UNH football: Head coach Sean McDonnell announces his retirement after 23 years with UNH; Santos expected to be promoted

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Cameron Beall

DURHAM, N.H. – University of New Hampshire (UNH) Director of Athletics Marty Scarano announced the retirement of head football coach Sean McDonnell early Wednesday morning. His retirement is effective immediately after an underwhelming end to his 23-year run with the Wildcats, finishing with a 3-8 record in 2021.  

According to a player on the team, former UNH quarterback and current quarterbacks coach Ricky Santos is expected to be named as McDonnell’s successor after spending 2019 as the interim head coach. 

“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’s 23 seasons as the head coach will be remembered by a 14-year playoff streak from 2004-2017 which included three conference championships and two NCAA Semifinal games. He brought the program to greater heights after taking over for UNH legend Bill Bowes in 1999. McDonnell is a two-time Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year, the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) active leader in wins (third all-time), and he ranks second all-time among UNH coaches in wins with 157 behind his predecessor. He also helped keep the Wildcats in the STATS FCS Top-25 for a 162-week stretch between 2004-2015. 

“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 Scarano. “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 coaching tree is highlighted by Ryan Day of Ohio State and Chip Kelly who currently resides at UCLA but previously spent time in the NFL. He also helped send four different players onto careers in the NFL including Corey Graham, Dan Kreider, Randal Williams and Jason Ball. 

Since McDonnell’s last trip to the postseason in 2017 the program has taken a bit of a dip in success. Since 2018 the team is 13-21 and McDonnell’s record is 7-15 during that time as he missed 2019 while battling bladder cancer.  

In what ended up being his final season may go down as one of his most disappointing. The team lost their starting quarterback, sophomore Max Brosmer, to a torn ACL prior to the season. Nonetheless, the team got out to a 3-0 before going on to lose their final eight games. McDonnell’s final CAA victory against Towson in week two was his 100th of his career. 

The team is expected to announce Santos as the 20th head coach in program history in the coming days. 

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

Photo courtesy of Rick Wilson