I agree with much of what Bradley wrote here. He talks about Donnan just being a play or two away. Per Bradley:
"With a better bounce or two, Donnan mightn’t have needed friends. Say Jasper Sanks hadn’t fumbled against Florida, or if Al Ford had decided Sanks didn’t fumble against Georgia Tech. Say Terrence Edwards, deployed at quarterback, hadn’t stepped out of bounds on third-and-goal in OT at Auburn in November 2000. Had Donnan won one or two of those, would Michael Adams have acted as he did when he did?"
On the one hand, I agree. He was a play or two from keeping his job. But was he a play or two away from building a program that could sustainably compete with UF and UT? Probably not.
I had a friend who was a member of the support staff for football during the transition years between Richt and Donnan. The person described the week of practice leading up to the 2000 UT game as the greatest effort they had seen from a Donnan coached team, but that effort didn't compare to a typical practice week from a Coach Richt team. The tempo and expectations just weren't the same. That said, I've talked to former JD players who think the world of him as a person and coach.
Donnan should absolutely be commended by the Dawg Nation for taking over a program that had slipped to near Ole Miss or South Carolina levels in '96. We were coming off probation, and Glen Mason had already rejected us. We were a mess, and the wrong hire could've set us back a decade. He elevated recruiting, lead the revamping of our weight room and other facilities, and brought back hope. And he never took a pot shot at the program after he left (a shot at Adams sure, but never the Dawgs).
Three things would've made Donnan a better coach:
1. Not hiring Kevin Ramsey. Other than Jim Harrick, Jr., Ramsey might be the worst assistant coaching hire in the history of Georgia Athletics.
2. Quincy Carter never being admitted to UGA. If he had stuck with his Tech commitment, we would've had Nate Hybl. Hybl left UGA because Quincy was clearly more talented after the '98 season, and he went on to win a Big 12 title at Oklahoma as QB. Quincy was supremely gifted, but he was a Coach Killer.
3. Moving that 750AM call-in show from Sunday nights to Monday or Tuesday. Richt has it on Mondays now which gives fans two days to cool off after a loss. Donnan didn't suffer a fool well, and the combo of half-cocked fan and direct anonymous confrontation was a disasterous cocktail. It was can't miss radio, but it was completely out of control.
To me, the measure of a coach is...did you leave the program better than you found it? And, did you stay out of trouble? The answer was yes.