Mitch Donahue

Class of 2016


Mitch Donahue was born February 4, 1968, in Los Angeles, California and is a 1986 graduate of Billings West High School. Donahue was selected to play in the Montana All Star Shrine game in 1986 before moving on to Laramie, Wyoming, where he would become an All WAC and All American defensive end for the Cowboys before moving on to the NFL.

The 1989 and 1990 WAC Defensive Player of the Year, Mitch Donahue became the greatest defensive end in Wyoming history. He was named first-team All-American by the Football Writers Association, The Sporting News, and the National Football League Draft Report. As a senior, he finished fourth in the prestigious Outland Trophy Award balloting. During his senior year the two-time WAC Defensive Player of the Week led the nation in sacks with 21. The four time All-WAC selection owns the Wyoming record for most career sacks with 48, and is in the top ten in career tackles. To put his sack total into perspective, 2015 Cowboy All Mountain West defensive end Eddie Yarbrough finished his career with a record 37 tackles for loss; but, half the amount of sacks at 20.5. Donahue was drafted in the 4th round of the 1991 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. He played for both the 49ers and the Denver Broncos during his professional career.

In 2000, the former University of Wyoming football great, Mitch Donahue, returned to the game he loved from an all-new angle. A sensational defensive end who thrilled Wyoming fans from the 1987-1990 seasons became head coach of the Billings Thunderbolts in their premier season of the Indoor Football League in the 2000 in Billings, MT. For that season, Donahue put together a coaching staff with strong UW ties including more recent Cowboys: JoshWalwork, Marcus Harris and J.P. Williams. After 2 years the team was sold to new management and Donahue decided to focus on construction and his roofing business. Soon after, Melissa went to back to college and finished her nursing degree and works in the ER at ST Vincents Hospital in Billings.

Donahue made a long journey before returning to his hometown for that position. He was a force be reckoned with in the Coach Paul Roach "golden era" earning local, conference and national recognition. As the 1989 WAC Defensive Player of the year who made the 1988 and 1989 WAC first-team selections, he was the only active player with eligibility to continue playing named to the 1980's WAC All-Decade team and in 1990 earned a consensus Pre-season All-American declaration. 

Drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth round in 1991, Donahue spent two years in the Bay Area playing middle linebacker. He was released and picked up by the Denver Broncos in 1993 where he played for two years before going to the Atlanta Falcons. At the end of the 1995 season Donahue left the Falcons because of injuries. 

He returned to Billings where he worked for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, sold insurance and got into the construction business before being approached by the Thunderbolts. He now has his own roofing business where his wife, Melissa, runs the office. Donahue said he wouldn't be able to take on coaching on top of the business without Melissa's tremendous support. Donahue is being inducted into the inaugural Montana Football Hall of Fame in 2016 and when asked what size jacket he wore, for the Hall committee to purchase his award jacket, he said “I’ll have to check with Melissa or go try one on”. Business partner Sam Smith says, “That’s a testimony to Mitch’s unassuming attitude, he’s pretty laid back for the most part”.

Football has proven to be a large part of Donahue's life. "Everything I learned about football I learned from Wyoming," says Donahue. He attributes 75 to 80 percent of his own coaching philosophies to those of Roach and former defensive coordinator, Dell Wight. Donahue was quick to point out that he had an edge going to Wyoming after being coached by Montana Coaches Hall of Fame head coach Paul Klaboe at Billings West. Donahue says, “I was so fundamentally prepared with skills when I showed up at Wyoming, most of the other freshman recruits had to catch up.” 

Donahue says there's a great brotherhood in UW football. He speaks of former teammate, Tyrone Fittje, who he used to exchange stories with at exhibition games in the IFL. He still hears from other teammates like David Edeen, Pat Rabold, who owns a Golden Corral in Billings, and Scott Hanser, who also lives in Billings and owns Hanser's Automotive. "They're a great bunch of guys, “says Donahue. 

Donahue took his new position seriously, believing, as he did in college, that athletes have a responsibility to be role models and set an example for those who rely on them. Personally, Donahue admired players like Carl Mecklenburg and Howie Long, although he's had a slight change in heroes since college. He now says he admires people who are successful in business and life, and those who can balance work and family. Mitch and Melissa have two children, a son, Dylon 22 and daughter Devan 21. 

So what lies ahead for Mitch Donahue? When asked, several years ago, about returning to UW possibly as a coach, Donahue responded, "I would love to coach at UW!" But he said at the timehe was not ready yet. At the time, he wanted to complete his degree from UW in telecommunications, ideally by taking his remaining courses over the Internet. He also wanted more experience the Billings organization would provide him; he "wouldn't want to lay a big egg at home!" Over the next few years, the IFL evolved, the Thunderbolts became the Billings Outlaws and are now the Billings Wolves. Donahue’s life has evolved as well, his son is now a senior collegiate football player at West Georgia where he plays defensive end. Daughter Dylan is a massage therapist in California.  Melissa says, “Our family get togethers are now in Georgia, it’s cheaper to fly Devon to Georgia than to Montana”

Home? "Billings is where my family is, but Laramie will always be considered home", says Mitch.  Donahue and his wife Melissa just celebrated the 30th anniversary of his Billings West high school graduation class in July of 2016. Melissa also is a Billings West graduate, earning her diploma 4 years after Mitch left for Wyoming.

by Teddi Fowler
UW Sports Information