Former St. Michael’s College Swimming and Diving coach James “Jim” Donoghue best known for his understated but powerful coaching style died last month, from medical complications following a dyalisis treatment. He was 67.
Donoghue’s trademark Hawaiian shirt and sandals matched his relaxed, but persuasive style of coaching. Under Donoghue’s coaching, which spanned 16 seasons, the team gathered 92 dual meet wins. Donoghue held the position of head coach for swimming and diving for longer than anyone else in the history of the team until his retirement after the 2009-10 season. During that same season he recived the Coach of the Year award.
“We were coaching a certain team on a certain training trip in Florida on a certain New Year’s Day. It was quite evident that watching warm-ups that a number of them had been celebrating the night before,” said Drew Millikin, a former Purple Knight who swam for Donoghue and also coached with him. Jim asked me to stop warm-up, which I did, puffing my chest, awaiting a red-faced, full on, chewing out. Instead, Jim spoke calmly and coolly. He did not raise his voice. He did not admonish. He did not shame, although I suspect that many of them felt ashamed. Jim instead talked about self-defeat. He shared his belief that every practice is an opportunity to improve, as is every set, as is every stroke. They owed it to themselves to take advantage of each of those opportunities and that through their poor decision-making, they had deprived themselves of that opportunity and disrespected themselves in the process.”
Donoghue graduated from Rice Memorial High School in 1966 and then from St. Michael’s College in 1970. He then attended University of Vermont to receive his master’s degree in history. He taught at South Burlington high school for 37 years.
Donoghue is survived by his wife Martha and four children, three of which graduated from St. Michael’s College.
“He was the friendliest, caring most stubborn human being I’ve ever met,” said Eileen Hall, current head coach of the St. Michael’s College Swimming and Diving team. “He was a great relationship builder. He believed that the foundation of a great team was the connection that you had with your student athletes and the connection that the student athletes have with each other,” Hall said.
“He tried to give students and swimmers teachable lessons, he wouldn’t necessarily yell at them,” said younger brother Michael Donoghue, a student advisor in the Media Studies, Journalism, & Digital Arts Department at St. Michael’s College and a retired reporter from the Burlington Free Press. Being just a year and a half younger than his brother, Jim, they were very close growing up. “I’d see him at a track meet, I was in the sports department for a while at the Free Press and he was the starter of the events,” Mike Donoghue said with a chuckle. “As soon as he fired off a shot he would just be standing there watching the racers asking ‘hey what’s new?”
During a memorial service for Donoghue on Feb. 1, Chris Kenny, Director of athletics, said, “I’ve been thinking about and really missing the casual ‘Donoghue Drive-Bys’ in the main office suite in Tarrant, when he would stop to check in or kill a little time between his swim responsibilities. His timing was always perfect – like he had some kind of sixth sense that I was on overload and needed a little time with Dr. Donoghue,”
“I can’t speak for everyone who ever swam for Jim,” said Millikin, “Jim saw all of us through a lens, which we could not. He saw us in our true potential—our full selves. And he demanded that we live up to and carry ourselves with the self-respect and dignity we deserved.”
A fund in Donoghue’s name has been created to benefit the St. Michael’s College swimming and diving team.