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UNH football: McDonnell ‘felt it was time’ to step away after 23 years as head coach


DURHAM, N.H. – Longtime University of New Hampshire (UNH) head coach Sean McDonnell announced his retirement early Wednesday morning after 23 years in the position. He was emotional during his media session that afternoon but provided context as to what led to the decision to step away. 

“It’s tough,” McDonnell said as he fought back tears. “I felt it was time. I’ve had a great run at this place… This place has done so much for me, so much for my family, it just always felt like home, and it was.” 

He went on to explain that this thought had been weighing on him for more than a year, citing how difficult his return from cancer was along with how tough Covid-19 was on the department as a whole. 

McDonnell noted how losing the final eight games of 2021 wasn’t the deciding factor in his retirement. He continued to say that it was just a feeling he had that it was time to step away. He also explained the ever-changing landscape of college football, specifically the current state of recruiting compared to when he began his coaching career. 

“There’s a lot of things that you’re going to have to put an enormous amount of energy and effort into that I’m not used to,” McDonnell explained. “The challenges before I always attacked headfirst and hands on; I just feel like at this time there’s better people to do that than Sean McDonnell.” 

McDonnell spoke about the goals of the program when he first arrived as a coach here. He said the last step he and his colleagues wrote was to become national champions. 

“We never got to that last part, but the journey between the first part to that part has been unbelievable.” 

From the 14-year playoff streak to the Border Battles with Maine and everything else in between, McDonnell says his proudest moment as the Wildcats’ head coach didn’t come on the field. He is most proud of the fact that, “the kids represented the University of New Hampshire, the state of New Hampshire and this athletic department with class and did it the right way. We didn’t have everything that everybody else had, but I believe we had more because of the way the kids were.” 

McDonnell left the media room for the final time to the sound of applause from media personnel, fellow UNH coaches and members of the football team. This closing moment of McDonnell’s career paralleled what he said the greatest reward of being a coach was. 

“When you get a note, or a text, or an email from somebody, that tells you that you made an impact on their life because of what you did, or what you said; that is the greatest reward you can get while coaching.” 

Photo courtesy of China Wong

Video courtesy of UNH Athletics

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