Mike Donnelly, the winningest football coach in Muhlenberg College history, died Wednesday of complications from leukemia. He was 65.
Donnelly leaves behind a tremendous legacy on and off the field. One of his former players recently posted on Facebook: "This man left an indelible and positive mark on my life that I try to repay every day as a father, husband, professional and now volunteer coach in my community. Countless others that played or worked for him would say the same. He's a prime example of how teachers, mentors and coaches are so important."
The 2017 season was Donnelly's 21st at Muhlenberg. Taking over a program that struggled in the years prior to his arrival, Donnelly turned the Mules into a perennial championship and postseason contender and Division III national top-10 team.
The Mules are 141-62 (.695) in their last 203 games and have earned 13 postseason invitations since 2000. They tied for the Centennial Conference championship four consecutive years (2001-04) and made their first national playoff appearance in 2002.
In the 34-year history of the CC, only one coach has won more championships than Donnelly's seven. He is third all-time with 106 wins in CC games and entered the 2017 season tied for 24th among active Division III coaches in career wins. His career record was 143-76.
In his 20 complete seasons, Donnelly coached 19 All-Americans, nine Centennial Conference players of the year, two CC rookies of the year and seven Academic All-Americans. The program's all-time leaders in almost every statistical category played during his tenure.
Donnelly also served as defensive coordinator for one of the stingiest units in Division III. The Mules have allowed fewer than 300 yards and 20 points per game in the regular season every year since 2001.
Donnelly was named regional coach of the year by the American Football Coaches Association and D3football.com in 2007 after leading Muhlenberg to its first undefeated regular season in the 106-year program history. The Mules won the Centennial Conference championship, finished the regular season with a 10-0 record and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs. They were ranked eighth in the country in the final poll of the season.
The 2008 squad repeated as CC champion and rose to No. 2 in one national poll — the highest national ranking ever for any Muhlenberg team in any sport. Donnelly was voted CC coach of the year.
In the months since his diagnosis, Donnelly was a strong advocate for awareness of leukemia and blood diseases. Muhlenberg partnered with "Be the Match" and the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation for the #DigInforDuke campaign, which culminated on September 1 with "Muhlenberg Gives," a day-long on-campus blood drive and bone marrow registry drive. The event resulted in nearly 400 new marrow-registry signups and approximately 59 blood donations.
Originally from Albany, N.Y., Donnelly graduated from Ithaca College in 1975. He had more than 40 years of coaching experience at the high school, Division I, II and III levels, including stints at Albany, East Stroudsburg, Rensselaer, Ithaca, Lafayette, Buffalo and Columbia.
Donnelly is survived by his wife, Beth, and children, Lauren and Brendan.
Muhlenberg College will host a celebration of his life and coaching career at a date to be determined.