September 4, 2012

100th career win looms for Mules coach

More news about: Muhlenberg
In 1997, Mike Donnelly took over a Muhlenberg program that had won 13 games in the previous seven seasons. Although he won only one game in his first season, Donnelly now stands at 99 career wins and is the winningest coach in Muhlenberg program history.
Muhlenberg athletics photo

Since taking the head coaching reins at Muhlenberg in 1997, it seems that all Mike Donnelly has done is make history. The Mules' next victory will be another milestone for the winningest head coach in program history.

Donnelly enters Sept. 8's game against Franklin and Marshall with 99 career victories. The Mules' program has come a long way since Donnelly's inaugural season yielded just one win. Despite the significance of reaching the century mark in wins, Donnelly is more focused on earning a win in the opening game of Centennial Conference play.

"Every game's important," Donnelly said. "Coaches don't think about those sorts of things."

"I tell our players to look back when the season's over and look at your season. I look at my career the same way. I'll look back when it's over."

Although he may not want to pay attention to the looming milestone, the odds are in favor of Donnelly notching win number 100 this weekend. The Mules have won 10 of their past 13 home openers.

There will be a familiar face on the opposite sideline. Diplomats head coach John Troxell spent four years as an assistant at Muhlenberg and was part of Donnelly's first coaching staff at Muhlenberg. The pair came to Muhlenberg from Columbia University, where they coached together for three seasons. The two have remained close over the years and have enjoyed squaring off in Centennial Conference play each year since Troxell took the head coaching job at F&M in 2006.

"Coaches love to compete against their friends," Donnelly said. "He was my offensive coordinator, and I'm the defensive coordinator, so it will be like a chess match out there."

Troxell is looking forward to the opportunity of playing spoiler, knowing that his mentor will almost certainly reach his 100th win this season. The bonds that are forged when a coaching staff takes over a floundering program and builds it until a perennial playoff contender are hard to break. Troxell is trying to model his program after the Mules'. After six full seasons, he is already fifth on the coaching wins list at Franklin and Marshall. He credits Donnelly with teaching him how to develop and lead a program.

"He instilled that competitive nature in me and showed me how to turn a program around," Troxell said. "I have a lot of respect for him."

Since becoming Centennial rivals, the two coaches are even. The Diplomats and Mules have split their past six matchups. From Troxell's standpoint, the pressure sits squarely on Donnelly's shoulders to come out of Saturday's game with the edge in the series.

"If they win, it's because he's the teacher and he's supposed to beat me," Troxell said. "If they lose, it's because he taught me too well."

This summer, Troxell and Donnelly celebrated other milestones together. Troxell turned 40, and Donnelly turned 60. Donnelly's wife threw the coach a surprise birthday party, and Troxell was in attendance. There will not be an exchange of gifts on Saturday.

"I already gave him his birthday present this year, and I don't plan on giving him another one," joked Troxell.

Donnelly won't be looking for a present from Troxell this weekend. If the Mules' defense plays like it did in the season opener at Apprentice School, the Mules will receive several gifts. The staple of Donnelly's success has always been Muhlenberg's defense, which the head coach still coordinates himself. The Mules forced four turnovers and held Apprentice to 285 yards of total offense in the team's 27-7 win. They will be tested by a Diplomats squad that rolled up 444 yards of total offense in a 35-28 shootout victory over Washington and Lee. The Diplomats outgained the prolific Generals offense and won the seesaw battle when Lamont Jackson scored with 15 seconds left on the clock.

To Donnelly, this is just the next game on the schedule. Before he arrived in Allentown, the Mules had won just 13 games in the previous seven seasons. Under Donnelly's leadership, the Mules have made six playoff appearances and won or tied for the conference championship seven times. In his 16th season, Donnelly doesn't worry about breaking records or making history at Muhlenberg. The 100the win will come, if not this weekend, then soon. The number will not change the joy and passion that Donnelly brings to the Muhlenberg program each and every day.

Said the coach with 99 career wins: "I'm happy to be able to do something I really love every day."

Number of the Week: 7. After All-American safety Jake Pelton picked off three passes in Washington and Lee's loss to Franklin and Marshall, he probably figured that he led the nation in interceptions after Week 1. His lead in the national rankings would be short-lived. Wesley safety Jared Morris notched four interceptions in his team's 34-14 win over East Texas Baptist. Two players combined for seven interceptions. The Division III record for most interceptions in a game is five, most recently accomplished in 2002.

Team of the Week: Johns Hopkins. The Blue Jays looked to be in postseason form in their only nonconference game of the regular season. Randolph-Macon was expected to give the Blue Jays all they could handle in one of Week 1's marquee matchups. Instead, the Johns Hopkins defense was stifling, holding the Yellow Jackets to just 197 yards of offense, including just 32 yards on the ground. Zac Naccarato was sacked six times. The Blue Jays defense was led by Hani Annabi, Adam Schweyer, and Andy Laychur.

Looking Ahead: Week 2 is highlighted by two conference favorites squaring off in Farmville. Christopher Newport, the USA South favorite and defending champion, was humbled by No. 6 Salisbury in the season opener. The schedule does not get much easier, as the Captains travel to ODAC favorite and defending champion Hampden-Sydney to take on the 1-0 Tigers. Evan King had a big day for Hampden-Sydney in the win over Averett, rushing for 134 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. In his first start at quarterback, transfer Nash Nance underwhelmed, completing just 16 of 39 passes for 169 yards with two interceptions to one touchdown. In what should be a high-scoring affair, the Captains will counter Nance and King with quarterback Aaron Edwards and wideout Rudy Rudolph. Edwards played well against Salisbury, completing 26 of 43 passes for 253 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Rudolph had a big day, hauling in seven passes for 126 yards and two scores.

What Did I Miss? The rust has been knocked off and the regular season is now in full swing. Do you know about any upcoming milestones, big games, or new names in the Mid-Atlantic? Please share them with me. If you have suggestions for next week's column, please reach out to me at @adamturer or adam.turer@d3sports.com. Enjoy Week 2!

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Adam Turer

Adam Turer graduated in 2006 from Washington and Lee University, where he was a two-year starter at free safety. He lives in Cincinnati and covers area high school sports in addition to his full-time job as an attorney. Adam has contributed to D3football.com since 2007 and is in his third season as Around the Mid-Atlantic columnist.

2007-2011 columnist: Ryan Tipps
2003-2006: Pat Cummings
2000: Keith McMillan
1999: Pat Coleman 

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