After resurrecting two college football programs in his home state of Tennessee, James “Boots” Donnelly now rises to ultimate success as a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. He becomes the first Hall of Famer in both Austin Peay and Middle Tennessee State history.
Donnelly started his head coaching career at Austin Peay State, taking a program that had never won a football championship to an Ohio Valley Conference title in his first season on the job. After two seasons and a 14-7 record, he left APSU for his alma mater where he would spend the next 20 years leading the Blue Raiders to unprecedented success. Donnelly led MTSU to nine top 20 regular-season finishes and seven NCAA I-AA playoff appearances, guiding MTSU to a 31-game home winning streak from 1987-93. He won or shared the Ohio Valley Conference title five times, was named the OVC Coach of the Year four times, and is the only coach in OVC history to win a conference title at two different schools.
The Nashville, Tenn., native was named the 1989 NFF Middle Tennessee Chapter’s Outstanding Contribution to Amateur Football Award winner and is a member of the organization’s board of directors, instrumental in fundraising for scholarships. Donnelly currently serves as the CEO of the Backfield in Motion organization, which combines academics and athletics to inspire inner city boys to reach their maximum potential.
A defensive back at MTSU from 1962-64, Donnelly led the Raiders to a conference championship and a Grantland Rice Bowl win in 1964. He later served as athletics director for three years at his alma mater, playing an integral role in moving Middle Tennessee to the FBS level. He is a member of the Blue Raider and the Tennessee Sports halls of fame.