: 157-104 (.602)   | CAA Record: 100-72 (.581)

*COVID-19 abbreviated spring season

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